Business Management

Note to Spa Owners: Nails Rock

There’s a perception among certain salon and spa owners that nail services are low-end, unprofitable, “unspa-like,” and just plain smelly. The reality is, if you are ignoring nail services in your establishment you are paying for it in your bottom line.

Editor’s note: We know that the vast majority of NAILS readers don’t need to be convinced that nails are a profitable and worthy salon service. But unfortunately, many of our readers work for people who haven’t yet seen the light. We asked a seasoned spa consultant to go about debunking many of the myths about nails in the spa and full-service salon.

There’s a perception among certain salon and spa owners that nail services are low-end, unprofitable, “unspa-like,” and just plain smelly. The reality is, if you are ignoring nail services in your establishment you are paying for it in your bottom line.Calling all spa owners! I just had a nail-related epiphany and I must let you know the specifics of my life-altering discovery. Sit down and think about it for a moment, have you been shunning the thought of offering nail services? I must confess that as a busy spa consultant I have been coaching others to do the same. Nails have become the treatment swept under the table.

There are many reasons that we collectively abuse this potential goldmine: “Nails are smelly,” “Artificial nails are low-end,” “You can’t make money doing nails because of the ultra-cheap nail place around the block.” Before someone takes a contract out on me, let me jump the gun and simply repent. I was completely wrong and I understand everything now. I have seen the future and it involves more nail stations.

Here are the standard things that as a busy spa consultant I hear on a daily basis: “Nails don’t make money so let’s only offer them as an add-on.” “We definitely won’t be doing artificial nails!” “We will be doing manicures back there (picture a closet or hallway).” “We don’t need those clunky pedicure thrones, do we?” “Nail services aren’t natural and we are an eco-spa.” Many times spas have opted not to do nails at all, “too salon” the owners would say.

The nail industry produces a service industry of $6.5 billion dollars in the U.S. alone, according to NAILS’ 2003-2004 Big Book. “The perception perpetuated by the smaller walk-in nail salons is that nail services are low-end, inexpensively priced, mostly artificial, and unappealing,” says Tony Cuccio, CEO of Star Nail International in Valencia, Calif. “The reality is if you are ignoring nail services in your salon you are paying for it in your bottom line. Manicures and pedicures are expected services at spas. They are an excellent first-time appointment for acquainting new clients to your other services.”

“The word ‘spa’ assumes high-end servicing and attention to refined detail. Nail services in a spa should reflect this impression. This means impeccable cuticle care, perfect polish, and a comprehensive experience,” say Jan Arnold, co-founder of Vista, Calif.-based Creative Nail Design. “A spa that delivers these elements can charge premium price and count on a repeat clientele.”

Brandon Claypool, spa director at Daufuskie Island Resort & Breath Spa at Hilton Head, N. C., has found such demand for nail services he’s had difficulty staffing his nail department. “The demand is much greater than we have staff to accommodate for our nail services. Our nail technicians retain clients more than any other services we offer, but we also make less money off of them because of the amount of compensation offered to the nail technicians,” says Claypool.

Natural nail services at the resort are very popular, he says, with spa-type pedicures being their third most popular service just behind massage and facials.

“It is important to offer nail treatments because clients expect a continuum of treatments from head to toe. Our packages wouldn’t be complete without nail services and our clients would be forced to visit our competition to find them,” says Claypool. “Ideally, we will be adding more nail services to our menu, raising our prices, and expanding our nail department to increase revenues in the near future.”

Educate the Spa-Goer

Lauren Breese, new product development liaison for N. Hollywood, Calif.-based OPI Products, is religious about the topic of spas offering nail treatments. “Clients can be educated to understand how they can wear enhancements without damage. If the nail plate is properly prepared, there is no damage done to it,” says Breese. “The low-cost set they might have received elsewhere is low cost for a reason. A spa or salon that is interested in the health of its clients maintains strict standards for sanitation, product quality, and technician training — all of which justify a higher service cost.”

According to Breese, the average spa-goer has no idea of the difference between MMA-based products and the newer monomer formulations available for nail use — many of which are odorless. One idea for educating the client on this important topic is to have a shelf-talker in your nail area about how consumers can spot the difference between an MMA set of nails and a safer, usually higher-priced set using EMA.

“As for the rest of the equation for creating more profitability in your nail department when offering artificial nails, that too is about education,” says Breese. “A thin, odorless gel will offer the client less breaks, even nails, and reinforce what might otherwise be a weak nail that is prone to tears.”

Spas must price their artificial services correctly to reflect the amount of time required. “The spa should establish standardized procedures for each service and how long each step should take,” says Breese. “With practice, a tech can increase her speed while delivering a satisfying spa service that is profitable for both her and the salon.” One of the best ways to ensure that artificial services “feel spa” to the clients is to incorporate massage as a final step of every service.

Meeting the Challenges

Spa owners seem to agree that finding talented nail technicians is the crux of the problem, along with competing with discount salons. “We do both natural nails as well as artificial nails. In the last several years our artificial business has really fallen,” says Trudy Yates, general manager of Salon 505–The Day Spa in Austin, Texas. “It seems to be a combination of not having enough nail technicians proficient in the new kinds of artificial options as well as competing on price alone with nail salons that really aren’t of the same caliber as a spa like ours. We focus on the more upscale client who is willing to pay more to know that they are in a safe environment where their nail services will be done in a professional and healthful manner.”

Suzanne Hwozdik, spa manager at Serenity Day Spa in Northville, Mich., lists natural nail services as the most popular service at her spa. “We find that our biggest competition with nail services is the cheaper shops attracting those shopping around on price alone. We have found that attracting the very best staff, expanding our nail services, and offering a more complete menu of artificial nails has really worked to stave off the low-end salons,” says Hwozdik. “We attract a better clientele and we retain them because they know that we will always do a consistently beautiful job on their nails.”

In fact at Serenity Day Spa, their primary clientele grew from the draw of nail services. “We usually attract a client for a specific nail service like a spa-style pedicure, which includes energizing crystals, a light back massage, a foot spritzer, and hot oil treatment. We take the ordinary service and over-deliver. Clients then add on a facial or massage for their next visit,” says Hwozdik.

Bliss Day Spa and Shop in Metairie, La., also counts nail services among its top money makers. “Our nail services are the bread and butter of our spa,” says owner Nancy Lovejoy. “While we offer everything except hair, our natural nail services are what bring clients in and bring them back for more services. In fact, we are working on expanding our nail department this spring with more unique services and more staff. The staff we have currently has stayed with us for so long because we are constantly educating them on the latest products and services.”

“Natural nail services make up 85% of all nail services in the spa industry. Somebody must be selling nail services,” says Cuccio. The most recent Spa Association (SPAA) study revealed that pedicures are the third most popular service offered at spas in the U.S. and are essentially running neck-and-neck with facial services.

The latest NAILS statistics put the average pedicure service at $29.83. But more elaborate 60- and 90-minute spa-style pedicures could pump that figure up to a much healthier per minute rate for natural nail services.

“Simply put, if a spa-goer wants to try out a new business they are most apt to come in for a natural manicure or pedicure to try the spa out,” says Cuccio. “They probably won’t elect to receive a haircut or color and will be equally as nervous to try out an advanced esthetics service like microdermabrasion or a facial. Nail services are the bait to lure new clients into your spa. It is up to your management team and technical staff to keep them coming back for more.”

Natural vs. Artificial

However, the real controversy still lies with artificial nails. Not surprisingly that is where the most money can be made as well. According to recent NAILS statistics, the cost of a set of artificial nails ($40.70 in 2003) has been flat for the last 20 years, but they are still the highest average service revenue generator among nail services.

A common misperception is that artificial nail odors will conflict with the spa environment or aromatherapy. In fact, many products can be used to enhance nails that have little or no odor. Adequate ventilation is also a factor. “Ventilation in the nail area is important. Do consider adequate outside ventilation and a room air purifier to control dust,” recommends Breese.

Spas need only to do a little repositioning of artificial nail services on their menu to appeal to their core demographic. “Without using the terms ‘gel,’ ‘wrap,’ or ‘acrylic,’ you can offer reinforcement services that protect nails using any of these products,” says Breese. “Nails with an artificial overlay are break-resistant and extend polish life.”

Arnold also recommends emphasizing aspects other than nail length in promoting artificial services to spa patrons. “We recommend offering clients a ‘custom-blended manicure’ that uses custom-blended powders to complement skin tone, create illusion, and offer the client low-maintenance, long-lasting results,” says Arnold. “Spas should offer this at a premium price and pre-book clients every three weeks for maintenance.”

Susan Dynan, owner of Serene-Scape Day Spa and Salon in Boston agrees that making money at artificial nails comes down to how you present them, and, of course, how you price the service. “We charge a reasonable price for our artificial services but we don’t try to compete based on dollars and cents at all. You must educate your clientele on the differences of the products you use, the talent you employ, and the quality of work and service that they can consistently depend on,” says Dynan.

Something akin to the old advertising adage, “It costs more but I am worth it” campaign has really worked for Serene-Scape. And like most of the other spas interviewed, the nail department at the spa is preparing to expand. “With the new gels and odorless products, our nail department is doing very well. The more services we offer, the more clients respond by consistently coming in for treatments. Not offering a full range of nail service options limits a spa’s ability to grow,” says Dynan.

Laura Fetzer, spa coordinator and manager of Spa By the Sea in Rehoboth, Del., says that beautifully done, natural-looking artificial nails are her biggest seller. “We have a strong following because we do a great job. You can find anything in our economy for a cheaper price, but our clients are more than happy to pay more for nails that look amazing,” says Fetzer. Their salon culture works well in other ways also. According to Fetzer, her nail technicians are loyal to the spa, have great attitudes, and are among the best in the industry. “It isn’t at all difficult for us to find great staff and keep them. Those in the local spa industry know that we have high standards and are always busy. Talented nail techs want to work with the best,” says Fetzer.

In researching this article there wasn’t a single spa contacted that wasn’t planning to update, revamp, or expand their nail services. The market is ripe for spas to aggressively raise the bar on nail treatments.

Melinda Minton is an internationally recognized spa expert and executive director of The Spa Association (SPAA). For more information go to,, or call (970) 282-9237.

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