Business Management

The Wisdom to Know the Difference

Late clients, bad bosses, staffing woes — nail techs often face situations that are out of our control. Sometimes we are able to gain control; other times we need to resign ourselves to our limitations and learn from the experience. Balance comes from knowing the difference.

You can’t control what you were taught in school, but you can control what you learn in addition to what was taught in school.

Think of school as a place where you learn broad concepts, with the understanding that you will refine your skills on the job. You can do this a couple of ways: read and research the “how to” of a technique or find a person to help you. Locate a tech in your town who has successfully built a business and a clientele. Ask her how much she would charge to train you. If money is a problem, get creative. Ask to answer her phones or clean her salon in exchange for training. A big complaint among salon owners is that they can’t find good help. If you make yourself indispensable to the experienced tech — by being available, eager to learn, and dedicated — you could create a business relationship that benefits both of you.

Don’t know a tech off the top of your head? Go to the local beauty supply store and ask them. They may even know someone who has retired, but would be willing to mentor you.

You can’t magically fill your book with clients, but you can think outside the box when it comes to generating new business.

Bank tellers, teachers, and real estate agents are excellent clients and worthy of your time and effort as you build your business. But think of some non-traditional outlets. For example, have you introduced yourself at the local senior center or retirement community? You may find clients there who have disposable income and who enjoy being pampered. Seniors may have difficulty trimming their toenails, and a pedicure is less expensive and more satisfying than a trip to the podiatrist.

Hand out literature at the tennis center; earn the loyalty of a personal trainer so he or she will refer to you; ask to speak at a Monday Moms meeting or at a business women’s event.

Get permission to put a “contest box” at local businesses. Customers of those businesses fill out their names and addresses, and every month you draw the name of one lucky winner who wins a free service. During the slow days, send postcards or make phone calls to everyone who entered the drawing but didn’t win. Offer them a free gift (such as a bottle of polish) with their first appointment.

You can’t control the number of broken nails a client has, but you can control how you respond to multiple breaks.

You may be able to fix one or two broken nails during a fill appointment and charge the client nothing extra. However, if a client comes in with five, six, or more broken nails, she could put you behind for the rest of the day. One way to limit this problem is to charge a fee for broken nails (perhaps the first two are covered, but the cost is $3 per nail after that). The easiest way to implement this policy is to hang a sign announcing the fee to begin on a certain date.

Another alternative is to explain that with so many broken nails, you won’t have time to polish. This allows a client to choose to spend more money or give up the luxury of polish.

You can’t control fluctuations in demand, but you can control what you do in the down time.

Do you live in a tourist area where your income changes your grocery list from beans to filet mignon? Do you search the want ads for part-time employment every January? Know what’s coming and plan accordingly. Save during the busy months so you’re prepared for the lean months. Change your rhythm — work 10-12-hour days in the fall, vacation in January, and implement “summer hours.”

You can’t control clients who are late, but you can have a late policy.

The policy can be fluid since every situation is different. Start by welcoming the late client with a genuine smile. Then, take a look at her hands, knowing you’re not going to complete her full appointment, but that you will offer her an alternative. You may be able to fill her nails but not polish them. You could offer to buff and polish but not fill the nails. Perhaps you can offer a standard fill to a client who would normally choose pink-and-white nails. Maybe you have time to fix only the broken nails. Always offer something you can do, without putting yourself behind for your next client. Even if the tardy client is the last appointment of the day, let her know you have an appointment immediately after work that you can’t be late for — even if your “appointment” is to go home and relax.

If you have a client who is notoriously late, you may need to get drastic. If she still hasn’t arrived when the clock chimes the “magic” minute when it’s too late to complete her scheduled appointment, get up from your desk and be unavailable. That may mean leaving the salon. Leave a note on the door telling clients when you left and when you will return, or let a coworker know that you’ve been no-showed, and you will return in time for the next client.

You can’t control a client who is demanding, opinionated, or condescending, but you can politely and professionally let the client know you won’t be abused.

Here’s an extreme example, but it illustrates the point. A certain client was known to critique her nail tech during each appointment: the nails are too thin, too thick, too narrow, too square, too oval, too, too, too. The tech began to dread seeing this client. One day the tech took control. When the client complained her nails were too something, the tech put her implements down and said to the client, “I think you would be happier if you went to a different salon. Every time you leave here I end up feeling bad about myself.” The client was uncharacteristically speechless. She began to apologize up and down, assuring the tech she had meant nothing by her “suggestions.” It was a turning point in their relationship. Believe in yourself; it will help you gain control over uncomfortable situations.

You can’t control that a discount salon opened next door, but you can appeal to an entirely different clientele.

Let’s all agree it wouldn’t be good news to hear that the new neighbor is a discount salon. Now, let’s move on. Competition helps us define ourselves, and it forces us to become better at what we do. You can compete with cheap prices and walk-in service, because you’re likely speaking to a different audience. Nails have become widely available instead of being a luxury, but the experience of getting your nails done should still feel luxurious. Even if you believe you offer the same service as a discount salon, you offer an entirely different atmosphere. Look for clients who can distinguish the difference — and do what it takes to accommodate them.

You can’t control how difficult it is to find good help, but you can hand-pick and solicit new staff.

1) Plan ahead and, literally, hand-pick your next employee/booth renter. Once you have found the ideal candidate, take her out for coffee and explain to her how much money she can make in the industry. Explain the requirements and cost of school, and let her know that while she’s in school she can intern with you. Guarantee her a position upon graduation.

2) Invest in a new graduate. One of the top complaints among graduating techs is they feel ill-prepared for the work environment. This is a fact. Don’t expect miracles. She will need one-on-one training and mentoring. Know that you’ll need to spend a few weeks, possibly months, helping her perfect her skills. Don’t underestimate her contribution. She can work as an assistant. This allows you to accommodate more clients during the day, increasing your bottom line. Choose an assistant by personality, work ethic, reliability, and professionalism.

You can’t control when a coworker “takes” your client (or a tech “takes” clients when she relocates), but you can remain professional.

You give your best to a client, but she prefers to go to a coworker. You train a new tech and help her build her business, but she leaves to go out on her own. This you cannot control. However, it’s a reality of the business, so don’t be surprised when it happens. If you’re a single tech and a client chooses someone else in the salon, be professional enough to ask your coworker if there’s something you can learn from it. It could be that the client simply prefers the personality of the other tech, but it may be that your work needs improvement. Learn from it; don’t blame the client.

It’s more difficult if you’re a salon owner who loses a significant amount of revenue because a tech moves to a different salon. Still, if it’s inevitable, do all you can to reduce the damage. Don’t create animosity about the tech leaving. Let clients know you wish her well. Clients will be less apt to pick sides if they aren’t put in the position of defending their tech. This leaves your salon open as a viable option to the client who needs a fill when the now self-employed tech is on vacation or is unavailable during the client’s desired time slot. You can’t control if clients follow the tech. You can control if your salon would welcome them back.

You can’t control your boss or your coworkers, but you can control where you work.

Enough said? You’re a marketable professional. Find a location that suits you or open your own salon. Go after what you want. Don’t be a victim. Go after your dream.

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