Business Management

Survival Tips:Staying Afloat in a Sinking Economy

Nail salons are one of the more resilient businesses in stagnating economies, but the current downturn has reached everyone to some extent. Many salons are still thriving despite the slowdown — so what’s their secret? Seven techs share their experiences on how they’re beating the odds to stay afloat.

For many techs the secrets to survival lie in old-fashioned customer service and quality offerings. Others have gone the extra step and revamped their spa menu and created special service discounts to keep clients coming back in tough times. Every salon is different, so what works for one might not be the answer for another.

It takes some clever ingenuity and a lot of trial and error to find the perfect business plan, but if you’re strapped for ideas and don’t know what do, check out what these seven successful nail technicians are doing and see if it inspires some creativity of your own. Remember, no one knows your salon and clientele better than you so take their advice and tweak it to fit your own environment.

1. Adding New Skills
Darlene Donovan
Nail Creations @ Bamboo Natural Beauty, Londonderry, N.H.
I have a full book and a waiting list right now, so I feel very blessed. One thing I’ve done is not raise prices. While other people raised theirs, I left mine right where they were. I figure that as long as I can, I’ll try to help out and make my services accessible to more people.

Making sure you give a quality service is the most important thing. I see myself as being in the “feel good” business. I make people feel better with my services. In the beginning, when all the media was hyping up the recession, people panicked and backed off getting their nails done. But for some people, especially in downtrodden times, $40 a month is worth the hour of “me” time and relaxation they get. So I make sure they get just that.

2. Getting Window-Shopper Walk-Ins
Jaime Schrabeck
Precision Nails, Carmel, Calif.
One thing we do that helps business is simultaneous services. We’re able to offer manicures and pedicures to clients at the same time, that way you can have one room but double the revenue. And if there’s another tech available we can get it done in half the time.

I’ve also put a computer monitor in the window of the salon to attract people walking by. I have the monitor cycle through shots of nail polish collections, a list of our services, our salon hours — it basically functions like a video brochure.

The other thing I have in the window is a framed salon menu, with all of our prices and services clearly marked. This way people can read it from the outside, and if they think the prices are too high then they know right away. It gives people that extra bit of information before they even come in the door, so when they do come in we know they’re interested.

3. Networking For Clients
Connie Harbour
Cuticles, Dallas
I’ve noticed that clients have cut back on the extras a little bit, but that’s about it. I also do hair and facial waxing, so that helps when times are slow.

I have lost a few clients, but I really don’t blame the economy. Losing clients will always happen. What’s important is your networking skills so you can attract new clients.

I am an education ambassador for CND and am listed on the company’s database for referrals. New clients call and e-mail me weekly. I am not as crazy busy as I used to be, but it gives me time to network on the web. I can blog on Healthy Tech Talk (, and I also joined Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace. These social networking sites are great. They are free and I have people contact me all the time on these sites. Mostly they ask questions, but sometimes they book appointments. I even had an old friend find me online, and she’s coming all the way from Tennessee next week for a pedicure.

Another thing that helps you attract new clients is to add new techniques or services to set you apart from other salons out there. People want to feel special and know you are different from everyone else. I think it all goes back to old-fashioned customer service.

4. Creating New Services
Brooke Gilliam
Salon Cosabella, McKinney, Texas
We’re still doing great, but I have noticed clients are trying to stretch out their appointments a bit. So I decided back in the fall to add different services to bring in more clients who might not have been to us before. We are now the only salon north of Austin to offer Minx nail coatings. And I think we are one of the few to offer gel manicures, rock star toes, and 3-D acrylics. The services that seem to be taking off the most are the gel toes and the Minx.

My clients need to see that I am still busy, and I continue to stretch myself by learning new techniques. We have a policy in the salon that when clients ask us how we’re doing we tell them “great” — and we are. I believe clients don’t want to go to a salon they think might close at any moment. So I urge other techs who are struggling to put on a happy face and do the best work possible, seek out other techs for mentoring, and visit networking forums like

5. Making Time For Little Extras
Julie Kandalec
Jenniffer & Co, Mentor, Ohio
So far we have been busier than ever at my salon. We are a full-service salon, and as a whole we are at least doing the same as last year (if not better), and the nail department (with four full-time techs and six part-timers) is booked solid.

To be honest, we really aren’t doing anything that different than we did last year or two years ago. But we are offering some new coupons and discounts. Clients can buy a spa pedi and get one free, and we’re offering a packaged spa day for a discounted price. One thing I like to do is take advantage of any extra down time. I give extra-long massages, complimentary paraffin treatments, and I even open clients’ car doors for them so they don’t smudge their nails going home. It’s the little things like this that let them know you genuinely appreciate their business. If you let them know you care, they’ll be back.

6. Offering New Discounts
Maggie Franklin
Attitudes Salon, Visalia, Calif.
I offer a referral incentive to help keep new clients coming in. And I not only give a discount to the regular clients who make the referrals, I also offer a discount to the new client as well. This has really helped entice new clients to come in as well as motivate my regulars to give out my business cards.

I hear new clients say they tried to make an appointment with someone else but never got a call back. Making yourself available so that you don’t miss out on new business is essential.

7. Let Your Clients Work For You
Nancy Donatone McCoy
McCoy Nail Salon, Walnut, Miss.
For one day in April to celebrate my salon’s anniversary (that conveniently coincides with the local high school prom), I offer a set of white tips for only $20. I do this every year. I know $20 sounds low but my alternative way of gaining new clients is expensive advertising. So I look at it as having my clients as my walking advertisements.

I purchase a small amount of product for this special, and when the product is finished the special is over. But most first-timers who try it become repeat clients because they come back for a fill.

I’ve also recently revamped my menu and services to offer clients something fresh. I’ve added glitter fades and color gels to my menu, and the clients are definitely taking to them.


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