Customer Service

What’s the Difference Between a $12 Salon and a $100 Salon?

Can there really be an $82 difference in basic salon services?

I have heard of salons charging $12 for a full set of acrylics, and I’ve heard of salons charging $100, and it strikes me to ask, “Can there really be an $88 difference in two sets of nails?”

To find out, I went to two salons myself (without revealing who I was). Obviously, I wasn’t going to find that much difference in the nails themselves, but I was still skeptical about whether there could be an $88 difference in service and atmosphere.

The $12 salon was a small storefront in West Hollywood. I didn’t have an appointment, but I only had to wait 30 minutes for them to fit me in. The nail technician – let’s call her Tina – was cheerful and pleasant, greeted me and asked me to go to the washroom first and wash my hands. The bathroom was in the back of the salon right off an alley. There was a gallon jug of dish-washing soap on the sink for me to wash with, but there were no towels.

It was two days before Christmas and the weather was in the 40s, yet the salon was not heated (or the heater wasn’t working). It was so cold that the three technicians were wearing ski jackets.

Tina nipped back my old acrylic. I asked her if that was safe for the nails and she assured me it was. What was dangerous, she said, was the use of so many chemicals on the nail. She primed my nails liberally, with no regard to whether or not she got primer on my cuticles or the rest of my finger. I asked all sorts of questions about artificial nails and she told me that acrylics were not really so safe, and that if someone had decent nails she would advise against wearing them. Over time there is too much damage done from all the chemicals, she said. Since chemicals were such a concern for her, I asked her how she felt about working so closely with them herself. She told me that it wasn’t good for her either but that she loves her work so she doesn’t mind. What especially interested me was that she was working on a ventilated table but she didn’t even have the table turned on.

The table was draped with a very dirty paper towel, which she did not change when I sat down, nor, I noticed, when the client after me sat down.

After she finished my nails, which I was pleased with, she asked me to change tables and have my nails buffed by another gentleman. I asked a few questions of the man, but he spoke very little English. When he was through with me, he passed me to another woman who did the polish. I asked for a French manicure, which she said she couldn’t do, so I opted for a Christmas red. Unfortunately she didn’t speak English either so there was not much more I could learn.

The ambience was minimal: bare floors, a few posters on the wall, two chairs to wait in.

The $100 salon was a full service salon on one of Beverly Hills’ chic streets. I halfway expected to be greeted by a snobby receptionist, but was greeted warmly. My technician – let’s call her Alice – came up front to escort me to her station. Alice had a manicure station in the back of the salon, blocked off from the hairstylists. Alice was very friendly, asking many questions of me: how I found out about the salon, what I did for a living, etc. It made it more difficult to keep my identity a secret. She brought me a cup of coffee and began to remove the loose acrylic.

She showed me where the former nail technician had filed into my nail bed. I hadn’t noticed it before, but without the acrylic I could see the visible ridge where Tina had drilled.

As she applied the new nails, she talked about the different types of extension products and gave me her opinion of each. She was learning about aromatherapy and talked to me about how it works and how she uses it in her service.

Alice didn’t have any special ventilation system either, but she said she didn’t mind the fumes. Dust wasn’t a problem, she said, because she put acrylic on in a way that minimized the amount of filing she had to do.

All in all, the $100 salon was by far a nicer experience, although I can’t really say that it was a difference of $88. But since a fill at the $100 salon is $25, it’s worth returning. I’d have to say that the way the nails looked was about equal, although I didn’t realize the underlying damage done to my nails by the drilling until the appointment with Alice. – Cyndy Drummey

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