Customer Service

Turning Walk-ins Into Regulars

Walk-in clients are like one-night stands,” says one exasperated nail technician. “They’re flighty salon-hoppers who are hard to please.”

Walk-in clients are like one-night stands,” says one exasperated nail technician. “They’re flighty salon-hoppers who are hard to please.” While this description may fit a few walk-in clients, the majority of them are a varied group with a wide range of needs. Some are businesswomen who want a quick fill or who find themselves in a new city with an extra hour and want to spend it getting a relaxing pedicure. Then there are snowbirds or summer vacationers looking for a qualified technician to do a repair or polish change. You’ll find a lot of this type of walk-in in places like California, Arizona, Florida, Colorado, and states that attract one-time tourists and dedicated perennials who return to the same city year after year (and, they hope, to the same nail technician).

Still other walk-ins are friends and relatives of regular clients who need nail care while in your area. Add to this list men and women who walk or drive by your salon and want to be served without an appointment. Some others are recently relocated searching for a new manicurist, or the disgruntled or disenchanted clients of other salons.

The point is, you cannot categorize walk-ins as hard to please or impossible to nail down. This is a well-rounded group of potential regular clients who just might help you build your appointment book and boost retail sales. The trick in handling these unexpected patrons is to devise methods to deal with them quickly, warmly, and efficiently, just as you would treat a guest in your home.

A warm greeting, a short wait, attentive service, and a follow-up thank-you will bring walk-in clients back again and again.


“Walk-ins constitute a lucrative part of our business,” says Estelle Wiersema, who owns The Headliner salon in Jerome, Idaho, with Bernice Eggink. “We’re located in a little farming community, and many of our clients are repeat walk-ins who prefer to drop in whenever they want instead of scheduling an appointment.

“We also attract a lot of impulse walk-ins who in on a whim and don’t mind waiting until one of us is free. A lot of our business is word of mouth, and we’ve established a good reputation for doing quality work.

Walk-ins know they’re welcome here and that we’ll go out of our way to give courteous service.”

Walk-ins require some special care to convert them to regular status, but the principles are the same as for new clients who come in with a scheduled appointment. Start by assessing their individual needs.

Instead of greeting walk-ins with a warm smile, a frazzled and over-worked receptionist will too often greet these drop-by clients with a disapproving frown. Instead of trying to find out why this person has selected your salon and ascertaining how they can help the client, staff members often look at her as if she were a bum off the street asking for a handout.

A simple shift in salon policy (coupled with a shift in thinking) can pave the way to better walk-in service. In a competitive area, an “open door policy” may give you an edge over salons that discourage walk-ins.

Even on the most hectic days, a receptionist or technician at the front desk can smile and greet a walk-in warmly.

“We work to make every client who walks through the door comfortable,” says Cindy Fairchild, owner of Fancy Fingers N’ Toes in Tucson, Ariz. “We have them sit down and fill out a client card, and we ask them how they found our salon. We chart any problems they’re having or find out why they weren’t pleased with their former technician or salon. Then we find out what they’d like done right away.”

Wiersema also welcomes walk-ins with open arms. “We do everything in our power to keep them in our shop,” she says. “We have a nice sitting area where we ask them to wait, and we tell them we’ll be right with them. We’ve found that when you’re courteous and acknowledge walk-ins as soon as they enter the shop, they’re usually flexible and easy to work with. We try to take walk-ins within 10 minutes,” Wiersema continues, “or we’ll let them know how long we estimate the wait will be. I can usually fit them in.”


Every salon owners should know her staff’s strengths and weaknesses, including their speed and proficiency in all services. There’s no point in assigning a brand new pedicure client to someone who doesn’t do pedicures well. Knowing each person’s abilities is essential when trying to squeeze in walk-in appointments.

Shelly Lem, a nail technician at Nail House in Murray, Utah, says there are 12 technicians working at her salon and one huge appointment book. “Next to each manicurist’s name is information like how much time it takes her to do a particular service,” she says. “We know which technicians can do a quick fill and who does a fast set of nails. That makes scheduling walk-ins easier.”

Although Fairchild doesn’t do nails day to day, she can handle a walk-in herself if the rest of her staff is busy. “I keep my license active and my skills current so that I can pick up the overflow rather than turn people away,’ she says. “And it’s nice for the owner to be able to service new clients and welcome them to the salon. I show them around, offer them some coffee, and provide their first service. Then I introduce them to one of our technicians and try to book them for another appointment right away. No matter how busy we are, we never refuse a client. Instead, we try to find ways to save time, like offering to do her nails but skip the polish.

Most times, walk-ins are so grateful to get their nails done, they don’t mind adding the extra touches themselves.”


If you train your technicians to do a wide range of services, accommodation walk-ins is easy. Many tourists look for technicians who use the same products or offer the same services as their hometown salons, for example. If you can offer them what they want from a varied service and product menu, they’ll be more likely to commit to patronizing your salon regularly (and so will their friends).

At Nail House, clients can choose from fiberglass, several brands of acrylic, tips, overlays, wraps, and gels. Says Lem, “Recently, we’ve gotten a lot of business because of a new top coat we’re using. We’ve found that when walk-ins are happy with their nails, they will come back.


In order to accommodate walk-ins, technicians sometimes must work overtime or add hours. Lem says that despite her busy schedule, she always finds time for people she calls “special clients.”

“They come from New York, California, or other states,” she says. “They visit their parents who live here, come in on weekends or for vacations. These are the clients who always call me a week or two in advance and ask me to fit them in for an appointment – every time they’re in town. I always find time to service them and work extra hours to do it, because they’re loyal clients.”

Sometimes working extra actually means being “on call.” In some salons, a salon owner will require that technicians allow time every day to accept walk-in clients. There may still be a need, however, to consider hiring a part-time technician just to handle walk-ins, especially during busy holiday seasons or promotions when there are likely to be many.

Nail House has an on-call system that works like a temporary help service, where technicians work on a strictly as-needed basis. Says Lem, “These girls write their name in our appointment book, along with the hours they’re available and how long it takes them to get to the salon. They’re great to handle walk-ins who don’t mind waiting, usually a half-hour or less. We have a couple of on-call manicurists who are willing to work nights, others are available during the day, and few techs who will call us in the morning and let us know they’re available that day with 15 minutes’ notice.”

Because she has worked with these technicians before and Nail House owner Karen Hiatt trained them, Lem says she’s comfortable with their qualifications. “Sometimes,” Lem says, “if we’re really busy, we also refer walk-ins to our other salon.”


One of the best solutions for scheduling walk-ins is to assign them automatically to new technicians who are still building their clientele. By scheduling new technicians during prime walk-in time (Saturday afternoons, early evenings), they have many opportunities to not only practice their new skills, but to practice the customer service skills they will need to make a career out of nail care.

“Each manicurist at our salon is responsible for booking in and out,” Lem says. “And the only new technicians are going to build a clientele is if they are willing to put in the extra time and be in the salon when they’re needed. If they’re not here, someone else is going to get the business.”

Other salon owners encourage walk-ins to try a new technician by offering a special price. “Many times this works out well,” one salon owner says. “The client is serviced, and the technician gains experience,” Beauty schools have found great success by charging reduced rates for services done by professionals in training.


Many walk-ins can be turned into steady clients with a little planning and a lot of TLC.

“I send all clients, including walk-ins, a follow-up card within a week of their appointment,” Fairchild says. “The card thanks them for coming and encourages their feedback. If a client had a good visit, this type of follow-through often ties the knot between us a little tighter. If, for some reason, a client wasn’t pleased with our service, the card encourages her to return because it shows that we genuinely care. The underlying message says maybe we had an off day, but we’d like another chance. I’ve found most clients prefer to return to a salon they’re familiar with, but sometimes they need a little incentive.”

Another way to turn walk-ins into steady customers is to educate them about the importance of nail care. Nail House technicians explain the products they are using and tell clients how often they need to come in to maintain their nails.

“We try to schedule another appointment right away,” Lem says. “We also encourage them to try one of our other services, like pedicures, or a different type of manicure, like a hot oil treatment or paraffin wax dip.”

At The Headliner, Wiersema turns walk-ins into steady clients simply by giving them special attention, even when they are pressed for time.

“We talk about the kinds of services they’re interested in and give them one-on-one attention for the entire time they’re in our chair. In the short time we have, we try to impress them with our service and personalities so that they will come back.”

“We’ve built some very good regular clients from walk-ins,” Fairchild says. “Just recently, a woman dropped by who was close to tears because she had arrived 10 minutes late for her appointment at another salon and was bluntly told, ‘I can’t do you.’ Her nails were really shabby and needed to be taken care of, and she was feeling humiliated because she was treated badly. We turned her negative experience into a positive one, and gained a loyal client.”

No matter how busy you are, there’s no reason to send clients to the competition. While you might come across a few difficult or hard-to-please walk-ins, most of them are potential clients just waiting to have their salon-hopping wings clipped by a technician’s positive attitude, welcoming smile, and courteous, quality service. Just as a one-night stand can turn into a long-term meaningful relationship if it is nurtured, walk-ins can settle down and commit their business to one salon.


As any kid can tell you, when thrown properly, a boomerang will come right back. This principle holds with walk-in clients. If they’re treated properly, walk-in clients will very likely return to your salon for regular service. Getting a client to return takes just as much finesse as getting a boomerang to return: You’ve got to hold them right, send them off carefully, and catch them properly. Follow these basic instructions.

1)      Greet walk-ins warmly and immediately.

2)      Don’t let them wait too long before service.

3)      Find out their short- and long-term needs in nail care. Operate on the assumption that they are now your regular clients.

4)      Provide the same fine service your regulars receive (even if you don’t have the same amount of time).

5)      Get their names, addresses, and phone numbers for follow-up promotions.

6)      Send a thank-you card shortly after their appointment. Welcome them back to the salon with a special, or include a personal note that shows you remember them.

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