Natural Nails

Nails au Naturel - Expanding Your Nail Nail Care Business

Although acrylics may be a higher ticket item for you, natural nail care can also mean big business.

Six years ago, Brenda Azevedo, a salon owner and distributor of natural nail care products, sat largely ignored in her tradeshow booth. Nail technicians were flocking to booths showing the latest in acrylics, gels, and airbrushing techniques — they weren’t interested in special nail files that sealed the nail’s free edge or cuticle mousse that hydrated around and underneath the nail. “They’d come by, and say ‘Oh, natural nails, never mind,’” says Azevedo. The prevailing altitude was that manicure services were not popular or profitable enough to merit special attention.

That attitude, however, is changing. Although acrylic nail services far outweigh natural nail care services (artificial nail revenues were 64% of total nail industry sales in 1994, while manicures were about 17%, according to the 1994 NAILS Fact Book), a parallel trend toward the natural nail is taking shape. Suzan Sorensen, a natural-nails-only manicurist at Salon Riviera in Redondo Beach, Calif., says that all but a tiny percentage of her clientele have switched from acrylics to their own natural nails. “Everyone was born with the ability to grow nails,” she asserts. “If clients are educated and nail technicians really believe in the benefits of natural nails, it can be done.” Once clients decide to grow their own nails, it’s only a matter of time before nail technicians will become more motivated to see what kinds of products are available to them. Azevedo can vouch for that — her Amera booth is now packed with interested buyers.

Breaking The Myths

Busy, harried women have always dreamed of long, perfect nails that stayed polished and didn’t need much maintenance. Acrylics were the answer, and they still are for many clients. “Most of my acrylic clients just can’t seem to grow their own nails,” says Susan Lopez, a nail technician at the #1 Nailhouse in Murray, Utah. “Natural nails also take a lot more care than acrylics; you can’t just let them go for two weeks between manicures.”

Convincing a client that she can grow her own nails is only one part of the equation. Many nail technicians worry also that their revenue base will shrink if their clients switch from acrylics to natural nails. The average set of acrylic nails is priced at $42; for fills, the average price is $21. In comparison, a basic manicure is about $11; all of these figures are according to the NAILS 1994 Fact Book.

When you factor in the time and cost of goods, however, manicures often come out ahead. Since most nail technicians can do two manicures in one hour, the figure increases to $22 per hour. Cost of goods for a manicure are considerably lower, too: in 1991, a manicure cost 75 cents per client, while an acrylic fill cost $1.94, according to NAILS research. The issue here is not whether natural nails are more desirable than acrylic nails, but hew to fit a successful natural nail care program into your list of services.

Every Shape And Size

The first step is knowing your clientele and judging who the best candidates are for a proactive natural nail care program. “We start by encouraging every client to grow her own nails,” says Mary Dzen, owner of Nail Perfection in W. Hartford, Conn. If clients at her salon can’t or don’t want to grew their own nails, then extensions are discussed. About half of the salon s clientele have natural nails — the other half has acrylic, fiberglass, or gel extensions.

It is difficult to categorize the “typical” natural nail client, since opinions and experiences vary from salon to salon. Many nail technicians identify professional/business women as likely natural nail clients. These clients generally prefer a shorter, more natural-looking nail for a professional look. Sometimes these clients opt for acrylics sculpted very short. Some will be very loyal clients, booking weekly or biweekly appointments as their schedules permit. Others are more sporadic, and will file their nails and change their polish color themselves in between visits.

Another solid natural nail care market is older women who have been getting their hair and nails done regularly for years, usually in the same salon. Often their nails and hands need extra care due to the dryness and brittleness that comes with aging. They are usually very loyal clients, switching salons or nail technicians only if they feel they are being neglected.

Neglect doesn’t only refer to a bad manicure — it also stems from not taking advantage of an opportunity to help a client above and beyond the call of duty. This happens most particularly with “transition” clients. “Many people have tried acrylics and are going back to natural,” Azevedo says. “It’s a market that shouldn’t be ignored.” Nails emerging from acrylic or other extensions are often dry and fragile and in great need of extra moisturizing. Clients in transition should be given extra care and attention. Their nail technicians should urge regular appointments and home maintenance.

Extras Come Naturally

Home care, long dreaded by manicurists who thought clients would do their own nails and never come back, is actually an area of amazing potential. “If you think about it, the acrylic business doesn’t have a lot of room for retail besides an occasional top coat or hand cream sale,” says Lynn Hayes Granger; vice president of marketing for Orly International, Inc. in Chatsworth, Calif. “If you take the price of a manicure and add spa services and a host of products you can retail on top of that, the profits really grow.” Even Lopez, who has only a small percentage of natural nail clients, says they definitely are better retail customers. “I suggest that they use certain home care products, such as nail polish, files, cuticle oil, and nail strengtheners,” Lopez says.

Add-on products shouldn’t be a hard sell; in fact, they should almost sell themselves. Many clients don’t know the first thing about taking care of their own nails, even something as basic as filing. One client came to Lopez with her nails filed to sharp points. When Lopez showed her the proper way to file, with the proper tools, she came back six weeks later with beautiful nails. From that moment on, she was hooked on taking care of her nails, and regular manicures are a big part of it.

“The key is to talk to the customer and explain how things work,” says Valerie Celia, marketing manager for Jessica Cosmetics International in N. Hollywood, Calif. “They are more apt to buy if you educate and show the product’s benefits.”

Sorensen is well prepared with entire manicure packages in attractive plastic totes for sale behind her work table. The hydration kit includes a cream cleanser, lotion, cuticle mousse, cuticle oil, and moisture sealer. She talks each client through the steps, explaining why she doesn’t use emery boards (“They pull the nail layers apart”), and the benefits of cuticle mousse (“Use it twice daily to condition the cuticle and nourish the new nail growing in”).

The result? Most of her clients have been with her for many years. “They’re extremely loyal,” she says, “even more so than if they had silk wraps, which are available at other salons at a lower cost than mine. They stay because I know natural nails.”

The logic, then, is simple: Help the client maintain her nails at home with the right products, and then have them available for sale at your salon. Even if she goes longer between appointments, your client will still look to you for her supplies, and for advice.

While giving clients the knowledge they need, don’t forget about providing the pampering they crave. Extras such as paraffin hand treatments, hand facials, hot oil treatments, deluxe pedicures, and hot mitt treatments are “natural” add-ons to natural nail care. Reflexology is another relaxation service that is growing in popularity “Manicures shouldn’t be .10 minutes anymore,” says Beth Hickey, vice president of OrigiNails, Inc., in Arlington, Texas. “It’s not about how many people you can get in, but how many services and quality products you can offer each client.” Once the client has made an appointment, she will not turn down the possibility of leaving the salon with incredibly soft, soothed hands with every muscle relaxed and tingling. The client is receptive to anything that will make her feel and/or look better. “Hands are the only indicator of a woman’s age.” Celia says. “You can fix your face and hide figure flaws, but your hands will always give you away.”

Be Their Guide

The beginning of a manicure should always be a consultation, a time when you examine the clients nails and talk to her about any problems she is having with splitting, dryness, or ragged cuticles. Its also a lime to tell her about the many exciting services you offer over and above the basic manicure, and what these services can do for her.

In the past, there were not too many variations in basic manicure products: one type of polish remover, cuticle remover, base coat, and top coat. Now, companies offer nail products made for different nail types. Dry nails, weak nails, and nails that are growing out after having extensions all need a specific kind of treatment. Nail technicians can offer a water, lotion, or hot oil soak, depending on the customer. The manicure that was once a one-size-fits-all service now becomes the client’s personal ritual.

If the nail technician takes an active role in encouraging her client to have good habits at home, such as always wearing gloves for housework and gardening, and using cuticle oil, there will be a noticeable difference in the look and health of her nails. In turn, the client will be more inclined to keep her regular appointments, and to indulge herself in some of the extra services from time to time. In other words, you are indispensable to her natural nail care regimen. “Clients can’t do the polish hall as we’ll as we can, and then love the pampering,” Dzen says. “Our salon has grown to 30 nail technicians, so we must be doing something right.”

Marketing Strategies For Going Natural

Don’t know how to do the extras? Go back to school (go to a tradeshow or a manufacturer’s seminar) to learn all the latest techniques in natural nail care.

Ask you distributor about the variety of natural nail care products available. You need to choose the line you think works best, and the one you can market to clients for home care.

Introduce your new products and services with specials. Some nail technicians introduce a new pedicure treatment by offering it at half-price to preferred customers. Or offer a 2-for-1 paraffin hand treatment special to clients who bring in a friend for a manicure.

If you live in an area with harsh climates, educate your clients about summer and winter changes in their skin and nails. Package your products and services, as well as your basic manicures, according to the season. Think about how tempting a paraffin hand treatment would be to a client on a blustery winter afternoon!

Promote your gift certificates as perfect holiday gifts. Once someone redeems a certificate for a pedicure, she will be hooked.

Don’t be afraid to reconsider your manicure prices, and raise them. Many nail technicians charge a lower rate because they feel manicures don’t require much time or effort. Not so — natural nail care is a valuable and specialized service. Once your client sees the results, she’ll consider your services well worth the price!


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