In the Trenches

That’s what they said when they asked me to do this blog. They said they wanted someone who is working “in the trenches.” Which I interpret as meaning someone who is a working nail tech, making a living off of doing nails on clients in a salon day after day after day after... you get the drift.


That’d be me alright.


I don’t make $100K a year. In fact, I have yet to break the $50K mark. That’s gross receipts folks, not adjusted personal gross. I personally know techs who are hitting those numbers. Some of them right here in my area code. I can’t make excuses that I just don’t live in an area where people are willing to pay premium prices. I have to admit I’m doing something wrong — or at least, not right.


What is it? I’ve been doing nails consistently for 16 years. I’ve been working in the same zip code for the last 10 years, with eight of them at the same location. I don’t salon-hop. I think I do decent work. I have good client retention. If I can get someone in my chair, there’s about an 80% chance that I’ll see them again. Many of my clients have been with me consistently for over five years now. I have clients who have never let another nail tech touch their hands.


Despite recent accusations from one client, I do return calls, text messages, and e-mails in a timely manner — usually within 24 hours unless the message came in over the weekend. I almost never stand up a client or accidently double-book. (Hey 16 years is a long time and I’m only human. I think I have a pretty darn good record!)


I have lots of theories, and I’m sure you do too. I can hear all sort of things from, “Maggie, maybe you want to put a check on your narcissism.” to “Maggie, stop wearing your pajamas to work.” and maybe even, “Maggie, would it really kill you to let your clients bring their kids with them?” (BTW, yes, it would.)


Occasionally I go through phases where I get down on myself and over-analytical about these issues. I start comparing myself to my colleagues, especially the ones who are higher profile and making heftier bank deposits. Thing is, they don’t really seem to fit into the same category. I know techs who always wear suits to work. Techs who would never curse in front of a client and keep their personal lives personal. Techs who autoclave everything and wear gloves so they never actually touch their clients. Techs who wear jeans to work every day. Techs who gossip with their clients. Techs who never disinfect and reuse their files and buffers. Techs who constantly sleep in and are always late for their first appointment.


There just isn’t a standard to go by. So what’s a girl to do if she’s looking for a role model?


What makes clients flock to your desk? What makes a client willing to wait on a cancellation list for months until you have time to get them in? What makes a client totally cool with paying $80 for a fill? Or driving 100 miles out of her way to see you? Most importantly, what is it that keeps a steady stream of new clients at the ready to replace ones?


Is it a personality trait? Is it the environment you work in?


I think it has to do with what you charge for your work. That seems to be one consistency in the paradigm. It seems that the techs who price themselves at the high end of their market hold the most prestige. Maybe this is because they can make more money with fewer clients, but I think people assume that expensive is better. I think price sends a message to the consumer that makes a bold statement about your product.


So why am I under-pricing myself? Same reason most of us are, probably. Worry that my current clients will wander off. They’ve been standing by me and paying my bills for years now. I feel like I owe them a little counter-loyalty by not hitting them with a major rate increase. Even if I raise my prices a few dollars every year, I’ll never catch up, because my working-smarter-not-harder brethren are smart enough to raise their prices every year too.


Oh well. I do OK, really, and I have no one to blame but myself for settling for in between. Most of the time I’m pretty happy and confident with where I am. Some days it just gets to me. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has days like these.


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