Welcome to the Precision Nails Blog

As a salon owner and licensed manicurist, my perspective on the nail industry could not be more practical. While some may be offended by the opinions expressed, please understand that I want to share information and stimulate discussion. Whether you want your nails done or do nails professionally, I hope you find this blog both useful and interesting.

Materials on this website may not be reproduced, redistributed, transmitted, copied, cached, or otherwise used, without prior written consent of Jaime Schrabeck. To request consent, contact Jaime at consulting@precisionnails.com.

Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Giving Can Be Its Own Reward

Article Published in Stylist Magazine, October 2011

Nearly every week at my salon, some “great opportunity” presents itself in the form of an advertising solicitation. The companies soliciting my business would have me believe that I need to spend money on advertising to be successful. From print to internet, from AdWords (Google) to Yelp, the options for gaining exposure seem limitless. However, having realized the limitations of traditional advertising (especially print) many years ago, I haven’t wasted my money. For example, when a local weekly paper contacted me to advertise in a special beauty section, I offered to write an article instead. That article, which advised consumers about selecting a reputable salon, proved much more useful to the paper, its readers and my business than any ad would have been. Sharing my expertise costs me nothing and has greater impact.

Instead of spending to advertise my salon, I prefer to give to promote my salon. One of the most rewarding ways to give is to contribute to worthy causes within the local community. Very few non-profit organizations have adequate resources to solicit donations from small businesses like mine. I make it easy for them by regularly scanning local papers and magazines for their announcements/advertisements. The words “auction” or “door prizes” usually catch my attention. I then contact the organizers to donate a $100 gift card, good for either products and/or services with no expiration date. Even if the upcoming event doesn’t include an auction or door prizes, I’ll donate anyway; organizations can always use gift cards to reward hard-working volunteers and staff members. If I have the time, I’ll drop off a gift card to the organizers for greater convenience; otherwise, I’ll arrange for it to be picked up. Either way, the presentation of a gift card must be attractive. My presentation, which costs less than $3.00, includes a custom plastic gift card in a metallic gift card box (labeled with the salon logo) placed in a metallic kraft paper bag (also labeled with the salon logo) with a brochure and tissue paper. (Instead of paying to have the salon logo hot-stamped on boxes and bags, I save money by buying custom-made labels that can be put on almost anything.)

In exchange for making a donation, my salon is listed in the event program, linked on the organizer’s website and later printed in newspaper/magazine ads thanking sponsors. I may not be able to afford $500-a-plate dinners, but my business can be represented to people who can. And that’s the point.

For tax purposes, I organize all my donation information in a binder filled with sheet protectors. Each event is contained in its own sheet protector, including the donation form and the confirmation/thank you letter confirming receipt. I also keep a spreadsheet updated with the gift card number, the amount, the name of the event, the name of the organization, its tax identification number, etc. Once a donation is made, the organizers know to contact me so I can donate again in the future.

To promote these organizations and their events, I share information with my clients. This encourages them to participate, either by attending, volunteering and/or making donations of their own. Likewise, I encourage clients to suggest organizations/events that I may not be familiar with. Given my work schedule, I don’t have much time to volunteer, but I do make an exception for the Sunset Center (www.sunsetcenter.org), a unique performing arts venue with a rich history in my town. In addition to my time, I also donate money to sponsor the program that’s distributed at all performances. This year, the Precision Nails advertisement will be double its previous size, and still will not include any special offers or discounts. The primary purpose of the ad is to demonstrate support for the Sunset Center, not attract new clients. The ad lets people know that money spent at my salon gets reinvested in our local community.

During past holiday seasons, I’ve shown appreciation to my best clients with gifts. Last year, after losing two clients to ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), I didn’t feel giving gifts to certain clients was appropriate. Instead, I donated that money to the ALS Association (www.alsa.org) on behalf of the salon to honor those two wonderful women. The client response to this decision was so affirming that I never plan to buy client gifts again. Each year, I’ll donate to an organization whose cause holds special significance.

You can give in many ways: your expertise, time, money, products, hosting and more. Whatever your interests (education, the arts, sports, health care, disaster relief, the environment, animal welfare, military/veterans, etc.), there are organizations in your local community that need and will appreciate your support. Which organizations you choose and how you support them, if at all, are very personal decisions. If I could make one suggestion, I urge you to consider organ donation. There’s no tax deduction or other financial benefit, but sometimes giving is its own reward. To become a donor in your state, register online at www.organdonor.gov.

By Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Continuing (Mis) Education?

Article Published in Stylist Magazine, September 2011

Whether your state requires continuing education or not, any discussion about it presumes that the basic education provided in beauty schools produces licensed manicurists capable of working competently and safely. If this were true, why do so many licensed manicurists lack basic skills and fail to follow heath and safety regulations? And if it's not true, what will a few hours of continuing education accomplish after hundreds of hours spent in beauty school? California, Oregon and Washington do not currently require continuing education, but in states that do like Ohio and Texas, are manicurists more informed and consumers safer?

Our careers as nail professionals begin with beauty school, where we can spend as few as 200 hours (Ohio) or as many as 600 hours (Oregon, Texas and Washington) to qualify for the licensing examination. These variations in time confirm the fundamental problem with time-based curriculums: the quantity of time is valued more than the quality of the instruction and the competency of the student. To suggest that beauty school students spend all their time in technical instruction and/or providing services (practical operation) defies reality. Beauty schools rarely devote more than 90 minutes to direct instruction during the day, nor can they possibly supply enough clients to keep students busy.

Some states have considered increasing the hours required in hopes of improving compliance and consumer safety. For example, California’s Board of Barbering and Cosmetology recently proposed an increase from 400 to 500 hours. As an expert educator, licensed salon owner and manicurist, I strongly opposed this proposal. Requiring more hours would likely discourage individuals from becoming students, produce a significant financial burden on those who do and unnecessarily delay their entry into this profession, without ANY guarantee of increased competence or consumer safety. Given the time already wasted in existing curriculums, why would school instructors need more time? Students could learn how to properly disinfect equipment, including what can and cannot be disinfected, in 60 minutes or less. The failure of licensees to follow health and safety regulations after they leave school suggests that either they didn’t learn what to do or weren’t convinced that it wasn’t optional.

As long as "nail care" is considered distinct from "health and safety,” students will dismiss the latter as unimportant when in fact it should inform everything they do. These are NOT separate subjects; beauty schools should teach nail care procedures based on acceptable health and safety practices. To be very simplistic, "nail care" is what licensed manicurists do, and "health and safety" is how it must be done. A well-designed manicuring curriculum must be based on scientifically accurate information and promote best practices, not perpetuate misinformation and low standards. I consider the competent performance of the following tasks fundamental to manicuring, regardless of "trends:"
  • shaping the nails (trimming, filing and buffing);
  • conditioning the skin surrounding the nail (eponychium, not "cuticle");
  • conditioning the skin of the hands and feet (exfoliating, moisturizing and massaging);
  • smoothing (not removing) calluses;
  • applying and removing polish;
  • applying and removing artificial nails, including natural nail repairs;
  • and most important, doing all of the above in a manner that protects the health and safety of consumers and the licensee.
Manicurists who have not been trained properly are more likely to deviate from accepted standards of practice, like performing pedicures on clients with questionable health conditions. While students, they likely worked on many elderly and/or unhealthy clients who should have been refused service and referred to a medical professional. It's unfortunate, and potentially very dangerous, that the most inexperienced practice on the most vulnerable with little or no direct supervision. Manicuring students need to understand the scope of practice of their future license, and how to determine who can safely receive nail services. Students should realize that making money is not worth risking a client’s health or losing their license.

In my experience as an expert witness, I’ve observed that many consumer complaints involve pedicures, but another common problem is the improper use of drills/electric files. In California, using a drill is not prohibited, but it’s not included in the manicuring curriculum or licensing examination either. If it were included, the thought of students practicing on clients without the proper training or supervision makes me wince! Given how many complaints arise from drill damage, this may be one of those instances where special certification through continuing education should be required, like in Colorado.

The exceptionally poor work done by some manicurists undermines our professionalism and poses a serious risk to consumers.The average consumer mistakenly believes that a manicuring license proves technical competence. Why do states allow incompetent individuals to obtain licenses? Has the focus on “safety” obscured the benefits of requiring licensees to demonstrate quality work? If we continue to accept mediocrity as our standard of practice, we will continue to produce an incompetent workforce incapable of meeting the demands and expectations of consumers.

By Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Making Technology Work for You

Article Published in Stylist Magazine, August 2011

While writing this article on my laptop, I’m willing to acknowledge that technology makes it possible. If I had to hand write, it just wouldn’t happen. I have neither the patience or time necessary to draft and edit using only pen and paper. And my handwriting isn’t all that legible anyways; there are times when even I cannot read my own notes. My typing skills aren’t much better than my hand writing, but at least I can read what I’ve typed.

The work of a licensed manicurist does not require any particular technology skills, but those skills are very relevant to the work of a salon owner. My responsibilities would be overwhelming if it weren’t for technology. There’s so much to do that I can rationalize my dependence on technology as productive rather than addictive. I manage my business using a smartphone, a laptop and desktop computers, printer/fax machine, internet access and numerous applications. All this technology gives me the control and functionality I need to:
  • Track finances
  • Pay bills
  • Report taxes
  • Communicate through email, texting, and phone calls
  • Design marketing materials
  • Plan travel to shows and other industry events
  • Promote our salon and services
  • Research new products, techniques and sources
  • Order supplies
  • Network with other businesses
  • Write content for articles, blog, etc.
  • Maintain a website
  • Develop and deliver presentations
  • Keep client and employee records
  • Schedule clients
  • Control inventory
  • Sell products online
  • Process credit card transactions
  • Donate to charitable organizations
  • Analyze performance reports
In my twenty years in the nail industry, technology has proven itself the best investment I’ve ever made in my business. While not infallible, overall it’s more reliable than most people I know, including myself. Choosing which technology to invest in, and how much time to spend using it, depends on your needs. Many years ago, while still working alone, I chose to make what most manicurists in my position would consider an unnecessary and expensive purchase, salon management software. After all, most salons at the time used large appointment books and pencils (and lots of erasers) to schedule clients. I don’t doubt that many salons till do, despite the obvious limitations. Even without any immediate plans to work with or employ other manicurists, I understood that I needed the same technology that larger, more successful salons use, and it was more affordable than I expected.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that salon management software transformed my business. Clients recognized that their money was being reinvested to improve their salon experience. The efficiency of the scheduling process was the most obvious improvement. No more counting every four pages to schedule a monthly standing, or hand-writing appointment cards. The software does just about everything (email appointment reminders, online scheduling, integrated credit card processing, gift card tracking, automatic remote data storage, etc.) except self check-out. Years later, as my business grows and the software evolves, I appreciate the technology even more.

Not every investment in technology has been worthwhile. When I designed my current salon, I had satellite radio receivers installed at each station so clients could listen privately wearing headphones. Music played throughout the salon on an additional receiver. What a waste of money! Clients wanted to interact us, not isolate themselves. So I ditched the service as soon as my contract expired and have been much more satisfied using Pandora on my computer. Sometimes simpler is better.

A simple and often underutilized technology, voicemail has replaced a receptionist in my salon. We don’t answer the salon phone while providing services because our clients deserve our full attention. However, just hearing a phone ring makes some people anxious, even when it’s not theirs. Last holiday season, I silenced the ringer to reduce disruptions. Not only did our clients seem more relaxed, we were too so the ringer has stayed off. We can discretely retrieve and respond to voicemail messages between clients. Existing clients know its best to schedule in advance and notify us of any changes via email. But potential clients don’t know any better, so a detailed outgoing message informs callers that we don’t answer the phone while providing services, and that more information about our salon and services can be found on our website.

Speaking of our website, it eliminates the need for any other advertising, as far as I’m concerned. Twenty years ago, I was paying the phone company for an ad in the Yellow Pages. Every year, I was encouraged to purchase a larger one, like it was some kind of contest. Thanks to technology, I haven’t paid for print advertising in more than 15 years. A well-designed and regularly updated website is the most cost-effective way to reach potential clients. If you don’t already have one for your salon, get one, but do yourself a favor, and have yours professionally done. Like most technology, you don’t need to understand how it works, just how to make it work for you.

By Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Clients Behaving Badly

Article Published in Stylist Magazine, July 2011

One of my most popular classes, “Clients Behaving Badly” begins with a simple, but powerful, statement: Bad clients are not worth having. If this class were an interactive discussion about the worst clients ever (read: bitch session), this statement would be considered a logical conclusion. However, the class does not focus on bad clients. Despite the title, I share strategies on building a clientele based on the premise that bad clients are not worth having. Clients form the foundation of your salon business; the stronger the foundation, the stronger your business.

Rather than entreat you, as many would, to provide better customer service, I encourage you to provide quality services to better customers. There are far more consumers/customers/potential clients than beauty professionals, and this gives us a tremendous advantage. That advantage is the power of choice. Choosing who to serve and who to refuse/refer elsewhere may seem incompatible with providing good customer service. But what’s truly incompatible is the misguided notion that we’re somehow obligated to serve/please everyone. No one can demand service from you, though some may treat you as if they could. That’s as absurd as the notion that the customer is always right. Your value as a beauty professional lies in your expertise; clients pay you for being right. When having the clients you want makes giving them what they want that much easier, why not actively pursue the ideal clients for your salon business?

“The purpose of a business is to create a mutually beneficial relationship between itself and those that it serves.” (John Woods). Many beauty professionals consider client relationships one of the most rewarding, yet most challenging, aspects of their work. Every client is a relationship; some will flame out within their first and only appointment, while others may last through hundreds of appointments over decades. It’s not reasonable to expect that every person who contacts your business will become one of your best clients. (Likewise, not every person you meet will become your best friend.) Communicating what your salon offers to and expects from clients encourages compatible potential clients to contact you, while discouraging others from wasting your time.

Building relationships requires effort and resources that should not be wasted on those who don’t respect you as a beauty professional. When reflecting on my own clientele, I keep this in mind: “I don’t build in order to have clients. I have clients in order to build.” (Ayn Rand). The following statement, posted several years ago to my salon website, summarizes my approach to client relationships:

We believe that receiving a salon service should be a safe and pleasant experience for the consumer. Conversely, we believe that the beauty professional providing the service also deserves a safe and pleasant experience. Our salon does not suit every consumer, nor does every consumer suit us. To be blunt, we will refuse service to those who do not.

After 17 years of providing nail services, we have more than enough experience to know who best suits us. Our ideal client exhibits these qualities:

  • insists on trained and licensed professionals;
  • respects our time;
  • expects a clean, organized salon environment;
  • appreciates quality more than convenience;
  • enjoys our salon experience;
  • schedules in advance;
  • values our professional opinions;
  • encourages our efforts to improve our skills;
  • supports our commitment to the beauty industry;
  • and refers family and friends.

Within an industry that treats consumers and professionals as disposable, Precision Nails thrives because we respect ourselves and value our clients, particularly our Preferred Clients (those with standing appointments).

As expected, this statement generated some insightful discussions and prompted some (less than ideal) clients to seek services elsewhere. Mission accomplished.

When clients behave badly, it’s time to question your judgment and evaluate your contribution to the problem. The reason why clients behave badly is very simple - because you let them. You continue to schedule them even as they arrive late or miss appointments entirely, criticize your work, complain about the price, etc. What’s the incentive for good behavior when you keep rewarding bad behavior? Serving your clients should make you feel good about yourself, professionally and personally. I sincerely hope that you wouldn’t tolerate an unhealthy professional relationship anymore than you’d tolerate an unhealthy personal relationship. You deserve better, but unless you’re willing to act, you’re not likely to get it.

My best advice for losing bad clients? Simultaneously change your schedule and raise your prices (even minor changes will do). If you haven’t already done so, develop salon policies and procedures and be prepared to enforce consequences. Give your clients at least a month’s notice that you’ll be canceling all future appointments to rebuild your new schedule. Reward your best clients by giving them priority as you fill your new schedule. Do NOT schedule bad clients; when they realize that you’re no longer willing to tolerate their behavior, they’ll go elsewhere. Who you choose to serve, and when, is your business, literally.

By Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Nail Services in the Spa Environment

Article Published in Stylist Magazine, June 2011

What role do nails play in the day spa industry? Apparently, not a very significant one. With the industry focused on skin care, massage, wellness, etc., nails don’t receive much attention. That’s obvious whether reading a typical menu of day spa services, or a list of exhibitors and classes at a spa show. Very few day spas target nail clients, and very few nail product manufacturers target day spas. This leads me to conclude that despite the popularity of professional nail care, nails may be the most neglected aspect of the day spa industry.

Many day spas attempt to function as both a spa and a full-service beauty salon (remember those?). How often do the words “spa and salon” appear together? Enough  already. Typically, a day spa relegates its beauty services, like hair, nails, waxing and makeup, to the “salon” area of the facility. But it’s difficult, if not impossible, to maintain separate spa and salon areas, and have them impart the same sense of “spa.” Nail services performed at a day spa rarely offer an experience any different or better from what clients can experience at a traditional beauty salon. So why bother offering the services? And why would nail clients frequent a business that doesn’t prioritize what they want most?

Having attending numerous spa/beauty shows, I’ve concluded that spas, whether they be resort, destination or day, treat nail services as a necessity for guest convenience, but not as legitimate profit generators. There’s a presumption that while facial/massage/body treatments can command $2 per minute, if not more, nail services cannot. I could take offense that the time/training/skills of nail professionals are not regarded more highly within the day spa industry. (I have a hard enough time convincing nail professionals to charge at least a $1 per minute for themselves!) But as a salon owner who employs licensed manicurists to provide services in a clean, upscale salon environment, I’m grateful. It’s easier to compete when the competition doesn’t understand the market and its potential.

The word “spa,” when used, must be used with caution. Attaching “spa” to the name of any service or business raises client expectations, except when that word appears in neon. (Neon tends to lower my expectations, but increase my appetite.) But what exactly does the word “spa” mean anyway? Like so many words overused in the beauty industry, it lacks meaning. For me, it translates as more complicated, more time-consuming and more expensive, none of which appeals to me as a consumer.

Raising expectations can be a good thing, as long as they’re met. Clients would expect to pay more at a day spa than they would at a beauty salon, but they also expect a better quality service. But as most people would acknowledge, paying more does not guarantee a safer, or better service. The bottom line: any establishment that offers beauty services is required by law to meet minimum standards for health and safety, regardless of how much the services cost.

A salon does not need to be a spa to offer quality nail services. The environment does not ensure quality; it’s the professional performing the services that matters most. Nor does a salon need to make its services more “spa” to charge more. Adding unnecessary steps or overpriced products to the procedures does little to improve quality. It’s hard to justify increased service prices without commensurate results. For example, using expensive facial products for pedicures would likely do nothing except add to product costs, and lower the profit margin.

While spas advertise facials, massages and other treatments with elaborate descriptions, nail services often get a one-line mention as if everyone should know what to expect of a spa’s “signature” manicure or pedicure. Again, perhaps I should be grateful because if more detail were included, it may read something like this:

Your extremities collect stress that must be released to achieve optimal wellness/improve your mood/soothe your soul/balance your energy. Experience the ancient traditions of the [insert name of indigenous people here] who have passed along their unique nail care rituals for hundreds/thousands of years. Utilizing the incredible healing power of [insert name of indigenous plant/mineral or popular landmark here], our nail experts [read: any available employee] will revitalize/nurture/replenish/restore your hands and feet with our custom-blended, organic, natural products, available for use at home to extend your journey of enlightenment.

On a side note, it’s disappointing to realize that many spas have not moved beyond “gentleman’s” manicures and pedicures to gender-neutral services. Instead of being inclusive, which is no doubt the intent, naming services according to gender makes it seem somehow unnatural for men to have their hands and feet cared for/groomed.

In the future, day spas may realize the value of nail services for generating additional revenue and increasing client loyalty. In the meanwhile, I’m happy to share what I’ve learned about providing quality nail services at every spa/beauty show I attend.

By Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D.

Monday, June 6, 2011

In Praise of Polish

Article Published in Stylist Magazine, May 2011

If you hadn’t already noticed, nail color has made a tremendous comeback. The renewed focus on colorful nails owes much to the incredible popularity and abundance of colored gel and gel-polish products. These products promise no drying time because they light-cure, extended wear with no chipping and soak-off removal (more or less). Consumers have responded to clever marketing by contacting salons to request a “lacquer manicure,” or a “three-week manicure,” even when they don’t fully understand what the service entails. This trend has been so pervasive that brands known primarily for polish and natural nail products have launched their own gel lines. And while this may seem like bad news for polish manufacturers, the recent acquisitions of Essie by L’Oreal and OPI by Coty suggest otherwise. No doubt, the value of these professional brands lie in their growth potential beyond salons. And as expected, these brands have expanded their presence in retail and drug stores, competing alongside Sally Hansen (also owned by Coty) and other brands that consumers have had access to for years.

While these recent developments provide consumers many options, they also prompt professionals to question whether polish has lost its appeal as a salon service and  product? I cannot answer this question for every salon owner or nail professional, but for me, the answer would be decidedly no. Polish is not the perfect product; an expert application can be a challenge for the professional, and the patience to let it dry, a challenge for the client. But after decades of reliable performance, polish remains an integral part of my professional nail services. What polish lacks in drying speed and durability, it more than makes up for in price, color range and ease of application and removal, with no additional equipment necessary. Moreover, just as my stylist friends don’t complain about the availability of hair coloring products, I won’t complain about the availability of polish. My clients still rely on my application skills, and they want to test colors before they purchase.

The minimal supplies I use to polish include nail wipes (non-woven sponges), pure acetone in a pump dispenser, base coat (needed for natural nails only), polish, top coat and a clean-up brush (my favorite: a #4 oval taklon). Application begins with removing any existing polish and/or oils from the nails using nail wipes moistened with acetone. 

The speed and accuracy of my polish application depends largely on my positioning. I hold the client’s finger firmly from underneath with my left thumb and forefinger, the polish bottle in the palm of my left hand and the bottle cap/brush with my right thumb and forefinger. When removing the brush from the polish bottle, I wipe against the neck so that polish remains on one side of the brush only. For more precise brush placement, I extend my right pinky to rest against the three other fingers of my left hand. When placing the brush at the base of the nail, it’s my goal to have polish be close to, but not touching, the skin. Each stroke toward the edge of the nail should be smooth and straight, and slightly overlapping to cover the entire surface. The fewer the strokes, the better. Starting at the center of the nail and working toward either sidewall, or from one sidewall and working across to the other, is a matter of personal preference. (I happen to start on the left side and work toward the right.) While polishing, I prefer to gently rotate the client’s fingers than tilt my head.

After each layer of polish, I place that hand under a polish-drying fan that circulates room-temperature air while I polish the other hand. Drying between layers reduces the amount of time clients wait to dry at the end of the service. For sheer colors, I generally apply only one layer of color; for opaque colors, two thin layers provide better coverage. There should not be any excess polish on the underside of the nail, or on the surrounding skin. Before applying top coat, I use my clean-up brush dipped in acetone to perfect the perimeter of the polish. After top coat is applied, the client waits another 3-5 minutes under the polish-drying fans before leaving the salon.

That clients can, with varying degrees of competence, polish their own, or a friend’s, nails makes it ideal for retailing. Displayed attractively, polish virtually sells itself. Let your clients choose their favorite color from a well-stocked, dust-free retail display, rather than from the bottles you use to polish. At my salon, we stock a minimum of 3 bottles each of more than 200 different colors, arranged according to color. We store one bottle of every available color alphabetically in the back room for use during services. Clients can also request to test colors using these bottles. For testing purposes, we place a piece of clear plastic tape on the client’s hand and dab polish there instead of directly on their nails.

There’s no need or scientific reason to advise clients to purchase a bottle for salon use. Frightening clients about the possibility of cross-contamination is not a valid marketing strategy. If bacteria and fungus were able to thrive among polish ingredients and subsequently be transmitted to other clients, there might be cause for concern. However, this is not the case. According to research conducted by chemists Paul Bryson, Ph.D. and Doug Schoon, “nail polish quickly destroys microbes that are introduced into it. . . . When partially-used bottles of polish were repurchased from salons after actual use on multiple customers, examination by an independent lab showed no trace of microbial contamination whatsoever.” That’s bad news for microbes, but good news for those of us who love polish.

By Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Being Green: What Does it Mean?

Judging by the increasing number of salons marketed as “natural,” “organic” and “eco-friendly,” the pressure to appear “green” must be immense. My salon appears green; I painted both the exterior and interior beautiful, complimentary shades. But besides being my favorite color, and in the context of a nail salon, what exactly does “being green” mean? I don’t ask this question facetiously; in fact, I struggle with the entire concept. While the intent may be admirable (protecting the environment, conserving resources, preserving health, etc.), this concept has been distorted and abused through misinformation and fear mongering. Now, more than ever, clients ask questions like, “Is your polish toxic?,” while some manufacturers go so far as to promote their 1`products as “chemical-free.” How do we nail professionals differentiate fact from fiction? And how do we reconcile our responsibility to protect our clients with a desire to protect the environment?

Lacking a definitive standard based on empirical evidence, the concept of being green deserves careful consideration. This requires knowledge beyond the basic education and training most manicurists receive. That’s why I’ve enlisted three of the nail industry’s most respected chemists, Paul Bryson, Ph.D., Jim McConnell and Doug Schoon to provide their scientific expertise. 

All three experts agree that manicurists need to better understand the structure and function of nails. In brief, Doug Schoon advises, “Be a knowledgeable professional.” Although beauty school would be the obvious and ideal place to learn this information, that apparently does not happen for many students. As Schoon points out, “Most nail techs can't even name the parts of the nail . . . How can you address concerns when you don’t understand the basics?”

Furthermore, manicurists “need to educate themselves on the products they use,” emphasizes Jim McConnell. Professional nail products contain chemicals that have been proven safe when used according to manufacturer instructions. That being said, you should never ingest nail products, rub them into your eyes or otherwise use them inappropriately. Any manufacturer claiming that its products don’t contain chemicals is simply being dishonest. Bryson reminds us of basic science, “It's impossible to make a product that is ‘chemical free,’ since everything around us - water, air, plants, foods, etc. - is composed of chemicals.” Likewise, any manufacturer claiming better/safer products because they’re made from some unlikely, yet more “natural” ingredients, cannot be trusted. McConnell expresses his frustration when mentioning a UV gel product supposedly made from seaweed.

Despite decades of safe use, nail products still raise safety concerns, leading to questions like “What’s the most dangerous chemical used in nail salons?” Acetone is a common response. But contrary to what many manicurists and consumers believe, “acetone is one of the safest solvents that we can work with in the salon,” according to McConnell. Bryson describes acetone emphatically as “the safest and greenest polish remover! All the acetone substitutes either produce more photochemical smog, and/or are more hazardous. ‘Non-acetone’ polish remover has long been dishonestly marketed as a safer product, but in fact the reverse is true . . ." Bryson singles out methyl acetate as “the only non-acetone polish remover solvent still legal in California,” but warns that it “could cause death or permanent blindness if a child drank it! The few companies that sell it use a bitter tasting additive to prevent accidental ingestion."
What about formaldehyde in nail polish? Schoon addresses this controversial chemical in a must-read article, The Formaldehyde Myth (available at www.schoonscientific.com). “Formaldehyde is not a cosmetic ingredient and never has been,” he states. Bryson acknowledges the understandable confusion about formaldehyde: “one of the main resins in nail polish is called ‘Tosylamide-Formaldehyde Resin,’ which despite the name, is not the same chemical as formaldehyde. Specialty nail hardeners are another story - they contain a small, US FDA-permitted amount of a non-volatile, reaction product of formaldehyde and water - more properly known as methylene glycol - or they won't work. Confusingly, until recently, this substance had to be called ‘Formaldehyde’ on the label, which wrought much customer confusion as they wrongly assumed that nail hardeners posed a cancer risk.”

Schoon further cautions against allowing ourselves and our clients to think in terms of what’s most dangerous, “If you remove an ingredient, then the next one on the list becomes the ‘most,’ until you have no chemicals to list. It is more important to ask, what should we do in nail salons to ensure that all products are used safely?” 

The following suggestions will help you create a healthier salon environment:
  • Protect the health and safety of yourself, your coworkers and your clients.
  • Keep your salon clean.
  • Follow applicable laws (state board, OSHA, etc.).
  • Install an effective ventilation system.
  • Read product labels and follow manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Learn about product chemistry.
  • Read product labels and follow manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Obtain MSDS on every product.
  • Store your products properly.
  • Limit your exposure by wearing gloves.
  • Wear protective eyewear.
  • Utilize disposable products when necessary.
  • Dispose of your waste safely.
  • Make the most of the resources you use.
  • Invest in bulk quantities.
  • Encourage manufacturers to reduce packaging waste.
  • Simplify your salon packaging and marketing materials.
  • Purchase adequate liability & property insurance.
For more information about nails, nail products and salon safety, read Doug Schoon’s book, Nail Structure and Product Chemistry, Second Edition (Milady, 2005) and visit the website, www.schoonscientific.com for relevant articles and publications from the Nail Manufacturers Council.

By Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Competitive Pricing for Salon Success

Article Published in Stylist Magazine, March 2011

“Nowadays, people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
Oscar Wilde

Spend any time in the beauty industry and you’ll soon recognize the first words of most potential clients: “How much is a (insert name of service here)?” Like most nail professionals, you instinctively answer with the price. But no matter what that number, the answer will be wrong. Why? Because without context, a mere number is essentially meaningless. It assumes that all services are created and delivered equally from salon to salon, and it cannot possibly capture the nature and quality of your service. Clients cannot appreciate the value of your work when they don’t understand what they’re paying for. It’s your responsibility to communicate that value.

Whether just starting your salon business, or reinventing an existing one, the decisions to be made can be overwhelming. One of the most important is how to structure and price your services. Overpricing will discourage potential clients initially, while underpricing will discourage you eventually. The only thing more frustrating than clients taking advantage is the realization that it’s your fault. Ideally, your service prices will strike just the right balance between being competitive (attractive to potential clients) and
providing adequate compensation (enabling you to earn a living doing what you love . . . nails!).

Important decisions related to service pricing require doing your research, but not the kind that you might expect. How many times have you been advised to contact other salons and ask about their pricing to determine your own? That’s just as useless as when a potential client asks the same question. If you want to make the common and misguided mistake of competing on price, then contact other salons. But what’s the point unless you also find out what their salon costs are? Few salon owners would be
willing to share that information, even if they knew.

Doing your research means accounting for your own costs:

  • Lease
  • Equipment and supplies
  • Utilities (telephone, water, gas and electric, etc.)
  • Outside/professional services (payroll, accounting, laundry, etc.)
  • Licenses (business and professional)
  • Insurance
  • Taxes (payroll, sales, property, etc.)
  • Marketing/advertising
  • Education
  • Professional memberships
  • Payroll, or your time if you work independently

These costs vary so widely from salon to salon that it’s imperative that you do this for yourself, and make every effort to reduce these costs whenever possible.

Even with this information, you’re not prepared to make good decisions. Considering that income generated from nail services depends on the active participation of service providers, time must be accounted for before pricing can be determined. The time required to complete the service should be minimized as much as possible to avoid wasting your time or your client’s. To maximize time (your greatest resource!), your services need to be structured deliberately to achieve the desired results: the
procedures organized step-by-step and the products and tools selected for each step. Every procedure, product and tool should be evaluated for its safety, efficiency and cost-efficiency.

For every service, you need to calculate the product cost, including both disposables (files, gloves, nail wipes, etc.) and consumables (polish, lotion, acetone, gel, etc.). Once calculated, that number. along with the time required to complete the service can be used in the following formula:

Product Cost + $1/minute = Service Price (Round up to the nearest $5 increment.)

For example, our pedicure costs $3 in product and takes 45 minutes. Our service price is $3 + $45 = $48, but rounded up to $50. The product cost percentage is $3/$50 = 6%. Ideally, the product cost should be lower than 10%; otherwise, that service may not be worth offering.

Before you question the feasibility of earning at least a $1/minute, let’s discuss. For nail professionals who believe that clients in their particular area won’t pay $1/minute, ask yourself what the standard hourly rate is for massage. Given your diverse skills and significant investment in education, equipment and supplies, your work should be worth at least the equivalent of that of a massage therapist. And for nail professionals who don’t think they can charge $90 for a pink and white backfill just because it takes 90 minutes, they’re right. What’s taking so long? Every service offered should be doable in an hour or less. Developing your skills and being more efficient will reduce the time required and move you closer to that $1/minute minimum.

To market your services, publish enticing service descriptions that detail what’s included, the time allowed and the price. Your salon policies (appointments, cancellations, payment options, etc.) also need to be explained in writing. Despite the accessibility of the internet, salons still need something tangible to present to potential clients, so a brochure is a must. When asked about your service prices, whether in person, by email or phone call, be prepared to ask some questions to determine which service, if any, best meets the client’s needs and to focus on its value, not the price.

By Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

What Should be Hot for 2011

Article Published in Stylist Magazine, February 2011

It’s hard to predict where the nail industry will trend. Years ago, who would have anticipated the incredible popularity of gel polish, or the total absurdity of fish pedicures? The fact that gel polish has become a trend, while fish pedicures have not, suggests that some changes are embraced and others rejected for a reason. When evaluating a new product, service, technique or business practice, I consider whether it advances my professionalism, provides a workable solution to an existing problem and serves as a safer, more efficient and cost-effective alternative to my present choices. These criteria help me make informed decisions for my own salon, but does not make me any more prescient. So rather than attempt to predict trends for the nail industry, here’s my wish list for 2011.

  1. Despite the expedience and cost savings associated with using dirty files, tools and foot spas, nail professionals will take responsibility to follow the health and safety rules. Being “clean” will become the norm, rather than the anomaly it is currently. Voluntary compliance will protect consumers, increase our professionalism and reduce the need for enforcement. Our state boards have enough to do without the added burden of dealing with licensees who know better, but choose to act irresponsibly.
  2. Consumer outreach will reinforce the value of our training and licensure, so that consumers will demand quality services from licensed professionals in licensed establishments only. Unlicensed activity will decrease and average service prices will increase when consumers no longer compromise their health and safety for low prices.
  3. Beauty schools will fulfill their mission of education by hiring competent instructors, providing an adequate supply of professional products and preparing students for success beyond licensure. The significant number of hours spent in school will be utilized optimally to train students on current techniques and best practices, including proper sanitation. Students will have ample opportunity to perform services on real clients rather than on plastic practice hands.
  4. In addition to teaching technical skills, beauty schools will teach students about the legal rights and responsibilities associated with being a salon owner, an employer, an employee and/or booth renter. Salon owners will compensate their employees legally or treat their booth renters as the independent businesses they are, whichever is applicable. More professionals will protect their business/financial interests with the appropriate insurance coverage (liability, property, workers’ compensation, etc.).
  5. Beauty professionals (including unlicensed salon owners) will claim ALL their income and pay their taxes. Failing to do so demonstrates a blatant disregard for the law and disrespect for the beauty industry. Unfair competition undermines our professionalism and our industry can longer afford to be any part of the underground economy.
  6. Nail professionals will eagerly participate in continuing education, whether it’s required or not. Given the inconsistent (and that’s being generous) quality of beauty school education, all post-licensure education could be considered remedial. But given the immediacy and accessibility of information, particularly via the internet, there’s no excuse for being uninformed. In addition to accessing industry sources, you’ll read consumer sources to be aware of (mis)information your clients will undoubtedly encounter. Your clients should never be telling you what’s new; that’s your job.
  7. Participation in beauty shows and networking events will reach record numbers, much to the delight of event organizers, manufacturers and educators who invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in showcasing their products. While attending these events, beauty professionals will conduct themselves appropriately, including dressing the part.
  8. Rather than sensationalize the negative, misrepresent the facts and scare consumers, the media will rely on beauty industry experts when presenting stories about professional nail care. If a story can’t be done without satisfying the journalism standards of accuracy, fairness, accountability, etc., it shouldn’t be done at all because we don’t need that kind of publicity.
  9. The words “spa,” “natural,” “organic” and “green” will lose favor as consumers and beauty professionals will realize how overused and meaningless these words have become. Giving too much credence to these words may be hazardous to your credibility, if not your health.
  10. Manufacturers will present their products with integrity, rather than mislead with buzzwords and marketing speak. As product consumers, we have the right to know what ingredients products contain and a responsibility to use them safely and effectively. We should know where the science ends and the marketing begins, and not cross that line with our own clients.
  11. Manufacturers of professional products will renew their commitment to salon professionals, through education, research and inventory control. If the term “professional” means anything at all, it suggests that these products are of a higher quality and that professionals use these products in salons to achieve optimum results. If it’s only a marketing term to appeal to consumers, then it’s meaningless.

Most trends within the nail industry start in the salon, so start your own trend for 2011 by being the best nail professional you can be.

By Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Mastering the Basic Skills

Article Published in Stylist Magazine, January 2011

As beauty professionals, basic skills provide the foundation for our services; without these skills, it’s possible that our clients could do better, even as amateurs. Before I became a licensed manicurist, I did better work than the professionals I paid as a client, and that‘s not saying much. After hours of training and years of practice, it’s our mastery of basic skills that distinguish us from our clients and our competitors.

Regardless of the service being performed, our primary concerns should be safety, quality and consistency. At a minimum, it’s our professional responsibility to protect the health and safety of our clients. Consumer protection is the reason why most states require licensing, a beauty school education, a written and/or practical examination(s), compliance with regulations, and in some states, continuing education. Without expounding on the efficacy of these requirements, let’s agree that while the intent is admirable, in practice they do little to ensure consistent quality. The same can be said for the restaurant industry; a restaurant can have an immaculate kitchen and meet the highest standards for food safety, and the food can still taste awful. Likewise, safety is only one feature, albeit the most important, of a quality beauty service.

It’s not without irony that I consider the most basic thing we do as manicurists to have the greatest potential for harm. Filing seems so simple: pick up a file, hold it against the nail and start stroking. But which file? Paper, wood, mylar, metal, ceramic or glass? A standard 7 by 3/4 inch file, a block buffer, a custom-shaped file or a drill? How coarse or fine should it be? Disposable or disinfectable? Can you really disinfect it? How do you hold it? How do you hold the client’s finger? How much pressure to apply? How fast should you file? How do you avoid the skin surrounding the nail? How do you know when you’ve filed enough? I could continue, but my point being that choosing the right file for the task and knowing how to use it safely and efficiently is critical to our work. And a special note on drills: Using a drill can’t replace our hand-filing skills any more than using a food processor can replace a chef’s knife skills.

Nothing helps develop filing skills faster than working on your own nails. Manicurists should know how it feels to have a friction burn on their nail plate, or a cut to their skin. It’s painful! Careless or overly aggressive filing can lead to serious damage, including infections. Special care must be taken, whether filing on natural nails or removing enhancement product.

While in beauty school, we students are asked to identify different nail shapes, as if we don’t know the difference between round and square. What we don’t learn is how to file the desired shape symmetrically and consistently, from the client’s perspective. That’s why when filing the end of fingernails, it’s advisable to position the client with a bent elbow and the back of the hand and fingernails facing the manicurist. To save time, shape one nail first and ask the client to approve before proceeding to the remaining nails. The easiest shape to file is a square; as long as the file is positioned perpendicular to the nail at the end and parallel along the sidewalls, it should be straight. However, when the nail plate isn’t perfectly aligned with the finger, it’s the manicurist’s job to file in such a way to make it look as if it were. For more rounded shapes, it’s better to establish the length first at the end of the nail, and then shape the sides accordingly. Filing at an angle deep into the sidewalls will weaken the structure of the nail, and can make nails, enhanced ones in particular, look as if they’re ready to launch away from the nail bed. As for nail length, it shouldn’t be judged by looking at the underside of the nails because they’re rarely the same length naturally. To compare lengths, hold corresponding fingers side-by-side and view from the top surface. The overall length, measured from the base of the nail to its end, should be consistent between matching nails (pinkie to pinkie, etc.) and in proportion to each other.

And what about nail structure, particularly after applying enhancement products? It’s not enough to create a smooth surface. For strength, nail enhancements have to be structured properly with the apex (the highest point of the arch when viewed from the side) located near the stress area and enough c-curve (the curvature of the nail when viewed from its end) to help the nails resist breakage. For a more sleek and natural look, the product should gradually taper toward the base of the nails until flush to the nail plate and taper toward the ends to avoid thickness. Ideally, proper structure should be achieved through judicious and sparing use of product more than excessive filing. (Besides, the “pile and file” approach wastes time, labor, product and money.) Once the proper structure has been achieved, it’s fairly easy and very time efficient to produce a smooth surface by applying gel top coat. This eliminates the need to graduate file grits from coarse to super fine in order to obtain a scratch-free, shiny finish. Knowing how to buff enhancement products is critical for nail competitions, but completely impractical and time consuming in the salon.

To perfect your filing skills, I recommend consulting with nail competitors for file recommendations and procedures that will enable you to achieve great results efficiently and safely. Filing may be basic, but it’s far from simple.

By Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D.

The Value of Competing

Article Published in Stylist Magazine, December 2010

How do you measure your professional success? The number of hours you work, or clients you have? Your net income? The warm, fuzzy feeling that comes from a service well done for a satisfied client? Whether measured quantitatively or qualitatively, much of our success is experienced in the isolation of our salon environments. No doubt, your clients appreciate your work and think you’re the best, but why not prove it? Why not put your manicuring skills to a more rigorous test and compete with the best? Participating in nail competitions remains the most objective, tangible and significant way to distinguish yourself in our industry.

Working in our individual salons, we have limited opportunities to compare and evaluate the quality of our work. Competing challenges nail professionals to perform their best work in less than ideal conditions, beyond the familiar comforts of the salon. The value of competing, and ultimately winning, goes beyond the recognition, cash prizes and trophies. Your salon work will improve greatly as you become more critical and demand more from yourself. Learning how to work more efficiently and consistently will improve both the speed and quality of your salon nails. The competition experience not only develops your skills, but provides incredible opportunities to network and market yourself to potential clients and employers.

Thousands of nails professionals work in salons, but very few challenge themselves to compete. Inspired and influenced by past champions, nail competitors strive to achieve the highest standards for workmanship while pushing artistic boundaries. They create new styles, develop innovative techniques and, most important, change our perceptions of what nails can be. The most successful competitors distinguish themselves as nail stars. If it weren’t for nail competitions, we wouldn’t know the names of Tom Holcomb, Danny Haile, Tom Bachik, Kym Lee, Carla Collier, Trang Nguyen, John Hauk or Lynn Lammers.

All nail professionals, whether they compete or not, should understand what perfect nails look like, though few will invest the many hours of practice necessary to achieve them. I’m often asked what’s the difference between competition and salon nails. Competition nails represent a standard of perfection in form, while salon nails must function in the everyday lives of clients. That being said, great salon nails exhibit most of the characteristics of their impractical competition counterparts, with the most obvious exceptions being length and thickness.

Most competitors would agree that success depends on preparation, including plenty of time for practice. As soon as possible, handle all the logistic concerns: review the competition schedule and rules, select your hand model (if needed), make your travel arrangements, pack your supplies, etc. If you have any questions about the competition, get them answered beforehand by contacting the competition director. If preparing a nail art entry in advance, do not procrastinate; use your time wisely. Your competition performance will reflect the time you invested in practicing. Do what you do best, and don’t attempt something new unless it can be perfected in time for the competition.

Typically, judges score competition nails in ten categories. One of the most important categories is overall impression. The judges must feel compelled to look at your work more closely. In enhancement competitions, judges want to see shiny nails with crisp, even smile lines, and they want to see detail and color in nail art competitions. For enhancement competitions, like Sculptured Nails, consistency and finish work are critical; each nail should exhibit the same characteristics and the quality of the shine and polish application should demonstrate attention to detail and good time management. The most successful competitors execute their work by developing their own system for application, filing and finishing. For nail art competitions, originality may be the biggest challenge; the judges want to see something unique that expresses the theme well.

Most competitors know what needs to be improved without input from the judges. However, whenever possible, it's useful to ask for feedback from other competitors and the judges following the competition. A competitor should be prepared to listen and accept constructive criticism. The goal is to improve the quality of work for the next competition, not to question the judges' decision.

As an international judge and past Nailpro Competition Director, I have the privilege of interacting with the most passionate professionals in the nail industry. I’m truly inspired by  the dedication of competitors to the craftsmanship and artistry of nails. Our status continues to improve in large part because competitors have tremendous influence as educators, mentors, consultants and manufacturers.

By Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D.

From Nail Girl (or Guy) to Nail Professional

Article Published in Stylist Magazine, November 2010

After years of hearing consumers casually refer to either me or another manicurist as “my nail girl,” I’ve heard enough. That kind of job description ranks somewhere between pool boy and cleaning lady. Nail girl? Every time I hear that term, I’m so tempted to ask, “How do you refer to your dentist? And your gynecologist?” You get my point.

It’s a given that being a manicurist usually doesn’t engender much respect. Perhaps this explains the imbalance of power that many manicurists experience in their client relationships. Rather than being treated as a respected nail professional, a skilled individual who’s paid accordingly to provide service, many manicurists tolerate being treated as a subservient nail girl (or guy). While assuming the role of obsequious manicurist may seem harmless, or even necessary to build a clientele, this attitude of inferiority can have unintended consequences for your business. Ultimately, it will give your clients the sense that they can tell you what to do and how to do it, thus trivializing your work, minimizing your education and undermining your professionalism.

As you might imagine, I don’t play this role in my salon, and wouldn’t recommend you do it either. I feel so strongly about the lack of respect that I developed a class titled, “I’m Not Your Nail Girl!” The class focuses on the 5 biggest mistakes manicurists make:

Being incompetent. Realizing we all start somewhere, it’s the progress you make, particularly after being licensed, that sets you apart. Developing your skills and knowledge not only improves the quality and efficiency of your work, it gives you the confidence to charge more and be more selective about your clients. However, if you don’t have the aptitude and inclination to do professional-quality work, find yourself something else to do.

Refusing to learn. This is even more inexcusable than being ignorant, enough said.
Failing to follow through. Know your limitations and don’t make promises you can’t keep, like guaranteeing how long polish will last, or that artificial nails won’t break. You don’t control how your clients treat their nails. And don’t overextend yourself; for example, attempting to complete within an hour a service that normally takes 90 minutes is sure to frustrate/disappoint someone.

Lacking discretion. The beauty business is based on relationships: with clients, colleagues, other businesses, manufacturers, etc. As tempted as we are to connect people to others, resist the temptation and keep it to yourself. The best advice I could give would be to compartmentalize the interactions you have to protect yourself from sharing, whether intentionally or not, information that you shouldn’t.

Being cheap. Using your thumb nail instead of a metal cuticle pusher? Toilet paper instead of nail wipes? Reusing files when you know better? Clients will realize quickly how invested you are in your business, and they should not be questioning where their money goes.

A transition is the process of changing from one condition to another. The most significant transition a manicurist can make? From being considered just a nail girl/guy to being respected as a nail professional. Your long-term success in the beauty industry depends on it. These are my 5 best recommendations for polishing your image and becoming more professional:

Enjoy your work. Doing nails is hard work; it can be both physically demanding and emotionally draining. We cannot afford to have a bad day technically, or be in a bad way emotionally. Our clients expect and deserve to have their services provided competently with enthusiasm. Your passion for doing nails will help you overcome the most challenging nail problems and manage the most difficult clients.

Be efficient. From scheduling appointments to providing services to ordering products to paying your bills, every activity related to your business should be accomplished as efficiently as possible. Don’t waste your time, money or efforts without asking yourself if you’re making the most of your resources.

Do the right thing. Knowing what you should do, and actually doing it, earns you respect. Follow all applicable laws, understand product chemistry, provide safe, quality services every time, claim all your income, pay your taxes, respect the privacy of others, support your coworkers, clean up after yourself, etc.

Value yourself and your clients. Whether you’re a new licensee or a seasoned veteran, you control how others perceive you. Present yourself as a professional committed to a lasting career, rather than a temporary job, and discover that clients will be more willing to commit to you. Long-term client relationships, based on mutual appreciation and respect, should form the foundation of your business.

Share your knowledge. Educating clients demonstrates that you care about their health. Educating other manicurists demonstrates that you care about the health of our industry. Nail professionals would benefit from more collegiality; it’s in our best interests to encourage each other to be the best professionals we can be.

By Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D.

Dare to be Different

Article Published in Stylist Magazine, October 2010

Diversity is not a word that immediately comes to mind when discussing the nail profession. In many ways, professional nail care could be described as the least diverse segment of the beauty industry. Most of the manicurists are female, as are most of the clients. While most manicurists may be of a particular cultural background and/or socioeconomic status, most of their clients likely represent another. As more salons open, the more similar they seem.

Furthermore, nail services (manicures, pedicures, enhancements, etc.) tend to be more universal and less diverse than hair and skin care services. Perhaps, that’s because manicurists typically do not give the condition of nails as much consideration when selecting products and performing services as hair or skin professionals give to the condition of hair and skin. Few manicurists specialize in a particular service, and not because they’re equally proficient in a variety of services, but because they do not want to limit their clientele, or they may be unable or unwilling to develop the skills necessary to become truly expert. Contrast that with hair professionals who may be known as color correction specialists, or skin professionals who promote themselves as waxing queens.

This lack of diversity could be accepted as a limitation inherent to the nail profession, or viewed as an opportunity to reach beyond what’s expected and achieve what’s possible. Given the relatively low status of nail professionals within the beauty industry, the similarity among nail salons and the low expectations of consumers, I choose to see opportunities. This choice influences not only my perspective, but every other decision I make as a nail salon owner.

Diversifying would seem a worthy goal, but what does that mean exactly? Most salon owners view diversity as a challenge to do more: add different services, extend salon hours, increase retail offerings, expand the salon, advertise more regularly, discount prices, etc. These options may seem entirely reasonable; in fact, many articles have been written to justify them. But before adding ear candling, chakra healing and matchmaking to the service menu, or selling nutritional supplements, ask yourself, “How does this enhance my reputation as a successful nail professional?”

Salon consultants earn thousands of dollars explaining what might be obvious if salon owners were able to objectively and critically evaluate their own businesses. Understanding what’s working, and what’s not, is a crucial first step before committing to any major changes. Any one of these options could prove a costly mistake without doing your research. It’s entirely possible that your well-intentioned efforts might backfire by wasting your resources, alienating your existing clients and/or diluting your brand. These unintended consequences would only make a bad situation worse.

For example, if your salon appeals strongly to a particular demographic, such as older professional women, as mine does, you may not need to target a different group, but just find more effective ways to reach potential clients. If I were to make the mistake of targeting teenage girls to increase my clientele, my salon would need to undergo some major changes (decor, pricing, music, etc) and my existing clients would not be pleased. Having those new clients would not be worthwhile if they detracted from the experience my loyal clients expect. Part of understanding my business is knowing who my best clients are, and providing them what they value: quality nail services in a clean, upscale environment.

Growing your business is a process that requires information, much of which you can discover for yourself with the help of clients, coworkers and the larger business community. The following questions, while not exhaustive, are meant to generate discussion to guide you in your decisions:

What’s the culture of your salon? What makes your salon and/or services unique? What’s the first thing someone notices upon entering? How would you describe the relationships among coworkers? How would you describe your clients? What do they value most: convenience, price, time, etc? How do new clients find you? Which services are your most/least popular and why? Which services are most/least profitable? Are clients requesting services you don’t offer, specific products or procedures? What products sell the most/least? What compliments/complaints do you hear most often?How well does your location serve your business? What’s your relationship with other businesses? How does your salon contribute to the community? What’s your biggest obstacle to being more successful? What aspect of your business do you enjoy most/least? And so on . . .

Diversity is not a challenge to do more, but an opportunity to be different, better, and more successful. Clients should expect more of nail salons, and we should exceed their expectations with clean, safe, quality services.

By Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D.

Doing the Right Thing

Article Published in Stylist Magazine, September 2010

As a native, resident, business owner, employer, taxpayer, voter, consumer and licensee of the state of California, I do my best to understand the many responsibilities associated with living and working in my state. More specifically, because I choose to earn income as a salon owner and manicurist, it’s my responsibility, both legally and ethically, to understand and follow the laws that govern my chosen profession.

Because following the law can be very expensive, time-consuming and labor intensive, consumers should expect service prices to reflect the costs of operating a legitimate business. Consumers might also expect us to regulate ourselves, or believe that regulatory agencies have the resources to enforce the law. If only that were true . . . The pervasiveness of incompetent service providers, unlicensed activity and tax evasion demonstrates a considerable failure to protect the interests of consumers, professionals and the larger community, no matter where you live.

Being a beauty professional requires more than performing services safely and competently; we must do the right thing in all aspects of our businesses. Beyond regulating ourselves, we should not hesitate to report those who do not comply to the appropriate regulatory agencies for enforcement action. I’ve personally made more than 200 reports, which saddens me because it should not be necessary.

Consumers would also benefit from more information about professional beauty services. Your state board may already have resources to educate consumers, but if not, consider doing it yourself by referencing your state laws. For example, I share this information with as many consumers as possible:

Whether you consider professional beauty services an indulgence or a necessity, you deserve professional quality work. Your health and safety should not be compromised when receiving beauty services, regardless of the cost. As part of California’s Department of Consumer Affairs, the Board of Barbering and Cosmetology (BBC) protects your health and safety by regulating beauty professionals. The BBC represents the largest professional licensee population in the United States, including more than 218,000 cosmetologists, 96,000 manicurists, 46,000 estheticians, 17,000 barbers, 1700 electrologists and 38,000 establishments.

Before obtaining a professional beauty service, the BBC strongly suggests that you consider the following rules:

The business must display a valid establishment license.
In California, any business that provides hair, skin and/or nail services* must obtain an establishment license from the BBC before it opens. This law applies to any kind of business, whether it’s a salon, day spa, hotel, medical office, or gym. Consumers should look for a valid license in a prominent place in the reception area. It’s also a requirement to display the poster listing the BBC’s Health and Safety rules, so that should be available also.

To determine whether a business is properly licensed even before you visit, follow these simple steps:
Visit the BBC website (www.barbecosmo.ca.gov/).
Follow the link “Verify an Establishment” listed under “Quick Hits.”
Enter the information requested.
If the business has a valid establishment license, that information will be listed in the resulting record with a current address, license number and a “Clear” status. If the business has fines due, a delinquent license, or no record of a license, that business should be avoided.

* The following services are not regulated by the BBC, and thus do not require a BBC license: natural hair braiding, styling wigs, threading, permanent makeup, tanning, massage and body treatments like wraps and scrubs.

Each individual performing beauty services regulated by the BBC must display a valid license.
Within a licensed establishment, every service provider must display his or her own individual license. There are five license categories (Cosmetologist, Esthetician, Manicurist, Barber and Electrologist), each with a specific course of training and scope of practice. For example, while cosmetologists can perform hair, skin and nail services, estheticians are limited to facials and waxing and manicurists to doing nails only.

To determine whether an individual is properly licensed, follow these simple steps:
Visit the BBC website (www.barbecosmo.ca.gov/).
Follow the link “Verify a License” listed under “Quick Hits.”
Enter the information requested.
If the individual has a valid license, that information will be listed in the resulting record with a license number and a “Clear” status. If the individual has fines due, a delinquent license, or no record of a license, that individual should be avoided.

The establishment must have clean equipment and work areas.
The BBC has strict rules about cleanliness to reduce the risk of spreading infections. For example, service providers are required to wash their hands immediately before each service. All tools must be sanitized (washed with soap and water) and disinfected in an EPA-registered disinfectant. Any items that cannot be disinfected, like emery boards, pumice stones, toe separators and wax applicators, are considered disposable and must be discarded immediately after use. A foot spa, or any container of water used during a pedicure, must be sanitized and disinfected between every client. Any licensee who provides service without washing hands, changing towels, disinfecting tools, replacing disposable items, or disinfecting pedicure equipment should be avoided.

Certain instruments and procedures are illegal.
Because the sole purpose of beauty services is to beautify, consumers should not expect their beauty services to replace professional medical care. Licensees cannot diagnose or treat medical conditions, or perform any procedure that affects the structure or function of living tissue. They may never use a razor-edged instrument to remove skin (such as calluses, corns, moles or skin tags), perform chemical peels, penetrate the skin with a needle, or use a laser. These procedures constitute the practice of medicine and must be performed by qualified medical professionals only.

Receiving a professional beauty service should be a safe and pleasant experience. Asking questions and being informed will help you make better choices.

By Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D.

D.I.Y. is Not for Everyone

Article Published in Stylist Magazine, August 2010

And thank goodness for that! Wanting something done well and doing it yourself are two different things. Our talent and training as beauty professionals should make what we do look easy, but that’s the nature of technical expertise. It’s our knowledge and skills, not the products we use, that make us valuable. Beauty products, even those from the most exclusive professional brands, are readily available to resourceful consumers. And that access gives many consumers confidence that they can achieve professional results at home. If only it were that easy . . .

As an avid do-it-yourselfer, I certainly understand the appeal. Beyond the sense of accomplishment, there are more practical concerns such as avoiding the expense of paying someone else and the possibility of having a negative experience. Ideally, the salon experience should be safe, enjoyable and worthwhile. But it’s not uncommon for  consumers to experience unsanitary conditions, risky procedures, less-than-ideal ambiance, poor workmanship, false advertising and/or bad customer service. These are valid concerns so it’s no wonder that some consumers feel reluctant, fearful or apathetic about visiting a nail salon. Efforts to educate consumers about choosing a reputable salon can be beneficial, but it’s regrettable that media reports focused on the dangers of nail salons may do more to damage our industry than to help consumers make better decisions.

If consumers were able and willing to maintain their nails as well as a licensed manicurist can, then professional nail care may rightfully be considered a completely unnecessary extravagance. No doubt some consumers already feel this way, and will never experience the benefits of professional nail care. And we have to accept that. We should not accept the failings of our industry, such as unlicensed activity, especially when they come to characterize the industry as a whole. It’s our professional responsibility to not only meet the (admittedly low) standards established by the government, but to exceed the expectations of consumers. What we do for our clients must satisfy their needs for safety, quality, convenience and pampering. Being merely adequate is not enough to distinguish yourself from your competition, or outdo the average do-it-yourselfer.

While writing these words, I understand that this is not only true of manicuring, but of any profession. At this very moment, the competent employees of my favorite window-washing company are standing on ladders and exerting themselves to make my salon look its best. Though washing windows only takes minutes, does not require any special equipment, and would not be all that difficult to do myself, I consider this monthly service worth every penny because professional window washers can do their work better than I could. And my time would be better spent doing what I do best.

As a salon owner, I take my work very seriously, and have even written my own job description:
Handle financial responsibilities.
Pay the salon lease and all utilities.
Pay employee wages and employer’s portion of taxes.
Pay county, state and federal taxes.
Provide liability, property and worker’s compensation insurances.
Provide all supplies, products, equipment and furnishings.
Meet legal and professional obligations.
Maintain a valid establishment license.
Ensure the enforcement of all relevant federal, state and local laws.
Maintain client and employee records.
Research and evaluate new products and techniques.
Promote the salon.
Make all marketing decisions, including advertising and donations.
Produce marketing materials (brochures, business cards, gift cards, etc.).
Maintain a current website.
Represent the salon at beauty industry events, including state board meetings.
Establish relationships with manufacturers and other beauty professionals.
Present classes relating to business practices, services, etc.
Supervise salon operations.
Make all employment decisions, including hiring and terminating.
Train all employees.
Schedule employees.
Develop services and determine pricing.
Select and price retail products.
Manage clientele, including access to standing appointments.

It’s difficult to imagine any salon owner capable, or willing, to perform all the necessary functions in an effective and efficient way. But, it’s even more difficult to imagine paying professionals to do all that’s required. If so, I’d be engaging the services of a bookkeeper, accountant, lawyer, painter, designer, maintenance supervisor, housekeeper, publicist, copywriter, salon manager, receptionist, marketing manager, education director, purchasing/inventory manager, business coach, and consultant. Those would be in addition to the most important professionals, my salon employees, whose primary function is to provide nail services to our clients.

So much of what I’ve learned about running my business has come through my own experience, especially the mistakes. I know that every penny, every minute counts. While the temptation to do-it-all-myself can be very strong, I’ve learned my salon operates best when I delegate certain functions, like payroll, tax preparation, website maintenance and window washing. That still leaves me plenty to do myself. Knowing my limitations, helps me determine what I can do well, and what’s better delegated to a professional. I can summarize thus:
Grant me the money
to afford the things I cannot do;
the time to do the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

By Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D.

Nails for Males

Article Published in Stylist Magazine, July 2010

Some may question why men would have their nails done. It’s a fair question, and yet, no one would question why women get their nails done, or why men brush their teeth, for that matter. The fact is that there’s nothing “feminine” about good grooming. Our wellness requires ongoing maintenance, some of which we can do for ourselves. For the rest, we can rely on professionals. Caring for our bodies should be a priority, regardless of gender. Like women, men have nails; granted, they may be neglected or abused, but their condition only justifies the need for professional nail care. Rather than question why men would want nail care, salon owners and nail professionals should consider how well their salons meet the needs of their male clients.

In the beauty business, which depends on attracting and retaining clients, why would any salon ignore half of its potential clients? It’s not intentional. Most salon owners would claim that men are welcome in their salons, but let’s be real. From the salon environment to the services offered to the products used, most salons presume that their clients will be female. And thus they are, not surprisingly. While the predominance of female clients may be the norm, it also represents a substantial opportunity. Attracting more male clients should be part of a larger strategy to appeal to a broader demographic: young and old, male and female.

To attract more male clients, a salon owner could install flat screen televisions, position a pool table in the reception area and apply for a liquor license. But how does any of that facilitate better nail services? Your business should operate as a beauty salon, not a bar. And the efforts made to attract male clients should not alienate your female ones. Both men and women should feel comfortable, respected and pampered in your salon. No one should be made to feel awkward for having any service your salon offers. Overcoming this may be the biggest challenge your salon faces.

Despite your preconceived notions, try to resist making assumptions about what your clients want. The feminization of nail services begins with the assumption that only women get their nails done, and all women want their nails polished. Besides, if you think in terms of masculine versus feminine, you’ve missed the point. Instead, consider making choices that are gender neutral. The service names and descriptions should not refer to gender, as that has nothing to do with the quality of the service, or the products used. And the pricing should be based on the service provided, not on who’s receiving it. The best analogy would be restaurants, which do not portion, describe or price dishes according to gender. A menu presents choices that are left for the diners to make. Likewise, your salon brochure should present choices that your clients will make.

Just as the ambience of a restaurant can either enhance or destroy the dining experience, your salon environment can facilitate, or distract from, the client experience. From color choices to furnishings to lighting to ambient music, your salon reflects your taste, or lack thereof. Ideally, these choices should be gender neutral also. Your chairs/stations should comfortably accommodate people of different sizes. Moreover, your furnishings should make your services accessible to people with physical limitations, like those who use wheelchairs.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of professional nail care is the personal interaction. Do your clients receive their services in privacy, or are they on display for others to see? Men, in particular, appreciate receiving services in privacy because, in addition to protecting their privacy, it focuses service providers on client interaction and the work at hand. Speaking of which, your service providers should not only be competent, but also capable of having intelligent conversations about subjects other than celebrity gossip.

At Precision Nails, we value our male clients for their no-nonsense approach to nail care. In fact, that’s why our Hand Detail and Foot Detail services treat and pamper, but do not include polish application. Likewise, our Hand Express and Foot Express services focus on the basics, which  Our male clients usually leave their nails plain, but if they wanted a high-gloss shine achieved through buffing, or a polish application, they can have it for an additional charge. Just like our female clients can, for the same additional charge.

Based on our extensive experience, we can assure any potential male client that receiving professional nail care will not compromise his masculinity. Instead, he’ll receive quality, personalized services from a competent technician in privacy. Moreover, the results may finally convince him that there’s nothing “masculine” about having dirty nails, overgrown cuticles and/or rough, dry skin. Not that there’s anything particularly “feminine” about it either . . .

By Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D.