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.

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.

Doing Nails Proves More Satisfying

Article Published in Stylist Magazine, June 2010

The prospect of writing this month’s article proved more daunting than I expected. It would have been so much easier to express an opinion on a particular topic. Selecting my own topic, I could rant about the negative impact of unlicensed activity, rave about the value of continuing education, or explain how your salon can attract more male clients (wait . . . that next month’s topic!). Given this opportunity to share what’s on my mind, however, I can tell you that what I think isn’t nearly as important as what I do. All clich├ęs aside, I strive everyday to act according to my priorities. Providing for my family comes first, and despite other means of achieving that end, I choose to earn my living in the beauty industry, doing what I love.

Not surprising, doing nails is not what I aspired to in my youth. It was merely a hobby during my high school years, something I did to compensate for my pathetically weak natural nails. Applying full coverage, press-on nails, while quick and easy, required virtually no talent and it showed. Eventually, I discovered a talent for acrylic nails, and despite my lack of formal training or quality professional products, my nails looked decent and cost me very little to maintain.

Entering college as a chemistry major, I intended to become a pediatric dentist. I envisioned myself wearing latex gloves and using sterilized metal tools to facilitate better oral health in children. Not only would dentistry be intellectually challenging, it would be respectable and profitable. That seemed like more than enough motivation until I found more enjoyment in my literature classes, and changed majors to become an English teacher. During those college years, I worked retail jobs and managed a deli, but had never considered making money doing nails. When faced with the time constraints and cost of graduate school, however, I needed something different. Becoming a professional manicurist offered the chance to play with nail products, work a flexible schedule, own a business and support my educational pursuits until I could begin my real career.

Over a summer break, I completed a manicuring course financed by the Regional Occupational Program. My only expense was the overpriced $180 kit, for which my grandmother generously paid. I wish I could say that in those 9 weeks my beauty school instructors trained and prepared me to succeed in the salon. Instead, my vocational “education” was a huge disappointment, despite having low expectations to begin with. I resented the hours spent studying and practicing alone, and the few clients who frequented the beauty school seemed unlikely to ever pay more than $5 for a manicure.

If nothing else, I learned that my success as a manicurist would depend on my willingness to obtain more training. It was my good fortune that my first was a full-day acrylic class taught by Kym Lee, owner of Galaxy Nails and dominant competition champion. Some of our most influential nail professionals, including Tom Holcomb, Trang Nguyen and Carla Collier, competed for Galaxy Nails early in their careers. I learned more in that 8 hour day than in the entire 9 weeks of beauty school, and it was truly inspiring. But it was not enough to convince me that my career would be in the beauty industry. I had already invested many years and dollars in my academic education and was determined to complete an advanced degree.

Even after earning a Ph.D. in education, teaching at every academic level from elementary to university and making lots of money preparing students for college admissions tests, doing nails proved more satisfying. While my family was very supportive, my academic advisors and colleagues thought being a manicurist was beneath me. In my defense, I assured them that I’d give up nails when the ideal teaching job presented itself. Soon thereafter, that job, a tenured faculty position at a community college, came through one of my nail clients. This position is still very rare in my specialty, and my timing could not have been better. But after a semester of juggling reading classes with my salon business, I made a choice that I’ve never regretted. Given all my academic experiences, I did not expect to have a viable, rewarding career that initially required only 9 weeks of vocational training. Whether I’m providing nail services, managing employees, eliminating unlicensed activity, evaluating new products, networking with other professionals, writing articles, judging competitions or teaching classes, my work as a manicurist continues to challenge me and I love it.

Just days ago I had occasion to attend an honor roll ceremony with my sixth-grade son. Seated in a large audience filled with proud parents and accomplished students, I recalled attending a similar ceremony in that same gym 30 years ago. It seemed that not much has changed as students spoke eloquently of their future plans and thanked their parents and teachers for encouraging academic achievement and character development. In the intervening years, it’s my perspective that has changed drastically. My own experience demonstrates that students should be encouraged to pursue their unique interests and talents when choosing a career, even if that means applying a great education to what some would consider a less than desirable vocation.

By Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D.

Bridal Beware!: Special Clients Expect Special Treatment

Article Published in Stylist Magazine, May 2010

The decision to cater to special occasion clients deserves careful consideration. That’s because clients who believe they are “special” expect special treatment, treatment that is somehow different/better/less expensive than what you provide your many satisfied clients on a regular basis. Of course, it’s not every day that someone gets married, and what bride or groom doesn’t want to look their best on their big day? But that being said, it’s our job as beauty professionals to do our best work for all of our clients every day. Our ability to make our “regular” clients look attractive and feel special keeps them coming back. And when they do, they trust us to provide a quality service every time. Even the most basic service could, and should, be the highlight of your client’s day, if not their week or month. One of the best compliments you can receive is when a regular client considers the time spent with you a special occasion.

Our exclusive nails-only salon happens to be located in Carmel, Calif. a very popular wedding destination. There’s no particular wedding season here as venues such as the Carmel Mission and the Lodge at Pebble Beach fill quickly. In preparation for their big day, most brides will contact local salons to make hair and make-up appointments months in advance, and even go so far as to schedule “practice runs.”

You’d think that a bride would also arrange to have her nails done, considering her hands will be featured in a close-up photograph and that nearly every guest will likely hold her hand at some point during the reception to admire the ring. But in our experience, and for whatever reasons, many brides do not plan far enough in advance to have their nails done. We understand that nails may not be a priority, but it never fails to amaze me when a bride calls our salon 3 days before the wedding expecting to have “nails and toes and stuff” done for her bridal party of 12. Simultaneously. Really? Even if we could clear our schedule (not that we ever would for someone we’ve never met), we don’t have the space or staffing. It’s presumptuous, if not insulting, to assume that a manicurist’s schedule would be that available or flexible.

And then there’s the assumption that we offer discount pricing or a group rate. Don’t misunderstand; we’re not offended by the question, but brides certainly should not expect or demand anything more than what’s advertised. At our salon, they’re not going to get it. If we’re going to reward anyone, it would be our loyal, regular clients, not new ones. If that sounds harsh, it’s not meant to be; it’s just the reality of the bridal business. While the wedding itself may be an emotional/spiritual/once-in-a-lifetime event for family and friends, it’s all business for the “hired help” (the caterer, the photographer, the florist, etc.). But we’re not even in the bridal business, we’re in the beauty business and compensated well to make our clients look beautiful every day.

So while some salons advertise specifically to attract bridal parties, we tend to avoid them. When we do accept a bride as a new client, all of our salon policies apply. New clients prepay the entire cost of their first appointment, avoiding any unpleasantness (i.e lost income) that might otherwise arise from a no-show, late cancellation or other change of plans. Through our website and brochure, we make very clear what our services include, how much they cost and how much time should be allowed. We also strive to minimize any disruptions during services by discouraging clients from bringing guests, children and/or pets, or talking on their cell phones. Every client deserves our full attention and their salon experience should not be compromised by any other clients in the salon.

We’ve learned that it’s in our best interest to never provide service to brides on their big day, or even the day before. There’s too much going on and they’re so easily delayed, distracted and disorganized. Instead, we recommend an appointment two days prior for natural nail services; for enhancements, we recommend an initial application appointment two weeks prior with a maintenance two days prior to the wedding.

It’s much easier to meet the nail-care needs of the men in the bridal party. The men tend to be more relaxed about the whole ordeal wedding, and they certainly won’t obsess about what shade of polish will perfectly complement their cummerbunds, or the  flowers in their boutonnieres. They’re happy to be pampered, as are all of our clients, regardless of the occasion.

A special thanks to my regular clients without whom I would not have a successful business.

By Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D.

Waterless Spa Pedicures: The Greener and Cleaner Choice

Article Published in Stylist Magazine, April 2010

As beauty professionals and business owners, it’s possible to make better choices, choices that are more efficient, more economical and more “green.” Many choices are presented to us, and others we discover for ourselves. This has been my experience with waterless spa pedicures. Five years after its introduction, the waterless spa pedicure continues to be the most popular service in my salon and the most popular class I teach at beauty shows. Whether working with clients or teaching classes, I'm often asked why I chose to go waterless. I must admit that being green was the least of my considerations, but it has since become one of the most important benefits of this innovative pedicure procedure. As ridiculous as it sounds, that choice completely changed the way I do business, and gave me a new perspective on what it means to be green.

Being green requires more than recycling plastic containers. While certainly worthwhile, recycling alone does not go far enough to improve the environment. Given our creativity and resourcefulness, we can do so much more. That being said, being green represents a significant challenge to think differently about our own salon environment. Instead of merely following tradition, we should question our salon practices and research our options. We need to reevaluate everything we do, from purchasing decisions to service offerings to marketing.

Greening our salons begins with a commitment to protect the health and safety of our clients, ourselves as service providers and the environment we all share. At a minimum, we must understand and follow the laws that govern both the beauty industry (your state board) and the workplace (OSHA). Knowing this critical information helps us stay in compliance and reduces our liability.

Beyond our technical skills, our expertise as beauty professionals depends upon our knowledge of product chemistry, including the proper use, storage and disposal of our salon products. Marketing “organic,” “natural” or “non-toxic” products and services as safer has become commonplace, but unless scientific research supports those conclusions, such claims are unfounded. Our clients expect us to be informed and truthful. Whether done intentionally or through ignorance, misleading your clients about the safety and quality of products and services compromises your professional credibility.

We want what’s best for our clients, and our choices should reflect that. In early 2005, I chose to replace an expensive whirlpool footspa with a comfortable leather recliner and introduced a new service, the waterless spa pedicure. By eliminating the water, I created a more efficient pedicure that's much safer for clients and better for the environment. As admirable as that sounds, especially now that more salons consider themselves "green," that's not why I did it. Saving the planet wasn't nearly as important as saving myself . . . from the hassles of owning and using a footspa. Despite its beautiful looks and "pipe-less technology," my footspa never worked consistently; moreover, it barely circulated the water and required too much time and effort to clean. I soon realized that my time and efforts would be better spent working on clients, rather than cleaning equipment. Besides, no equipment can replace me as the the service provider.

I also realized that, contrary to what I learned in beauty school and demonstrated for the manicurist licensing exam, California's Board of Barbering and Cosmetology does not require that feet be soaked and/or cleaned before a pedicure service. So when I clean my client's feet during a waterless spa pedicure, I am exceeding what the state board requires. At the same time, I can avoid California's strict regulations for disinfecting footspas, or any other container that holds water.

Why waterless? Eliminating the water eliminates:
• the expense of a footspa, including maintenance and parts;
• the space required to install it;
• the expense of plumbing, including labor and permits;
• 12- 15 gallons of water each pedicure;
• the expense of water and sewage fees;
• the risks associated with water-borne bacteria;
• the time to clean a footspa, or any other container;
• the labor involved in cleaning;
• the expense and disposal of disinfection products; and
• the need for a pedicure-equipment cleaning log.

To quantify the water savings, we provide about 3500 nail services a year and use less than 1500 gallons of water. In the last 5 years, our salon has saved more than 75,000 gallons of water that otherwise would have been wasted. The response to this service has been overwhelmingly positive, even earning the praise of California American Water which described Precision Nails as a “fine example of a water-wise business.” Considering all the benefits of waterless pedicures, I can't imagine doing it any other way, but the choice is yours.

Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D. owns Precision Nails, an exclusive nails-only salon in Carmel, California. She can be reached at info@precisionnails.com.

By Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D.