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.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Upscale Your Retail

Article Published in Stylist Magazine, November 2012

Given all the products necessary to provide nail services in your salon, it only makes sense that your clients would need at least some products to care for their nails between appointments. For example, would you rather have your clients remove a hangnail with their teeth, or with cuticle nippers? Would you rather have them buy a cheap pair at the drugstore, or your favorite brand directly from you? Many professional nail products would be appropriate and profitable to retail, yet most salons limit themselves to retailing a predictable and inexpensive few, like cuticle oil. As the holiday season fast approaches, it’s the ideal time to upscale your retail with professional nail products.

Please note that before retailing anything, you need to obtain the proper licensing as required by your state government. As a California business owner, I have a seller’s permit from the Board of Equalization (BOE), and must collect 7.25% sales tax (the rate varies throughout the state). Every quarter, I use the BOE’s convenient electronic/online services to file a return and make a payment based on my sales activity. Check with your state to ensure your compliance; all the information should be available online.

One of the benefits of being a licensed manicurist/nail technician is access to a great variety of professional nail products: from disposable items like nail files and buffers, to consumable items like lotion and polish, to more permanent equipment like metal tools and paraffin warmers. I choose products based on various factors (quality, price, convenience, availability, exclusivity, technical support, customer service, etc.) and spend accordingly. In fact, many of my colleagues would say they spend and accumulate too much (“product junkies”). Clients make choices based on the same factors and can have the same propensity for (over)spending, though fewer options. Ideally, your salon should be their best and most trusted source for quality nail products.

In a past article, Converting Retail Customers Into Loyal Clients (Stylist, December 2011), I described in more detail how retailing professional nail products satisfies the needs of existing clients and attracts new ones. Your product should be displayed prominently in a clean and organized way; if possible, use marketing materials and signage supplied by the manufacturer. Pricing should be competitive; generally, I use the manufacturer’s “salon price.” The selection of retail products at Precision Nails remains fairly consistent throughout the year; I make room for new products, like seasonal polish collections, by eliminating discontinued or less popular ones. The quantity on hand can vary depending on the season; for example, I tend to stock more Havaianas (rubber flip-flops) during the summer when more tourists visit.

While some salon owners fill their shelves with retail items that have nothing to do with nails (candles, jewelry, etc.), especially for the holidays, I do not. My business is a nail salon, not a gift store or flea market. That being said, professional nail products make great gifts. They can be personal, thoughtful and practical: both affordable and trendy like polish, or more expensive and permanent like cobalt stainless nail trimmers. Gift cards for a specific dollar amount are another option for clients who want to give someone else the power to choose between your services and/or products. I’ve set a minimum of $25 to cover the costs of the card and its packaging. Salon management software makes tracking easy.

Understandably, investing in retail can be expensive; however, if you focus on products you already use, they should be more manageable and easier to promote. Partner with your suppliers and order quantities that ensure bulk/discounted pricing. For example, I purchase unscented exfoliating scrub and massage lotion in 2-gallon bulk containers from which 3/4-ounce portion cups are filled for use later during services. Not only does this give me the best pricing and quantity control, it eliminates cross-contamination. When clients comment on how smooth their skin feels afterwards, we mention that the same products are packaged by the manufacturer for retail, both unscented and scented. I currently stock and display six different scents of the retail-sized shower gel, exfoliating scrub, body butter and massage lotion, with a minimum of three each. Clients can select their favorite scent(s) by sampling the lotions (8 ounce with pump dispenser) labeled as “testers.”

Some final thoughts:
  • Use your favorite brands/products during services and they will virtually sell themselves. Your services are like a paid product demonstration, minus the sales pitch.
  • Adjust your retail offerings according to demand, but don’t feel obligated to sell everything you use, or a brand/product you don’t. For example, I don’t sell the products/equipment related to gel enhancements.
  • Rather than discount your services (your time), reward clients by offering free product. The perceived value is greater than your actual cost, and it may lead to future product sales.
By Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Finding Your Nail Niche

Article Published in Stylist Magazine, October 2012

Assuming that you’re interested in the nail industry and have skills/talents/abilities worthy of compensation, how do you find your niche? What are your goals, and how much are you willing to compromise to reach them? What experiences will benefit you most? Our industry encompasses so many different occupations: licensed service providers (manicurists, estheticians, cosmetologists, etc.), salon owners, chemists, manufacturers, distributors, educators, consultants, marketers, event organizers, publishers, writers, web designers and more. Determining which situation suits you can be a challenge, but rather than be discouraged, it’s best to view the process as a journey of personal and professional growth.

As with any journey, we all start somewhere, and for many of us that place was beauty school. The beauty school experience, while shared, can vary considerably; some schools provide an excellent education and prepare students for the realities of salon work, while others do not. That’s to be expected because beauty schools exist to provide the basic knowledge necessary to pass a licensing examination (written and practical, in most states). Given the amount of time and money invested, it’s not the most efficient way to learn, but we need to make the best of it if we want to be licensed manicurists/nail technicians. Ultimately, it’s up to the individual student to seek the additional education, training and experiences to succeed as a licensee.

Immediately after beauty school, new licensees have options; some licensees feel prepared not only for the realities of salon work, but for the responsibilities of salon ownership. If only it were that simple. As a licensee and salon owner who’s never worked as a salon employee, I can understand the appeal. While in beauty school, I definitely planned to work for myself. However, I can also attest to the unlikelihood of success. Even with resources (primarily money), inexperienced salon owners and manicurists struggle to provide quality services, build a loyal clientele and maintain adequate cash flow. That’s the reason why I encourage aspiring salon owners and newly licensed manicurists to seek salon employment as their first position after beauty school, even if being an employee is not their ultimate goal. Why repeat the same mistakes made by others when you could be learning and earning without significant financial risk?

For every manicurist who complains that they cannot find a decent salon to work in, there’s a salon owner who could complain about finding a decent manicurist to lease space to or employ. When I began my business, I had no intention of hiring employees, but now I cannot imagine operating my salon without them. Expanding my business and hiring employees has been an essential part of my professional growth. While finding qualified employees isn’t easy, craigslist.com has proven the most affordable (it’s free) and effective (it’s accessible). Unlike other salon owners that don’t name their salons in their jobs posting, I include mine because it’s not a secret:

We're expanding! Precision Nails, the exclusive nails-only salon at The Crossroads Carmel, needs a licensed manicurist to join our staff part-time (Fridays and Saturdays to start, more days/hours may be added later). Must have valid California manicuring license, ability to learn and strong communication skills. No salon experience or clientele necessary. All training, products and clients provided.
  • Learn advanced techniques from an expert educator.
  • Perform innovative natural nail and gel enhancement services in our elegant salon.
  • Work with premium products (Light Elegance, Essie, Mehaz, etc.)
  • Take pride in working in a sanitary environment.
  • Become proficient using STX, the award-winning salon management software.
  • Enjoy the support of a proactive owner, friendly coworkers and our loyal clients.
Please email resume to apply; NO phone calls. Compensation is listed as $10/hour (guaranteed) plus tips, AND retail and service commissions.

If an applicant responds to this posting with a phone call and/or salon visit, I don’t consider them. That may seem harsh, but following directions is important. Besides, communication via email lets me know if the applicant can write reasonably well. Of course, any resumes submitted also give me insight. Note that grammar mistakes, an invalid license, and/or questionable work history (for example, 10+ different positions in 15 years of work experience!) will eliminate applicants from consideration. Few of my colleagues enter the industry and remain in the same position throughout their nail careers; circumstances change and opportunities present themselves. But I prefer to hire manicurists that have limited experience and no clientele for a reason. My employees provides services according to salon procedures on clients of Precision Nails. Applicants who want to do their thing can open their own salons.

With the recent hiring of two new employees, it was finally time to invest in custom magnetic name badges. Why would I want everyone identified? First, there may be only four of us, but our first names aren’t common. (We use our legal, given names instead of glamorized or simplified “salon” names.) Second, while we work within the same salon, wear the same style of uniform and provide the same services, I want my employees to distinguish themselves and be treated as individual professionals. For now, they’ve found their niche as my employees and I wish them the best, no matter what their future holds.

By Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Organizing your Salon Space

Article Published in Stylist Magazine, September 2012

How much space do you really need to do your best work? It may be less than you think. Whether you’re planning a new salon or remodeling an existing one, the size of your space doesn’t matter as much as how it’s organized. A small, individual room can be functional, spacious and luxurious if organized efficiently, whereas a large salon can be impractical, cluttered and cheap-looking if it’s not. Having an efficient salon space can reduce your overhead (lease, utilities, equipment, maintenance, etc.) and increase your productivity.

Before spending any money on decorating, expanding or moving your salon, learn what’s required by your state board. Even if you already have a valid salon/facility/establishment license, it’s worth reviewing the current regulations about equipment, ventilation, flooring, plumbing/toilets, product storage, signage, etc. Some states are more restrictive than others; here are specific examples:
California - a drinking fountain that is accessible to the disabled may be required in new buildings and remodels (check with local authorities).
Ohio - a floor plan drawn to scale and a sign at the main entrance “using at least three inch tall letters.”
Oregon - a list of licensees providing services and “a map or directions to the facility if it is located in a rural or isolated area.”
Texas - an “autoclave, dry heat sterilizer or ultraviolet sanitizer” if providing nail services.
Washington - a public liability insurance policy for at least $100,000.
A complete list of regulations for your state can be found online; if you have any questions or concerns, make sure to get a response in writing before proceeding. Required or not, business insurance (both liability and property) is a worthwhile investment to protect your clients, your salon and its contents.

State board requirements aside, your salon environment reflects more than personal style (design choices, color preferences, etc.); it also reflects your priorities, which transcend style. Your first priority should be to protect the health and safety of clients. That’s why cleanliness is so important. There’s no excuse for a dirty salon, except the obvious: the busier you are, the more cleaning needs to be done (dusting!), and the less time you have to do it. That’s all the more reason to simplify your decor, have adequate cleaning supplies available and develop a quick routine for surface cleaning. Sharing the responsibility for cleaning will encourage everyone to do their part and take pride in the salon environment. Deeper cleaning also needs to be done on a regular basis, either by staff or an outside service.

Another priority in your salon should be client comfort. Clients are more likely to enjoy their experience when they feel safe and trust your professionalism. Consider your clients as they transition from one aspect of your salon to another. From reception and services, to retail and restrooms, your space needs to be sensible, convenient and accessible, in addition to being clean. Furthermore, the operation of your salon should seem effortless; for example, clients shouldn’t be able to see business paperwork (invoices, bills, bank statements, etc.). To reduce paper clutter, sort through your mail right away, recycle unwanted catalogs, shred sensitive materials and store your paperwork somewhere other than the salon, if possible.

Your comfort as a service provider cannot be neglected either. Because you’ll be spending most of your time at your station, it has to be designed ergonomically. Supportive seating, proper body positioning and adequate task lighting are a must. To conserve space, I’ve created stations where hand and foot services can be performed simultaneously, rather than have separate manicure/enhancement and pedicure areas. Because my salon provides “waterless” services, the only plumbing necessary is a sink where clients and manicurists wash their hands, tools are processed for the autoclave sterilizer and towels can be moistened before placing in the warmer. The public restrooms are conveniently located just outside the front door and maintained by the management of the shopping center.

Contrary to how most manicurists design their stations, every product or piece of equipment does not need to be within arms reach. In fact, it’s better for your health to stand up and move periodically. In my salon, each station has a compact rolling cart stocked with the products used most often during services (gloves, files, cuticle remover, base coat, top coat, etc.); bulk quantities of those same products, the extensive polish/gel polish selection and equipment (towel warmer, paraffin warmer, microwave, etc.) are stored in the back room. Plastic containers and a label maker can keep your back room, or any storage area, organized and clean.

Speaking of storage, do yourself a favor and dispose of products you rarely or never use. Minimizing your products will reduce clutter in your salon, and focus resources (money and space) on the most important ones. Buying those products in bulk, which I strongly recommend, doesn’t require that everything be stored at the salon. For example, I buy nearly 500 lbs. of paraffin (packaged in 24 lb. cases) every two years; I can store the paraffin at home and bring a case to the salon about once a month. Whatever space you utilize, ensure that you store products safely (follow manufacturer’s instructions) and have corresponding MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets) available for reference.

By Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Education Etiquette

Article Published in Stylist Magazine, August 2012

If experience were the best teacher, the beauty industry would have no need for formal education. Those interested in becoming a nail professional would purchase supplies, open for business and practice their manicuring skills on unsuspecting clients. In time, they might learn how to do quality work (without hurting their clients) and succeed financially, but that’s not very likely. Experience can be the most inefficient, unreliable and dangerous way to learn, and some manicurists will never become skilled or successful, no matter how much experience they have.

Quality education should be the foundation of our technical expertise; hours of direct instruction/guided practice can easily supersede years of trying. But if education has this potential, why do educators complain that it’s hard to fill classes while manicurists complain about the lack of education? Instead of complaining, we should consider how we can mutually benefit from the learning process. Beyond the mere transfer of knowledge, we can explore new ideas, solve problems, inspire each other and advance the professionalism of our industry. By following education etiquette, both students and educators can play their respective roles:

For Students
  • Find available classes by researching the internet, reading industry publications and contacting manufacturers, distributors, show/event organizers, educators and other nail professionals.
  • Watching videos and participating in webinars can be done anywhere, but plan to travel to attend classes in person.
  • Register in advance, if required, otherwise the class may be cancelled for lack of interest. If you pay for a class and don’t attend, don’t expect a refund.
  • Bring any required supplies, as directed by the educator.
  • Arrive early and sit near the front of the room to limit distractions.
  • Be prepared to take notes, either with pen/paper or electronic device. Ask permission before taking photographs or making any audio/video recordings. The content belongs to the educator, not the students.
  • Silence your cell phone. 
  • Remember that if you’re not the educator, you’re a student, so behave accordingly. Understand that your background knowledge/experience differs from other students and be supportive of your educator’s efforts to include everyone.
  • Reserve your questions/comments until the end of the class; don’t be that obnoxious student everyone dreads. 
  • Thank your educator. Some are paid to present classes, but many donate their time and travel expenses.
For Educators
  • Focus on informing rather than selling; students will respect you more.
  • Plan shorter rather than longer classes, especially at events that have multiple attractions, like a full schedule of classes, nail competitions and a bustling exhibit floor. 
  • Allow enough time to cover your topic adequately. In my opinion, a lecture class is ideally 60-75 minutes long. For a demonstration class, I allow twice the time it takes to perform the actual task, and for a hands-on class, triple the time.
  • Make the title of your class brief and relevant; write a description (less than 100 words) that accurately represents the content.
  • Promote your class through your website, social media, email, print media etc. to reach as many potential students as possible.
  • Avoid canceling classes; should this happen, announce it immediately and promptly refund any payments.
  • Visit your classroom the day before, if possible, to preview the location and layout. Confirm that any signage is correct.
  • Know how to operate whatever equipment you plan to use (lighting, laptop, projector, video camera, etc.), whether it belongs to you or the facility. 
  • Be kind to all event staff (management, decorators, audio-visual experts, room monitors and janitors); you never know when you’ll need their help.
  • Get your rest and eat something beforehand to maintain your energy. Have water available for the occasional dry mouth or inopportune cough.
  • Arrive early so you can be prepared to start on time. 
  • Project your voice with confidence; not every classroom will be equipped with a microphone.
  • Remind your students to silence their cell phones, and instruct them to either ask questions throughout or save them for the end, whichever you prefer.
  • Briefly introduce yourself; don’t assume everyone knows who you are.
  • Structure your content logically and make it accessible so students can  listen, observe, read and/or experience the information. 
  • Be enthusiastic, no matter how many students you have. 
  • Engage your students by making eye contact and speaking from bullet points rather than reading a script.
  • Adapt your content to the knowledge level(s) of your students to make everyone feel welcome.
  • Control your class by staying on topic and not allowing disruptions. You’re entitled to ask any disruptive student (tardy, chatty, disrespectful, confrontational, etc.) to leave the classroom; other students will appreciate your assertiveness.
  • Thank your students for their time and attention. Give them your contact information so they can ask questions later and learn about future classes.
  • Invite more experienced educators to attend your class and provide feedback. 
  • Be courteous to other educators, particularly those sharing the same classroom: end your class on time, clear out quickly and don’t leave a mess.
By Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Add-ons Made Easy

Article Published in Stylist Magazine, July 2012

It’s fairly common for nail salons to offer add-on services, like paraffin treatments, French polish and nail art. The options and pricing vary, of course, because there’s a great deal of flexibility and few guidelines. For example, a salon offering nail art might charge by the nail, the time required, the difficulty of the design, or the amount of colors/glitter/rhinestones/etc. used. While add-ons have the potential to significantly increase revenue, their success depends on desirability, cost- and time-effectiveness and client perceptions of value.

Before exploring these variables, I want to acknowledge that for the purpose of this discussion, I will focus on nail-related add-on services only. Many salons have expanded their menus to include more unconventional services, but I caution salon owners against straying beyond their primary business, performing regulated beauty services. Just because clients want something doesn’t mean that you’re qualified/licensed to provide it, or that their/your best interests would be served if you did.

When considering the introduction of a new service, ask yourself, “Will this service enhance my reputation as a successful nail professional?” For example, consider “detox” foot soaks. Be sensible. If detoxifying were even possible through feet (it’s not; ask a reputable doctor) and capable of curing ailments/diseases (really?), you’d be practicing medicine which is definitely NOT within your scope of practice. Conversely, if it’s a scam (it is; just ask a chemist if you’re still not convinced), then you’d be practicing quackery which is unethical and unprofessional. Why risk your reputation when your credibility would be permanently damaged? Please, don’t. Now back to our discussion . . .

Much like retail, add-ons have a somewhat negative connotation as an “up-sell,” an extra or more expensive service that you must persuade clients to purchase. As a nail professional and salon owner, I want to provide services clients need and want, without any convincing on my part. What’s the secret? Add-ons sell themselves when clients desire them. It all depends on how your salon defines an add-on.

When developing services, I recommend giving your clients options, but not too many, otherwise scheduling and explaining the differences among services become too complicated. This can be easily avoided by creating two distinct levels of service: a very simple one that meets basic nail care needs and another that packages more luxury into an expanded service. Pedicures provide a ready example:

  • Nail shaping
  • Cuticle work
  • Nail shaping
  • Cuticle work
  • Callus work
  • Exfoliation
  • Paraffin
  • Massage
At Precision Nails, the basic service (Foot Express) costs $20 and takes 15 minutes, and the expanded service (Foot Detail) costs $50 and takes 45 minutes. If all the extras provided in the expanded service were available individually, it would be a pricing and scheduling hassle. Whereas, when those extras come packaged together, most clients willingly choose the expanded (and more expensive) service.

Note that neither of these services includes polish. Why? We don’t assume that only women need/want their nails done; men deserve and appreciate professional nail care also. Besides, not all women want polish and some men do. I deliberately name and describe services in a gender-neutral way, because the quality of the service and the products used don’t change according to the client’s gender. Pricing should be based on the service provided, not on who’s receiving it. Our clients, whether male or female, can add a polish application or buffing to either the basic or expanded service for an additional charge; that’s the client’s choice. (Our salon doesn’t offer nail art; that’s my choice).

The cost- and time-effectiveness of an add-on service should be calculated like any other service. My standard is to price a service at no less than a $1/minute, and to limit product costs to no more than 10% of the service cost. For example, we charge $15 for a polish application or buffing, and schedule an additional 15 minutes, though it may take less time. (To learn more about my competitive pricing strategy, please reference the article published in the March 2011 Stylist).

Despite their potential, add-ons cannot generate any revenue if clients aren’t charged for them. That sounds obvious, but I cannot count the number of nail professionals who complain that their clients expect “freebies,” like nail art/repairs/massage/etc. Despite their perceptions, clients must be held financially accountable for the services they choose to receive. To firmly establish your value, produce a comprehensive brochure with 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. When asked about your service prices, whether in person, by email or phone call, be prepared to ask some questions to determine which services, if any, best meet the client’s needs. And make sure to charge accordingly.

By Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Miss (or Mister) Independent?

Article Published in Stylist Magazine, June 2012

Several years ago, after teaching a class at Premiere Orlando, I was approached by an apprehensive student who asked, “How do I convince my husband that I can make money doing nails?” Though unexpected, it was a relevant question. Even before becoming licensed, this student was feeling uncertain about her career choice. Perhaps she was concerned about finding the ideal salon, investing in expensive products, developing her technical skills, building a loyal clientele or other challenges that we face as beauty professionals. Instinctively, I responded, “You need to convince yourself first.” Rather than offer false assurances, I wanted to be honest. While my experience validates the possibility of success, it’s not a common experience and not what students should expect, no matter how confident they are. If believing in oneself were the foundation of success, any manicurist could succeed, regardless of talent, effort and/or luck. That’s simply not the case.

Here’s something else students are not likely to be told, but I tell them anyway. Within the beauty profession, there’s a strong possibility of failure, and the overwhelming desire to be “independent” may be to blame. Visit any beauty school and the majority of students will share their dreams of opening their own salons. I can relate to the excitement of entering a new profession, and appreciate the students’ enthusiasm. Understandably, it’s very appealing to envision ourselves as capable of making our own decisions, controlling our work environment, making clients looks and feel better, doing what we love and supporting ourselves. But how realistic is that, really? Regardless of employment status, how many manicurists earn  a living wage doing nails? If not many, don’t blame greedy salon owners. Having taken an opportunity to be independent either as booth renters or salon owners, why do so many manicurists still struggle?

Let’s go back to beauty school, in which students learn how to perform the beauty services required by a licensing examination. Being prepared for a test is different from being prepared for the realities of salon work, much less salon ownership. Instructors can inspire students all they want, but if they happened to be unsuccessful working in a salon environment, how can they prepare their students? (I doubt most instructors, while still students, dreamed of working at a beauty school for $15 an hour.) Not to minimize the sacrifices students make, but the investment of attending beauty school at a fixed cost for a specific number of hours does not compare to the investment of launching a salon, and the continuous demands of its operation. Completing beauty school is a prerequisite for attempting the licensing exam; does any state require a beauty school education to own a salon?

I ask that question facetiously because I’m frequently contacted by individuals who plan to open salons, despite having no professional education or experience in our industry other than receiving services. (I love dining out, but that doesn’t qualify me to own a restaurant.) These potential salon owners believe that their success in their current profession will easily translate to success in the nail profession. They’re just as naive as students. Opening a salon is easy; operating one that’s legal and profitable is much harder to achieve.

Returning to the plight of struggling manicurists, what’s the problem? Spend time around them, whether online or in person, and they’ll offer multiple explanations:
  • the economy is bad and all salons are suffering
  • I can’t compete with discount salons
  • my clients will leave if I raise my prices
  • my services take a long time, but it’s because I’m a perfectionist
  • my clients expect free repairs and nail art
  • the cost of quality products is too expensive
  • the other manicurists in the salon don’t clean
  • the salon owner doesn’t refer clients to me, and so on.
Apparently, not even glitter can cover their frustration. It would seem that there’s always some excuse, but very little personal responsibility.

Why do these manicurists reject the option of being employed by a successful and responsible salon owner? What makes them believe they could do better on their own? While optimism might sustain them initially, and sometimes indefinitely, it can also mislead. How else to explain the number of manicurists who persist in our profession despite not being financially successful? Maybe they don’t need to make money; they might have another job, financial support from a spouse or a trust fund. That’s not me; I’ve always valued my success more than my independence because I need to support myself. Each of us must consider what’s in our best interests, and for some, that might mean leaving the nail profession altogether. If that seems harsh, I’d say that encouraging those incapable of success, for whatever reasons, to stick it out would be far more so. If I’m wrong, they can prove it.

By Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Nails in the News

Article Published in Stylist Magazine, May 2012

Browsing the home page of msnbc.com recently, I was surprised to find an article link containing the words "extreme manicure" at the top of the page. Before proceeding to the article, I hesitated a moment. Whenever reading or watching any news related to nails, I'm prepared to be disappointed and frustrated. It's not that I expect the news to be positive; that would be remarkable and promising, and likely not news at all.

There's a difference between journalism (investigating and reporting on current events, trends, etc.) and content marketing (providing information to alter consumer behavior and build brand loyalty). I expect journalistic integrity from my news, and hold the media accountable for what they present. What's the purpose and relevance of the news report? Who's the source? Is the information (facts, quotes, etc.) accurate and objective? Has the context been adequately established? What are the qualifications of any contributors? How was the research conducted? What conclusions can be drawn? What impact does the information have? And on a more personal note, why should I care?

Some defend content marketing by claiming that consumers are sophisticated enough to distinguish between journalism and marketing: "today's audiences are accustomed to filtering information from a great many sources and taking those sources into account" (When Worlds Collide by Peter Haapaniemi at www.customcontentcouncil.com). Really? If I were a consumer without any specialized knowledge about nail care (anatomy/physiology, infection control, product chemistry, etc.), I'd probably believe the following:
  • nails need to breathe;
  • clients should bring their own tools to the salon;
  • professional nail services, pedicures in particular, can be deadly;
  • nail polish adversely affects reproductive health and causes breast cancer;
  • UV lamps used to cure gel nails cause skin cancer;
  • products that smell are more toxic than ones that don't.
Repeated often enough in the media, this information, whether true or not, makes consumers afraid of nail salons and nail products, both professional and retail.

If having your nails done is dangerous, then doing nails must be very dangerous. Yet, manicurists don't even make the list of "The 15 Most Dangerous Jobs in America:"
  1. Fishers and related fishing workers*
  2. Logging workers
  3. Aircraft pilots and flight engineers*
  4. Farmers and ranchers*
  5. Coal miners
  6. Roofers
  7. Refuse and recyclable material collectors*
  8. Truck drivers*
  9. Police officers*
  10. Electrical power-line installers and repairers
  11. Construction laborers
  12. Taxi drivers and chauffeurs**
  13. Grounds maintenance workers*
  14. Athletes, coaches, umpires and related workers*
  15. Operating engineers and construction equipment operators*
*Transportation incidents are the main cause of death.
** Assaults accounted for slightly more deaths than transportation incidents.
(Based on data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2010 and reported by Gus Lubin and Kevin Lincoln for www.businessinsider.com).
My work as a nail professional does not require driving, which might explain why it doesn't rank among these other professions.

That being said, it's interesting that when I Googled "nail polish death," I could document an actual death related to nail polish. But it had nothing to do with "toxic" chemicals as some might expect In a tragic incident widely known as the "Nail Polish Crash," motorcyclist Anita Zaffke was killed by motorist Lora Hunt who was polishing her nails while behind the wheel. Hunt was subsequently convicted of reckless homicide and sentenced to 18 months. Meanwhile, Zaffke's son Greg honors his mother's memory with the Crash Coalition (www.crashcoalition.org), a non-profit organization advocating against DWD (driving while distracted). DWD is deliberate and avoidable, yet one of the the leading causes of fatalities and injuries according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (www.distraction.gov.).

I digress, so back to the article I found on msnbc.com, A whole new gloss: Consumers buy into 'extreme manicure' trend by Martha C. White. The author and I have different perspectives on what constitutes "extreme" or even "new;" she briefly mentions the "crack" polish look and "press-on decals" as if they were revolutionary. Within approximately 400 words, the word "bright" appears 3 times to emphasize the trend towards bolder and less traditional colors. White also cites some research from the NPD Group about increased polish sales at department stores (up 63%) and the popularity of blue polish, which accounts for 20% of the top 130 colors sold. (There's no data included on polish sales at salons or mass market retailers, like Target or Walmart.)

White concludes that "budget-minded," "DIY" shoppers are driving this "low-cost trend." That's laughable because I would never refer to consumers who buy department store polish as "budget-conscious" or likely to DIY; Chanel's Le Vernis Nail Color, at $26 a bottle, is hardly "low-cost" when compared to professional polish available for about $8 a bottle. So while the overall tone of the article is positive (no mention is made of the "toxicity" of nail polish ingredients), White ends her article by quoting a retail strategist: '"The customer that used to to get weekly manicures is probably doing her own nails," Levy said. That nail salon's loss is a beauty retailer's gain.' Here's some news: we're gaining clients who prefer to have their nails done professionally, and we also retail polish, some of it blue.

By Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

New Leadership for Our Multi-cultural Industry

Article Published in Stylist Magazine, April 2012

The nail industry could use some good news, and I certainly don’t mean the introduction of another gel polish brand. Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate what reputable and innovative manufacturers contribute to our industry. But what manicurists really need we can’t buy from manufacturers, and that’s leadership. Despite being a growing, multi-cultural industry, we lack direction and have a serious image problem. Is it just me, or does it seem that most publicity about nails is bad (toxic chemicals, dirty salons, deadly pedicures, poor customer service, human trafficking, etc.)? Well-intentioned efforts to educate consumers can inadvertently damage our image further when not handled carefully.

Of course, it’s not just manicurists that suffer bad publicity. And the publicity doesn’t even have to be “real.” Have you seen the suggestive ads for the The Client List, an upcoming fictional television series made for Lifetime starring Jennifer Love Hewitt? The insulting characterization of massage therapists as sex workers has generated protests and online petitions to boycott. In defense of the show, Hewitt has been quoted as saying: "I feel badly that they feel offended, but I respect that people need to say what they need to say . . . At the end of the day, though, it's a television series. I'm not saying every massage parlor in the world gives happy endings, nor do I know which ones do, but it is a part of our society. And even if it wasn't, it's just a part of our story. It's entertainment."* I’m not sure that explanation would make me feel any better if I were a (therapeutic) massage professional.

For better, and more often worse, media portrayals of manicurists both reflect and influence how we’re perceived. Consider these characterizations, not so much for their accuracy, but for the powerful messages they convey about our career choice:
  • Madge the Manicurist, played by accomplished actress Jan Miner, promoted the use of Palmolive dishwashing liquid with the assurance “You’re soaking in it.” She never lacked for clients at Salon East Beauty Parlor and had a longer career than most manicurists (1966-1992).
  • Ms. (Bunny) Swan, played by Alex Borstein on MADtv, worked at the Gorgeous Pretty Beauty Nail Salon. Though somewhat ambiguous, her ethnicity was often perceived as Asian. She was known for her questionable language skills and frumpy work attire. Who can forget that colorful checkered smock with foot appliques that always covered her floral print dresses?
  • Paulette Bonafont√©, played by Jennifer Coolidge in Legally Blonde, was the insecure and unfashionable manicurist who befriends law student Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon). She’s best remembered for learning the “bend and snap” to attract a man, not so much for doing great nails.
  • Anjelah Johnson became famous for her stand-up routine in which she described  having her nails done by “Tammy,” a Vietnamese manicurist at Beautiful Nail. Johnson joined the cast of MADtv as a featured player and her videos have more than 50 million views on YouTube.
  • Katie Cazorla stars in Nail Files, the first reality show based in a nail salon. While not a licensed manicurist herself, she and her staff at The Painted Nail (located in Sherman Oaks, California) earned ratings worthy of a second season premiering this summer.
As manicurists, we’ve allowed ourselves to be relegated into a position of inferiority, even within the beauty industry. We reinforce this by apologizing for our work as “Just nails;” I wouldn’t expect Robert Cromeans or Vivienne Mackinder to say “I only do hair.” We’ll never achieve a more favorable public image if we don’t value ourselves and respect our colleagues. In last month’s column, I encouraged licensees and salon owners to advocate for our industry, particularly at the state level. But we need to proceed with integrity and fairness, and without prejudice. We cannot tolerate derogatory and divisive language related to cultural, socio-economic and/or gender stereotypes (words such as “Oriental/Asian,” “chop shop,” “white-trash,” “ghetto,” “bimbo” or “gay”). I’ve heard this language used by both consumers and professionals as they make broad generalizations about the nail industry. Whether derived from prejudice or limited experience, it’s entirely unfair and serves no purpose other than to perpetuate negative stereotypes.

Our responsibilities as licensees do not change according to our backgrounds or circumstances; we all must follow the applicable laws and regulations. Anyone who wants to be a nail professional and/or salon owner must meet the minimum standards, whatever those may be in your particular state. If those standards do not prevent incompetent licensees from entering the workforce or ignorant owners from operating salons, don’t blame the licensees, the owners, the beauty schools or the examination. The fault lies with the governmental agency that established the standards in the first place. Mediocrity should not be the standard; we should expect more of ourselves and consumers deserve better. The good news? California’s state board recently elected a licensed manicurist and salon owner, Christie Truc Tran, as president. With her leadership, I expect that we’ll make significant progress in unifying as nail professionals and advancing our best interests.

* Reported by Jay Bobbin of Zap2it on March 1, 2012.

By Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Advocacy is Your Right

Article Published in Stylist Magazine, March 2012

Observing yet another quarterly meeting of California’s Board of Barbering and Cosmetology (BBC), I can’t help but have some strong opinions. After all, the issues being addressed in this particular meeting, like health and safety regulations, enforcement procedures and unlicensed activity, directly affect how I do business. Other members of the audience have their own opinions, and that’s one of the main advantages of being at this meeting: the opportunity to share our opinions on the record. In California, the BBC must hold public meetings to facilitate transparency and accountability. To make the meetings even more accessible, they’re simultaneously webcast and later archived on the BBC website. That means I could watch the proceedings from the comfort of my home, even months later. Instead, I choose to be present, no matter what’s on the agenda or how far I must travel. Even when I don’t speak on the record, my presence at these meetings demonstrates my commitment to fair and reasonable governance.

Those unfamiliar with state regulatory agencies may be disappointed to learn that it’s not the government’s responsibility to promote our profession. We have national organizations for that purpose, chiefly the Professional Beauty Association (PBA) which also encompasses the National Cosmetology Association (NCA). As worthwhile as these organizations are, their resources and influence on state governments are limited. It would be different if there were national standards, testing and licensure, but that’s not the case. The fact is individual states protect consumers by regulating us, state by state. To influence how that’s accomplished, we need more salon owners and licensees to participate at the state level, rather than depend on others to advocate for us. We know protecting consumers and promoting our profession are mutually beneficial, rather than exclusive, goals. It only makes sense because strong consumer protection validates our education, licensure and the enforcement of rules and regulations, especially those dealing with health and safety. Who better to protect our interests as beauty professionals, taxpayers, consumers and residents in our respective states than ourselves?

Over the years, I’ve heard so many complaints about inadequate training, outdated exams, incompetent licensees, infrequent inspections, unfair competition, etc., it makes me wonder if any state board does its job well? If not, why bother with licensing at all? Apparently, others have asked the same question and determined that it wasn’t necessary. Recent proposals in Florida, Indiana and New Hampshire to deregulate the beauty profession have prompted professionals to react vehemently to protect their licensing. While that’s encouraging, it’s not enough. To be a more powerful influence on state government, our involvement should be lasting and proactive, not temporary and reactive. If the powers that be only see and/or hear from professionals under the most extreme circumstances, it diminishes our potential impact. Rather than merely complain, consider what you could do to help your board improve. We could accomplish so much more working collaboratively with our state boards, expressing our support or criticism appropriately and respectfully. Building a collaborative relationship with your state board begins with reaching out. The internet makes this easy; there are numerous online resources to learn out about upcoming meetings, proposed regulations and other opportunities to contribute, like being a subject matter expert or serving on an advisory committee. Your professional expertise can help your board develop and implement better policies.

Interacting directly with board members and staff will give you perspective on current policies, and the reasoning and history behind them, whether you agree or not. I have concerns (some minor, others major) about nearly every aspect of my state board’s purview: scope of practice, health and safety, curriculum, beauty schools, written and practical examinations, licensing fees, booth rental, inspections, enforcement and continuing education. There’s plenty of room for improvement, but policies evolve at a much slower pace than our industry does. The constraints (financial, legal, political, etc.) under which state boards operate limit their ability to change. For example, in California, we desperately need more salon inspectors and support staff, and have the money to fund these positions, but a hiring freeze imposed by our governor makes that difficult, if not impossible, at this time.

If we must be regulated, I demand to be regulated fairly and reasonably. For your individual awareness and our collective interests, I encourage you to learn more about the legislative issues affecting our profession. Write directly to the executive officer of your board, the agency overseeing your board, your state legislators and your governor. Attend board meetings and volunteer. Share your concerns and suggestions with other beauty professionals through networking, trade publications and social media. Discuss your involvement with your clients; these are the consumers your board is supposed to protect. For me, advocacy means expressing my opinions judiciously, supported with facts, no matter how unpopular or contradictory to current policy. My opinion counts, as does yours. Advocacy is your right; please use it, wisely.

By Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Building Your Own Online Resource

Article Published in Stylist Magazine, February 2012

Selecting a favorite online resource would be easy if there were one that offers everything I want and need. Because that’s not possible, I’ll take a more pragmatic approach and admit that my favorite resources belong to financial institutions (my bank, credit card companies, etc.). There’s nothing “beauty” about their websites, but they serve their purpose well. These sites provide personalized, timely and necessary information, as well as functionality like online bill payment, that I depend on as a business owner. I visit regularly, often daily, to update my finances and make decisions that affect my salon.

Speaking of my salon, it has an online presence also, and I’m not referring to a Facebook page. Many salons have websites; that’s not uncommon. However, there’s a distinction to be made between a simplistic and static site that includes little more than contact information, and a complex and dynamic one that provides visitors more relevant and unique content. Some salon owners will not, or can not, make the investment required to have a more substantial website, if any at all. What a missed opportunity! Building and maintaining a website that others consider a resource is a great way to promote your salon.

The most affordable (at only about $10 a year) and simplest step in the process is the first one, registering a domain name. Lucky for me, my salon name with a “.com” address was available back in 2000. Had it not been, I would have been very reluctant to hyphenate, misspell or otherwise vary the name. Consistency and convenience are important considerations when registering a domain; it needs to be easy to find.

To build the site, I initially considered doing it myself, but quickly determined that I had neither the time, talent nor desire to master the existing software. Assuming that a professional web designer would be too expensive, I made a critical mistake and hired an enthusiastic college student with limited experience. When the process stalled after a few months, I did my research (better late than never) and learned that the design services of a local, emerging firm were more affordable than I thought. I quickly corrected my hiring mistake, and the process restarted in earnest.

Working with a professional web designer proved a very positive experience. Our collaborative process involved many discussions about the purpose of the website: to provide a convenient way for potential clients to learn about the salon. To this end, I wrote all the content (service descriptions and pricing, salon policies, nail care advice, etc.) and the designer did his part to create an attractive and navigable website. In the years since its launch, the website has expanded with the addition of FAQs, a blog, online booking, a shopping cart and consulting information. Regular updates keep the content fresh for visitors who find us through search engines, links from other websites and email marketing.

As expected, my salon website became the most cost-effective way to reach potential clients. But even when something appears to be working, improvements can be made. At a certain point, updates and minor revisions are not enough to get the job done. For example, this time last year, my salon marketing materials (brochure, gift card, business cards, etc.) needed a complete redesign. In the past, I’d always managed without a graphic designer by working directly with a local print shop. But when my expectations outpaced my capabilities, I knew it was time to hire another professional. Together, we produced new materials with a more cohesive, vibrant and sophisticated appearance. Having done that, the website obviously needed a redesign also; it looked tired in comparison.

Thanks to the hard work of my graphic designer, the design of the website (colors, fonts, images, layout, etc.) now aligns with the new salon materials. More important, the website serves multiple purposes; it contains information tailored to potential clients and beauty professionals, separately and collectively. For clients, we simplified the services menu and reservations process, reworked the FAQs, added a complete listing of our polish selection and recommended local services, organizations and businesses.

For professionals, we created an entirely new area accessed by login. Previously, I’d shared product recommendations, service procedures and upcoming events by sending newsletters upon request. Because email marketing has its limitations (timeliness, reader/list fatigue, inbox deliverability, list churn, etc.), it seemed a far better solution to post this information directly on the website. Once registered, professionals will find: nail-related articles from the Stylist, my favorite professional products and services, a comprehensive schedule of beauty shows, networking events and classes and step-by-step instructions for my most popular services, like waterless spa manicures and pedicures. I don’t expect my salon’s website to be anyone else’s favorite. It certainly won’t please everyone or meet all their needs, but as long as it serves my purposes, it’s worthwhile. Check it out at www.precisionnails.com.

By Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Value of Standing Appointments

Article Published in Stylist Magazine, January 2012

After the chaos/excitement of the holidays, every year begins with a new, orderly salon schedule. At first glance, it may not look that different from last year’s schedule. The salon hours did not change; we’re still open Monday through Saturday, 10 am to 6 pm. We didn’t gain or lose any manicurists; there are three of us and I need to hire another one (that’s a whole other topic). We didn’t add or eliminate any services, and prices have not changed since our last increase in January 2010. Even the names on the schedule are familiar; they belong to clients who’ve reserved standing appointments for the entire year. Standing appointments demonstrate how much these Preferred Clients, as we call them, value our time and services. Likewise, we value Preferred Clients, above all others, for their commitment and reliability. Simply stated, my salon would not be as successful without them.

For 2012, we have approximately 75 Preferred Clients on our schedule. Some are relatively new, while others have been loyal clients for more than ten years. The importance of these clients is obvious; taken together, they account for nearly half our available time and more than half the income generated by the salon, including retail. While value can be quantified by various statistics (service frequency, service/retail/tip dollars, referrals, etc.), those numbers do not convey the qualitative value of standing appointments. They provide structure and stability, and eliminate the seasonal fluctuations that some salons experience. Particularly in uncertain economic times, it’s very reassuring to know that we can reasonably expect a certain amount of revenue during the year. 

More than once, I’ve heard the advice that a client should be pre-booked for the next appointment before leaving the salon. That’s not good enough if you want to secure a client’s loyalty for the long term. Why waste the time it takes to schedule the next appointment every visit when you could make a more permanent arrangement? Not only will this save time, but it also relieves the anxiety associated with either having too few clients on your schedule, or so many that you cannot find time for your best clients when they want an appointment.

To build a salon schedule based on standing appointments, advance planning is required, and the more consistent you can be, the better. Begin by establishing your available hours. For example, I work with clients Tuesday thru Thursday; my employees have different, yet consistent, schedules to cover the remaining salon hours. It’s also important to plan your schedule at least a year in advance. The planning for 2012 began last June (2011) with a completely empty schedule. (We don’t block off holidays until after reserving standing appointments; we reschedule those affected clients later.) A complete list of Preferred Clients (and others who wanted to be) ensured that everyone received consideration. Once it was determined that there wouldn’t be any price, service, or schedule changes, we started filling the schedule and confirming reservations based on seniority. Most Preferred Clients wanted to keep the same schedule, while some needed a change (e.g. adding another service or increasing the frequency interval from three weeks to two weeks). 

Let me emphasize that we offer standing appointments to only our best clients (reliable, cooperative, appreciative, etc.). It’s as easy as saying: “I really enjoy doing your nails, but as my clientele grows, convenient appointments will be harder to schedule. I’d like to reserve a specific day and time just for you. What days and times work best?” Not all clients will be able to commit as their personal schedules may vary too much, and that’s understandable. We also value these “regular” clients because they nearly fill out the remaining time in our schedule, leaving very little time for walk-in clients. Both our brochure and website announce: “By invitation only, Precision Nails offers standing appointments in one-, two-, three-or four-week intervals. Clients with standing appointments receive scheduling priority and other valuable benefits.” There’s no monetary incentive involved; the incentive for the client should be securing the most convenient time on a consistent basis. 

And speaking of incentives, I do not recommend discounts, ever. If getting busier (more clients, more appointments) is that important, you could advertise discounted (why not free?) services and convince yourself those clients will return and pay your regular prices later. However, being busy is not the same as being successful. The “regular” prices have no meaning when a salon continually offers discounts. In fact, the term “discount salon” is a common euphemism for a salon known for poor quality work at lower-than-average prices. Why would any beauty professional want to be associated with that? When manicurists discount their service prices, clients may discount their professionalism. I want clients who can readily afford to have their nails done, not those who need special pricing to justify the experience.

By Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D.