Too often the nail department is the Cinderella of the salon and spa. She’s outshined by her siblings—the glamorous, cutting-edge hair department, the profit-boosting color department, and the spa that envelops guests in its luxurious embrace.

Tucked into a corner, the overlooked stepsister frequently suffers from a lack of attention as she toils away churning out manis and pedis. But try introducing your Cinderella to her fairy godmother, who’ll infuse her with innovative services, tempting retail lines, top-notch education and talented technicians, and your nail department promises to be the belle of the ball.

The business of nails has changed in the past decade, points out Kim Lento, a trainer for Milady. “At one time having your nails done felt like a luxury,” she says. “Unfortunately, that aspect has become lost. With the competition of generic under-priced shops, the industry has become oversaturated and the cost to the industry has been detrimental.”

Granted, nail departments are boosted by the scores of regular clients who view the services as a necessity, but Lento points out that often the quality of those services has been compromised due to the boom in the industry. “Clients are less willing to pay higher prices and are flocking to the lower-quality, lower-standard generic nail shops because of the perceived value.”

The challenge in creating a nail business that stands apart is in exceeding your clients’ expectations. “If your client leaves with the services they ordered, you have only met their expectations,” says Lento. “But if they’ve left wanting more, you’ve exceeded them. If a client is going to pay $20 for a manicure and $40 for a pedicure, then the entire experience should feel like a $120 service.”

 

Sweeten the Services

The Business of NailsFor many salons and spas, nail problems begin with the menu, which frequently lists manicures, spa manicures, pedicures and spa pedicures. While these basics may continue to be your top sellers, more tantalizing services will create a niche for your nail department.

For example, at Faces Dayspa in Hilton Head, South Carolina, Spa Manager Hope Mims invented the Ice Cream Pedicure, which includes a strawberry fizz foot soak, chocoholic sugar scrub, cooling caramel mask and vanilla whipped cream lotion. Other Faces nail services tackle particular issues, such as the Fountain of Youth Hand Treatment, which diminishes age spots and restores and softens rough, neglected hands.

Bonnie Conte, owner of Avalon Salon and Day Spa, draws on her manufacturer to help create exciting services, such as the Caribbean Therapy Manicure and Rosemary Mint Manicure and Pedicure. “We’ve also done a Purifying Stone Manicure,” she says. “When we have something new or exciting like that, then the staff gets behind it and it quickly becomes a favorite.”

It’s the feet that do the walking at Andre Chreky Salon and Day Spa in Washington D.C., where a special menu of pedicures offer clients some serious globetrotting. Clients can sample the Tuscan Citrus Pedicure, the Egyptian Milk and Honey Pedicure, Tahitian Papaya Pedicure, Japanese Tea Pedicure or the Norwegian Express Pedicure.

To create innovate services like these, gather your nail staff, query your nail manufacturers, and do some serious brainstorming. Incorporate unique products, natural ingredients and essential oils to customize your own unique menu.

It also helps to consider your client base. Andre Chreky has long catered to brides, and its spa staff is busy creating something really fun for this coming wedding season. “Like everyone else we study trends, and monogramming is huge right now,” says Paula Cassidy, Andre Chreky’s spa director. “We’re working on a Monogram Package, which would feature a French manicure and pedicure with a silver or gold metallic initial on one finger and one toe. A bride could choose to feature her initial on one and her future husband’s on the other.”

While the specialty nail service promises to capture attention, sometimes you have to listen to your clients to determine their unique needs. For Andre Chreky, express manicures and pedicures also have become a vital part of their business. “We are a city spa, and our clients need to get in and get out—while they may want to enjoy the hour-long luxury service, they find they only have 30 minutes.”

Adding express services to the menu occurred after the spa battled too many clients requesting polish changes. “It was killing us,” says Cassidy. “Clients would book polish changes, but once in the chair ask if we could just reshape their nails or trim the cuticles. That’s how we discovered that what they really needed were express services. Now, we don’t even have people requesting polish changes.”

 

Show ’Em the Goods

When a busy salon or spa ‘gets known’ as a specialist in a particular area like creative hair color or skin care services, it can be challenging to convince clients that you are more than a one-stop shopping experience. But don’t forget, when it comes to promoting your nail services, you’ve got a built-in database of targets from the clients who frequent your hair and spa departments.

At William Wesley Grand Salon in Davenport, Iowa, owner William Wesley Keck introduces clients to nails during their first salon experience. “Our salon tours enhance the nail department and during the consultation process, we’ll talk about the services we offer,” he says. “As a welcome, new clients also receive a $5-off coupon to try any other service than the one they are booked for, and manicures are a popular choice.”

Keck also encourages nail sales by incorporating monthly add-on specials. “For example, we’ll feature a free paraffin dip with any nail service. And for the holidays, we’ll gift our December clients with a January or February incentive. They’re given a list of five or six things, which includes a deep-conditioning manicure or pedicure that they can choose as a free gift with their paid service during these slower months.”

When the nail department is slow at Avalon, Conte encourages nail techs to circulate in the color processing room, offering complimentary hand treatments and introducing color clients to nail services. She also will post open nail appointments as daily specials and offer clients 10-percent-off these add-on services.

At Faces, the introduction to nails comes naturally, as owner Patricia Owen incorporates a nail service or a hand or foot treatment into every spa package. As a result, nail services represent a healthy 25 percent of service sales.

 

Going Group

The Business of NailsOf all the spa options, nail services best lend themselves to group parties because multiple clients can be handled at the same time and conversation can be encouraged. At Andre Chreky, a cozy club room allows a private party of up to five clients to enjoy nail services together. The room hosts bridal showers, baby showers and birthday parties, and groups are encouraged to bring their own food and beverages. Bridal Coordinator Meghan Marraccini smoothes the booking process with a group contract that requires the party planner to schedule services for each individual in the party at least a week in advance, and requires clients to pay for any service cancelled in the week preceding the event.

Conte credits the group party for getting her nail business off the ground after she opened her spa. “We found the quickest way to mom’s heart is to pamper her kids, so we hosted birthday parties on slow afternoons like Tuesdays, where we would perform mini manicures and pedicures,” she remembers. “We’ve gotten too busy to do that anymore, but when we launched we gained so many new clients from what we thought of as silly little parties.”

Conte continues to cater to moms with her special Mother’s Day promotional Mommy and Me Specials. Daughters or dads can treat mom with this package which includes a manicure and pedicure package for mom and a mini manicure and pedicure for daughters 12 and under in the spa’s private room.

 

The Complete Package

There’s a definite seasonality to the nail business, especially for pedicures, which see a revival each spring as feet shed shoes for open-toe sandals. But a strong marketing program and clever packaging can keep your nail business growing strong year-round.

At Andre Chreky, Cassidy seizes unique opportunities to promote nail services. “We worked with manufacturers to promote a special pink manicure/pedicure in October for breast cancer awareness month. The service features a complimentary pink pumice and nail file. And we’re looking at developing a red version for the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women,” says Cassidy. “Both opportunities offer an opportunity to distribute life-saving literature to our guests.”

Many spa owners latch onto the scents of the season to develop manicure and pedicure specials. “For example, in the fall we incorporated a pumpkin masque product, and in November we featured a candy cane manicure and pedicure that included mint-scented products and a chocolate masque,” says Conte. “We even took this a step further and commissioned a client who is a pastry chef to develop dark chocolate truffles that were gifted with the service.”

For Valentine’s Day, Conte looks for romance when she serves champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries during the nail services, which include rose-scented water and a chocolate masque. “We just started going to town with these promotional nail services, but we’ll continue to do more and more,” she adds.

Faces has gotten ambitious in developing the special pedicure. For the past few years, the spa has developed a pedicure of the month, which typically features seasonal ingredients. For example November welcomed the Gingerbread Pedicure and December ushered in the Pomegranate and Fig Pedicure. “Each pedicure of the month features a small gift to the client,” says Mims. “For example, a chocolate pedicure included a gift of Hershey’s kisses and our December pedicure included a gift of pomegranate and fig butter.”

Owen extended the excitement of the pedicure of the month by offering it as a series promotion. Guests can pre-purchase a series of six monthly pedicures for $250, which represents about $110 savings.

The series concept also eased Conte through a price increase. “Two years ago we were forced to increase prices because our costs were going up, but I was a little nervous about client reaction,” she remembers. “So we

offered clients the ability to address any cost challenge by offering a package of six nail services, with the sixth one free. That basically gave them the ability to get pre-increase prices by buying in advance. The concept proved successful, and when I recently checked our books, we sold approximately $40,000 in nail packages over the year.”

 

Star Search

One of the biggest challenges in the nail department tends to be staffing. “I don’t know why, because it can be such a lucrative field,” says Owen. “A good nail tech can bring in more than $35,000 as well as her cash tips—that’s a great salary for someone who’s just earned a license.”

Nevertheless, Owen feels it’s a constant struggle to keep her six full-time nail positions filled. To groom talent for the future, she’s beginning to speak to local high schools about incorporating the profession in vocational classes.

In the meantime, Owen discovered a clever way to meet her clients’ demands for nail services by designing hand and foot treatments that don’t require a nail license. “Our business is so package driven, and clients want packages that include the whole spa experience. So we had to find a way around the licensing issue and design hand and foot services that can be performed by estheticians or massage therapists.”

For example, Owen offers the Tropical Smoothie, a hand or foot treatment that combines a kiwi honey butter cleanser, a lemon exfoliating salt scrub, a mineralizing volcanic mud mask and a massage with a rich vanilla moisturizer. Another non-nail service for hands or feet is the reflexology massage, which incorporates acupressure to unblock energy flow and target every organ in the body. Not only have these services helped Owen tackle the talent dilemma and broaden her package options, but they’ve become popular services in their own right.

To keep booking options open at Avalon, Conte requires that all nine of her nail technicians perform all of the nail services, including nail enhancements.

 

Higher Learning

Identifying, scheduling and funding education is tough for any area of the salon or spa, but owners find it’s the nail department that often suffers most for lack of advanced educational opportunities.

Owen says that while they invite manufacturers in to provide nail education whenever possible, finding nail education outside the spa is very challenging. “I do post any opportunities on a bulletin board in the employee area and we offer $100 toward any outside class,” she says.

At Andre Chreky, a long-term employee who manages the nail department holds technical education sessions about once a month. “When we are introducing a new service, they’ll schedule longer sessions so every nail tech can become comfortable with the new techniques,” says Marraccini. “Once a year we recruit an outside educator to teach new skills or massage techniques. We once even had the record-holder for nail length from the Guinness Book of World Records.”

In addition to hosting manufacturer-led educational sessions in the salon, Keck requires each nail technician to attend two beauty shows a year.

When Conte became frustrated with available educational opportunities, she created her own. “I am very active with our Chamber of Commerce and through that association, I met a local podiatrist. He agreed to do a presentation about different nail disorders, some easy treatments we could share with guests, and when we should refer clients to a physician. It was all the things that no one wants to talk about, but are real-life issues specific to the nail department.”

 

Retail Sales

Another frequently overlooked area for the nail department is retail, but great nail retail displays not only boost retail sales, they spur service sales.

In the past two years, Conte has dramatically increased the amount of nail retail product she carries. “It started when we responded to clients’ questions about why we didn’t have any of that quick dry solution. Now we maintain a six-foot square section packed with gift sets, flip flops, pedisocks, heated neck wraps, scrubs and foot files. It’s hard to see the profit when you’re just looking at small bottles of polish,” she says. “But it’s so important.”

Keck also sees the value in keeping up with those little bottles. “We update our palettes every season and we don’t maintain old stock—shelf life in the nail department is very short.”

Don’t forget that nail color follows fashion closely, and keeping up with trends can boost sales. “For example, this past fall’s fashion trend of dark nail polish was really helpful for us, because darker shades are much tougher to apply, so clients were less willing to do it themselves,” adds Marraccini.