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When George Schaeffer, CEO and president of OPI, was asked during a recent interview on FOX News, “How’s business?” he replied, “It’s fantastic. We’re up double digits and women are still putting on nail polish.”

In fact, the nail category increased by 39% in 2012 and no one is putting that genie back in the polish bottle—with more nail service and retail offerings, those numbers promise to keep growing. Today’s salons and day spas are carving out their own nail niche by focusing on the experience and using premium products.

Mani Musts
During a downturn, gel manicures were a lifesaver for manicurists and their clients.  The biggest innovation to hit the nail industry in many years, gel polish provided salons a new, must-have service when women were feeling frugal.

“From a salon service point of view, there are niches that speak to the masses, but I’ve never seen anything like Shellac,” says Jan Arnold, founder of CND, on the product that led the gel revolution. “It’s really a service that women globally, who would never think of wearing a nail design, now do.”

Market Watch: The New Nail NicheJennie Channer, owner of Blueberry Moon Salon in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. “No-chip manicures were so successful because women could go two weeks with their color. They are now 60% of our nail services.” While gels allowed women to space out their appointments, salons could still charge a premium.  

To give your clients a reason to choose salons or spas over budget shops, be sensitive to trends.  It doesn’t take a warehouse to stock up on a the latest nail appliqués (Dashing Diva, OPI’s Nail Laquer Apps, Essie Sleek Sticks) or pots of nail art notions like rhinestones or glitter (CinaPro, It’s So Easy).  A hot oil massage, the use of aromatherapy, an exfoliating treatment, or extra “green” products are other upsells that also create a point of difference.
In Maryland, Maisie Dunbar, owner of Maisie Dunbar Spa Lounge, doesn’t see herself as competing with budget-friendly operations. “I market to people who are looking for customer service.”

Dunbar also uses special events to bring new clients through her doors. “I try to partner with either a local celebrity or blogger that has huge following to introduce my services to their audience with a party or themed event.”

The Medi Pedi
Two years ago, Allan Labos, owner of Akari Spa in Portland, Maine, expanded his day spa into a medical spa, and business is booming. Labos says the key to his success is his nail department.

“In this neck of the woods, we’ve found new clients often book their first appointments with our nail team,” says Labos. “Before their appointments are over they’ve grilled our nail techs on other services and who to see.”

At Akari, pedicures go beyond pampering.  Under the direction of podiatric surgeon Dr. Christopher Toth, the manicurists on staff, led by Carole Fortin, senior nail technician, have gone through an advanced training program educating them on how to address multiple issues including psoriasis, plantar warts, ingrown nails, cysts, calluses and arthritis.  

“Our nail techs collaborate with our doctor. They train together, discuss cases, refer and educate customers. Their work has not only expanded our brand, but elevated the entire department,” says Labos. Akari also offers laser treatment of nail fungus and Botox injections to reduce foot sweat and odor.  

Finger Pointing
For those owners still nay-saying nails, the most often cited reason is staffing. At Michelle Bouse’s Beauty Boutique in Burbank, California, owner Bouse had envisioned having a manicurist on staff providing services during hair treatments or lash services. “But they don’t want to stay in the salon unless they are booked,” says Bouse. “For me as an owner, by sitting at the salon and talking to people, I know that they could be developing relationships with clients, letting people know what they offer, but this hasn’t been the case.”

Channer of Blueberry Moon says, “It’s been our goal to have two nail technicians but it’s extremely difficult to find competent nail technicians.  We have one who is booked solid, with another who will be going through our training. Our services are all spa services and a client is going to spend an hour with their manicurist. I’m not comfortable until she is perfect.”