How to start a nail salon – in a shop OR mobile service (with little or no money!)

I interviewed 3 people who run very profitable nail salons (including one who owns a large and profitable mobile nail salon service), and asked them what you need to know about starting a nail salon.

Updated August 2, 2021

Written by

Benjamin Davis

Contributor

How-to-start.org

Experts interviewed:

Vee Tith – Owner, Lounge Nail Spa in Beavercreek, OH

Carter Dubois – Owner, Magnolias Natural Nail Care Clinic in Sterling, VA

Evgeniya Ignatushchenko – CEO/Founder of Nail Patrol Mobile Nail Salon in Miami, FL

NOTICE: This is a long article. You can skip directly to the guide if you prefer.

I spent many hours chatting with these three industry professionals, who each come from very different backgrounds – proving that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, you can make a success of this business. I wanted to start by understanding if this is a difficult business to get into. Does it take many years of training and experience? Or, can you be up and running within a few weeks? 

The first question I asked the successful trio was:

Do you need to be a nail technician to start a salon?

Do you need to be a nail technician to start a salon?

Do you need training to start a nail salon? Or, can anyone do it?

Vee: You don't need to be a nail tech to start a salon, because I wasn't. I guess it makes sense to say you get to know the tricks of the trade if you were a nail technician, but in order to run a nail salon you don't need to be a nail technician because after you after you have established a clientele and a brick and mortar place, everything else is just managing payroll and clientele, scheduling.

Carter: No, you don’t need to be a nail technician so start a nail salon. Not at all. I did go back to school and become a licensed nail tech because I wanted to know who I would be managing at the end of the day. But that was my choice. I did not have to do that. I know other nail salon owners who are not nail techs. They do not know nails. They don't do it. They have a very strong “right hand man” or a good person that they rely on. That was a personal managerial style that I wanted to go through to make sure that I understood where it was going.It does help, though, because when you are starting a nail salon, if you as an owner can pitch in and do nails and bring in revenue. So that helps add to your income, but it’s not needed. That was my mindset. If I could jump in and expedite one more manicure or one more pedicure throughout the day, that was just that additional revenue that I could get in the door to help get this salon going as fast as possible.

Evgeniya: No, you don’t need to be a nail technician so start a nail salon. At least not in the state of Florida. You only need to have a business license and all the permits and licenses they require to set up a salon. But if you're not working as a nail tech yourself in a salon, you don't have to be experienced or licensed in this area. 

TipSeveral founders I spoke to said you don't need to be a nail tech to start a salon. However – most states have licensing requirements for the nail techs, so check your state, and make sure the nail techs you hire are licensed.

So the three founders come from very different backgrounds. One has business experience, the others had no business experience at all, and no experience with nail salons. This is one of the reasons we rate a nail salon as one of the easiest businesses to start, for anyone. 

The second question on the minds of those who are starting a nail salon is usually about finances.

I asked the founders: How much does it cost to start a nail salon?

How much does it cost to start a nail salon?

The short answer is – anywhere from $5,000 to $100,000 or more. Here's what they said:

Vee: It just really depends on what kind of staff levels you're looking to accommodate. If you're looking for something small where you're looking only to run your own single chair – you don't need much besides maybe $5,000 to have your own space that you can rent, and because you're using your own equipment you're keeping 100% of the revenue. In the nail salon industry, you're talking chairs, individual chairs. A salon size is described by its chairs. So if you're looking to have five to ten chairs, I would say minimum $50,000. That’s roughly $10,000 per chair, so $10,000 to $15,000. It just depends on how luxurious you want it. Now, salons are opening up with 30 to 40 chairs and I think they're running about $300,000 to $500,000. So it seems to average out about 10 grand per chair. You can keep it as minimal as possible and just have plain walls, a sink and some chairs or you can add extras like premium lighting, fancy floors and fancy sinks and top-of-the-line material. If you're looking for something small to medium, I would say under $100,000, even under $50,000.

Carter: If you're doing a brand new shell, meaning there's nothing installed, you're going to have to be close to six figures. But if it's already in existing walls, you just have to repaint, you could do it easily for half that, around $50k. If you wanted to do it in the least expensive way, you could even buy an existing nail salon so you already have the pedicure chairs, which is a big expense at the end of the day, that piping, that plumbing. If you could buy it at a discount from an existing salon that's closing their doors for whatever reason, that you could really get away with doing half of that amount again, maybe $25k.It really just depends. If you're doing a full build out here in Northern Virginia, you're looking easily at six figures just to do the build out. Then depending upon what you want to do for décor and whatnot, then it goes up from there.

Evgeniya: It probably costs between $50,000 and $100,000 for a brick-and-mortar location. But honestly, if you open a nail salon, compared to like barber shops or hair salons, your investment would be the least for the nail salon because you don't really require much equipment. You only need some furniture, you hire nail techs, you get them licensed, you get the permit and that's it. 

Tip: I wrote the worlds easiest step-by-step guide on How to Start a Nail Salon. You can check it out >here<.

Now that I understood the financial part, I wanted to know what equipment I would need to start a nail salon. Is there a long list of expensive things I hadn’t even considered? Or is it really just the basic ‘tools of the trade’?

I asked the three founders: What equipment do you need to start a nail salon?

What equipment do you need to start a nail salon?

Do you need to spend a fortune? Or can you just get a few basics, and get started?

Vee: The number one essential equipment is obviously what the customers sit in. It’s going to be your pedicure chairs and then your manicure chair. So you're going to need the customer’s chairs and then the technician’s chairs. So those are the chairs. The manicure side would be the tables. Those are essential. Then your nail polish. Nail polish and dipping powder, without that you can't get a nail service done. So your supplies, the nail polish and then all the necessary base coats, top coats, your cleaning stuff for your nails, alcohol, acetone, lotions. Those are probably your one, two and three things that you need besides the building, obviously. The sales software and the POS systems, you can easily get by with just a cash register or just a cash drawer.

Carter: The biggest expense equipment-wise is going to be pedicure stations, the tub and the chair. And they can range. You can find them as little as $2,000 to $2,500 a pedicure station that has no bells and whistles or anything, all the way up to some that are, believe it or not, like $8,000 that have full massagers etc.The biggest part that most salon owners or most new nail salon owners don't realize, it's not just the cost of the pedicure station but it's the cost of plumbing out six to ten pedicure stations, which is very expensive. That's something that I don't think a lot of them account for. And even a hair salon, because you have to give plumbing to each and every location. If you're on a shell and you're pouring the concrete, it's not as expensive because you can put the pipes in the way you want. But if you're digging into a concrete slab that's on a pre-existing tenancy space, it can get pretty expensive.But beyond that, you can spend $1,000 on nail polishes – and that's primers and everything, you can spend a couple hundred dollars on just your tools, like your files, your clippers, your things like that, and you can get going pretty basic overall on that. But the pedicure stations are, without a doubt, most of the expense.

Evgeniya: Well, first is the furniture. You can just get a table, chairs, a desk, and a front desk. Basically, it's not really much. You're getting the products, you're getting the disposable supplies, you're getting the tools, like implements for the nails and for their work and there's no really big equipment involved other than furniture. For the hair, it's a lot different. For the barbershop it’s different. For us, the proper lighting to make sure we can see, the proper ventilation system and that's it. You're good to go.

Knowing what equipment was essential, I wondered about location.

What is the best location for a nail salon? Should it be in a small local shopping center to keep the rent low? Or inside a big mall, with much higher rent but also much more people passing by? I know the three founders had thought through these things, so I asked them:

What should someone consider when they’re choosing a location for a nail salon?

How do you choose a good location for a nail salon?

What should someone consider when they’re choosing a location for a nail salon?

Vee: Visibility is important. That's a huge bonus to have good visibility of your nail salon. Then you have to consider what other businesses are nearby. Primarily we service 90-95% women. So if there was a hair salon nearby, tanning places, anything that helps out with beauty, thats good. Shopping centers too – if there's a nearby shopping mall or anything similar, that helps.

Carter: I think the biggest thing is what you're close to. Two things came into my location. One, who were my neighbors going to be and what type of clientele did that mean that they were drawing in. I went as high-end as I possibly could in finding a location – I'm next to a high-end furniture store. I'm next to a bunch of different restaurants that are like trendy types of new restaurants, outdoor seating. That type of thing. But the other thing that's a big difficulty when you're trying to open any type of salon, nail or hair, is you have to find a mall or a location that doesn't have competing salons two doors down. Some leases won't even allow it. They won't even allow two nail salons in that development. And because of that, you are now absolutely quickly limited to finding space. I had to find a place that was not even built. I signed a lease on a place that was just coming up. It was just being bulldozed or cleared when I signed the lease because it was so difficult to find a strip mall that was available or didn't have any other type of nail salon. And, I didn't have to do a tremendous amount of work on a nail salon that sucked to high heaven that I would be peeling paint off of and changing all of the roof tiles, etc.

Evgeniya: The two most important things are that it's high traffic and has good parking. So if you're located somewhere inside of the mall, inside with a lot of other businesses, like some food stores, like restaurants maybe, other any things that you would probably get done while you're getting your nails done. Parking is very important. There's a lot of salons that are located in a small shopping center, not in a mall, but then the parking situation is really bad. So free parking, affordable and very, very close to the salon is also important. A lot of clients are running late to their appointment so they want to park nearby and get to the salon right away.Again, it depends. If you are located in a smaller city, I'm sure there are going to be lots of parking spaces. But if you're in major cities, like Miami, New York, parking is always a problem. But even then, it's better to be in a high-traffic area, like let's say in Manhattan where people don't really drive much – and just generally busy areas.

Tip: When you have a shortlist of locations you're considering, scout them at different times of day. Some areas look and feel very different at 10pm than they do at 10am, and you don't want to accidentally find yourself with a salon in the wrong neighborhood.

The trio of founders had given me some good info to work with. I knew I didn’t need to be a nail tech to start a nail salon, I knew I could spend almost nothing (or a lot, if I wanted to!) to startup a nail salon, and I knew the things that matter about choosing equipment and location.

What I really want to know is:

How much does a nail salon earn, especially in it’s first year?

How much does a nail salon earn?

How much does a nail salon make? What about in the first year? Is a nail salon profitable?

Vee: If someone was to have 10 chairs, they can easily net $100,000 a year. It boils down to costs – obviously the sales are important, you can have a million dollars in sales, but it boils down to cost and payroll and expenses and other stuff. Bottom line after taxes, you're looking to keep 30% of that if you operate correctly.

Carter: You could make anywhere from $50,000 to $200,000 plus. I know one nail salon owner in a different location than myself. Her salon right now is very well established. Been around for 15, almost 20 years. She's making close to $300,000 a year. But I also know a couple other nail salon owners who are making $40,000 to $50,000 a year. Again, with both of them, I don't know what they put in, how long their payoff was, etc. But if you look at their revenues, they can easily, easily be doing a couple hundred grand.It also depends on the size of your salon. If you have a salon that has the availability to handle high traffic, which, for my salon, is very important – you’ll earn more. I have a break even number of about having six full-time nail technicians on all the time. That's where I look to have my staffing at. Some can handle more but, again, what was their overhead up front and how long would it take them to break even on that.Once all is said and done, you could easily make six figures if you have the right location.

With a salon open, in a good location, the next thing I think of is the customer base. I asked the three founders how they built their customer base. I know that some salons rely on their technicians bringing customers with them, from their previous locations or jobs, but what if you’re just a new salon, with no solid source of customer? 

How does a nail salon get customers, and build its customer base?

How to get customers for a new nail salon?

How can a nail salon build its customer base? How about getting new regular clients?

Vee: It helps to be a local resident! I've lived here since 1982 so it helps to have that sort of attachment to the community too. So friends, family, that helps. I went to the old school system with them, so a lot of friends. Friends and family that definitely gives you a little boost. Now, even with them, you still have to allocate funds for marketing. Marketing seems expensive but it pays off. We started off with just social media marketing. Then we kind of hit every different thing. We do a little bit of magazine advertising. We do a little bit of local advertising at the gyms, especially with the local sports in the town. A lot of sponsorships and just getting the name out there. So marketing is ideal. It is key. It is important. I think a lot of small businesses forget about that and assume like, hey, we just get our name on our Facebook page and people will come. Well, sometimes they forget to so you got to kind of remind them. All marketing we did had somebody coming in. Every ad we ran we've got feedback that, hey, we saw your name on here, we saw your name on this sports poster that was on here. But nowadays, social media is free. If you can utilize that, that's going to be number one.

Carter: I went through a lot of different advertising. I will say this. One thing that I have learned when it comes to nail salons – different to my other businesses – is, do not waste your money on print advertising. Do not waste your money on gimmick advertising, like a welcome wagon, which is when people move to the area and they get coupons at Groupon. Avoid that. Things like that. Spend your money on social media, especially Yelp. It is ridiculous. If I could go back in time and save the money that I saved on the other stuff that I tried and just do Yelp, I would have been better off.But the other thing that I did, most salons when they start up offer a $10 or $15 discount for your first services, new clients, etc. I went big and bold and I did a free manicure for any new clients. That's how I got them in the door and it took a long time. I mean when I looked at my first clientele, the free manicures that I gave away, I was giving away on average somewhere about 30 to 40 manicures a week. Three years in now, I'm averaging more along the lines of about I would say 15 per week, and that's simply because we've got enough paying customers filling up our other time blocks. And now I do a rewards program, which is something different that a lot of salons don't do, but I do. You get points for spending money but you also get points for bringing in new friends. That's another thing. Because, again, that creates that loyal customer base. Because that's one of the hardest things about traditional salons is a person will go to Salon A today, but for some reason, whatever it might be, personality conflict, felt that the job was not satisfactory, etc., they jump around. Or they're driving by one today and they're like, “Oh, I just need my nails done. I'll go in here. I don't care.”Whereas we took the stance of “let's offer exceptional customer service because we're the only ones”. Let's bring them back. Let's give them a reason to come back. So my staff is trained very differently. Customer service and cleaning, they're two things that they learn before they're actually even allowed to touch someone's nails. 

Evgeniya: The biggest part of this for me is word-of-mouth. Because I've been doing nails for such a long time and, in truth, I'm obsessed. I'm obsessed with what I do. I love it so much and my husband makes fun of me all the time when I'm checking the nail pictures on Instagram morning and night. I go to sleep and like – I'm always checking the videos. I'm always on top of my education actually – like that's what I do day and night. So I’m researching and I'm also on top of what's going on. So word-of-mouth is my biggest advertisement. People love me and they recommend me to everybody, their families, their friends. But of course it was not enough when I decided to grow. When I started to grow the team I needed more advertising. That's why I decided to pay for Google ads, and I think I did a little bit of Yelp ads. And I posted my company on every major site where people could look for nail services. Like Yelp, Google my business, and that’s where people go to find my salon. I have social media for my business, like on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, everywhere. So even if you just Google, it will take you everywhere, so I'm all over the place. This is how I'm building my clients.

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With all those customers coming in the door, I was beginning to think there would be some… bad customers. You know – the ones who complain for no reason. The ones who will take the service and then refuse to pay, or the ones who ask for a refund. I mean the type of person you should just avoid if you could. 

So I asked the three founders:

How do you avoid bad customers for your nail salon? Is there a trick to spotting them?

Ho do you avoid bad customers in a new nail salon?

Can you spot a bad customer walking in the door? Do you know who's going to be a problem?

Vee: You don't. You don't know what they look like. It's hard. That's going to go with experience and what a customer's asking for. You can kind of get some hints and maybe, eh, okay, avoid taking a booking. A lot of times it's just a customer trying to negotiate a price. You can tell. There's some hints, I guess. But then sometimes you can be surprised too, though. I guess in order to avoid that, if you get your regulars, if you maintain your regulars, you're going to fill your schedules up and then you will definitely know how they react and what they want and what their needs are.

Carter: Yes, you can actually avoid them, if you do a good enough job weeding them out on the phone, you can kind of get through it. That's been an evolution over the last three years that myself and my manager have kind of perfected. Basically, what we do on an initial phone call when we're booking that first appointment or that person just walks in, we're giving them all the reasons that they would want to walk out the door. We're basically saying you're not going to get this, and you're not going to get this, and you're not going to get this. We'll explain why – if you're walking in the store and you're going to get a manicure or pedicure don't expect these things. We have our reasons. If you would love to learn about it, come on back, and we'll go from there.But, yes. Our first year, gosh, yes. I went through so many people complaining. And that was the nice thing about the first free manicure. I didn't have to refund anything. I didn't have to go through that. If they complained about a pedicure, I automatically went to, “Well, you also just got a free manicure so there's nothing really to refund at this point.”It made one or two people mad, but we generated great Yelp reviews. We have 5 star ratings on Yelp and Facebook and it's because we paint that picture. We do not hide. We're not trapping people in the sense of trying to do a bait-and-switch. That changes the game for a lot of people trying to ask for that refund.But again, yes, I got a lot of pain-in-the-butt people who never came back and I gave them a free service too and I never made money off of them. So that first year was—I knew what I was getting into but it was rough.

Evgeniya: This is a very good question. I wish I could really avoid this, but I mean honestly, there's nothing really we can do about it. You can't just refuse the service just because you think that this one might be trouble. We have annoying clients over the phone sometimes. They're asking questions about a discount, like why not reduce the price. They don't want to pay the deposit. They’re being complicated from Day 1. You see – that's another part of my business model – we operate on a fully prepaid appointment. All of them are 100% prepaid. So my girls do not have to try to collect money at appointments. Some clients don't really want to go with that and they'd be like, “oh, I can't really pay you because I didn't get the service yet”. And we're just, “Okay, then you are not our client really.” I mean, my business is trademarked, right? I have reviews on Yelp, on Google. I have pictures all over, so in case you don't trust me, you can always listen to what other people say.But again, we just have to deal with that. We have to deal with it on a daily basis. I have an assistant and she takes those calls. Sometimes people also demand refunds because of the quality of service and things happen. Especially right now with the pandemic, our business grew a lot because the salons are closed and people are now using our services. But we learn how to deal with it. We deal with this on a case-to-case basis. There's nothing you can do. You're always going to have that kind of clients in any kind of business, not just nail salon. And you just have to deal with that.

TipWhen the phone starts ringing, don’t be tempted to say ‘yes’ to every customer. Some customers need to be rejected. If they are asking too many unreasonable questions, or giving off Karen-vibes, just let them go. It can be as easy as saying "another salon might be able to help you better, and we're booked to capacity".

With the wealth of experience that the three founders had shared with me, I wanted to know what mistakes they’d made. I knew that they’d probably bought things or spent money that turned out to be a waste, so I asked them directly:

What was the biggest waste of money when you were starting your nail salon?

What is the biggest waste of money for a new nail salon?

I asked the experts if they had some things they regretted spending money on, in their early days

Vee: I think initially when we first started, I remember a soda company that wanted to place a cooler in there and said, hey, you can sell some sodas. We're like, well, why not. We can sell some sodas, right? That just took up a lot of space and just kind of took away our feel of it. Instead now we're like a concession stand versus a nail salon. So that was maybe one of those things we got rid of pretty quick. It just didn't seem right. I guess that was the one thing.But as far as new things and new products, they come out with new material and new nail polish and new this-and-that. And I might sound like a fool but we try them all. We get to try them all to see which ones work best. Out of 10 new items, we may find only two that kind of works well with us. Some of the products require a little bit more steps. You got to read into it. You gotta do it this way. You gotta do it that way. So it takes away from the basis of it of your natural nails and the nails that they've been doing for the last 25 years. So when you add the little extra steps, it's adding fancy things to it. It gets to the point where it's just not efficient, that they're spending way too much time on just this one nail design and the cost just to do that doesn't make sense anymore.

Carter: Yeah, there's been a couple things like the newest, biggest, baddest product line. They tell you “oh, this stuff is great”, and buying in on that opening deal and then realizing the stuff is crap in a bottle. That.The other thing too where I spent too much money, and I still regret it to this day, I could have spent half on my POS system. I got distracted by the fancy bells and whistles that you don't need. You just plain and simple don't need. I could have gotten away with 50% less cost on my POS system because you don't need it. Not to minimize this business, but it's simple and straightforward when you're checking someone out. It truly is. And I thought—I don't know what I thought, to be honest with you. I got tricked by the bells and whistles.Then also advertising. I go back to that because that is the one that keeps me up at night when I tried this local magazine, I tried this local paper, I tried this blah, blah, blah. It's not worth it with a nail salon. It's literally not worth it. Put all your money into Yelp and that's it.

Evgeniya: Oh, my God. You have no idea. When my husband found out that I'm paying for Yelp advertising, he almost yelled at me. I swear. It's like the biggest waste of money I ever did. First of all, I paid for different types of advertising and Yelp was the most expensive and the one that didn't bring me anything. I mean I don't think that this kind of level of clients I'm looking to market to – I don't think they're really going to Yelp to find the services I'm offering. It's like a lot of phone calls. Everybody—a lot of customer assistance about looking for the services we don’t provide. And again, the way they are pushing and selling you everything, just their way to push is just way too much. They’re still attacking me on the phone and I blocked all their numbers because I can’t deal with them.But, yes, this is something that I would never recommend. And I've heard so many nail techs from the industry who—just like people I follow on Instagram – a lot of those people say the same thing. Yelp advertising, never, never, never. I would never recommend it to anybody.

After many hours speaking with these three founders of successful nail salons, I had a good idea of the ins and outs. It seems like a pretty simple business to operate, without too much difficulty. I wanted to know what their average day looks like. Are they working crazy hours? Or did they find the nice work/life balance that they probably hoped for before starting their business?

I asked them: what does a typical work day look like for you now?

What does a successful salon owner do every day?

I asked the experts how they spend their days now that they own a profitable salon

Vee: Good question. I'm not going in as much. Once you build a good clientele, you know what your numbers are coming in, and you have good staff, you can be away a little bit. We've brought some technology in where the customers can sign in themselves and then see where they're at on the waitlist, and then the nail technicians know exactly who signed in first, how long they've waited and stuff like that. I mean I'm not there as much. I spend more time on inventory, payroll, setting appointments where we can do that through social media and then on our web page and stuff like that. I have access to our POS system from home so I would say I can do 30% of the work from home without having to be there. But that entails having a trust in staff and clientele that understand us.

Carter: I don't go in every day now. After three years I have established having a manager, who's been with me actually from almost day one. She kind of proved herself that she understood the business and the model and the customer service aspect of it. An average day, though, when either of us go in, we're opening the doors. Our doors open at 10:00 a.m. during the week and 9:00 a.m. on the weekends. We're there about 45 minutes early prepping, making sure the day is ready, making sure everything is ready to go.

The nail industry comes in waves, so you have an early morning rush or your first clientele rush and then, in the middle of the afternoon, you deal with a lot more walk-ins, last-minute appointments. And then you have the end of the day people getting ready for that business meeting the next day, that gala that next night, whatever it might be. That's pretty much how the day goes.So when we have down time, we do a lot of practicing, fine tuning skills, making sure everyone understands what their job is within the salon. I will fully admit I have huge cleaning expectations because that’s one of the biggest complaints about other nail salons is they smell disgusting but that they also look disgusting. If we have down time, we're whistling while we work, and we're cleaning. Sometimes I lose staff members who have been around a long time doing nails and they don't like that I make them clean. I tell them, well, that's what it takes to work here. Because one of the things that I consistently get in all of our reviews is we get how clean our place is.

Then for me, it's making sure I meet with my staff members a fair amount to make sure that they're doing what they're doing, if there's a weakness, if there's a place that they need help with. I have some who are very young who are still learning. So okay, you're not good with let's say French manicures. I'm going to pair you with my senior technician who's been doing them perfectly for x amount of years. Let's work together and start practicing.So we do things like that and it all just depends on the day. Then I always spend every evening at the end of the day after I close out numbers or, if I'm not there, I'm getting my social media posts ready for the next couple of days and what can be done to just stay in front of clientele, to keep them interested and keep them coming in.

Evgeniya: I'm one of those nail salon owners who still takes nail appointments myself because, like I told you earlier, I'm just crazy about doing nails. I love the process, I love the nail art, I love doing new techniques. I'm trying to only work with my VIP clients only but per request only. If I'm not requested, I usually give the appointment to the girls, my teammates. I'm an early starter. I like to start early and finish early too. A couple nights a week I still open my night shift for my clients. And honestly, right now, I'm working on my second project which is very slightly related to what I do now so it takes most of my time. I do this morning and night. So still, my day is very busy. Even though I have an assistant who deals with the day to day clients and nail techs, she's the one who's connecting everything, she runs my business basically but I'm still trying to grow it myself. I do have maybe two, three clients a day and the rest of the time I'm working on my computer and making other things happen. 

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It seems the three founders are making good money, and living a reasonably good lifestyle. Who doesn’t want to go in to work whenever they wish, and have the freedom to stay home the rest of the time? It seems like a dream business. I wanted to know if competition is tough in this industry. Some businesses have to fight for every customer, and it just becomes a hassle after a while. Do they need to discount prices sharply, to the point where it’s not even profitable anymore? What do they need to do in order to win business?

I asked them:

How do you compete against other nail salons? Do you even think about your competition?

How does a new nail salon compete against other salons?

I asked the three experts what they do to compete against other nail salons, or if they even bother

Vee: I never compete with them. I let them compete with me. There's 10 nail salons within a 5-mile radius of us. And some have been there for 15 to 20 years. So my philosophy is we do the best that we can do. I hire nail technicians that are more customer focused and I let that be that. I don't have the time to go and see what other nail salons are doing or who they have. I tell customers too. I say there's plenty of nail salons. I don't ever downplay another nail salon – or what they have to offer. I can promote what we have to offer. We have plenty of customers that go to other places. And they trust us enough to even tell us that versus us saying, “Well, why did you go there?” I think that's the wrong approach when you approach a customer that way and say, “Why'd you go there? Why didn't you come here?”Well, sometimes it's not about us all the time. There's everybody. Customers have their own time, their own places. They may not have been around closest to us so they couldn't come in. So I don't worry about that.

Carter: It's just the offering. Clean, clean and clean, and then the next thing is just customer service.

If you look at some of what I call my competition, and that's just simply because they're a nail salon in proximity, they're close, the reason people get mad at them is because it's disgusting. They haven't cleaned. Someone gets a fungus or a bacteria from them because they haven't cleaned their tools. Or they're getting poor customer service and getting rude treatment. So those are the two things – customer service and presenting yourself nicely.

But, yes, in nail salons the number one thing that people get mad about at other nail salons is a fungal transmission client-to-client. Cross-contamination. That happens honestly more than you can believe. We've been open for three years. I've never had one client come back to me with a fungal infection. And we treat clients who have fungal infections. It's just that we take that opportunity to say, okay, and we discard and throw away certain tools. You know, nippers, tools like your nail clippers, you don't have to, in a sense, run to the back and extra sanitize. You put them in a product called Let's Touch, which is an antifungal, anti virucide, which takes care of it if you let it sit there for 10 minutes. We say, okay, that's a fungus – let's just discard these and put them in the back and get the heavy duty cleaner on them. And we've never had an issue with cross-contamination and that's three years in. Again, if I was telling someone who's starting a traditional salon if you can just clean, my lord, you'll have clients because they love it. 

Evgeniya: Well, let me tell you something. There are a lot of nail salons in Miami. There's a lot of nail salons even in one little location. I don't know how they deal with the competition but, as for me, we're a little bit different because we're not a salon – we go to them.

And if you're wondering how expensive we are, we're probably on the same level as a high end salon, except you get the same service delivered to your door. You don't have to stay in the traffic. You don't have to look for the parking. You can do whatever you want while getting your nails done. In fact, we also often use two nail techs at the same time so you can get mani pedi done at the same time. And again, compared to the salons, we come to you at 6:00 a.m., 11:00 p.m. We will come on weekends. We come on holidays. We come Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, like whenever. So we have the people who can do those kinds of shifts. At this point, people love us because of the convenience. And prices, I wouldn't say we're really that much more expensive. As far as full services that we also deliver to the house, we do have a few beauty apps in Florida but most of their business is hair and makeup. They focus on those. But we focus on specialty nails. We bring all possible nail services to your door. We do mani pedi, we do acrylics, we do nail art, we do group bookings with your parties. You can book five nail techs at the same time and just like a little mani-pedi party for your bachelorette, for your kid's birthday, for a store opening.

It seems to me that the competition in the nail salon business isn’t really tough. From what I was hearing, it’s just a matter of ‘doing it well’ – as simple as being clean and tidy and offering a good value service. I wondered what other services a nail salon might sell. Some businesses have add-on services that often make more money for them in an average year than their main service.

I asked the three successful salon owners: Other than nails, do you offer additional services that bring in extra money?

Other than nails, what other services can a nail salon offer clients?

I asked the experts what additional services a nail salon might offer

Vee: We offer the waxing we have our esthetician available. As of right now, we don't have an esthetician. She has moved on and opened her own place, so we’re hiring a new one now.

Carter: Not as of yet. The trap is this – a lot of salons will do hair and nails. What ends up happening is nails become “the red-headed stepchild.” They get pushed to the back. They forget that they have a nail technician in there. And you lose the nail technician so then the nails are pretty much so crappy that no one ever gets their nails done there but you're paying this technician to sit there or you're paying for the products. So we stay away from hair.I do have plans drawn up to expand into skin care, but I didn't start that way because I knew it was going to be a very new type of business. So I truly focused on the nails at first. But I'm hoping within the next year I can expand the business and add in a licensed esthetician who does skin and facials and things like that.I got warned about the distraction by hair and beauty, and I just thought there's no way. But then, again, one individual showed me his salon, his beautiful salon. He was like, “I have all this equipment and I don't have a nail technician because no one will work because no one of my clients will get their nails done here.” So it gets pushed out the back door, basically. It's either all or none, so I started the idea of let's go all nails. Then if I expand into if it's skin care or if it's massage, one of the two, then we can do that on a smaller scale where nails is still the main revenue generator and the main reason people are walking in.

Evgeniya: We're offering two other services right now. It's sugaring hair removal and massages. For the massage, I have a few massage therapists just privately. They're not available on a website but if you contact the office, they can book you with them. All of them are freelancers but massage is usually on call.And another part is sugaring. Sugaring is a very ancient form of hair removal, like probably back to Nefertiti. They were using those. Waxing is very messy. Waxing might get really messy and if it gets on the floor, on the furniture, on clothing it is very hard, sometimes very hard to remove. Sugaring is a sugar paste that is very water soluble. It only has lemon juice, water and sugar. Only three ingredients. There's nothing else. So in case it falls anywhere, first of all, it's like it's very thick. Wax can be peeled and sugar paste cannot be peeled. It's very thick. It's like a molding type of texture. So it's very hard if you drop it somewhere.And even if you manage to, it's water soluble. It is removed with water only and nothing else. That's why it makes it very easy to do on mobile services, so people can be sure that they're not going to mess up their very expensive beds or anything like that. And again, also like most hair removal is all about intimate areas so clients sometimes like somebody to come to their house so they don't feel embarrassed to go somewhere else. So that's another thing. But it's a little bit more expensive than a salon.But again, you're paying for the convenience. You're paying for privacy. 

After many, many hours of conversation with these three bright and successful founders, I asked them for their final advice. I wanted to know – what advice would they give their own friends or family, if they were going to open a nail salon?

I asked the trio: what three key pieces of advice would you give someone starting a nail salon?

Keys to Success in a new Nail Salon

I asked the experts for their key pieces of advice for anyone starting a nail salon

Vee: You got to be prepared. I mean, going into it you know what rent is going to be, you know what your overhead is going to be. You don't know what your sales are going to be initially for at least the first quarter. So just be prepared to have just some backup money. Then it's just doing things the right way. When I say the right way, you mentioned earlier about licensing. Now, hire the correct staff. Don't cut corners. It's a business that you're going to create. Make it like that's your house, that's your car. Take care of it like anything else. Don't just go into it and step away and say, “Well, I got the doors open. Customers are going to come in.” They won't come in. You got to put that love into it.

Carter: The three things that I would say is keep it clean, keep up your customer service, have people who work there understand that customer service is the priority. A lot of salons do the opposite where they just want to, for lack of a better term, churn-and-burn. Get them get in, get them out, get them in, get them out, get them in…If you take an extra two to five minutes with a client just to talk to them and be pleasant with them, you will create a client for life because they're so happy that someone's not just with their head down and trying to get you in and out so they can get the next person waiting. Customer service, cleaning and then just do the certain things that you do. I mean, when you look at our menu, we only have three different types of manicures and three different types of pedicures. It's simple and straightforward. I learned that in sales a long time ago. Keep it simple stupid. Just keep it simple. Do one thing great and not 20 things half-ass, excuse my language. That would be kind of the basics of it. Again, I'm not trying to minimize this business but it's not rocket science. You have to make sure the quality is good but you also have to make sure your customer service is good.

Evgeniya: I guess the first and the most important thing for me, as in pretty much any business I think, but for me – you must be crazy in love with your craft. Because if you are not that crazy about it, you just want to make money out of it, you're probably not going to succeed. So it's like when you really truly love what you do and this is like your baby, in case you're failing here or there, you'll always be looking for other ways to succeed. That's how I succeeded because I'm just so crazy about it.If you are not, then you need to hire someone who will operate your salon who could be madly in love with nails. Somebody who would be taking care of it as their own. This is a very important part of it. So the second thing is – I'm solo. I don't have a partner. I've built everything by myself. My husband helped me a little bit on the IT side, like to build my website, a little bit of marketing but, at the end, I'm still solo. So I think it would be a great idea to get a partner. The partner is maybe somebody like an investor. Let's say if you put your knowledge, your expertise into the salon and somebody will put the money into it.Or the partner as another person who is just like you, madly in love in your craft. Because it's easy to make decisions together. But you also need to be, like both of you, so you put money together into this half-and-half and you go with the ideas of things for your salon. So that's another thing. The third thing would be – you need to do your research on the market, on the demand, on the location. You need to absolutely—also very important, you need to determine your ideal client base before you set up the model for your business. You want to make sure you know who you're going for. Are you going for somebody who likes to do quick mani-pedis? Or you want to specialize in a certain thing, like going high-end? But then you want to make sure, if you're going high-end you, want to make sure you're located in maybe a very expensive area where people with a higher income live. This is very important.I've seen a lot of nail salons going out of business because the model didn't work for the area where they locate their salon. You see, for me, for my model, it's really different because we travel everywhere. We’ve set up, we so far have 15 locations in Miami. Different areas. So all the nail techs, depending where they live, they travel to the certain areas around them. On a slow day you can travel further, but I prefer them to travel closer to each other so they wouldn't spend that much time on traveling and gas to get to the client. We cover all areas with high-income people because that's where we market also. 

I spent many weeks compiling the information I learned from the successful nail salon founders and from other industry experts into a comprehensive guide, which you can check out below.

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I wrote the worlds easiest-to-follow guide on How to Start Nail Salon, with little or no money. It's available for free or for purchase.

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