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Stylin' Up a Career as a Nail Tech

Nails, cuticles, and polish: they're things you might take for granted in your daily routine, but for a significant portion of the U.S., nails are their daily routine. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), approximately 78,000 appearance workers are employed as manicurists and pedicurists and that number is expected to grow by about 28 percent over the next eight years.

So how does one get a career in the nail industry, and what does it take to succeed?

Getting Noticed
Erin Malone's first peek into the world of nails came when she was still in high school, getting a set of artificial nails applied. "It's such an art form," says Erin, recalling how intrigued she was as each nail was carefully shaped to fit her hand. This early inspiration led her to enroll in a 600-hour nail training program that helped her get the skills and certification needed to work as a nail technician.

What came after, though, was less about grades and more about guts, a mindset Erin advises others must "nail" in order to succeed. "I started networking and training with some of the top leaders in the industry," explains the now concept manager for 10Ten nail bars in Georgia, and director of their new Brookhaven location. Using industry-specific magazines like Nails and Nailpro as her guide, Erin searched out and entered into nail competition after nail competition, placing in the top five consistently. It was the perfect opportunity for showing off her blossoming talent and getting to know -- and get advice from -- the top nail techs in the industry. As a result, Erin got noticed in a big way: her name was printed in the same industry mags she read and job offers were sent her way.

Striking Out On Your Own
Back when Marta Molina, owner of Studio M in Santa Monica, California, was working at a Fred Segal Beauty Salon she often felt "handcuffed" by the restrictions placed on her because Marta had too many customers!

With so many salon-goers requesting Marta as their nail tech, there simply wasn't enough time to schedule them all for appointments without going outside of normal business hours. When salon management shot down her request to extend their hours, Marta responded by coming up with her own hours at her own salon.

Responsible for Studio M in every capacity -- from being the sole nail tech to acting as receptionist and scheduling nail appointments -- Marta has been able to create her own salon experience for customers, operating sometimes seven days a week. And it's something that's obviously appreciated as her old customers have lined up again for Marta's nail tech expertise.

"Fred Segal's had lunch and shopping nearby," says Marta. "Now it's just me -- just nails. But you know what? They came back."

Marta's not alone, either. According to the latest BLS statistics, around 46 percent of all personal appearance workers are self-employed in some way, whether they own their own salon or rent chair space from a larger business.

Taking Nails to the Next Level
As the BLS data shows, the demand for nail stylists has gone up and will continue to do so. And in response nearly every strip mall and city block now has its own nail salon -- but that, says Marta, hurts more than helps. She explains, "You see so many little salons and the job they do is so poor -- they're killing the business."

Erin, who works around-the-clock to the turn 10Ten locations into oases from hectic daily living agrees, "There's not too many spa spas that can say they are really spas."

Beyond the obvious importance of providing customers with the right service, both nail techs say that the quality of interpersonal relations and atmosphere is what's key to making a successful salon or spa.

"That's what makes the client come back to you; when you connect with the customer on a personal level," Erin attests. "You have to like dealing with people because if you don't you're not going to succeed in this industry."

That's what the nail industry's all about, says Marta, who prides her salon for its one-on-one atmosphere and flexibility. "I work with people. You want to talk, let's talk. You want the music up, the music is up."

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