If you’re looking for financial independence and a rewarding career where you get to interact with people and help them look their best, then owning a nail salon might be the right option for you. This guide can help you understand what startup costs you’ll face, what skills you’ll need, and the steps you should take to prepare to make sure your nail salon is a success.

Nail Salon Overview

Nail salons cater to a variety of audiences and offer scheduled appointments and/or walk-ins. Because many clients return repeatedly, nail salons can quickly build up recurring clientele. From pedicures and manicures to detailed nail art, nail salons offer a variety of beauty and nail care services.

Industry Overview

The nail service industry is a thriving market. According to Nails Mag, in both 2016 and 2017, Americans spent $8.53 billion on nail services. That figure represents a significant increase over the $8.28 billion that the industry brought in during 2013.

In 2017, there were 56,386 nail salons operating in the United States. Basic manicure prices averaged $20.93, basic pedicures averaged $33.56, and gels averaged $29.41 as of 2017. Some of the most common services offered at nail salons include manicures and pedicures, gel polish, nail art, acrylics, and hard gels.

Industry trends

The fashion and nail industries are continuously evolving, so your nail salon will need to stay up to date with the latest trends and fashion in order to meet the demands of your clients. One of the latest trends is the use of nail art and intricate designs. We’ll probably see additional types of nail polish and nail treatments emerge over the next few years. Being able to quickly embrace and offer these new trends can keep your nail salon ahead of the competition.

We’re also in the middle of a movement toward healthy, organic, environmental-friendly products. As consumers continue to focus on healthier options and sustainability, we may see more and more clients looking for nail salons that are eco-friendly and that offer healthy, safe products and nail care.

Who is the target market for nail salons?

Your nail salon’s exact target market will depend on your business model, services, and location. For instance, a high-end salon will probably market to the affluent clients in the community and won’t market to children or teens.

Generally speaking though, nail salons primarily market to local women. Depending on your salon, you may wish to target the budget or economy market, the intermediate or midsection of the market, or the luxury and top end of the market. The sooner you can determine the market that’s right for your salon, the better you can cater your services and your marketing to reach those clients.

Skills, experience, and education useful in running a nail salon

To successfully run any small business, you’ll need some business knowledge, marketing skills, and management abilities. When it comes to running a nail salon, these specialized skills and experiences will be helpful.  

Cosmetology experience. If you’ve attended cosmetology school and are a licensed cosmetologist, you’ll better understand the challenges and skills associated with providing services in your salon. You’ll also have an idea of the typical costs associated with the services, the equipment you’ll need, and what responsibilities you can reasonably expect your employees to take on.

People skills. You’ll need to be able to build relationships with your employees and your clients, so a focus on customer service that provides warm and welcoming nature can give you an advantage. The ability to make small talk during appointments is also a plus.

Problem-solving skills. As a business owner, you’ll face challenges as you start up and run your salon. Creativity and excellent problem-solving skills will help you cope with whatever challenges come your way.

Marketing capabilities. If you have some marketing experience, you’ll be able to put it to work in running and promoting your salon. Social media skills, e-newsletter creation experience, and branding knowledge are all valuable skills that you can use as a salon owner. Of course, you can also hire a marketer to take care of these responsibilities for you once your salon is up and running.

An eye for trends. The nail and beauty industries evolve quickly, and if you offer the latest nail trends, you can bring in new clients. The ability to stay on the cutting edge of the industry and spot new and evolving trends can help your salon to attract clients and then keep those clients coming back again and again.

Training capabilities. As you bring on new staff, you’ll need to be able to train them in your salon’s policies and approaches. Besides training skills, the ability to give and receive constructive feedback can make you a better manager.

Costs to Start a Nail Salon

When planning your new nail salon, you’ll need a detailed understanding of the costs of starting a salon business. You may need to save up money for your startup costs, find investors, or write a business plan and apply for a business loan in order to fund some of the common costs to start a nail salon business

Equipment

  • Salon chairs ($150-$300 each)
  • Salon stations ($200-$1,000 each)
  • Waiting area chairs ($50-$100 each)
  • Manicure bowls ($10-$20 each)
  • Reception desk ($300-$1,500)
  • Cash register ($100-$1,000)
  • Washer and dryer ($800-$2,000)

Supplies

An assortment of supplies will be necessary such as polishes, acrylic powder kits, acetone, cuticle oil, lotions, clippers and towels to perform the services.   

Inventory

In addition to equipment and supplies you may want to purchase inventory to sell to customers.  This is a great way to generate additional profits from existing customers.  The typical markup for retail items is 100%. 

Some of the more popular items include; lotions, nail polish remover, nail care kits, gloves and sandals. You may wish to sell additional items in your salon, such as:

Common operational expenses

Be sure to budget for these common nail salon operational expenses.

Depending on how large and busy your nail salon is, you may need to hire a salon receptionist (salary range of $22,000 – $30,000), licensed nail technician (salary range of $20,730 – $27,040), and potentially even a salon manager (salary range of $24,000 – $52,000). Expect to pay salaries for part-time and full-time employees. Additionally, you’ll need to pay into taxes for your employees, and you may offer other perks like paid time off, sick leave, health insurance, and more to your full-time employees as an incentive for them to stay with you.

Keep in mind that salary ranges will partially depend on the cost of living in your area and what comparable positions in other salons pay.

Insurance

Plan to invest in several different types of insurance for your nail salon.

  • Professional liability coverage protects you if an employee is negligent and injures a customer.
  • General liability insurance helps to cover the legal costs you may face if a customer is injured in your salon (such as if they trip and fall) and sues.
  • Property insurance can cover the cost of your equipment or building if there’s a fire or burglary. Most policies exclude coverage for earthquakes and floods, so if you live in an area prone to these disasters, you will want to carefully examine your policy and make sure you find the coverage that’s right for your business.
  • Workers’ compensation is required in all states. This insurance covers medical costs or lost wages if employees are injured while doing their jobs.

Insurance costs vary according to factors including your business size, the value of your equipment and building, and even the state that you live in. When shopping for insurance, request quotes from multiple companies and compare the policies and coverage to find the plan that’s best for your needs.

Cost of Goods Sold

Cost of goods sold, also sometimes called your cost of sales, refers to the cost of items that are sold at retail.  both the costs of the materials that you use in your salon and the cost of labor. For instance, the cost of goods sold for a manicure would incorporate all of the supplies used during the appointment, plus what you pay the technician to perform the service. Your cost of goods sold will depend on what you’re paying your employees, the supplies that you use, and how much you pay for your supplies.

Location

When you’re just starting up a nail salon, the cost of acquiring space can be expensive. Rents in prime locations tend to be more expensive, but are usually more desirable as there is more traffic and visibility. You’ll probably at least start out leasing a location rather than buying or building outright, and lease prices vary depending on location, size of the space, and more.

If you’re looking to save money, you could look at renting space within an existing business, such as a hair salon that doesn’t offer nail services, or a booth at a mall.  The upside here is that you have access to an existing pool of customers who already spend on beauty and many will be willing to try your service. 

Marketing

Don’t forget to account for marketing costs, such as advertising, social media, e-newsletters, and more.

How much can you potentially make owning a nail salon?

Concrete data about the average salary for nail salon owners is difficult to find. Because the nail salon industry is largely a cash industry, it’s possible that income is under reported. A nationwide study of the salon industry estimated that salon owners made about $48,700 per year, while non-owners took home about $36,300.

Many factors will influence how much you could make owning a nail salon. Your location and the average rates for nail services will partially determine how much you can charge for your services. Overhead factors, like your rent or lease, will affect your profits. Local competition may also affect your income, which is one reason why it’s important to carefully research any location you’re considering for your salon.

Ultimately, if you can identify an unmet need in your local area and market the salon so that it stands out from the others, you should be able to connect with clientele and build your business.

Licenses and Permits

Your local health department may or may not require nail technicians to have a professional cosmetology license. Be sure to contact your health department to find out their licensing policies for nail salons and their staff.  

As the salon owner, you’ll also need to look into other local and state business licensing and permits that may be required locally.

 

Every state has specific requirements and regulations when starting a business.  Select your state below to find the guide to starting a business in your state. 

Things to consider before starting a nail salon business

Before you start a nail salon business, do some local market research. Look at where competitors are located and assess whether there’s a need for an additional salon. Is there some unmet need or opening in the market you could fill?

It’s also a good idea to take some business classes and work on a business plan. Before diving in, get quotes on rent, insurance, and more to create a detailed budget and calculate your exact startup costs. Find out how many customers it will take to cover all of the costs and provide enough profit to make this business worth all the time you are about to put in.  Also, be thinking about what your business could do differently to set yourself apart and appeal to your clientele.

Starting a new business always has an element of risk, but the more research and preparation you do, the less risk you’ll face in starting a nail salon.

Resources

Association of Cosmetology Salon Professionals
American Beauty Association
International Salon Spa Business Network
Professional Beauty Association
Salon Spa Professional Association

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