March 2011

Jaime Schrabeck

The Nail Extension | by Jaime Schrabeck


Competitive Pricing for Success

"Nowadays, people know the price of everything and the value of nothing." – Oscar Wilde

When a person first comes into a salon, their first question is usually, "How much is a (insert name of service here)?" Like most nail professionals, you instinctively answer with the price, but no matter the number, the answer will be wrong.

Why is this? It is because without context, a mere number is meaningless. It assumes that all services are created and delivered equally from salon to salon, and it cannot possibly capture the nature and quality of your service.

Clients cannot appreciate the value of your work when they do not understand what they are paying for. It is your responsibility to communicate that value.

Whether just starting your salon business or reinventing one, you will need to make decisions, and this may seem overwhelming at times. One of the most important decisions is how to structure and price your services.

Overpricing will discourage potential clients initially; while under pricing will discourage you eventually. The only thing more frustrating than clients taking advantage is the realization that it is your fault. Ideally, your service prices will strike just the right balance between being competitive (attractive to potential clients) and providing adequate compensation (enabling you to earn a living doing what you love . . . nails).

Important decisions related to service pricing require doing your research, but not the kind that you might expect. How many times has someone advised you to contact other salons and inquire about their pricing in order to determine your own? That is just as useless as when a potential client asks the same question.

If you want to make the common and misguided mistake of competing on price, then contact other salons. However, there is not any point to this unless you also find out what their salon's costs are? Few salon owners would be willing to share that information, even if they knew. 

Doing research means accounting for your own costs. Here is a list to give you a start:

These costs vary so widely from salon to salon that it is imperative that you do this for yourself, and make every effort to reduce these costs whenever possible.

Even with this information, you are not prepared to make good decisions. Considering that income generated from nail services depends on the active participation of service providers, you must determine the amount of time involved for each service before you can establish pricing. It is imperative to minimize the time required to complete the service to avoid wasting your time or your client's.

To maximize time (your greatest resource), your services need to be structured deliberately to achieve the desired results: the procedures organized systematically and the products and tools selected for each step. Every procedure, product and tool should be evaluated for its safety, effectiveness and cost-efficiency. 

For every service, you need to calculate the product cost, including both disposables (files, gloves, nail wipes, etc.) and consumables (polish, lotion, acetone, gel, etc.). Once calculated, that number, along with the time required to complete the service can be used in the following formula:

Product Cost + $1 / min. = Service Price (Round up to the nearest $5 increment)

Product Cost / Service Price = Product Cost Percentage

For example, our pedicure costs $3 in product and takes 45 minutes. Our service price is $3 + $45 = $48, but rounded up to $50. The product cost percentage is $3 / $50 = six percent. Ideally, the product cost should be lower than ten percent; otherwise, that service may not be worth offering. 

Before you question the feasibility of earning at least one dollar per minute, let's discuss. For nail professionals who believe that clients in their particular area will not pay a dollar per minute, ask yourself what the standard hourly rate is for massage. Given your diverse skills and significant investment in education, equipment and supplies, your work should be worth at least the equivalent of that of a massage therapist. Nail professionals who do not think they can charge $90 for a pink and white backfill just because it takes 90 minutes are right. What is taking so long? Every service offered should be doable in an hour or less. Developing your skills and becoming more efficient will reduce the time required and move you closer to that $1 / minute minimum.

Jaime Schrabeck, Ph.D. owns Precision Nails, an exclusive nails-only salon in Carmel, California. She can be reached at