How to Open a Nail Salon

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In the United States, annual spending on nail salon services exceed $8 billion. Nail salons typically offer manicures, pedicures and false nail application and may also serve as retail outlets for nail care products and accessories.

What's a Good Name for a Nail Salon?

Choose a name that's both easy to read and to say out loud. "Tip-Top Nails," for example, is short and sweet, and it instantly communicates the purpose of the business. Conduct a trademark search to be sure that no one else has exclusive rights to the name you choose. Search the internet to determine that the name is available for you to use as a domain name for your business website.

Create a Business Plan

A written business plan guides you in every aspect of decision making for your nail salon. If you're seeking financing from banks, investors or other lenders, they'll want to see a complete business plan. Vendors and suppliers may want to see a business plan before establishing accounts with you.

Look for free business plan templates online. You can find some that are specific to opening a nail salon. A business plan generally has the following components:

  • Executive summary

  • Company description

  • Market analysis

  • List of services and prices

  • Employees

  • Salon design

  • Location

  • Market overview

  • Financial analysis

Get Small Business Help

You can get help with a business plan and other aspects of starting a business from a local office of the Small Business Administration or Small Business Development Council. Either can put you in touch with business professionals in your area who can answer questions, provide resources and offer guidance.

Register Your Business

You'll need a tax ID number or employer identification number from the IRS. Visit the IRS website for a free application. You'll get a unique number within minutes when you apply online.

You must also register your business with your local governing authority. Visit city or county offices as appropriate for your area to complete the necessary paperwork and to pay the fees.

Licensing Requirements for Nail Salons

Licensing and certification of nail technicians is done on the state level, so requirements vary depending on where you live. States specify education requirements. They also specify requirements for continuing education units, license fees, renewal periods and reciprocity and transfers.

Health and Safety Regulations for Nail Salons

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has identified three types of hazards to workers in nail salons: chemical hazards, biological hazards, and awkward positions and repetitive motions. Standards and standards interpretation can be found on OSHA's website. They govern workers' rights and make clear what you need to do as a salon owner to ensure worker safety. Topics include the following:

  • Air contaminants
  • Toxic and hazardous substances
  • Respiratory protection, including ventilation and personal protective equipment
  • General environmental controls
  • Ergonomics enforcement
  • Sanitation
  • Bloodborne pathogens

Nail Salon Inspections

Nail salons are inspected by officials from a state's board of cosmetology. Each state has its own list of items that will be part of an inspection, typically including the following:

  • Prominent display of licensure
  • Compliance with building, health, fire prevention, safety and health codes
  • Clean, safe sanitary disposal of waste materials
  • Sanitation equipment and procedures for equipment, tools, implements and supplies
  • Covered storage for clean and soiled towels, equipment and supplies
  • Safe storage and use of reactive chemicals
  • Proper storage and dispensing of fluids and powders

Becoming a Nail Technician

Becoming a nail technician typically requires that you have a high school diploma or GED and have completed a state-approved cosmetology or nail technician program. Most programs require 300 to 600 hours and can take from three to nine months to complete depending on the program and whether your study is full-time or part-time. Program costs vary according to the curriculum, location and other factors.

Nail Salon Equipment List

You'll need to purchase some equipment before you can open your doors to salon clients. Look online for suppliers of wholesale salon furnishings and equipment. Even Amazon and Wayfair have divisions that offer business-only pricing. Consider where you might save money by buying used equipment that is still in excellent condition.

Depending on the size of the salon and the services you plan to offer, you may need one or more of each of the following types of equipment:

  • Manicure station: A table with space for nail polish, tools, lighting and vents; comfortable chairs for nail technician and client

  • Pedicure chair: Padded chair for client, with or without a built-in massager and built-in footpath; stool and small table for technician

  • Display rack: For nail polish

  • Drying lamp: May be part of a separate drying station

  • Equipment sanitizer: Using UV or heat to sterilize equipment after each use

  • Desk/reception station: For making appointments and taking client payments

  • Waiting area furnishings: Chairs, coffee table, magazine rack, beverage station

  • Washer and dryer: For towels and technicians' smocks

You may also want to consider specialized nail salon software, making it possible for customers to book appointments online, receive automatic appointment reminders and self check-in.

Nail Salon Monthly Expenses

The dollar amount of monthly expenses for your salon depends on the size and scope of the business along with its location. When estimating monthly expenses, consider how much you'll spend for the following:

  • Rent or mortgage

  • Utilities (electricity, phone, Wi-Fi, water and sewage, trash pickup)

  • Employee wages and benefits

  • Supplies for manicure and pedicure stations

  • Cleaning supplies

  • Taxes (property and payroll)

  • Insurance

  • Advertising and marketing

  • Website maintenance

Setting Wages and Prices

When setting prices, visit comparable salons in your area to get an idea of what to charge for various services. You don't necessarily have to meet or beat competitors' pricing. However, if your salon services will cost more, be sure clients see the added value in items such as luxury pedicure chairs, a juice bar, unique nail art or specialty manis and pedis.

With respect to wages, the U.S. Department of Labor specifies that salon workers must be paid at least minimum wage, which varies by location. In some states, the minimum wage is the same for all workers. In other states, including a number of states in New England and the Midwest, there is a lower minimum hourly rate for tipped employees. Many salon owners add a 20% commission on services the nail tech provides.

Focus on Your Clients and Your Staff

To build a successful nail salon business, you should always be thinking about the client experience. There are nearly 60,000 nail salons nationwide, so there may very well be one (or more) in your area. Word of mouth is important with a salon business, so consider the ways you can set yourself apart from competitors.

Invest in the training and motivation of your staff. Ensure they have opportunities to access professional publications and events. Make sure they're comfortable upselling the salon's products and services. Offer incentives for them to stay at your salon.