Thursday, August 6, 2015

Why some professional nail product brands are selling retail.

The nail industry is going through some major changes. 20 years ago you had a small number of major brands. Today you have Viet wholesalers in the US and many European countries (I have met traditional NT in the US who buy from them because of their low prices) - and seemingly every week a new brand appears. On top of all this, there are an increasing number of Chinese suppliers that are selling direct to the US and Europe via eBay and other global websites. 

There are only a handful of companies that develop and manufacturer their own products. CND, NSI, OPI, Light Elegance are some of the few that do. Then there are brands that pay a chemist or a factory to develop their unique products - which is what we also do today - but there are not many companies who do this because of the cost. The vast majority of brands buy standard off the shelf products from factories and simply private label.

Factories selling to anyone
It seems to me that since 2009 (I can't speak about before as I was not then the owner of a product company), the factories have changed from privately supplying their customers (many well known brands) - to adopting a policy that they will sell to anyone with low minimum order qualitities or refer these customers to companies that offer their products already filled in a variety of containers. We've seen factories at beauty shows inviting NT to make their own brands - I had to dress down one of their sales people who uninvited dropped samples off at our stand and left them with our educators (thankfully not from the company we were then buying from). 

This means there are now thousands of "brands", some of them are a single NT printing labels at home and selling product stored in their garage. Others are highly professional online shops that sell the products at wholesale prices and offer little or no education.

In some countries they are also filling the products at home (bubbles in gel is one sign). Many of these small brands only know how to sell on price having no real marketing or business experience, and lacking the ability to add value to their brand by offering for example, great education. 

The effect on education
Another consequence of this in Europe, is that NT classes have got shorter in many countries (Sweden being one exception). In Germany even the most famous 20+year brands have one or two day classes! No surprise then that many go on to buy poor products when they don't have the skills or knowledge to make a better informed decision. 

So this is why I think that some brands have decided to go retail. There are more NT today than ever before, but many are buying from local brands or newer brands that weren't known 20 years ago. 

Unfortunately, some NT are hypocrites. They complain about pro brands selling retail, or high street salons, or unlicensed NT, but they then go and buy products from the brands/distributors that do sell to anyone because they are not willing to pay more. Sometimes this may only be nail art products but it is still supporting those companies that are undermining the industry as a whole. We see this a lot in Germany.

Old brands may be losing market share due to NT retirement
As a result, the more known brands have been squeezed and I suspect are shedding customers who retire. New NT especially are motivated to buy cheap products - which are in many cases the same as what a famous brand uses - because of the competition they get from high street salons. I also suspect there is a high failure rate for new NT, so few eventually move up the chain to buy from recognised brands.

None of this bodes well for the industry in the future. The average standard of skills and level of knowledge is far too low. Too many NT focus on nail art before they have the basic skills and knowledge to allow them to stand out from high street salons. Some factories and brands are ignoring the cosmetics laws in Europe and selling non-cosmetic gels and gel polishes (neon, thermo/colour changing, metallic), knowing that the authorities are not paying attention - and even when NT are made aware of this, they buy the products anyway because they are shiny and new. 

How will this change the industry?
I suspect we will reach a point of saturation where many salons will be forced to compete on price, and we may even see more factories starting to sell direct to NT, further eroding the old brands. 

Quite possibly chains of pro salons will appear backed by serious investment, for example offering drop in fast services such as manicure, pedicure and gel polish, that could erode the position of the existing high street salons and compete against the small professional salons whose main business income is derived from gel polish services. Some product brands in Europe are experimenting now with franchised nail bars in shopping centres.

Ultimately, I think good NT who are well educated, who have high sanitation standards, who can sculpt well and are able to market themselves will survive long term. Brands that that have excellent unique products, offer a wide range of education and great customer service, will increasingly be more attractive to NT who are looking to differentiate themselves from their local competition, and who understand the value of a partnership with their supplier. The most professional online shops selling acceptable quality products at a low price, will probably take the rest of the market (supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl in Europe, or Walmart in the USA would be examples here).

Brands and salons that are unable to add value and are forced to sell on price will find life more difficult I suspect, and there will be a lot of consolidation in these segments. 

Other factors that could disrupt the market
There are several other things that can disrupt the market. Retail gel polish - I was told one retail brand has sold over one million kits (although I have no way to verify this) and long life nail polishes. 

The danger from retail gel polishes may not only be that some salon customers will make their own nails, but that we may see more reported cases of allergies (as happened in Sweden where a brand was forcibly removed from the market) - which would be bad PR for the pro industry too - an industry that is still forced to answer stupid questions about UV lamp safety due to inaccurate scare-tactic articles published by the media.  

If this happens, long-life nail polishes will be a natural replacement for many people who then choose to avoid gels, and these also have the advantage that they are much easier to apply at home.

There is precedence for this. I was told that when UV gels were first introduced in the USA, not long after some company decided it would be a good idea to sell them using home parties. Apparently some customers developed allergies and that damaged the reputation of gel nails for many years.

How should a salon plan for the future?
I think there are three possible choices:
  • Develop
  • Diversify
  • Simplify

Develop your skills and knowledge to the highest level in your region and earn a reputation for excellent work, outstanding sanitation and great customer service. Take classes every year with educators who have a great reputation and who can teach modern knowledge and techniques (many educators are still teaching techniques originally developed 10 years ago). There will always be a need for NT who can sculpt beautiful natural looking nails. Target professional women or those that are willing to pay a premium price for a premium service (these customer exist in every town that also has upmarket spa's, restaurants, hair salons, etc).

Add other services such as pedicure, make-up, hair styling etc.

Create a salon with 6 to 10 NT and only offer manicure and pedicure with polish or gel polish options. Short service times, high volume, no appointments needed. Modern clean layout, good location with high visibility and easy parking. Make sanitation a focus of your business - take steps to demonstrate your cleanliness (open sealed bags containing disinfected instruments/tools in front to the customers, use one-time nail files, etc). This will be a major factor to competing with high street salons that have lower sanitation standards.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Nail Salon Air Filter System - Size Matters!

Nail Salon Air Filter System - Size Matters!

I've read a lot of discussions on FB and other forums about which air filter systems to buy for use in the nail salon. 

So I took this photo because I wanted to show that there is a big difference in the size of the actual filters inside different salon filter products.

The photo shows the filter parts of the Swedish filtering system we use in our salons and nail schools. This is the white cotton bag (Filter 1: large dust particles) and the big box (Filter 2: invisible dust particles and Filter 3: The active carbon filter removes chemicals from the air). I put a ruler and a carton of milk next to the big filter to give some scale. 

The small square silver filter is from one of the most popular filter systems sold in the US. This integrated square filter also contains all three different filter stages.

The total weight of this small filter is 20g (about 0.7oz). The weight of only the active carbon in the Swedish filter is 5kg (about 11.1LBS). 

We need to change the Swedish filters after 400 to 600 customers (depends if gel only, acrylic only or mixed services). If a different brand of filter only contains 500g (1LB) of carbon, then it would need to be replaced much more often. This also increases the risk of using full filters that no longer work. It may also increase the lifetime cost of the system when you calculate the cost of all those filters. 

The USA Nail Manufacturers Council (co-chaired by Doug Schoon) recommends that a filtering system contains minimum 2LB (1 kg) of carbon and that this should be at least 2 inches deep (5cm). The Swedish filter exceeds this by approx. 400%. 

So if you are looking for a nail salon air filter system to protect your health, it is the weight and depth of the active carbon filter that distinguishes if a product will work or not.

For more information about air filter design, see our earlier article here:

Why using the correct UV lamp is important for safety and salon service reliability

The graph (supplied by Doug Schoon) shows the UV light output from a traditional UV lamp and a LED UV lamp. Notice the peaks in UV irradiance at different light wavelengths. 

UV irradiance is if you like, the amount of light energy (Watts) that falls on a 1cm x 1cm area. From this we can understand the amount to UV energy that falls onto a finger nail.

The amount of the irradiance is controlled by different factors: the type of UV light device used (different devices from different manufacturers output more or less UV energy), the distance from light device to finger nails, the quality of the lamp reflectors, etc. So depending on which UV lamp is being tested, these peaks will change in height. 

The position of these peaks on the wavelength axis can also change depending on the light device. In this example the traditional UV lamp seems to have a peak at 370 nanometers - but another UV lamp could have it's peak at 360nm or 365nm, etc. Same with the LED UV lamp. 

If you tested 10 different UV lamps the size of the peaks and the peak wavelength would all be different. This is a very important point. 

Now, if we take the UV lamp used for this graph that has a peak at 370nm, and we try to cure a gel that has a photo initiator which operates best at 370nm then both the gel and UV lamp are matched and you will obtain the fastest cure time. But if you use a gel that has a 360nm photo initiator this is going to get approx 80% less UV energy and that would increase the cure time by at least 4 times (it also depends on how much PI is in the gel). 

The problem is that the NT who uses the wrong gel for this UV lamp may not know that the gel is under cured. That's because gels appear hard when only cured at 50% of full cure. It's not possible for the average NT to know if a gel is fully cured without scientific equipment. 

Different gels use different photo initiators and may have more or less of this. There is no standard, just like there is no standard UV lamp design. 

This means that the gel chemist has to either:
a) design the gel to match a UV lamp that the company already has, or 
b) design a UV lamp to match their new gel. 

But the fact is that most manufacturers, even some famous brands, are not developing their own gels. They buy standard products from the catalog of one of the acrylic / gel factories - in other words they are private labellers and not real manufacturers. 

In most cases they are never told, and don't know to ask, what photointiator is used in the gel and what amount of UV energy is needed to correctly cure the gel (and the curing time). That makes it impossible for them to find a matching UV lamp. 

This begs the question of how a private labeller can know that their UV lamp will cure the factory gel, especially when they don't have a laboratory with the required test equipment and a chemist to make the tests. Perhaps some hire an outside laboratory to make the test, but I suspect that many of them stick a glob of gel on a tip, cure it for 2 minutes and see if it looks hard - which as you know now is no kind accurate test. 

So when a supplier says that their UV lamp will cure all gels, ask them how they know what the peak UV irradiance and the peak wavelength required by the photo initiator in your gel is. Without that information, how can they possibly say that their UV lamp will cure your gel?  

Saturday, December 13, 2014

New IKON.iQ Revolution Colour Gels / Gel Paints

New IKON.iQ Revolution Colour Gels / Gel Paints
Why buy two products when one will be enough? That was the thinking when we set out to create the ultimate colour gels. Before we create any new IKON.iQ product we research, research and research. What can we do better? What is missing? How can we improve the users experience? Our goal is to create products which exceed the capabilities of any product of the same type in the market today - we have absolutely no interest in creating "me-too" products.

We talked to our Educators - all expert Nail Technicians, many are competition champions - and we compiled a list of the common features of coloured gels and gel paints:

  • Many coloured gels and gel paints require two layers to get good colour depth
  • Nearly all have a dispersion layer that needs wiping
  • Many coloured gels are rather thick - good for full cover reliability. 
  • Gel paints have lower viscosity making them more suitable for fine detail nail art, but not can be compete on reliability with traditional colour gels
  • Curing times are typically 2 minutes for full cover and 60 seconds using gel paints - when creating a nail art design, that's too long a time to wait between adding new design elements or colours!
  • Few products cure in a LED-UV lamp

So our design goals were set:

  • Must be highly pigmented so that it covers the nail in one gel layer
  • Must not create a dispersion layer - let's save time and money by not wiping!
  • A viscosity that allows the gels to be used as gel paints - one product two uses!
  • 30 seconds cure time in a traditional 36W UV lamp and 15 seconds in a LED-UV lamp - saves up to 10 minutes per customer!  (the price of one gel colour is paid back with the first service!)
  • 3 seconds cure time in a LED-UV lamp when painting nail art - let that creativity flow!

All these design goals were achieved - hence the name IKON.iQ Revolution. These new colour gels are a real revolution - nothing else compares in the market today. This is the future!

All designs below were created only using the IKON.iQ Revolution colour gels.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Nailympia competition - the biggest and best!

Judges: Tom Bachik, Vicki Peters, Iryna Giblett, David Fowler, Stefanie LoRe
and non-judge Bob Giblett

The 10th anniversary of the Nailympia Competition attracted competitors from 32 countries, taking 654 seats across 11 categories. That is a massive increase on 400+ competitors the previous year and makes Nailympia the biggest nail competition in Europe, and far larger than competitions in the USA. 

For information about Nailympia 2015, see here:

Monday, July 14, 2014

IKON.iQ Ultimate Acrylic System

IKON.iQ Ultimate Acrylic System 
Uses a totally new manufacturing technique that produces the smallest polymer granules. The advantage of this is that the monomer is absorbed more evenly and it produces a super creamy acrylic ball that that delivers superb sculpting control. There are four colours: Crystal Clear, Perfect Pink, Cover Pink*** (camouflage polymer) and Champion White (the white and clear can be mixed to create a more natural white if required). The Clear is like glass, the pinks are very natural looking and the White is the brightest white we have seen.

Key features:
  • Supplied in 22g jars (other sizes to follow in the future)
  • Easy to apply, super sculpting control, no bubbles, does not yellow
  • Polymerisation time is a little quicker than the KUDOS acrylics, but not too fast for students
  • Easy to file
  • Low odour monomer

Competition nails created with the IKON.iQ Ultimate acrylic system

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Judging at Nailympia London, September 2014

This will be the 10th year anniversary for the Nailympia competitions (previously called Nailympics). Without doubt, these are the biggest and most presigious nail competitions in Europe that attracts the best competitors from more than 20 countries including Russia, USA, Korea.

One of the reasons for the success of Nailympia is that it attracts some of the best international competition judges, so competitors who have invested in the entry fees, travel and hotel costs, and worked for months to perfect their techniques, know that they will be honestly judged by the best. 

As before, Iryna will be judging the nail art competitions. It's always an honour to be invited and she is looking forward to see some great work and to meet old nail friends.