- Nail salon owners and techs must enroll in cosmetology school to obtain the proper training and licensing to provide nail services
- Identifying a target market and business location that isn’t oversaturated with competitors will help you stand out in a crowded industry
- Register with your state and the IRS to ensure you’re legally set to operate, open a business bank account, and access loans as needed
A visit to the nail salon leaves customers feeling pampered and confident. A beloved form of self care and an emerging art form, manicures, pedicures, and other salon services appeal to all types of customers across the country. In fact, more than 20 million Americans get manicures at least four times every six months.
With so many people willing to pay for professional results, the nail services industry is now valued at over $8 billion—making up nearly 16% of all services in the U.S. beauty salon industry. If you’re interested in learning how to start a nail business, there are plenty of opportunities for you to succeed. Get started with this step-by-step guide.
How to start a nail business
When you open a nail salon, you can build a regular customer base and run a sustainably profitable venture. Here’s how to start your own business.
1. Pursue a cosmetology license
In most states, nail salon owners are required to hold a cosmetology or nail technician license to provide nail services.
Proper certification requires many hours of practice, so it’s important to start the process early. Most cosmetology licensing requirements include up to 1,600 hours of education from an accredited school and programs specific to nail techs. Together, your required courses will typically cost under $10,000. Most states require a passing grade of 70-75% to receive your license. You can also apply to cosmetology grants if you’re eligible.
If you plan on hiring nail techs for your salon instead of performing nail services yourself, as the business owner, you should still have a strong understanding of the services you’re selling. You may also need other, industry-specific licenses to operate in your state. To learn what’s required in your area, check with your local Small Business Administration (SBA) district office.
2. Identify the nail services you want to offer
One of the best ways to differentiate your business from the competition is by offering a unique set of nail services—ideally, a service that you and your staff have perfected.
Perhaps you’ve taken a basic service to the next level, such as creating a special spa pedicure experience for bridal parties. Or if the nail salons around you specialize in gel nails, you might focus on manicures with acrylic nails. Add-on services, such as paraffin treatments, or specialty services, such as nail art, can also help build your distinct brand.
Once you know what services you want to offer, create a price list. Consider what other nail salons in your area are charging, how much it costs to offer each service, and how you can use pricing strategies to attract new customers.
3. Choose a business location
Selecting a unique location for your company can also help you stand out and attract a loyal customer base. If you’re opening a nail salon with a physical business location, it’s important to find a location that’s not already saturated with nail salons—at least not any that will directly compete with you.
Once you find a place to set up shop, start searching for buildings or suites that are available for rent. If you’re not ready to commit to brick and mortar, you can also lease booths at existing beauty salons or take your business on the road with a mobile nail salon—a low-overhead business that typically operates at private parties and events.
4. Define your target market
Growing your customer base is crucial in the beauty business. Instead of trying to win over any and all potential customers, identify a target market of your own.
Conduct market research to understand who your competitors are targeting, where demand is rising or falling in the nail industry, and what demographics or needs are underserved. For example, if you notice a rise in men getting manicures and nail treatments in your area, targeting this population can be a great opportunity.
Once you know what opportunities are out there, you can define your target market—the customers your nail salon is best equipped to serve. Your target market might be based on characteristics such as demographics (e.g., gender, age, income), interests, needs, and geographic location.
5. List out your startup costs
When you’re learning how to start a nail business, funding is probably on your mind. Prepare for the cost of opening a salon by conducting a financial analysis. List your startup costs—the expenses necessary to launch and offer services—to see the full picture of what you’ll need to spend, as well as how much outside funding you might need.
Common startup costs for nail salons include furniture (e.g., manicure tables, spa chairs), equipment (e.g., manicure lamps, rolling carts, clippers, nail polish racks), and business registration fees.
You should also write a list of your operational costs—recurring expenses you need to run your business, such as supplies (e.g., gel polish, cuticle oil, nail polish remover, single-use nail files, and buffers), business insurance, rent, and gas.
Use these estimates to calculate when you’ll be financially ready to launch the business. Ideally, new salon owners should have enough cash flow to last 3-6 months in business.
6. Choose a business name
Once you pick a name, use your state agency’s website to make sure it’s legally available. Business names must be:
- Unique from the names of other beauty industry businesses within your state
- Unique from trademarked names of any similar business, as found on the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s trademark database
A strong business name can also differentiate your salon from competitors by making your company more memorable and capturing your value. For instance, a business name like “Mel’s Eco Manicures” appeals to an environmentally conscious target audience more than something generic, such as “Mel’s Manis and Pedis.”
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7. Register your business in your state
All salon owners—with the exception of sole proprietorships and partnerships—are legally required to register their businesses with their state. You can visit your state agency’s website for an online application, which will vary based on your business structure.
For example, limited liability companies must file their state’s Articles of Organization, while corporations file Articles of Incorporation. In most states, business registration costs about $300. However, you may need seller’s permits and other local licenses to operate in your city or state. Your state agency can assist you in identifying the right business licenses and permits for your nail salon.
8. Apply for an employer identification number
Once you’ve registered your business, consider applying for an employer identification number (EIN)—a tax identification number that allows you to hire employees and open a business bank account. The EIN application process requires some business information and is free to complete.
While EINs are only legally required for corporations, partnerships, and businesses with employees, it’s still a good idea to apply for one as a sole proprietor. Most banks require you to obtain an EIN from the IRS before you open a business bank account—essential to keeping your business and personal finances separate.
9. Get funded and set up your nail salon
Once your business is set up, obtain any additional funding you need for the launch. Consider applying for bank loans and small business grants, crowdfunding from friends and family, or even pitching to investors using your business plan.
Use your list of startup costs as a shopping list for your nail salon. Then get your salon ready with any finishing touches, whether you’re setting up your point-of-sale (POS) system, perfecting your interior design, or putting your logo on your company vehicle.
10. Market your new business
Your salon is open and ready for business. How do you let potential customers know? The final step of learning how to start a nail business is marketing your new salon.
- Share nail art demos and nail care tips on social media platforms
- Create a Yelp Business Page to build a profile with accurate business information and high-quality images of your nail art
- Send grand opening discounts to potential customers in your neighborhood via direct mail
No matter what strategies you choose, remember your marketing plan is ever-evolving. If some tactics aren’t working, feel free to replace them.
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Build a successful nail salon
If you love doing nails, caring for others, or creating art for loyal customers, opening your own nail salon is an opportunity to turn your passion into profit. Start by obtaining a cosmetology license, which will give you the experience and background to provide nail services.
Once you identify your target audience and register your nail business—both with your state and the IRS—you can set up shop and market your salon ahead of the launch.
For more help reaching customers and growing your successful business, learn how to effectively market your small business online.
The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.