Secret Confessions of a Small Town Nail Tech

So, there I was fresh out of nail school, sitting on my butt at a salon waiting for some hair client to ask for a manicure.  Day after day begging to do manicures for these hair clients.  “Would you like a free paraffin dip while your perm sets?  I can shape your nails for free while you get your hair colored.”

I mean, this was going to be my life from now on.  I wanted to make this work and get busy being a professional nail tech.  But is this the life of a real nail tech?

There were a few salons in town and a few nail techs.  Then one day a nail salon opened.  I was excited to see a real nail salon.  So, I walk in looking maybe to rent a space.  It was bright, had a ton of polish on the wall and several people sitting in pedicure thrones.


It smelled weird.  Only one person spoke English.  Then it happened.  I saw someone pull out a cheese slicer and start to cut into a client’s foot.  I took a brochure and quickly made my way to the door.

Wow introductory special, a full set of acrylic or gel nails for $15, marked down from regular price $25.  How do these nail techs make a living?

I wanted to do acrylic and really had no idea what gel was.  But at 15 bucks, I might as well get a job at fast food.  How am I supposed to compete with that?  I’m charging $20 for a manicure.  Mabey that’s why I don’t have any clients.  So, I dropped my manicure price to $15 and sat back on my butt waiting for the clients to start rolling in.  And waiting, and waiting and waiting.

I took an advertisement out in a pamphlet that went into every grocery bag at the grocery store advertising my $15 manicures and $20 pedicures and $25 acrylic full sets.  Obviously with EVERY person that goes to the grocery store I would make at least the $500 back that the ad cost.  Nope.

I ordered a gel kit to try and learn.  I mean, it came with a free t-shirt.  I watched the video and read the instructions.  Prep the nails.  Brush on the primer.  Ok, pretty easy.  Scoop the gel out of jar #1 and brush it on.  Into the lamp we go!

OK, now scoop the gel out of jar #2 and kind of brushpress it around.  What is a “brushpress”?  Wow, this stuff is sticky.  Put the nails in the lamp for 2 minutes.  OK, here we go.  SON OF A @$**^%@! That’s HOT.  Is it supposed to do that?

Wipe the sticky stuff off and grab your file to shape.  Well at least it files easier then acrylic.

Scoop some white out of jar #3 and make a smile line.  Just a dab here, and push it over here, and pat it down here.  Well it’s sort of a sideways smile, I guess.  Now have you ever tried to grease a baking pan with mittens on and not get any on the mittens?  Now back in the fire nail torture machine.

Scoop some pink out of jar #4 and sort of back it up to the smile line and, Oh no “brushpress” it again up to the cuticle. And back in the Nail Burner 3000.  Then wipe the sticky stuff and grab the file.  Shape shape shape.  File file file.  Buff buff buff.

OK, now scoop some stuff out of jar #5 and brush it on.  One more time in the to the oven of nail torture.  Wipe it off and…  Wow, shiny.  But kinda lumpy and thick.  And, what…  That took THREE hours.  How in the heck does anyone do this?  Mabey it is because I am doing it on myself.  Hey sis!  Get in here!  …Three Hours Later…  Nope.  And they don’t even really look that pretty.

OK, back in the box and off to the post office.  But I’m keeping the free shirt.

It was day 1 of the trade show.  I was super excited to go even though it was in the big city more than 100 miles away.  The doors opened and there were colorful, high energy booths as far as the eye could see.  Hair color, scissors, a big stage with people doing speed cuts.  This must be what heaven is like.  But where is the nail stuff?

Oh, there it is…  Is this it?  Really three booths?  I drove 100 miles for three nail booths?

My husband walked over to get some coffee, and then it happened.  I looked over and there was a table with two people standing behind it.  I saw a plastic box on the table and not much else.  I asked, what’s this?  One of them looked at me and said, It’s gel.  Do you want a demo?  So I sat down.

Prep.  OK, this is familiar.  But what is that weird brush.  “Oh it’s a scrub brush.  We use it to clean the nail”.  OK makes sense.  Now one drop of Base Gel and brush it out.  That’s when I saw it.  That angry little device that felt like it was turning my nails into lava.  “OK into the lamp”.  I was ready.  But there was no burn.

Ready to scoop some sludge out of a jar and “brushpress”, but she grabbed a bottle and squeezed a thin line down my nail, then brushed it out and back in the lamp for three seconds.  What?  “Three seconds?” I said.  “Yup, three seconds.  We don’t want to burn you.”  OK three seconds it was and out.  “Did that get hot?”.  “Warm but not hot”, I said.  “OK, in the lamp for two minutes.”

Now for the white.  She brushed it on half way up my nail and I thought, “Well that looks terrible”.  Then she did something weird.  With just one swipe of the brush, she cut through the gel and made a perfect smile line.  “OK back in the lamp”.  Now for the last coat.  Huh?  Last coat?

She squeezed a line of gel, brushed it out in just six strokes and then it got really weird.  She used the bottle to SHAPE the nail.  She touched the bottle to the nail, made a string and put the gel exactly where she wanted it.  Then back in the lamp.  Now she is going to get the file, just watch.

Wipe off the sticky and you are done.  I looked at my watch.  Six minutes.  “Aren’t you going to file it?”  She said “Nope you are done.”  “Done?” I said with my mouth hanging open.  She said with a smile, “That’s what everybody says”.

I looked down at the most perfect nail I had ever seen.  It had an arch in the right place.  The smile line was deep and crisp.  It was thin and smooth as glass.  I bit it, and it was strong.  She said, “I don’t want you to buy it until you have gotten a few more demos.”  Come back later.  So I left.

I got three more nails done with three different gel products that day.  They were all just like I had remembered.  Weird smile lines, lumpy and bumpy.  None of them were as quick, easy or looked anything like the first nail.  Some of the people at the other booths looked at it and said, “Oh you got one from over in the back.  You shouldn’t buy anything from them.  I hear they are going out of business.”

I went back at the end of the day and showed them the other three nails.  They sort of just smirked and said “Yep”.  “How come I haven’t ever heard of you before?” I asked.  “Because we are a small company and can’t afford to sponsor fashion shows or do million-dollar ad campaigns.”

Then I said “Hey, I heard you guys are going out of business?”  “No, she said.  Sometimes they like to say that because they are Jealous”.  That’s when it hit me, I looked down at the brochure and it said “Gelousy”.  Oh, I get it now…  I bought a kit.  She said that over the next two weeks I needed to watch the video several times and practice every day before I did any clients.  She said that it would just “click” and then it would be easy.  Sort of like learning how to ride a bike.  I asked her if they had any free shirts.  She said, “Nope, we don’t need them”

It was hard at first.  It took too long, the nails looked weird and I could never get the smile line right.  Then it clicked just like she said it would.  After about 10 days of practice, I was making the perfect nail every time.  I started trying to convince the hair clients to get me do a set of Gelousy Gels on them.  But no dice.

It must be the salon.  I gotta find a new place to work.  How about a high end day spa?

My first day the salon owners booked a manicure at 8am.  I did that, and they said they had booked another manicure at 6:30pm.  I said “OK, I’ll be back”.  They said they wanted me to wait there just in case they had a walk in.  I got here at 8am, you want me to sit here till 6:30pm?

Now, I was on commission, so I was going to be paid at the end of the week $8 for the 8am manicure and another $8 for the 6:30pm manicure.  So I would be making $16 for sitting there for 11 hours.  That’s $1.45 an hour.  Oh and the clients belonged to the spa, not to me.  Over the next month things like this happened all the time.  Plus one of my weekly pay checks for $82 bounced.


I started in a celebrity (in his own mind) hair salon that begged me to move there because they needed a nail tech desperately.  They would encourage all their hair clients to get their nails done and promote me to everyone.  His sales pitch was so good, that I moved the next day.  The rent was high, but if I was going to be getting all of this business it would be worth it.

Day 1.  Get set up, three clients waiting on the couch and I am the only one there.  I ask them if they had been helped and they said they were waiting for Carlos (not his real name, but close J).  About 20 minutes late Carlos came in and barked to his assistant to get them started in the shampoo bowls.  He got set up and started on three clients at the same time.  He was charging $120 for a hair cut and he always double or triple booked.  As the three were leaving, he casually mentioned that they had a new manicure girl.  Here I was, just like my first salon, begging for business.  Oh and besides my very high rent, it was going to be an additional $10 a week for towels, so I should add that to my next weekly rent check.  And that I was not allowed to bring my own towels.  Really.

The last straw was after about six months when my services didn’t even cover my weekly rent, I left.

I found a small salon, where my husband got his hair cut that cleaned a corner up and moved a magazine rack so I could set up my table.  The rent was reasonable and the people there were nice.

The first day after one of the cosmetologists had recommended me, I had my first client.  She had gotten acrylic for years and I suggested a full set of Gelousy Gel Nails.  She agreed and I sort of whispered my price of $30 to her hoping she didn’t run out screaming.  She said ok let’s try it.  When I was done, I gave her a few business cards and asked her to give them out if anyone asks her about her nails.  She paid me and quietly left.  Over the next couple of days I did a few manicures and a few more sets of nails.  Then the phone rang.  It was someone who had gotten my business card and wanted to get a set of Gelousy Gel Nails.  I told her it was $30 and made the appointment.  Then the phone rang again, and again, and again.

I looked up from my desk and there she was.  It was my first client.  She just stopped by to pick up some more cards because she was out and EVERYONE was asking where she got her nails done.  I thanked her, gave her a stack and she asked to make an appointment for next week to get a fill.  I told her, that I really wouldn’t have that much to do on her and suggested that she make the appointment for two weeks from now.  She said that she had gone every two weeks for years, she knew her nails and she needed to get them done every two weeks.  So I didn’t argue with her and set her appointment for next week.  The phone was ringing again.

She called me a day before her appointment and sheepishly asked if she could move her appointment to the following week because her nails looked great!  She could not believe it.  I moved her appointment.

I kept giving out cards and the phone kept ringing.  In 30 days I had 30 new clients and in three months I was turning people away.

One day I got a strange phone call asking for an appointment.  Remember it was a small town and I didn’t recognize the name.  She came in and I did a full set.  She kept asking weird questions.  When I was done, she paid and left without making another appointment.  I later found out that she was a nail tech at another salon and had booked the appointment to find out what I was using because I had all the high-end business in town.  Months earlier I had taken all the Gelousy labels off so no one would know what I was using.  It was MY SECRET WEAPON.

I raised my price to $35, then to $40.  Now I charge $80 for full sets and $50 for fills and gel toes.

That’s what Gelousy Gel did for me and I will always be grateful.