How to Start a Nail Salon: A Step-by-Step Guide

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Often, nail salons are more than places for people to pamper themselves. As gathering places for friends and neighbors to bond, nail salons can become fixtures in a community. For many people, a visit to their local salon is a weekly or monthly occurrence (and, potentially, the highlight of their week or month), and that level of customer loyalty is a significant factor in helping salons thrive. So if you’re a licensed nail technician with a serious entrepreneurial streak—or if you’re an entrepreneur with a passion for nails—it makes sense that you’d be curious about how to start a nail salon of your own.

In many ways, opening a nail salon is a similar process to starting a business in any other industry with a brick-and-mortar location. But there are a few steps particular to opening a nail salon that you need to be especially aware of, like sourcing vendors and suppliers and remaining compliant with your state’s regulations around nail salons. Here, we’ve broken down the process of opening a salon into five, crucial steps. Let’s get to it. 

How to Start a Nail Salon in 5 Steps

The following is by no means an exhaustive list of all the steps you’ll need to take to open your own nail salon. The process of starting a business is not a universal one, and we can pretty much guarantee that you’ll run into unpredictable hurdles. But with that in mind, every aspiring nail salon owner will need to complete at least these five steps to start their nail salons off on the strongest possible note.

1. Write a Business Plan

As we mentioned, the only predictable aspect of starting a business is that it’s unpredictable. But the best way to bolster yourself against those unforeseen challenges is to plan out your business even before you sign a lease on a location.

Your preliminary business plan should map out your goals and objectives, and how you plan to achieve those goals. Of course, there’s a significant financial-planning aspect to your business plan. It may be tricky, but do your best to determine how long it’ll take for your business to break even, and how long it’ll take for you to make a profit. You’ll also need to create a business budget, but we’ll get more into that next.  

Writing your business plan also offers you the opportunity to conduct important market research, like evaluating your target demographic, assessing competitors in your area, determining how your salon will set itself apart from those competitors, and determining your offerings and price points. This is also the time to write down exactly the tools, products, and equipment you need to launch; list potential vendors and suppliers; create a hiring plan; and start thinking about a marketing strategy.

At this stage, you will also likely want to decide on a business entity, or the legal structure by which you will form your business. The entity you choose will affect how your taxed, your level of protection in case of legal action against your business, and more, so we recommend connecting with a business attorney at this stage to ensure you’re making the best choice for your unique situation.

For more help on this front, we recommend checking out our comprehensive guide to writing a business plan. But if you need one-on-one support, contact your local SBA or SCORE office, or work with a business accountant or attorney to create a personalized business plan.   

2. Organize Your Finances

As you’re writing your business plan, you’ll need to get your financial information in order and take a few steps to keep your finances organized. 

Create a Budget

In order to create a business budget, you’ll first need to determine the costs required to open your salon and keep it running until you bring in revenue. Major costs you’ll need to account for include rent and utilities, wages, painting and drying stations, pedicure chairs, polish displays, decor, equipment cleaners and sanitizers, and of course, your polish and other tools and materials you require for your services. You can find ballpark ranges for all of these costs with just a bit of research and adjust your budget and your price points accordingly.

Research Startup Funding

From there, you can also evaluate how much money you’ll need to launch your business—and, if it exceeds what you currently have (which is likely!), start exploring your financing options. You can take a look at our guide to startup funding for information about the most accessible forms of financing for brand-new businesses. We also have comprehensive guides on finding equipment financing and commercial real estate loans, which would cover two major costs involved in opening a nail salon. That said, you can always stop in at your local bank for guidance, too. 

Separate and Manage Your Business Finances

span style=”font-weight: 400;”>At this point, it’s also a good idea to purchase accounting software to help you outsource, automate, and streamline basic bookkeeping processes, and to keep your finances organized overall. We also highly recommend opening a business bank account and applying for a business credit card as soon as possible. Both steps are crucial for maintaining a separation between your business and personal finances, keeping your books organized, and making things so much easier on you and your accountant when tax season rolls around. 

Plus, a business credit card is one of the most accessible and flexible forms of financing, both in your startup phase and beyond. Use it to pay for your business’s smaller, daily expenses, and to bolster your credit score to better position yourself for larger loans down the line.  

3. Find a Location and Obtain Supplies

Finding the right location for your nail salon is absolutely crucial since your location can be enough to make or break the success of your business. 

To find the right neighborhood for your salon, start by evaluating your target demographic and narrow your search according to where they live, work, and shop. Visibility is key, too. Find a site in a highly trafficked area with ample parking space, since the majority of your customers will be walk-ins. Ideally, your nail salon won’t be located too near competing nail salons, but that may be unavoidable if you live in a high-volume area (like some parts of New York City, for instance, where one salon per block seems to be the norm).      

In terms of the space itself, your site will need enough square footage to accommodate several nail stations and pedicure chairs, restrooms, and a back room for storage and office space. Most states also require that salons are properly ventilated, so make sure your location’s HVAC system is up to code.  

Once you’ve found a location, you can order the proper amount and sizes of the supplies, tools, equipment, furnishing, and decor you need to make your nail salon both functional and comfortable for your customers. If you haven’t already established relationships with vendors and suppliers, you can find wholesale nail supplies online to start building up your inventory. At the same time, ask for referrals for reputable vendors from other nail salon owners, and check their Better Business Bureau profiles to make sure they’re trustworthy.  

4. Stay Compliant With State-Regulated Licenses, Permits, and Insurance

Opening a nail salon involves its fair share of meeting bureaucratic requirements, which ensures that your business remains a safe, fair, and sanitary environment for both your staff and your customers. While this may not be the most fun step involved in opening your salon, it’s arguably the most important, as failure to comply with your state’s salon regulations can result in hefty fines.

Start by consulting your state’s Secretary of State website, which should provide regulatory information for nail salon owners. For example, New York sets forth regulations on equipment, Bill of Rights posting requirements, ventilation, posting Notices of Violation, and maintaining bond or liability insurance. On top of that, you should consider buying certain types of business insurance to protect your business, physical location, and employees from a range of potential lawsuits, accidents, and other occurrences. New York also requires that nail salon owners remain compliant with state-regulated wage requirements. 

Keep in mind that most states also require that business owners obtain a business license in order to operate legally, and obtaining a seller’s permit allows you to legally sell products or services and collect sales tax. Your building also needs a Certificate of Occupancy, which states that your building is compliant with local codes and is certified for commercial use. It should go without saying, too, that any staff you hire must be properly trained, licensed, and certified nail technicians. Plus, you’ll want to obtain an employer identification number, EIN, if you plan to hire employees.

5. Market Your Nail Salon

Once you’ve opened your location—and even beforehand—it’s important to start marketing your nail salon. Hopefully, your site is located in a high-visibility location, but you shouldn’t rely on walk-ins alone to fill your chairs.

Maintaining a digital footprint is vital, so start by building a business website. Your website should include information about your services, pricing, hours, and links to your social media platforms. You can also integrate your appointment scheduling software to make it easy for potential clients to book an appointment, and for you and your staff to track and manage your bookings. 

And as you likely know, social media marketing is a powerful tool for pulling in new clients. Start by creating an Instagram and business Facebook page, but you can also expand into Twitter, Pinterest, and even YouTube, depending on your preferences and where your target market hangs out online.  

Non-digital marketing techniques are useful, too. It makes sense to focus your efforts on local promotion since the majority of your customers will live or work in the area. Consider placing an ad in your local paper, ask neighboring businesses to keep a stack of your business cards at your till, and offer special discounts and promotions in honor of your grand opening. But with all that in mind, good old word of mouth will be one of your most powerful marketing allies. Focus on providing your customers with the best possible service, and let them share the word to people in their network.

The Bottom Line

By writing a business plan; keeping your finances in order; opening in a prime location; remaining above board with your licensing, insurance, and permitting requirements; and marketing your business as much as possible, you’re setting up your nail salon for the best possible success. 

Now you’ll need to be prepared to manage your salon’s daily operations, and take on the inevitable challenges that will arise as you’re running your business. But there are so many resources available to you beyond the startup phase. Don’t hesitate to contact your local SBA chapter, SCORE office, or search JustBusiness’s resource library if you need help with any aspect of running and growing your salon.  

Christine Aebischer

Christine Aebischer is an editor at JustBusiness and Fundera.

Previously, Christine was an editor at the financial planning startup LearnVest and its parent company, Northwestern Mutual. There she wrote and edited on topics such as debt, budgeting, insurance, taxes, investing, and retirement. She has written for print and online on topics ranging from personal finance to luxury real estate.

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