Help! My nail tech broke up with me

We’re all familiar with the breakup choreography; a blindsiding or a slow fizzle out that’s equally as icky, ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ and all the other cliches, listening to Taylor Swift while you cry yourself to sleep. But what about when the split’s at your nail salon?

I was getting my nails done with my regular manicurist, and we were discussing dating red flags. But then she began telling me the story of her most recent, and harrowing breakup – with a client. She described some of their mounting, inexcusable bad behaviours – rudeness, lateness, indecisiveness (all icks in my romantic dating book) – and when she knew her client was never going to change and a breakup was necessary, for her own sake.

The rise of the toxic nail client doesn’t seem contained to this one London salon. I came across a stream of TikTok videos and storytimes from nail artists on their grim interactions with clients that led to their breakups. There were nails bitten off to avoid paying for gel removal, and another who’d refused to pay even after their nails were done; this was so common it seemed, more than a few manicurists were clipping a client’s nails off mere moments after finishing a set. It’s clear we’ve all entered our nail brat era, and our manicurists are fighting back.

Nail nightmares

For me, finding a manicurist trumped a hairdresser; I’d been scarred by an experience in my teens at my local nail salon, which resulted in a hole in my pinky nail. I shudder thinking about those painfully exposed nerve endings which scared me out of nail salons for years. Finding ‘the one’ is no easy feat, but now it seems we should be worried about losing them too.

Katherine Alvaro, a nail artist and founder of Skip The Filter, knew her two-year relationship with a client was expiring. “We had a great relationship up until the end,” she tells me. “Throughout our time, she had repeatedly cancelled at the last minute, made sly remarks in front of customers which made things uncomfortable and, overall, she was quite difficult.”

Katherine persevered out of loyalty but finally hit a breaking point. “I messaged to remind her about our cancellation policy, as she had again cancelled at the last minute, and she replied, ‘That’s fine, I have been loyal, I’ll go somewhere else’,”. Change needed to happen but it took a toll. “It’s super stressful. I’ve lost sleep over this,” she says. These conversations are never easy, but she concluded that “when lines have been crossed, you just have to put your foot down”. Upon reflection, she tells me, “I do blame myself for being overly forgiving and certainly a people pleaser”.

Breaking up with a client comes at a cost (literally). This month, thousands of nail salons raised their prices to get a “fair wage” to enable the “sustainability of the industry”. This came after the community organisation The Nail Tech Org found the average nail technician makes under £7 per hour – the minimum living wage is £11.44 – so these drastic measures aren’t taken lightly, nail technicians need regular clients. This rise in bad behaviour isn’t just one bad egg situation either. “One client asked for a French Manicure and waited until the very end – I’m talking top coat and cuticle oil – to tell us French wasn’t for her, and preferred just a block of colour.”

For Mari London founder, Mari Süda-Kosumi, it was a case of bad luck. “I still shake to this day thinking about it,” she tells me. “I realised she’d had a bad reaction to the product we were using at the time – her nails looked purple. I explained that she must have been allergic to the chemical and there was no way we could carry on and she stood up and said, ‘This company will regret the day they crossed me!’. Unlike if you’re switching up your hair colour, a nail appointment doesn’t come with a patch test, so it was an unprecedented situation for both parties.

Situations can also rapidly get out of hand. “I was once escorted out of a nail salon by a security guard,” Lucy* explains. It was New Year’s Eve in a shopping centre in Australia, and after just 48 hours, Lucy noticed her nails had turned yellow. “I returned to complain about the shoddy manicure and was offered a gift voucher instead of a refund – I got irate and refused to leave,” she explains. It was the blasé attitude toward her feedback that caused the escalation which ended up requiring a security guard. Lucy admits she’s a “fussy” customer, but has a loyal salon she visits regularly and hasn’t experienced anything like this. “It wasn’t about the money, it was the principle of paying for a service I didn’t receive. My manicure was shambolic,” she tells me.

Thank you, next client

If you’re the dumper (rather than the dumpee), you have a level of control. Still, it can be difficult to decide which route to take on the road to separation. “I wrote one client a nice long message saying, ‘We’re really sorry, but it’s just not working out, for either of us. We don’t want you to keep on spending money on something if you’re not getting the results you want,’ but she didn’t get the hint,” Mari says. In the end, she ended up using the most permanent breakup method of them all: blocking.

Fresha is a software many beauty businesses use for appointment bookings. Katherine says it also has a feature that allows you to block clients. “I haven’t used it often, but I have blocked people from booking if they have been rude to staff – that’s one thing I won’t stand for. Or, if they repeatedly no-show, that’s just not good for business and affects us massively,” she says. So, if you’ve tried to make a booking and tech has failed you, it might have been on purpose.

This option has allowed manicurists to reconfigure the power balance. “It’s given businesses more control over their boundaries,” Katherine says. “The ‘customer is always right’ will always stand, until it doesn’t. We will always support customers and offer the best services and experience, but at the end of the day, we’re also people and we need to do right by ourselves too, to make sure it doesn’t impact the way we work and our mental health,” she adds.

Mari echoes this sentiment: “My background is actually in hospitality, where I learnt a very important lesson – ‘The customer is king. However, they are king, as long as they act like one. If the client is being disrespectful towards you or your job, you really shouldn’t continue treating them like they are the most important.”

Knowing your worth and setting your boundaries in any relationship has been drummed into us on social media; we (hopefully) wouldn’t treat our partner like this, so why our manicurist? The fact that we’re driving nail artists to such drastic lengths needs to be put under a heat lamp stat.

It’s not me, it’s you

It’s not too late to make a change before you lose your nail artist, for good.

So how to get into the good books? “Be on time, don’t move around and keep hands relaxed,” Mari says. “We tell our clients to have the nail designs ready but we’re also open to suggestions, because most of the time, they will leave with a completely different design,” but she says that’s all part of the fun.

From a client perspective, if you know you’re a hard customer, it’s important to take accountability. “I always research a nail salon before going,” Georgie tells me. “I’ve had it before where the manicurist suggested a colour and I’ve said yes to it, and I haven’t loved it. Now I stick to a rotation of colours,” she says.

Not every nail salon will be for us – just like every first date won’t necessarily lead to a second – but that doesn’t mean we have to dehumanise the manicurist in front of us. After all, they are physically holding your hand for over an hour – when’s the last time you can say you did something that intimate with a stranger? “Most salons are small businesses, which don’t have big investors, so our customers are even more valuable and special to us. We just want clients to see that and see us as more than a nail technician, hairstylist or beauty therapist,” says Katherine. A mani with a side of manners? Sounds good to us.

*Names have been changed

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