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Growth Industry : Nail Care: Old Trade, New Polish

March 13, 1985|HEIDI EVANS | Times Staff Writer

As Douglas Brashear sees it, he has nailed down the perfect job--one that will make him happy and rich.

Having survived 25 years as a truck driver, two heart attacks and a divorce, the hefty 53-year-old Diamond Bar man is now a manicurist--indeed, "Diamond Bar's New Nail King," according to his co-workers at The Nailery salon. What's more, he said, "you get to meet nice people and hold a lot of hands."

Although Brashear may be far removed from the sterotype of what one industry observer called "the bubble-gum-chewing, empty-headed, gossipy blonde...with a nail file," he is in fact typical of thousands of people--predominantly women--who hope to cash in on Southern California's new growth industry.

Booming Specialty

Once a minor service relegated to the back of the beauty parlor for women passing time under helmet-like hair dryers, the manicure business today is a booming specialty with storefronts appearing sometimes two to a block.

"We expected it to be a flash in the pan just like so many things in the beauty industry," said Gene Christoffersen, supervising examiner for the California Board of Cosmetology. "I've stopped trying to guess when it's going to end. It took off like a rocket about four years ago and hasn't stopped."

Added Peter Grimes, publisher of Nails, a glitzy trade magazine based in Huntington Beach: "It's growing faster than we ever anticipated. We have just scratched the surface."

Surge in Enrollment

In fact, beauty colleges in California are reporting a surge in manicure student enrollment. Graduates have almost a three-month wait to take their state licensing exams. And manufacturers say they are six weeks behind in orders for salon equipment.

In addition, the number of California manicurists has shot up to 22,704 in 1984 compared to 5,482 a decade ago, according to records compiled by the cosmetology board, a division of the Department of Consumer Affairs.

What's going on?

For one thing, it's relatively inexpensive to go into business. The average investment for a beginning manicurist may be as low as $2,500 for the basics: a table, chair, simple tools, chemicals and an ad in the Yellow Pages.

There is also tremendous demand for the service. In 1984, retail revenue totaled $664 million for the 48 million manicures and 20 million pedicures done on American men and women, according to John Willcox, spokesman for the New York-based trade publication American Salon.

Thomas Cash, a professor at Old Dominion University who is writing a book on the psychology of physical appearance, attributes the nail boom to the general push among today's men and women to look good.

"More and more people ar striving for a certain perfection in their appearance," Cash said. "They're saying, 'If my own nails aren't right, I'll just go out and buy some that are."'

What they're often buying are "acrylic" or "sculptured" nails, the long, sturdy extensions once known as false nails. With new products saturating the market, there is something for everyone: plastic tips for the chronic nail biter, "silk" or "juliette" wraps to strengthen nails that chip easily and acrylic nails shaped or sculpted, often to daggerlike proportions, on top of the natural fingernail.

And for the truly bold, there are 14-karat gold nails and diamond charms that can be drilled through the tip of the fingernail; they sell for as much as $150 each.

Whether their nails are painted, jeweled or just well-groomed, professional women and housewives are paying more attention to--and putting more money into--their hands.

"I always have to get my nails done. It's that finishing touch," said Kate Morris, a 36-year-old secretary who gets a manicure every Tuesday, no matter what. "Otherwise, I just start looking ratty. It's almost like not having a shower."

'Kind of Therapeutic'

Deftly pinching the tip of the key to her Volkswagen convertible so as not to smudge the five layers of fresh polish after a recent 8 a.m. manicure, Kate Boyle, a 30-year-old lawyer, said, "It's kind of therapeutic to look at my hands at work and see them looking so nice."

"Nobody caters to the woman--she's the chauffeur, the cook and now a breadwinner," said Dana Malpass, a former manicurist and the publisher of Mainly Manicuring, an Oakland-based monthly salon newspaper with about 35,000 subscribers, "Now for an hour she's pampered," she said.

Requirements to get a manicurist's license in California are twofold: 350 hours of training in a beauty school and a passing grade on a state-administered exam. Virtually no one fails.

"We examine for minimum standards of ability and customer safety so people could go out and make a living," said Christoffersen, adding that during the last six months of 1984, only 36 of the 2,919 who took the test failed. In some states outside California where the manicuring boom has taken off--such as Illinois, Florida and New York--it is even easier to enter the market because licenses are not required.

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