News / Asia

Vietnamese-American Nail Industry Hangs in the Balance

Vietnamese-American Nail Industry Hangs in the Balance
Vietnamese-American Nail Industry Hangs in the Balance

Fashion nails have provided a tried and true path to the middle class for thousands of immigrants in the United States, but today the industry is at a crossroads. Low prices, which allowed Vietnamese-Americans to dominate the $6 billion industry, are proving unsustainable and forcing salon owners to innovate new ways of doing business.

Trang Nguyen, who came to the U.S. in 1980, exemplifies the success Vietnamese-Americans have enjoyed in the nail business. Like most Vietnamese refugees, he arrived with virtually nothing and spoke very little English. After a stint as a hair stylist, he found his calling doing nails, a skill he learned from a relative who owned a salon.

Nguyen now owns Odyssey Nail Systems, a multinational company that sells nail products and offers training to salon owners. His drive to succeed is obvious - Nguyen has nabbed four world championship titles in nail artistry as well as numerous other awards along the way.

Odyssey Nail Systems
Nail artist Trang Nguyen would like to see more Vietnamese-American nail salon owners have passion for their work.


But Nguyen is concerned the industry that gave him a start in a new country is in trouble because of old habits.

"The new generation doing nails needs to have passion," he said. "They need to be really proud to be a nail artist."

Early days

The history of Vietnamese-Americans in the nail and beauty business dates back to 1975, when actress Tippi Hedren, most noted for her role in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” arranged for 20 refugees from Vietnam to receive training as manicurists.

Those 20 women became the core of a nationwide industry, which now includes tens of thousands of nail salons operated by Vietnamese-Americans.

According to the trade publication Nails Magazine, Vietnamese-Americans make up 40 percent of the U.S. nail industry.

Early on, their main edge over competitors was price. They could charge less because their workers were willing to accept less pay. This meant that with a relatively small amount of money, basic English skills and some cosmetology training, Vietnamese immigrants could open up a salon, count on a steady flow of customers and earn enough money to own a home and educate their children.

But as the market has become more saturated, Vietnamese salon owners have found themselves knowing only one way to compete: slashing prices. The cycle of constant cutting is proving to be unsustainable over the long run.

Diversifying the approach

Duyen Hang, who used to own 25 nail salons in Florida, now spends most of her time consulting salon owners. She says they need to think of new ways to compete.

“They should learn more than just trying to lower the price,” she said. ”Any mom and pop can open a shop, but these days, almost 50 percent have problems. Many are [running the business] the same as 20 or 30 years ago."

Nguyen agrees.

“They focus on getting people in and out. It’s like a machine. They forget it's a service business. You can’t do that anymore," he said. "It’s easy to get the customer in one time with a cheap price, but are they coming back? Are they coming back with friends?”

Ripple effect

Failure to innovate in the nail business could have negative ripple effects throughout much of the Vietnamese-American community.

At a recent best practices seminar organized by the Vietnamese-American National Chamber of Commerce and held in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Falls Church, Virginia, many of the attendees weren’t even in the nail industry. They were members of the community affected by its success or failure.

“The nail business affects my business a lot,” said Thai Hung Nguyen, a real estate agent who said 60 to 65 percent of his clients are Vietnamese-Americans. “If they start losing money, they can't afford the mortgage.”

He was interested in seeing if the industry can revive and reinvent itself, and if so, what the future will be.

Customer is king

Customer service will be the key, said both Nguyen and Hang.

“Price is important, but it’s not more important than service or quality,” said Hang. She advises salons to make small changes like creating a frequent customer reward system, creating an inviting environment or making sure everyone in the shop also has their nails done.

John Ho, who owns Yvonne’s Day Spa in Northern Virginia, is making an effort to do things differently.

He and his wife opened Yvonne’s 16 years ago and then followed it with two other salons. Ho developed the Doctor Fish pedicure, which involves letting little fish swimming in a tank pick the dead skin off customers’ feet while they sit in a massage chair. He has even appeared on a variety of popular American television programs promoting his method.

Ho admits his prices are high compared to the numerous other salons nearby, but he says business is good because he delivers quality, offers a variety of treatments and procedures and never rushes customers.

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
Patsy Fisher, 42, of Crofton, Md., center, checks on the progress of KaNin Reese, 32, of Washington, with Tracy Roberts, 33, of Rockville, Md., left, as they indulge in a fish pedicure treatment at Yvonne Hair and Nails salon in Alexandria, Va. on Thursday July 17, 2008.

“We get a lot of repeat customers,” he said, even though “around here there are more Vietnamese-owned nail salons than McDonald’s.”

Some of his customers are extremely loyal.

Mary Miller, who used to live near Yvonne’s but has relocated to Tennessee said she comes in for a pedicure whenever she’s back in town, citing all the little extras that are thrown in such as hand rubs, feet rubs and temple rubs.

“They’re great!” she said. “I’ve been coming since they opened. I go to a place back home, but they’re not like this!”

Hang has faith that more Vietnamese salon owners can, like Ho, adapt to the new climate.

“Most Vietnamese-Americans do a great a job,” she said “Their hands are magic.”

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs