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

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year 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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More