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

Disappointing Report on China's Economy Shakes Markets

In London and New York shares lost 3 percent, while Paris and Germany dropped around 2.4 percent More

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations 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.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs