Monday, March 3, 2008

Spitting Nails

I’ve somehow found myself into the middle of a retail catfight. A newly opened natural nail spa on the east side of Lincoln, Neb., has attracted an enthusiastic customer base—women who have tired of acrylic tips and seek natural nails that still have all the visual appeal of their acrylic or silk-wrapped counterparts. Count me among them.

The Natural Nail Spa is a single unit, operated by an accomplished nail technician who worked for years to establish her own business. She envisioned the types of services she would offer (spa manicures and spa pedicures) and those she would not (quickie “mall” pedicures, as she calls them), all in an upscale, highly sensory environment. Sounds fine, right? Not exactly.

Several customers—rebelling against pricey spa pedicures with no alternative offering—conferred on the side and decided they would approach the owner about expanding her services to include a less expensive “express” pedicure. They put together their arguments and made a group appointment to present their ideas. The owner listened, then politely refused, explaining that she chose to maintain her $25 manicures and $45 pedicures, that she would not be interested in offering a lesser experience, but that all were certainly free to visit the local mall for $19 pedicures with no explanations required.

Now the ladies are angry. And two have called me to ask for my help in convincing the owner, who is a friend of mine, to give in. Ridiculous, surely, but there is an interesting quandary here. If the customer is always right, is the owner obligated to expand her services to satisfy demand? Or is the owner in charge of her own store, and her own destiny, and is she right to stand her ground? My feeling is the latter. And I told her so. As long as she makes each manicure customer feel free to visit another salon—mall or otherwise – for a cheaper pedicure, and truly doesn’t make them feel guilty for utilizing another purveyor, then I feel she is perfectly justified in staying true to her spa-only convictions. What do you think?

—Katherine Field

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