Having taken home the Nail Professional of the Year 2017 trophy at the Professional Beauty Awards in February, Rebecca Abernethy feels ready to take on the world. “I just want to get out there and show people that if you’ve got a goal and you work at it you can achieve it,” she says. This was the fourth year Abernethy had reached the finals and she impressed the judges with both her advanced technique and passion for helping other techs develop their careers.
Abernethy has worked in nails for almost 20 years and has run her salon, Matrix Nails & Beauty in Stockport, since 2009. She rents a space to an independent tech but has no plans to employ staff at the moment, focusing instead on expanding the training side of her business, which is where she feels she can make the biggest impact on the industry.
“From a young age, it’s teaching that’s driven me. I used to coach gymnastics and help in a nursery,” she says. “I want to pass on my knowledge to other people.”
She bought her own salon property three years ago, expanding Matrix from its previous site, which she’d rented. “I train for three days a week in the salon but there’s a garage space at the back that I’ve always planned to convert to expand my academy,” she says. “I’d like to get other educators in to work with me but I’d take them on a self-employed basis and look for people with different specialisms to expand what we offer – perhaps into facials or tanning.”
The awards win has also boosted her confidence to pursue the idea of expanding her teaching into business as well as practical skills. “I’ve been looking at offering training in how to start up a business. A lot of people don’t realise all the details and payments involved with things like music licences, business rates and different types of insurance,” she says. “I’d also give advice on how to develop and market yourself and things like social media – how often you should be posting, what sort of posts work best.”
Abernethy is often asked whether she worries about the local techs she trains going on to set up in competition against her salon but believes if you’re confident in your own skills, that’s never an issue. In fact, she’s all for bringing the nail industry closer together and has even started running “play date” events at Matrix for other techs to share ideas about new techniques and products and discuss the challenges they face in their own businesses, over coffee and cake.
Abernethy begins training in nails via private courses followed by NSI and other product training
Gets first training qualification from EZ Flow. Opens Bky Nails in Edgeley, Stockport, which she runs for a year before taking a break to have a baby
After a few years working from home, she opens Matrix in its first guise, in a space above a hair salon
While some local salon owners have been open to the idea, others are still nervous of the competition. “A lot of people are secretive about their businesses but no-one’s going to be able to offer exactly what we do, even if they’re in the salon round the corner, so I’m not bothered about a bit of competition,” she says. “It’s nicer to have a good relationship so that if you’re busy you can say ‘I can’t do your toes this time but pop in to my friend down the road’ – passing on trade and supporting one another because we’re all in this business to enjoy what we do.” She also encourages her students to support one another via a private Facebook group where they share their problems.
Abernethy’s own passion for nails came from a talent for art and she initially trained on a number of individual private courses. Now, she works on clients two days a week and says the majority want acrylic designs. “They seem to have come round from just having gel-polish to acrylic extensions again, trying new shapes, maybe going more daring and trying different mediums such as encapsulating with net, different fibres or big chunks of glitter,” she says. “I don’t think people are getting bored with gel-polish – we’re still using it on top of the acrylic a lot – I just think there are more techs experimenting now and clients are seeing their designs on Pinterest and Instagram and wanting them.”
Along with an increase in experimentation, there has of course been a rise in competition, with the number of salons in most towns constantly growing. In reaction, Abernethy feels it’s vital for techs to create and hone a specialism. “Everybody is looking for something different and they want to tell their friends they’ve had this amazing set of nails that are like nothing else you’ve seen,” she says. “Keeping on top of trends – the chromes, chameleon powders, 3D gels – to push yourself in the market so you stand out from other local techs is key. But it’s more important to find your niche in what you’re good at then really promote those areas so you become known for that skill.” She says that’s the way the market is shifting, and salons that try to make all staff offer the same treatments to the same standards are likely to be left behind. “I think people would quite happily go to three different salons to have their nails, pedicure and waxing done because they want a specialised technician in each area now.”
Abernethy says she will continue to develop her own technical skills but, following the awards win and looking to the immediate future, she’s also focused on building her industry reputation. “I want to do more things like writing blogs, running events and getting my work in magazines,” she says. “I feel I’ve got where I am through my own merits but I want to raise my profile now and I’m hoping the award opens more doors to do that.”
Expands Matrix into its own rented premises in Cheadle Hulme, Stockport
Buys own property close by, to further expand Matrix and relocate it
Wins Nail Professional of the Year at PB Awards and plans to expand training school