When Susan and Ian Gerrard set up distribution company Gerrard International 25 years ago, nail salons as we know them today simply didn’t exist and most consumers getting manicures were doing so alongside their blow-dry. “Manicures were only ever done in hair salons; there were hardly any beauty salons then,” says Susan Gerrard, chairman of Gerrard International. “Women would only ever have their nails done if they were going out somewhere.”
At the time, she was working as manager and manicurist at one of husband Ian’s hair salons. “I would follow women to the styling area and sit on a stool doing their nails. The manicurist was always the nuisance,” she says. Fast-forward to 2017 and Gerrard is still a manicurist at heart, heading up the distribution company as it has expanded in an ever evolving industry.
What started life as The Natural Nail Company, set up to introduce US nail brand Jessica to the UK market, has grown into Gerrard International, with five other brands under its belt. As well as Jessica, the company now distributes advanced skincare brand Beauty Lab and Spongellé, a range of body-wash infused sponges for gifting, alongside the brands it manufactures itself – Mii Make-up, Brow by Mii and Kissed by Mii tanning.
Across the pond
“I loved my trade and I was a good manicurist, but it was treated with so little importance,” says Gerrard. After meeting with Jessica Vartoughian, founder of Jessica, at her LA clinic, this desire to change the nail industry in the UK motivated Gerrard to bring the brand over to this side of the pond. “She trained me herself and in the US they had a better technique than we were ever taught here in the UK. When I exhibited the brand here and went to salons people were interested because it meant they could give clients the first kind of prescriptive manicure and actually treat the nails,” she says.
While she says this is the biggest industry change she’s witnessed – when beauty salons started to add manicures to their treatment menus – Gerrard has also seen a rapid rise in nonstandard nail bars, which, she says, threaten the professional respect nail techs have fought hard to earn.
“Professional standards have to be required through regulation. [The industry] needs to come together and put one regulatory system in place,” she says, adding: “I don’t like the way cuticles are cut, for example. But if clients haven’t been to a proper environment and had a proper manicure, that’s what they think it is. Their expectations are very low and that needs to change.”
Gerrard has watched many industry trends come full circle, especially the cyclical shift between enhancements and natural nail care. She recalls the initial impact of Jessica – which was built on the concept of natural nail care – on the UK market: “Artificial nails did take a dip at that time because other brands also came out with natural nail care. Now it’s gone full-circle again because formulations and technologies are so much more advanced, so you can care for the nail but also have [long-lasting colour] with something like Geleration, whereas previously enhancements were all about hiding the nail,” she says.
Make-up is another sector Gerrard has seen change in the professional realm, from a time when women weren’t visiting salons for make-up applications or lessons, to now, when she says: “there’s more awareness and excitement around make-up in the pro market”. She feels that Mii make-up – launched in 2011 and now in 11 countries – caused an “enormous surge” in interest around salon make-up, and says she initially wanted to bring the qualities associated with prestige brands into salons and spas. “I wanted to get away from the typical, professional type of make-up that you might not buy because you can find something more on-trend in department stores,” she explains.
Having worked with countless therapists over the years, Gerrard believes “loyalty, passion, stamina, empathy and a desire to be the best you can possibly be” are key qualities. “My advice to any therapist is to never stop training, never fall behind,” she says. She believes increasing demands on therapists from a fast-changing industry are actually having a positive effect on the standard of those entering the market. “There are a lot of colleges that are sending out students who aren’t ready for industry, but it’s getting better. They should come out with good retail skills and knowing how to approach people and have empathy. The personal side speaks volumes,” she says.
With a hand in the nails, make-up, tanning, brows and skincare sectors, there isn’t much new ground left for Gerrard International to cover. But Gerrard says that if an opportunity does come up to enter a new market, “I’d never say no. We run the business with an open mind but I’m also cautious.” She adds: “It’s retail therapy to me and there’s always a project.”
“My first experience of Jessica was in 1998 in a Dubai salon where I was working. I thought the concept of a natural nail system was fantastic – no harmful hacking away at cuticles and nails. I’ve continued with the brand ever since”
Davina Hassell, spa director, Seaham Hall
“Whilebury Hall has worked with Jessica for over 15 years, during which there has been huge progression in the industry, and it’s been a pleasure for us to grow with the brand, always staying at the forefront of new technology”
Emma Tolfield, assistant spa and leisure manager, Whittlebury Hall
“Geleration was a phenomenon when it arrived and changed the face of manicures in the UK at that time so everyone had perfect, glossy nails that stayed on longer”
Jacqueline Ross, JR Spa Consultancy