Everyday we hear from people that really want to flip the script on their lives and jump into the nail business. It just so happens that it’s one of our favorite topics to discuss. In this edition of the Biz Talk, we chat up Merna The Mermaid, the incredible nail artist and LA Local (aka Merna Zendejas aka @siic_glam on Instagram). Merna shares her journey from hating nail salons as a kid to the joy of unexpectedly finding artistic and financial freedom within the nail industry. She also lets us in on how a little social media tweak transformed her career from something kind of steady to something super sick.
This One’s For My Mom
To be blunt, growing up I hated the nail salon. I used to get dragged there all the time as a kid when people were supposed to be “babysitting” me. I worked in a grocery store when I was 18 or 19, when my mom gave me the ultimatum: Start paying rent now or go to school. I was already into dying my hair blue. So I decided to go to cosmetology school for hair to learn how to do it right and basically get my mom off my back.
Partners & Mentors
My intention was never to do nails. At cosmetology school, I partnered with a friend who got me through the nail part and I got her through hair so we could pass the State Board Exam. Little by little, I realized that I had more patience and passion for nails. It’s ironic, now. When I first got my license, ten years ago, nail art wasn’t a thing. My first job out was all about clean manicures or French Tips. All I did was basic manicures and pedicures. I worked in a couple nail salons and it wasn’t great. But starting out in the business at 22, I asked for help from all the other booth renters who happened to be older than me. Even though they were hesitant to help a new person, I was grateful to learn from them the right way to work and especially learning how to do nails on mixed ages, skin types, and using different products. The most valuable thing was when a mentor planted the idea in my brain “Don’t work for someone your entire life”. She also told me, “Once you’re on your own, you’re going to love this industry.” Today, that’s totally true.
Working on commission is maybe one of the most humbling experiences because you are not guaranteed any money that day. You just don’t know if you’re even going to make a hundred dollars. Again this was ten years ago and there wasn’t social media. Finding clients was word of mouth. I had to hustle and get my friends in. Yeah, it’s a good place to start because you can just focus on the nails. But it’s also hard to have someone tell you what to do and when to come in.
Choose Your Vibe.
I once worked in a salon in Beverly Hills and on commission. I learned another important thing there. I liked what I learned there about nails but I also learned that certain areas are not for me. I realized that what I wanted to do; is not necessarily what everyone else might want on their nails. I found another salon. I worked a couple years there and finally discovered more of the nail art and the salon vibe that I wanted to do and be around. I like the vibe of a salon with more leniency. I liked to work with people that ask you what days you want to work and that’s what they book for you.
Drawing On Paper Is Overrated
I am a nail artist but I cannot draw on paper. Everyone trips out about that but it’s true. So don’t ask me to put anything on paper but I can totally do anything on a nail.
Easy To Get Into But Hard To Stay
The nail industry right now is easy to get into but hard to stay dedicated and remain passionate to the work. In 2013, everything changed when I came up with my new name @siic_glam on Instagram. I used to be Nails by Merna. Nails was just a job for the moment and I was studying graphic design and photography. My friends and family know my word is “Sick”. I always use it. It’s a very LA thing. One day I did a set of nails and the client described them as sick but also glamorous. That’s when the lightbulb went off. Nails By Merna was very simple and that’s why @siic_glam the name change blew everything up for me; and let me show a different side of me. The same thing goes for Merna The Mermaid. My hair has been blue forever and all my clients always bought me little mermaid or purple gifts. It kind of fell and stuck. My colleagues called me “MernMaid”. So when I asked a client to work on a logo for me, she naturally went to a mermaid.
Hectic And Humbling
What’s the journey been like? It’s been hectic and humbling experience. Getting to know people and the industry and even doing this interview. You realize how far you’ve come and that people notice you without even “knowing” you. I appreciate the DMs and the love, telling me that I’m great and hoping to book an appointment. Since 2016, I’ve been booked solid. My books are closed and I can’t take any new clients. I’m booked a month out in advance.
Where Great Nails and Nail Art Fail
Client retention matters. You can do great nails and great art but if you don’t have social/customer service skills, people won’t return. So you maybe you have the social media following but you have to make it into a career. Most people fail to realize that. If your social skills and customer service skills don’t line up with your art skills it’s going to hard. I have clients who were with me when I couldn’t do anything in nails. Now they are still with me and paying the higher prices. It’s about the journey, communication, attention, and good service. Your personality makes a big difference and it matters how well you handle the issues when they come up.
Don’t Do It If You’re Not Ready
If somebody new comes and asks if I should get into a career in nails, I always tell them the same thing, don’t do it if you’re not ready. I live videos about it all the time on Instagram. Don’t do it if you’re not ready to dedicate yourself to the process. You still have to go to school. You still have to complete hours and pass the State Board Exam. You still have to find someone to hire you. It’s more of a process than you think. It’s not an instant (clients and income) after you get your license. See if you have the patience for it. Practice on your family because they won’t judge you. I told my family, I’ll do whatever you want if you buy the products to do it.
It took awhile for the business to pick up momentum. In 2015, I moved out on my own. I had clients who already knew me through client referral. I could just pay for my car and rent. A year later, I was still learning about how to run a business. I had to figure out how to buy all the products and tools that clients wanted. It was hard but it happened that I got to take a trip to Japan with some friends. So I went and stocked up on amazing things. Nails in LA versus nails in Japan are totally different. Then things started falling into place. I learned time management and how to separate my books and making my time for personal life. You need a day off. You can’t squeeze in another appointment. It’s unrealistic for your own down time. Finally in 2017, I had all my regular clients set. I know what I am doing. I scheduled out my life for the entire year and the time off. I changed my prices and cut back my hours.
Then I realized, who really wanted to stay and who was just coming, just to come. Those are the ones that are hard to work with. Again, it’s a learning experience and you learn what kind of vibe you want to surround yourself with. You don’t know if people are going to demean your prices especially around you nail art with them not valuing your art, your experience and your hard-earned skill. So now I have a private studio set up and it means that I can do what I want and my clients get that one-on-one experience.
Passion is not enough.
It takes time to build and it won’t happen overnight. It’s a process. Try out different places to work and then find a way to settle into a studio of your own. You have understand that a career takes a lot of time to become real. Roll with it and manage your expectations of how quickly things get off the ground. Passion makes it easier to take the punches. If you don’t love what you’re doing, it’s going to be tough. Be prepared to take your time with it.
This is an adaption from our Young Nails Biz Talk “Is Doing Nails The Career For You?” playlist on YouTube. Click here to watch the interview in its entirety: