The nail shops' diminishing returns - Denese Rodgers

Contrary to popular belief, artificial nails were not just another by-product of the 1980s.

Lee Press-On nails got big back then, but all the way back to the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644), noblewomen wore nail enhancements as a status symbol to indicate that they did not engage in manual labor. If you've ever had yours too long, you can grasp the concept (ouch, bad pun).

As an inveterate nail biter, I'm a frequent flyer in the nail salons. I can chew a set off within one episode of the TV show "24." I gnaw at the corners and edges in a way that would make a squirrel green with envy.

As such, I have a different salon that I visit in different cities, and I think I'm a customer in good standing, because I try to adequately reward them for the extensive amount of repair they have to accomplish, after I've done my dirty work.

Over the years, I've seen a transformation in the salons from a couple of little desks with lamps, an assortment of bottles, and the little fan on the corner of the desk, to full-service mani-pedi spa chairs that massage your back while you're being spoiled and spiffed.

And it's also gone from being a ladies-only enterprise to men and women on the service and clientele ends of things.

With me being a nerd and all that, it occurred to me that the nail salons are encountering the same basic economic principles that affect the rest of us - the law of diminishing returns.

Wikipedia's definition is: "In a production system with fixed and variable inputs (say nail techs and services), beyond some point, each additional unit of variable input yields less and less output." Simply put, with the same techs and the same services, eventually the salons are not getting a good bang for the buck.

So what they have to do is add more bang. Now, we're expanding to salons that have Direct TV or piped-in Muzak. One shop I went to recently even started offering pricey, little, decorative flip-flops, so that you could prance out in style. One of my favorite places gives me a nifty bamboo calendar for Chinese New Year.

What they all need to do is simply ask their clients what new services or items they would like to see. I would be willing to bet that most ladies would want a couple of the same things. We'd appreciate the ability to get an emergency nail rescue (i.e. pre-wedding, or job interview). Can you imagine an on-call nail technician?

And what about workers for holidays? I know most technicians work on a contract basis where tips count for a large part of their earnings. We would love to have in-home or in-office services.

I would even be willing to buy lunch for someone who would deliver a manicure, so that I wouldn't have to sit in line on Saturday morning reading an obsolete copy of People magazine.

I swear, one of the discussions I have in my mind on the weekends is whether new nails are worth the trouble of putting on clothes and makeup. Deep sigh, a gal can hope -- can't she?

Denese Rodgers is executive director of Connecting Henry, a social-services, networking, community organization in Henry County.