Ultimate Guide to Launch A Mobile Nail Salon Business

Woman providing nail treatment to its customer in a salon

Name a type of business, and there’s a fair chance someone has taken it on the road. Restaurants, barbershops, and even breweries operate in mobile form these days, and increasingly, so do nail salons.

Operating a mobile business isn’t just a gimmick. It actually makes economic sense. As a mobile nail salon, you’ll save money, and no small amount of it, by foregoing a physical store space in favor of a mobile platform, like a truck or trailer. The money you save on rent can be redirected to the various other expenses you’ll incur as you start and maintain your own business.

You’ll also make yourself more accessible to your clients. When you’re choosing a location for a nail salon, there’s a lot to take into account: the demographics of an area, the local competition, the cost of your services compared to the average cost of living there, and how easy it is for a person to find your salon. By going mobile, you’re eliminating most of the stress associated with having a brick-and-mortar business. You’ll be able to take your skills directly to the customer, or post up in busy, commercially vibrant locations that can change by the day or week. Having a mobile nail tech business will allow you greater presence at local events, markets, festivals, and so on, giving you even more opportunities to capitalize on foot traffic.

But just because it might be a bit easier to establish and manage a salon on wheels – and more lucrative, if you know what you’re doing – don’t make the mistake of thinking it will be easy. Hitting the road comes with its own complications and list of expenses, not to mention the issues that come with running a salon regardless of mobility. You might be doing nails in a van, but it’s still a business, and you should treat it as anything but casual.

Before diving headfirst into the world of mobile manicures, consult this checklist to make sure you’re totally prepared.

1. Talent vs. Skill

First things first, let’s get this out of the way: are you a skilled nail technician, or are you just talented? You might have an innate artistic eye and ability, but are you able to produce the same quality results, day after day, customer after customer, and leave anyone who hires you with no doubt you were worth what they paid? A talented nail technician can perform a manicure to envy. A skilled technician can do it under pressure, with a time limit, and with allowances for the client’s preferences. Skill comes with experience.

If you have real world experience as a nail technician, then opening your own salon, mobile or otherwise, is not a bad idea. But if you suspect you might just be talented, you might want to put in some time under someone else’s roof before treading off on your own.

2. Nail Technician Licenses

In order to operate a mobile nail salon, you’ll need to have the appropriate regulatory approval in the form of licenses and certifications. Like hairdressers, nail technicians are required to hold a license, certification, or both to practice in most jurisdictions.

To acquire these licenses or certifications, you’ll have to complete courses at a cosmetology school or college, and then complete a state nail technician exam. Each state has its own specific requirements. In the state of New York, for example, the Department of State issues licenses for nail specialty to qualified licensees. Remember, state-issued licenses and certifications are almost always considered invalid outside of that state. If you want to operate in more than one state, you’ll have to garner the appropriate licenses.

3. Register As a Business with your State

Make sure your mobile nail business is fully registered with your local government and meeting all bureaucratic requirements. Although you may legally operate as a sole proprietor, it is nearly always advisable to operate instead with an LLC tax status or S Corporation for this type of business. The main reason is to reduce liability; should anyone sue your business, the financial liability is limited to the business, not you personally. Although it is simpler to operate as a sole proprietor, the risk is too great. If you intend to hire technicians to work for you, registering as an LLC or S Corp is essential. Consult with an accountant in your state for more specific advice on which business type is right for you, and this person can also set up the corporation, usually for about $300. You can also file the paperwork yourself to save this expense.

4. Business Permits

You will need to check on both your city/county requirements, as well as state requirements for any permits, certifications, or licenses required to operate a business. These requirements vary from place to place but if you Google the name of your state with verbage about starting a business, you’ll find what you need. Some possible requirements include:

  • Sales tax IDs
  • Cosmetic or other relevant business licenses
  • Mobile business permits
  • EINs (employer identification number provided by the IRS which is usually assigned with your tax status as mentioned in #3)
  • DBAs (doing business as – the name of your business. Consult your local government websites for information about permits specific to mobile businesses)

5. Insurance

Just like any other business, you’ll want to be insured if you’re operating a mobile nail salon. Liability insurance will protect you in the unfortunate event that a client decides to sue after a botched or harmful service is performed. You’ll also want to ensure your most expensive equipment, including the vehicle or other mobile platform you intend to use as your mobile salon, in case it’s damaged or stolen.

Many insurers specializing in business insurance offer plans tailored specifically for mobile salons. Before purchasing a plan, shop around with different providers, and don’t ever be afraid to haggle.

6. Which Vehicle or No Vehicle?

Do you want a vehicle spacious enough to house you, a client, and all your equipment? Do you want one that can fit two, or even three or four work stations? Or are you just looking for something that can securely accommodate all of your gear for house calls?

Not all mobile salons operate the same way, and sometimes the type of vehicle or trailer you end up with, whether due to price, availability, or ease of maintenance and operation, will dictate the structure of your mobile salon, as well as the insurance coverage you’ll be needing. Your vehicle is one of the first things you should have in order as you plot your course as a mobile nail technician.

It is also possible to run your business without a vehicle, by performing services in homes and offices. The upside is getting started without as much of an investment. The downside is that you won’t be able to offer as many services: no pedi chairs, more equipment to haul into a home, less comfort for you and the customer.

7. Mani/Pedi Chairs & Other Hardware

This is a given, but we need to say it: you need the right hardware if you want to run a professional, efficient, and respectable operation. For larger gear like manicure tables, look for folding, collapsible, and portable options, and see about ways to secure them to the floor of your vehicle.

Don’t forget about storage. Just like a mobile handyman with a van stocked full of tools in pouches and racks, you’ll want plenty of stable compartments to store your equipment and supplies.

If you’re not using a vehicle, budget for rolling carts, stools, portable tables, extension cords, and a variety of mobile storage containers.

8. Polishes & Other Supplies

Running a nail tech business means polish. Lots and lots of polish. Leave the DIY nail kits to the amateurs; you’re going to want to order serious bulk, from a serious and reputable brand. As a mobile salon with less real estate to work with, you’ll want to choose one brand for your polish inventory, and make sure it’s a good one. Select a brand with a variety of different high-quality, professional grade products – gel, dip powders, and nail art kits – and don’t be afraid to proudly rep that brand.

Just like with polish, your other supplies should be ordered in bulk. With most business-facing vendors, bulk orders will net you a big discount, and that’s important if you want to run a lucrative salon.

9. Mobile Payment System

To save you and your customers time and frustration, you’ll want to invest in the most cost-effective and convenient mobile payment system. Money transfer apps like Cash App and Venmo have business account options, but, just like credit card processing systems, they charge a fee per transaction. Card reader attachments for smart phones are easily acquired, but typically work alongside payment processing apps. And remember, it’s best to always have cash as a payment option, so you’re not entirely reliant on electronics and tech services to process payments.

10. Employees & Scale of Your Mobile Salon

You should decide early on what the scale of your salon will be – if you’re running solo or with employees, what your geographical range will be, the variety of services on offer, and so on – because it will influence other decisions, such as equipment selection and the type of vehicle you choose. While there will always be opportunities to expand if you decide to start small, it’s always beneficial to plan ahead.

11. Customer Base

Going into the mobile salon business, do you have a reliable customer base already in place? Even if the number of customers you expect to draw right away is small, it will act as a seed, growing into an even larger pool of clientele. Most technicians who decide to go out on their own do so because they already have a following. Before investing in the various licenses, permits, and gear you’ll need to run your own mobile salon, make sure you have a base, or else you’ll have a difficult first month of business.

12. Marketing

Even if you’re starting out with a decent following already established, it’s important to market your new mobile salon. You’ll need to budget both time and money.  Examples of marketing to budget for:

  • Vehicle Vinyl Wrap: Your vehicle won’t just be your place of business, but a rolling billboard as well with your name, logo, contact and social media information, and any graphics that will attract the eye and align with your salon’s vision.
  • Branded merchandise like pens, mugs, or nails files with your logo 
  • Business cards
  • Service menus
  • Punch cards for frequent visit discounts
  • Flyers
  • Ads: in coupon mail-outs, local community magazines, newspapers, online ads

Also plan on spending time:

  • Distributing flyers
  • Building your social media presence and constantly updating it
  • Building your Google Business Profile and Apple Business page to show up on Maps searches
  • Responding to reviews on Yelp, Google, etc.
  • Asking for reviews from customers
  • Building an email list and sending out specials and reminders

13. Locations and Appointments

Lastly, before setting out in your rolling salon, you should have an idea of where exactly you want to post up – and where you’re allowed to post up. If you want to make the most of your mobility, you’re going to want to capitalize on high foot traffic areas, like busy shopping centers and pedestrian-friendly districts. Or reach out to office parks, where you could take walkups or set appointments ahead of time. Being mobile means you’ll be able to hit various areas at different times during the week, or even during the day, depending on where it’s busiest. You must get permission ahead of time.

You can make specific appointments with individuals of course and drive to their home or office, but this is a lower volume option. If you go this route, definitely coordinate to be in certain neighborhoods on certain days to reduce travel time between appointments.

About Carson Derrow

My name is Carson Derrow I'm an entrepreneur, professional blogger, and marketer from Arkansas. I've been writing for startups and small businesses since 2012. I share the latest business news, tools, resources, and marketing tips to help startups and small businesses to grow their business.