By YIDI WANG
Global Business Journalism reporter
Liu Yuanyuan was excited to get her first manicure in Beijing when she moved to China's capital 10 years ago. Knowing little about the sprawling metropolis when she arrived in the Liudaokou neighborhood in 2012 through a work and travel program, one of her first stops was a nail salon in the area.
But when she discovered that the price of that salon — and others in the city — didn't come close to what she was used to in her home city of Pingdingshan, she decided to start her own nail salon.
"A regular manicure in Beijing means spending anywhere from RMB400 to 1,000 and students in the area from Tsinghua, Peking, and Beijing Forestry University could not afford this overpriced service," said Liu. "In my prefecture-level city in central Henan province, a regular manicure would only cost around 100 RMB, and that included a free fix-up within the first week!"
This prompted Liu to launch YB Nails, a full-service salon in Liudaokou where she manages staff, works as a nail technician and offers nail training classes.
So, what made her want to become a business owner?
“My stubbornness. My hatred of others telling me what to do. And mainly because they (other salons) charged ridiculous prices,” Liu said, laughing. “I had a couple of jobs after college, but I hated it and was so bad at it. I hated working for someone. I started reading a lot of books on professional development and self-growth. I was determined to own a business. I didn’t know how or what or where, but I started preparing for it, even without knowing what it would be."
According to Chinese research firm iResearch, the nail market in China grew from 58 billion yuan (US$8 billion) in 2014 to over double that amount up to 120 billion yuan (US$17 billion) by 2021. Besides, as of 2017, the number of nail salons in the country increased to over 270,000.
In China and around the world, the coronavirus pandemic has decimated business revenues. The nail salon industry has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic.
After social distancing guidelines were introduced, there was a huge drop in business.
"As a result, our boss [Liu] started telling the nail artists that our salon might close down," said Wang Xiaoqi, a nail technician at YB Nails . "Phones were completely quiet and we were just kind of left hoping and waiting to see what would happen."
And, YB Nails isn't the only one dealing with a domino effect. Many beauty salons all over the country, including hairdressers and barbers, are fighting to stay afloat.
“It has been a huge challenge. Just trying to reopen and following all guidelines has been a setback as well,” Liu said.
YB Nails was shut down for two months. After it reopened, Liu's clientele came back slowly, but nearby students remained loyal to this beauty service.
YB Nails is now one of the most popular salons in Beijing's Haidian district, an area of prestigious universities. Offering affordable prices with professional services, students from Tsinghua, Peking, Beijing Forestry University, and many more universities in the area are the main clientele.
"A classmate recommended me to come to YB Nails. Their price is friendly to students like me," said Jennifer Kim, a Korean international student at Tsinghua University. "They never have advertisements for their salon. Their new customers are mostly recommended by old customers ."
As Liu looks toward a very bright future, she shares another lofty goal that further emphasizes her mile-long entrepreneurial streak:
“I would love to develop new products," she said. "I like the products we use in the shop, but I would like to develop our own healthier, cleaner products that we can get into other salons as well. And, I would love to have a platform to speak to women about self-care, self-love and personal growth. That is something I am so passionate about. To help women see their potential and develop their passion."