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Tough as Nails: SNS Founder Joe Nguyen's Remarkable Journey to Success

Published February 28, 2022
Published February 28, 2022
SNS Nails

The global nail care market is expected to grow by $2.4 billion until 2025, with more health-conscious and fortifying formulas being large drivers for growth. It’s this recipe for success that has been a huge driver in SNS Nails’ projected annual business turnover of $200 million, with over 400 different color variations on offer.

An innovator of the dip powder product category, the company’s SNS Nutri-Plus formula contains vitamins A, E, B5, D3, calcium, and zinc. It recently updated its formula, which already contained the antibacterial benzoyl peroxide, with chlorphenesin, which, in a control test, upped the formula’s bacteria-fighting properties by a further 29%. After three decades in the salon setting, the company has now opened up its offerings to the DIY consumer.

The man behind it all is Joe Nguyen, whose humble and persevering work ethic has remained unchanged since founding the company in 1990. To this day, Nguyen works tirelessly at perfecting and continuously innovating his craft. It all began 40 years ago, when he bravely fled his home country of Vietnam. “I escaped by boat to another country. I didn’t know where I was going, as long as I didn’t have to live under communist control,” he recounts. It was a risk which he had taken upon himself many times before, and in 1982, the fateful day came when he was able to make it to Malaysia. Thanks to his father, who had managed to seek refuge in the US by 1980, Nguyen finally made it to the US in February of 1984.

Ever the achiever, he immediately immersed himself in studying chemistry at a local college in California, proceeding to work in manufacturing for an electronics company. After two years, he left and began his education in nail art, where he serendipitously encountered a previously undiscovered talent. “After a month and a half in school, I became famous because I learned very quickly. I created things that even people with years of experience didn’t know how to create,” he explains. After four years, Nguyen set up his own salon, where inspiration struck him, guiding him where he needed to direct his talents next

“Every day, I saw so many people suffer with artificial nails: fungi, nail health, so many problems. I thought to myself: I know so many products that are healthier than what we have at the moment,” he states. While silk wraps were a more nourishing alternative to acrylic nails, the high level of expertise required to apply them, and increased cost, meant they were inaccessible to most. “It’s a very hard technique to do. Maybe 1-2% of people in cosmetology school can do it. But it is a lot healthier, so that is why, based on that idea, I created a dipping powder,” Nguyen explains. “In my studies of all kinds of products on the market, I realized they may do less damage or more damage, but absolutely none of them make the nail healthier.”

Nearly a decade after the initial idea came to him, the entrepreneur introduced his product to the market, having road-tested the formulas where it matters most: on the hands of his salon customers. He launched his Dip Powder system in 1996. SNS Nails also introduced the first-ever pink and white dipping system to the industry. “The technique for creating a pink and white look is not easy, but with my dipping style it’s simple. You put the finger in a 45 degree angle, dip it in, and the look is created for you,” he states. Getting to this straightforward solution nonetheless took a further two years of research. Rather than rushing a formula in order to one-up the competition, he patiently and strategically waits for the opportune moment. “When gel polish started hitting the market, people asked me why I didn’t create my own version. I knew how to do it, but I wanted to see how people would react to the format first. Eight months later, I decided to bring out our Gelous line,” he remarks.

It’s this continuous drive to improve the lives of his customers, and not launch a product until every miniscule detail has been optimized, that makes Nguyen’s mission so impressive. “For years, I would wake up at three in the morning, thinking about how I can create something to support nail health. Even after launching the first product, you can always improve and make things better. I learn that improvement through my dreams, can you believe it,” he laughs. The entire journey has been self-funded, a fact which speaks to Nguyen’s self-sufficient nature. “I don’t believe in going through banks and borrowing their money. Everything I do, I create myself: If I’m successful, I’m successful. If I fail, I fail,” he states. “I don’t care about profits. I love creating things to help the salon owner, the nail technician, and the customer get better every day. That’s my dream. When I can do something good for someone, that makes me feel warm inside.”

For a brief moment in time, Nguyen had retired after decades of working long hours, moving to Florida in 2002. However, it wasn’t long until opportunity came knocking again, quite literally. “Every one of my five sisters told me, ‘Joe, you created something that will change the whole game for the nail business, why don’t you go out and share this?’” he says. In 2006, he decided to rejoin the industry, spending three years finalizing his teaching materials and product packaging in order to bring SNS to nail salons across the world. Rather than going for a cash grab and selling his products to any willing bidder, Nguyen insisted any establishment wanting to buy his product needed to be taught the application method first. The founder spent an entire year traveling the country, teaching owners in person.“Everywhere I teach, I promise them that if they use our product your income will triple in 18 months’ time. Every single one of my students come back to me and say, ‘Joe, you were telling the truth,’” he explains. A further advantage of SNS’ dipping system is the ease and efficacy with which it can be used. “With acrylic, you practice for two years and still not have a good skill. With my product, you can train anyone in two weeks, as long as they know how to do nail polish,” he states.

“I don’t care about profits. I love creating things to help the salon owner, the nail technician, and the customer get better every day."
By Joe Nguyen, founder, SNS Nails

The teaching materials have since gone digital, but Nguyen remains passionate about maintaining the intent and integrity of his company mission. It’s an ethos that also informed his long road towards expanding into the consumer category. “For a long time, I wanted to create a consumer product, but you cannot sell the same professional product for a consumer. Why? They never went to cosmetology school, they don’t know how to create the design. I wanted to create a super natural, environmentally friendly gel polish that does not damage the skin or cause the consumer any kind of trouble,” he explains. The result is an easy-to-remove formula devoid of any materials like formaldehyde, toluene, and parabens, which does not require UV light finishing, plus lasts up to two weeks.

In regards to current challenges and industry evolutions, Nguyen explains that “everyone is struggling trying to compete with the low price of products from China. There is a lack of knowledge from the salon owners, nail technicians, and consumers, where they don’t realize there are no chemicals added in those formulas to help the nail bed, they just see the cheaper price.” Formulas which are harder to remove due to their bonding with the natural nail ultimately create more harm in the process. Nguyen believes that nail trends may come and go, but improving nail health will remain an industry staple for decades to come. “What does the future trend look like? To be honest with you, it doesn’t matter. In 10 or 20 years’ time, it will always be about being healthy and beautiful,” he proclaims.

To this day, Nguyen will come home from work, spend time with his wife and children, and go to his garage to continue crafting new formulas in the evening. “My work is my passion, when people give me good feedback, that is the strength for me to work harder, so I never feel tired of it and still love it,” he proudly states. This purpose-over-profit mantra may have made work more challenging, but to the founder, there is no other option. “I can say that 90% of salon owners and nail technicians only care about the profits, not the health aspect. But if you talk to the consumer, their needs are totally different. You can’t lie to them, they know the difference,” he states. Nguyen has also never prioritized advertising over word-of-mouth recommendations, stating that “my customers’ hands are my advertising.”

“I have seen 1000s of ladies come to my salon and they hide their hands in their pockets, embarrassed at the nail damage. I don't feel good when I see someone like that, so that’s why I focus on health first. I want to help them out,” he says. “My advice for aspiring business owners is: always tell your customers the truth. If the truth is not 100% perfect, go back and find the best solution to help the client, and you will be successful.”


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