This is probably the part people have the most curiosity about – how does the actual hunt go? What do I say to a nail spa employee? My strategy is simple; while I’m out, I stop at every strip mall. 90% of strip malls have a nail salon. They are on a level of ubiquity with fast food. If you go at off hours (usually but not always during the day during the week) employees will be more tolerant of your weird quest, and may even help. I once knocked at a salon that was closed at 6:15 though the sign said open until 7 pm. They let me in, and then the ladies pulled out literally every color from every box under the counter and just said names to me, while I said “yes!” or “have that one, thanks!” for about 30 minutes.
You’ll be able to tell quickly when you go in whether or not the salon has a section of polish for sale. If they do, it will be in a glass case most likely, often under the desk where you check in. This is not an ideal place to dusty hunt though, so here’s how it goes. I walk in, and when someone asks how they can help me, I ask if they sell polish. Some salons will just tell you they don’t. This is fine; thank them and go on to the next place. Some employees will ask “What color are you looking for?” At this point I explain that I have about 80 colors I’m looking for, so I need to look. I think that their idea is that you just want dark red polish, and they’ll find a dark red bottle and send you on your way. Some will direct you to this small, dark glass cabinet, which is always about 6″ off the floor. I often try to head off being directed to this torture device by, as soon as they say “yes we do sell polish,” asking if I can look at the rack on the wall to find the colors I want because it’s easier than seeing what’s in the cabinet.
I have done the “lie on my back so I can look up under the shelf at labels on polish” move. Usually a few minutes of this leads to the result I want after someone realizes how uncomfortable I am. The best possible scenario is that you are looking at the racks on the wall. There are two reasons – first, you can see everything. You can do a quick visual scan down the rows. You’ll see a holo polish, or a duochrome. If you’ve trained yourself, other colors will pop out as well. I can spot Parlez-vous OPI a mile away. I do one scan this way to quickly pick up things I might want (and might not know I want) or things I recognize by color. The second thing that is nice about this scan though is that you can also often look under the bottles down the row – but this is much easier when they’re 4-5 feet off the ground than 4-5 inches. I try to do two scans, then – one down the row at the colors, and one at the bottoms by the labels. When I found my first bottle of Peel Me a Gobi Grape, I’d never seen it, but I did a label scan and knew already it was rare.
If I can’t scan under the bottles, I will, no lie, pick up 2-3 bottles at a time and look underneath, and go through every bottle on the shelf. I don’t want to miss something I only know of by name because I didn’t recognize the color from the side. I would have never gotten Vampire State Building if I hadn’t seen it lying on it’s side with the label visible. This pick up method is noisy and attracts attention; I like to browse in peace without someone hovering next to me, in part so that if I dont find anything I can slink out unnoticed. I have a weird thing about walking in and asking to look through polish where I feel like once I’ve asked I have to buy something, or have something clever to say as to why I’m not.
Frequently at this point I have several bottles in various stages of fullness that I then get to take to someone who will look for full bottles under the counter. I also take a peek myself; there could be something hiding in there that wasn’t out on the rack. But by doing it this way you’ve minimized the chances that something really cool will slip by you.
If you’re looking at colors that are really old, often there will not be a new bottle. They will either then offer to sell you the partial bottle, or they will apologize that they don’t have it and think you are disappointed. This is where it matters whether you’re buying for yourself, or for resale. As I mentioned earlier, if it’s a resale polish and they offer to sell me the half bottle, I just tell them it’s a present for someone and I needed a full bottle, but that I really appreciate them looking. If it’s something I want for me and they don’t offer to sell the partial bottle, I ask whether they would sell that one. “I know it’s not full, but that’s ok with me if you’re willing to sell it; I really want this color and have been looking for it for a long time.” Some salons will not sell that partial bottle anyway. They have a customer who comes in and uses it, and Susie Regular will be pissed if she comes in on Thursday and her bottle of DS Original has been sold to someone for $5. Again, be respectful and thank them. In at least 80% of cases though, the employee will be kind of amazed that you want a half used bottle, will try to ascertain how full the bottle is, and price accordingly.
It’s up to you whether you want to try to bargain. The only time I’ve protested was when they told me something was new and it was clearly below the “turn” of the bottle (the widest part), and I just said, well, it’s not totally brand new. If someone’s selling me something I really want, it’s probably even worth the full $8 or $9 for me to get even a 3/4 full bottle.
I’ve found that some salons are super organized and keep their sale polish ordered by the number. This is where a spreadsheet sorted by the numbers helps. If you can tell them “B21, F14, and R70” it will be easy for them to figure out whether or not they have the colors you want.
If they don’t have a new bottle they may offer to get it for you and call when it comes in. I have definitely seen some older colors at nail supply stores, so it’s always possible that it could turn up. But I don’t believe that there’s a box of Sand-erella sitting at Princess Nail Supply, just waiting for someone to love it.
Remember the bewares. If you’re buying a polish for resale, know that if it’s missing it’s label or isn’t brand new, it loses a lot of value. I personally haven’t found people to have a problem buying a polish missing the “top” barcoded label, but there is a lot of misinformation about fake polishes. Some people think a bottle missing the barcoded label is fake, or that anything without a certain number of icons on the back is bogus. OPI bottles have changed a lot over the years, and I have yet to find anything at a salon that I thought was a fake OPI polish. But I have bought things that were not what the label claimed it was, because the salon reused the bottle, or stuck a label that had fallen off one bottle onto another bottle missing its label, without caring what polish it was.
If they have a credit card minimum, be respectful of it and don’t argue. If I’m spending under $20 I always ask if it’s ok to use a card. I get a business card from the salon, and ask for a bag; you’d hate to drop and break one of your new beauties on the way to the car. Before I leave, I jot down some quick notes about what I found there on the card. More about that in Part 3. For a bit I wondered if I should feel guilty about buying a polish for $10 and selling it for $30. Then I realized what I was doing was liberating a polish from someone who didn’t appreciate it, and sending it to someone who did. That MPJ isn’t worth $30 to the owner of the salon. She’s not going to go on Facebook or eBay and sell it. It’s just another color. But there is someone in America who is almost literally dying to have that shade and you are bringing that person and that bottle together. And sometimes that person is you.