Why are so many nail salons run by Vietnamese women?

contagiousI just finished reading Jonah Berger’s book “Contagious – Why Things Catch On.” Berger shares his 6 step checklist for building contagious products.

I’d like to share all 6 steps in this blog post. But there’s so much in this book, it won’t fit in one blog post.

Today I want to arm you with a story so compelling, you’ll be telling it for years.

The number one reason people share is to make themselves look good. They call this social currency.

“How does it make people look to talk about a product or idea? Most people would rather look smart than dumb, rich than poor, and cool than geeky. Just like the clothes we wear and the cars we drive, what we talk about influences how others see us.” – Berger

Today I wanted to arm you with a story so compelling you have you try it out by telling your friends. Then you’ll see, first-hand, how this story boosts your social currency. You’ll look good telling it and your friends will be impressed.

Why are so many nail salons run by Vietnamese women?

“Ask three people where they got their last manicure and chances are good that at least one had a Vietnamese nail technician. But the story of how it got that way might surprise you. It started with twenty women and a set of long coral nails.

She’d been a high school teacher in her home country, but when Thuan Le arrived at Hope Village in 1975, she had nothing but the clothes on her back. The tent city outside Sacramento was a holding ground for Vietnamese refugees who escaped to America after the fall of Saigon. Teeming with new immigrants, the camp simultaneously brimmed with hope and despair. People had come to America with the dream of a better life for themselves and their families, but with little English knowledge, the possibilities were limited.

Actress Tippi Hedren, who had starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, was drawn to the refugee’s plight and would visit Hope Village every few days. Hedren wanted to help, so she became a mentor to some of the women. Former business owners, teachers, and government officials in Vietnam, these industrious women were eager to get to work. Hedren was enchanted by their stories of Vietnam. They in turn, noticed something about her: her beautiful nails.

The women admired Hedren’s glossy light pink fingernails, so she brought her manicurist in once a week to give them lessons. How to trim cuticles, wrap nails, and remove calluses. The women were quick studies and practiced on Hedren, themselves, and anyone they could get their hands on.

Soon a plan was hatched. Hedren got the women free classes at a nearby beauty school. They learned how to file, paint, and trim. Then Hedren asked around and helped Le and the other women find jobs in Santa Monica and surrounding cities.

It was tough at first, Manicures were not yet the rage and there was lots of competition. But Le and the other women passed their licensing exams and started doing business. They worked hard, labored long hours, and took the jobs no one else wanted. The women were diligent and kept at it. They made money and worked their way up.

Seeing Le’s success, a few of her friends decided to get into the business. They opened one of the first beauty salons owned by Vietnamese Americans and encouraged others to do the same.

The success stories soon spread. The thousands of Vietnamese who came to the US looking for new possibilities heard what others were doing, and they listened. Vietnamese nail salons started opening up all around Sacramento. Then through the rest of California. Then the entire country. These twenty women started the trend, but soon it had a life of its own.

Today, 80 percent of manicurists in California are Vietnamese Americans. Nationwide the number is greater than 40 percent. Vietnamese nail salons became contagious.” – Berger

When I first read this, I was floored. How can the prevalence of Vietnamese nail salons be summed up with such a succinct, bewildering, and empowering story?

Here’s the homework for this week: Go tell this story to your friends. It doesn’t even matter if they get mani/pedis. They will already know about Vietnamese nail salons.

How did it go? How did you feel when you were telling the story?

I felt powerful. I’ve told this story 3 times. Each time I’ve watched as the listener’s eyes get locked in at the prospect of learning this secret knowledge. You can actually see them thinking about who they can share the story with so they can boost their social currency.

Contact me if this was surprising to you. I’d love to hear about it!

Author: David Neely

Professional Software Developer. Technology and Web Coordinator at the University of Hawaii's Manoa Career Center.