Much-loved nail industry pioneer loses battle with cancer

Professional Beauty shares the news of nail industry figurehead, Cheryl McGlynn’s passing, with a heavy heart. This brave and bold lady was a source of inspiration to so many Australian nail technicians over several decades. She will be greatly missed by her husband Len Buckpitt, her family, friends and all those who’s lives she touched in the nail industry.

Nail expert, Maree Alexander shared her thoughts on the loss of a good friend and formidable peer. “Cheryl will ever be remembered as a nail industry pioneer. I can’t believe this lady is no longer with us. Today’s technicians will never know what an impact Cheryl had on our nail industry here in Australia. She was a leader in education and integral to establishing our industry as a truly professional career. She was extremely giving to those who wanted to learn and among her many great personal attributes; she was able to live what she preached. She had very strong convictions but always respected the other person’s right to their own opinion. We often were on opposing sides of thoughts and ideas but we always had that strong bond that made us true sisters. She will live on in my heart for ever.”

Cheryl passed away on Saturday, Feb, 2. “She fought the inevitable to the last. However she finally gave in and passed peacefully,” explained her husband, Len. “I will miss my soulmate very much. On the Australia Day weekend we celebrated 30 wonderful years together.”

In memory of Cheryl’s dedication to the Australian nail industry Professional Beauty re-features a profile article previously published in our September-October 2012 issue.

Leading Lady
A front-runner of the Australian nail industry Cheryl Buckpitt remains one of the most highly respected nail professionals this country has ever seen. She shares her journey and her thoughts with Jennifer Teal.

When I was first contacted about Cheryl Buckpitt (nee McGlynn) and it was suggested I should profile her, I have to be honest, I was daunted. I feared I wouldn’t be able to do this veteran of the Australian nail industry justice. Having never met her I had to rely on information and comments from her colleagues and friends to flesh out her character and outline her numerous achievements in the industry.

You see, Cheryl has terminal cancer – hence my hesitation to wade into her world with intrusive questions at a time when she might want to relax with her family. However, those who’ve had the pleasure of working with Cheryl over the decades want to see their friend and the person they most admire, who’s had the most influence on their work, get the coverage they deserve. As long time peer and friend, Maree Alexander put it, “She’s always played her cards straight and I know she will handle what she has been dealt with honour, strength and dignity. I am so proud this lady has numbered me amongst her friends and she has made my life just that bit better. I know she has given me more than I can give her but I will repay her by passing on the life ethics she has shared with me.”

In the seven years I’ve worked on Professional Beauty I have gained a huge respect for a hard-working, remarkably talented core of the nail industry. Anyone who suggests, “It’s just nails,” gets short shrift from me, I’m afraid. The technical understanding of certain nail services and awareness of conditions that can often present in the line of your work is paramount, and what differentiates an average nail technician from a specialist. The majority I have met are a hard-working bunch of dedicated individuals who take great pride in seeing their team upskill and win competitions. A large proportion independently fund their education and travel in order to keep up-to-date with the latest advancements, and many are single, working mothers. As Cheryl puts it, “The nail industry gave us average women (who might not have done too well at school or who might be single working mums) the chance to be good at something. It gave us an outlet for creativity and for some it allowed them to work to support their families, and for many to make a lot of money.”

The nail industry of today is more fractured than it used to be and everyone has an opinion on why this could be. These opinions are often vastly at odds with each other but surround the topics of: the direction of the industry, how it should be governed or regulated, how the association should represent its members, training standards, price cutting, cheap nail bars, product importing . . . the list goes on. During a recent survey we asked the industry whether they were members of any nail associations. Many responded to say they weren’t and didn’t feel the association represented them as they would like. We asked the Australian Professional Fingernail Association (APFA) for a response to which they maintained an association could only thrive with the support of its members.

It wasn’t until my phone interview with Cheryl that the reasons behind this lack of unity among many elements of the industry started to fall into place. Back in the early eighties when Cheryl was finding her feet in the nail industry things were very different. Nail technicians were exactly that; they weren’t beauticians who also did nails. This allowed each sector of the beauty industry to specialise and hone their skills so they became perfectionists. They undertook regular, ongoing training to keep ahead of the international trends, techniques and product formulations and rightfully attain the position of nail specialists. Cheryl outlines a time when the industry joined forces to host united nail competitions under the auspices of the APFA. As one of the founding members of the APFA and the very first elected Australian judge she worked tirelessly to raise the profile and standards of the nail industry both locally and internationally. “The APFA was very strong and it led the way with the competitions. It was funded by members (which it probably had more of back then) and they also got some profits from the competitions which helped them to operate. Those striving to go through the ranks of the judging also benefitted as it gave them a chance to improve their skills and these were the main people who were responsible for teaching others in the industry – so standards were high.

In 1993 Cheryl was invited to judge at the International Beauty Show in New York. “Although the girls were in competition with each other, they all worked together for the love of the nail industry. Backbiting still went on but it didn’t blind people to the fact they needed to combine their efforts for the good of the wider community. This has been a bit lost nowadays; many highly talented people would still be involved in nails if they hadn’t become fed up bashing their heads against a brick wall. Some of us worked extremely hard for the government committees. I sat on a board and spent so many hours giving my free time to governments to write curriculums yet it hasn’t done a damn thing. We still have non-specialists teaching the nail elements of these courses and passing people as long as they fill out the relevant paperwork. When companies started marketing master diplomas it also sent out the wrong message to students, that once they’d achieved that, they needn’t continue their education, they felt they’d reached the top. Of course this wasn’t the case at all. Education should be an ongoing thing so unfortunately standards began to slip.”

Cheryl believes it is the dilution of the industry that initially caused rot to set it, “In the eighties, as nail services gained popularity, beauticians started to feel threatened so some began to circulate the myth they damaged your natural nails. As nail enhancements became more popular and they realised they weren’t going away any time soon, the beauticians got on the bandwagon and we started to see these beauty courses pop up offering to qualify you to do nails if you paid an extra $600. Nowadays we are also feeling the effects of the cheap nail bars. So the industry has been under somewhat of an onslaught over the decades as it strives to maintain standards and not get into a price cutting war with its many competitors.”

The issue of cheap nail bars is one I hear often but to try and compete on price will almost certainly end badly. If many people’s suspicions are correct then the pittance the owners pay their poor staff allows them to charge rock bottom rates; and I won’t even get into the product importing concerns which I would assume also allow them to cut costs, massively. Cheryl agrees that any sort of price war is a sure-fire way to put yourself out of business. “Focus on what you do well, specialise and let you standards set you apart. It’s hard to take the higher ground and be above it all, especially when it’s happening on your doorstep, but the standard of good work speaks for itself. Over time customers will hopefully come to realise this and you wouldn’t want those who don’t as your customers anyway.

“The consumer also has to take some responsibility for the disastrous cases you see highlighted on shows like A Current Affair and Today Tonight. The warning signs would have been there long before an infection or complication gets to those stages. The problem is when they go into cheap nail bars these infections just get covered over until they get to the stage where they pose more serious complications. Although I agree the government needs to step in to regulate the industry, unfortunately it hasn’t worked so well in the US, so it’s hard to know how to tackle the problem. The main thing is to concentrate on being the very best you can be and you will attract a core of loyal clientele.”

Standards must be impeccable to eliminate risk, explains Cheryl, “All my clients had their own files etc., which I disinfected and stored in sealed envelopes with their names on ready for their next visit. It’s not hard to do or prohibitively expensive if you charge a realistic price for your services in the first place. The same with pedicure stations; you can buy inserts which prevent infection so there’s no excuse for putting the customer in a position of potential risk. Sometimes it’s the same across the beauty industry, for instance, I can never understand how a beautician can burn someone with wax because they should always test it on themselves first. It’s about taking pride in your work and implementing safety standards – not just general OH&S ones – specific standards relating to your own speciality. The detail is missing from existing standards, non-nail specialists are teaching courses and as long as someone can fill out all the paperwork; they just get passed. There’s nothing to show how good their standards are. You can’t just go along and learn to be a hairdresser – just like that – and nail techs’ standards should come more into line with those of hairdressing.”

If you’ve ever been to a nail competition, you’ll know the buzz surrounding them is tangible, even for those not directly involved in the industry. Cheryl says the Australian industry was admired internationally for the standard of theirs. “Our competitions are tightest in the world because we don’t judge them on the floor so judges couldn’t possibly tell who has done the nails. They are judged through a curtain, without any jewellery, so no one can tempt judges. We used to be involved in some wonderful competitions. I remember one where we used to do a triple challenge: nails, hair and makeup, in three hours – using a hairstylist, makeup artist and nail tech. One year there was an amazing entry of the Statue of Liberty. The makeup artist painted the body; the hairstylist made the hair into a crown and the nail artist created the torch and book from acrylic attached to the nails. We raised a lot of money during these competitions.” In the early days Sharon Jedrasiak and Cheryl organised one to raise money to support education about AIDS and all the nail girls got behind it. The APFA kept improving their competition rules and Cheryl remembers one competition where Carl Anderson used a live snake as a prop! “The snake got away and caused much excitement on the floor. The APFA banned all live animals after this.”

It’s this cohesion that often seems lacking in the industry today, believes Cheryl and Maree Alexander who say they used to have strength in numbers. “We need to be a compartment. Yes, we were all in competition, but when it mattered we came together to form a unit like when we needed to meet with government. Of course we did sometimes benefit from being part of the bigger beauty picture but over time they gobbled us up and for a large part we lost our identity as nail specialists. I’m not a hairstylist and I have no interest in doing hair; same as I’m sure they would have no interest in doing nails. My point is I never had a girl doing a job she didn’t want to do. If you don’t want to give someone a pedicure you are going to do it poorly because the pride in your work isn’t there. So if you have a qualified massage therapist who occasionally switches to do the odd mani or pedi, it’s likely they won’t put their heart into it because it’s not what they want to be doing; hence the need to allow people to specialise.”

The same applies to education. If you have a beautician who really isn’t interested in the intricacies of nails then they aren’t going to get much out of education; they need to want to be there, believes Cheryl. “When I was conducting seminars for practising nail techs I’d walk in to a room and be instantly struck by the negativity, everyone sat there with arms folded, probably thinking, ‘What can she teach me’. However, in half an hour they all had their notebooks out furiously taking notes! I urge those working in the industry to strive to be the best and to learn whenever possible. When I was doing seminars around the country if I was ever posed a question I didn’t know the answer to I’d throw it open to the floor and if none of us knew I’d ensure I went away and researched it until I got the answer. One such memorable question was: ‘Why do nails keep growing after you die?’ I went to a funeral home and investigated. It turns out they don’t actually keep growing, the body loses its moisture so all the skin shrinks back which makes the nails look like they’ve grown. So my advice is to go that extra mile. Learn what you don’t know and investigate what you don’t understand.”

Cheryl has made it her mission to stay at the forefront of nails. She has embraced new technologies over the years and is a huge fan of gel polish. “It’s a wonderful product for natural nails. I was a nail biter and if I hadn’t worn enhancements for the last few decades they’d be bitten to the quick. There is a concern with these new gel polishes that consumers could end up doing it themselves at home which takes business away from salons but on the whole it’s a revolutionary product and should serve the industry well. The speed at which new products and technologies develop requires technicians to undergo continual education and training; it’s not a once in a lifetime case of once you’ve got your certificate that’s it, job done.”

As a former wholesaler Cheryl would know all about new technologies. She fell in love with her very first nail service in the late seventies and soon after got out of bookkeeping and into the industry. “Back then, hardly anyone was doing nails. It was very basic in Australia. There was just Robyn Cannon, and Julie Loxley who ran Hollywood Nails, Sharon Connolly from the Gold Coast and Jan Fort from Sydney. They were the main ones and a few girls in Adelaide were doing some. This was the very start of nails in Australia and we used acrylics which were by no means as good as they are today. It was a case of if you ate KFC then a few days later your nails would start to fall off as they were susceptible to oils. I was the first person to ever do sculptured nails in Newcastle. I practiced at home for a year or so and opened my first salon on 1981; just doing nails. Back then you got products from whoever trained you and they were poured into empty jam jars!

“Further into the eighties acrylic nails were getting much bigger and my husband brought back a Mainly Manicuring magazine from a business trip to the US. It opened my eyes and we soon got into wholesaling nail products, teaching and doing nails. I’d also go to the US where I took many courses with a number of companies to hone my nail skills. My husband Len was the first rep for the nail techs. He’d load up his van and go all way from Sydney to Bundaberg.” Cheryl soon ended up taking on staff, expanding to Charlestown and eventually selling up and opening another salon at Nelson Bay. She later sold the three salons and relocated to the Gold Coast where they opened a training school and supply outlet which they sold many years later before getting into wholesaling and opening another large training school used by Gold Coast TAFE. They sold up some years later when Len had a slight stroke.

“I am now 66 and losing my battle with lung cancer but a lot of good people have gone before me. Len and I have been together 30 odd years. He came along not long after I first got into nails and became the wholesaler. I couldn’t have done what I have without him. This industry has been good to us and it constantly inspires me. It makes me very proud to see so many girls coming up through the ranks. It has brought me a lot of great friends such as Deborah Purtell, Sharon Jedrasiak, Nancy and John Rosewall and Maree Alexander. It’s an amazing industry to be part of if you concentrate on being the best you can be.”

Sometimes it takes talking to a person as inspirational as Cheryl to remind you of some simple truths. We spend a huge proportion of our lives working so it may as well be doing something we enjoy – that adds to our life rather than takes away from it. There’s been a common theme among the most successful and content business people I have interviewed and that is they don’t dwell on what the competition is doing, they concentrate on being the best they can be. They also have the confidence to share their skills and knowledge with others without feeling threatened. Cheryl has touched a great many people during her career and she will be greatly missed by an industry she has tirelessly supported and always adored.

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