Lacquerous Renting Nail Polish: Bad Business, or Brilliant Idea?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

I recently got wind of this business called Lacquerous. Lacquerous might sound similar at first to existing businesses like Julep Maven (also mired in controversy from time to time), and Glossybox. It goes like this: you pay $18 a month, and each month, three polishes get shipped to you. Sounds like a beauty box subscription? Not really. It's more like a rental, like Netflix. At the end of the month, you send back the polishes they sent you, pay another $18, and are sent another three polishes for the next month.

(Image from Lacquerous Facebook)

As a nail polish fanatic, and someone whose undergrad degree was in Economics, this business model just didnt seem right to me. And here are my thoughts on why:

1. The business has misread their customers' wants and needs, and would likely not appeal to two key customer groups.

I imagine a business like this would target two main types of customers: the polish fanatics (ahem, yours truly), and the "normal" non-fanatic consumer (aka plebeians who haven't discovered the pleasure of owning disgusting numbers of nail polish, LOL!). I felt that neither group would not be attracted to use Lacquerous.

(Image from Affinity Sutton)

For the first group of polish fanatics, part of their (our? my?) joy is in owning the bottles they have - even if they have so many bottles they only wear each colour once! A lot of us see collecting as a hobby, and would much rather buy than rent. Just take a look at the number of proud stash posts and pictures, and that will be apparent. We've got enough polish to last our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and we still don't think we have enough! The fact is, we are collectors (or, if you speak to my family, hoarders) of nail polish for the love of it - it is a hobby much like collecting figurines or stamps. Try asking a figurine collector if he would like to rent a figurine a month for a fee instead of buying it, and see if he bites. Probably not. This first group of consumers can't imagine renting nail polish. So we're not likely to use Lacquerous.

Next, your average girl (you poor, unenlightened things :p). Anecdotally, most "normal" girls I know of (not nail polish fanatics) would rather buy, say, 5 bottles of polish and wear them to death than rent bottles. The truth is, they see a colour they like (or hear about the season's hot shade every now and then), and buy it, and they are perfectly happy to wear those couple of colours until they run out. They don't have the interest to keep up with the latest nail polish releases enough to covet them and want to rent them. For them, there just isn't such a need for this business - why would they rent different polishes every month when they are perfectly happy using the same 5 colours for years?

I'm sure there are other customer bases that would rent nail polish, other than these two key bases. I just can't think of any right now. LOL.

2. The price isn't right.

For a product to be rentable, it has to be fairly expensive - expensive enough to make renting a better option than buying. For example, high-end branded bags can be really expensive - 4 figures and up for things like LV and Chanel. Try out a ostrich skin Hermes and its going to be 5 figures at the least. This is part of the reason people rent them - it really may be too expensive to own. But nail polish isn't like that. Other than unicorn pee polishes (e.g. Clarins 230), or some pesky Lynderellas, even the most expensive non-indie nail polishes, like Lippmann, would only set you back maybe $25 - hardly enough to prompt you to join a nail polish rental service, especially when it's $18 per month! Unless Lacquerous suddenly starts buying bottles of Lynderellas and Clarins 230s (maybe they can take part in one of those crazy $200 eBay auctions), it's hard to see why anyone should spend $18 a month on polish rental. Sure, I'd pay to rent a Clarins 230, but the rest? I'm not sure if I'd want to rent Lippmann. Or D&G. Or Tom Ford. Or any of the other brands they have in stock now (at least they're smarter than to stock OPI and Essie...oh wait, they DID stock OPI.). The fact is, it's not the brand, it's just that the price isn't enough to drive people over the buy/rent hurdle. Even a Tom Ford nail polish isn't that expensive compared to a Tom Ford bag or dress, and certainly not expensive enough to prompt someone like me to rent, anyway.

(Image from 360Sync)

Since nail polish probably isn't expensive enough to rent out, renting nail polish out would only work if there are a group of clients who treat nail polish like they treat DVDs - rent once, watch once, never use again, and not care if they own it anymore. Either client base as described above wouldn't do this. The nail polish fanatics will want to own their bottles, and the non-fanatics would reuse their bottles, making either group unlikely to prefer rental to ownership. Once again, there may very well be a third, or fourth, or fifth, customer base that treats nail polish this way. But I imagine currently these would be the types of people who visit nail salons for every manicure, and each time just look at the display and pick a colour they want, who don't often do their own nails.

3. The icky-poo-poo factor.

While I know that the chemical soup that is nail polish is hardier to germ infestation than other beauty products (I have totally said so myself before, back when everyone was all like "I need to store my polishes in the fridge or they'll DIE!"), I don't want to rule out the fact that something might just slip through. I mean, I don't know about bacteria (would probably die) but what about things like fungal spores? I mean those things stay dormant through winter and then germinate again in warm, moist conditions right? And even if the polish itself is okay, what about the bottles or the brushes? Trust me, I've had nail polish bottles and caps grow small white mould on them (those pesky Nicole Miller bottles with the cork caps are just mould magnets in a hot and humid tropical environment! I swear my environment is clean and hygenic and all - I'm not a pig in a sty. Promise!). While it's certainly less risky than say, eyeliner or mascara, it's not a chance I'd want to take, certainly not by sharing a bottle that's had a different owner every month. To be honest, I've not read reliable literature to support either position, so I don't know.

(Immage from

But even assuming it was safe, that's still beside the point. The fact is, people perceive it as unsafe (Don't believe me? Check out the comments on this post.) For a business, particularly a B2C type, customer perception is everything. Lacquerous is essentially a distributor of used polish (used many times among many people), and this brings with it a lot of risk. What if a customer gets a nail infection after using Lacquerous and decides to sue the company? Lacquerous could probably check the polish and see if said germ is in the polish, but the time and money would probably be a large drain on a small business.

I mean, for the sake of a mind excercise, let's take another beauty product category, and see if we'd like to rent that product too. Would we want a makeup rental or skincare products rental? I guess not. Accessories, DVDs, even houses, those are possible to rent to others and from others, more or less without issue. But personal care and beauty products, of which nail polish is one? Even if it's safe, the initial reaction is still one of grossed-out-ness. Lacquerous would have to work hard to convince its customers that it is safe to rent nail polish, if indeed it is.

4. Vague, Arbitrary Customer Policies .

A lot has been said online about how some of the customer policies just aren't very smart, so I won't dwell on this.

Take such gems from their FAQ:
"You can use [each bottle] on yourself for up to 3 applications throughout the month. Lacquerous monitors the amount of nail lacquer in each bottle and we trust our members to abide by our policies because they appreciate luxury lacquer like us!"

Oh yes, because everyone uses the same number of coats and has nails that are the same length and width all time!

"Members share nail polish, as used by other members, at their own risk. Members understand that the nail polish is used by other members and agree to risks associated with sharing nail polish."

This statement, in their Terms of Service, is kinda incongruous with their FAQ stressing that used lacquer is perfectly safe.

To really get an idea of how ridiculous some of their T&C's would sound to potential customers, you can check out the comments on this Time article (yours truly felt moved enough to comment too! In fact, that comment formed the basis for this post). People are calling out all sorts of practices - credit checks, deletion of legit customer questions on the Facebook page, how impractical it is to decide exactly how much polish use exceeded the 3-applications per month limit. There was also concern about the fact that Lacquerous didn't seem to have any measures in place with sneaky swappers - people would decant polish, replace a more expensive polish with a cheaper dupe, and so on. Lacquerous doesn't seem to have thought too much about what to do in those situations (fortunately nail polish isn't too expensive to replace, I guess).

(Image from Lacquerous Facebook)

So there you go - my $0.02 on this business. I don't want to write Lacquerous off entirely though - you never know with these things (remember the iPhone? Supposedly another phone in a saturated smartphone market...). People might actually want to rent polish, or customers may not actually care that they are sharing nail polish that has a different owner every month. But the fact that your potential customers are ridiculing your business even before it goes live...well, that can't be a good sign! What do you guys think? Bad business, or brilliant idea?


  1. Wow.. this is truly one of the most stupid ideas ever o.O

  2. Ick. Maybe, if you're the sort who covets a series of ridiculously expensive polishes that you can't otherwise afford and you do your own nails, but ick. I don't think Lacquerous stands a chance.

  3. i'm in your first category hehe and i don't like the idea of renting polish too -- i'd rather keep it in my stash!

  4. I agree it's really incredibly bad... and stupid.

  5. I think its innovative, and at least someone is turning their wheels to create and conceptualize an idea. What products or services have you guys come up with? There's millions of people in this country, there's bound to be a market, even though it is a quirky business idea!

  6. Great idea! Not so great blog post. Why buy cheap stuff only to use it once or twice when you can rent? People will be renting lacquer in the future. I can see it!

  7. like it your article , but don't like it Lacquerous , i do not think they have a chance...


Thank you for commenting! I read each and every single comment! If you ask a question in your comment, please check back to this post, as I will reply in a comment to this post as well :) Please note that comments with soliciting links to shops or websites will be removed. Thanks!


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