DALLAS – A robot that can paint nails makes its retail debut at a pair of Target stores in Dallas-Fort Worth.
Clockwork doesn’t do a full manicure, but it does a color change in under 10 minutes for $10.
Clockwork founder and CEO Renuka Apte said the concept is for people like her who want to look a certain way and feel confident doing so, “but can’t prioritize beauty time.”
Apte said she will not replace specialist beauty services for people who have the hour it takes to get a manicure and have the money to spend. “We’re targeting women, one after the other, who have told us this shouldn’t be such a big union.”
There was a void between a multi-step manicure treatment and DIY at home, she said. “There was no fast service. I wish I could put my hands in something and they would have come out cooked.”
Target is testing Clockwork’s robotic manicure in six US stores with an introductory offer of $8. Appointments can be made online with the robots installed locally at the Medallion Center Target in Dallas on East Northwest Highway and two more in Fort Worth.
Three other Target stores in California and Minnesota have installed the robots.
The machine uses regular nail polish that is free of DBP, formaldehyde and other chemicals.
It does not cut or shape nails, but nail files and nail polish remover are available. Timepiece is in the form of a box, but it is a robot in the mechanical sense.
Nail polishing is a labor-intensive procedure that most believed to be safe from competition from automation. But Clockwork’s artificial intelligence and 3D technology quickly determines the size of each nail and the right amount of nail polish to use. Advances in technology in cameras, which allow robots to see better, are enabling Clockwork, Apte said.
Fingers slide one by one into a tethered spot to paint. The polish is applied to the outer edges of the nail and follows the shape until the nail is filled in, just like someone might color in a circle.
Safety was the number one concern while developing the machine, Apte said. Surgical robots are used by doctors with extensive training, “but this had to be safe enough to walk out on the street and use.”
The robot is built so that people can see their nails being painted, which adds a layer of confidence. The polishing cartridge’s tip is a soft tip, and the robot itself is purposely “weak and can’t do any damage,” Apte said.
Clockwork has been on the market as a pop-up and in-office since last summer, but the Target partnership is its first with a major retailer. The robots are assembled in the US. There’s another one at Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center, a business facility offered by real estate company Tishman Speyer.
Apte started the company almost four years ago in San Francisco after more than 10 years of experience at Dropbox, WibiData, Citrix Systems and Nvidia. She is a computer science engineer with a master’s degree from Georgia Tech, specializing in distributed systems and machine learning.
Her co-founder, Aaron Feldstein, was a longtime colleague in previous jobs. The company has received $8.5 million in funding from Initialized Capital and has several investors, including Julie Bornstein, former executive at both Stitch Fix and Sephora, and Max Mullen, co-founder of Instacart.
Clockwork has plans to expand in 2023 after learning the seven robots in locations now, Apte said. So far, customers have been supportive.
At Target, Clockwork is located in the makeup department and is open every day except Tuesdays when the machines are recalibrated. There is always a supervisor present.
On Wednesday, it was Nevaeh Aguirre, 19, of Dallas, who said she’s had a full appointment book since Clockwork opened at Medallion Target a month ago. “I already have regular customers,” she said, adding that customers are booked every 20 minutes.
Clockwork does not consider small children under the age of 13, partly because the customer has to sit still, but mainly because of privacy laws. The robot’s cameras take pictures of hands that are stored anonymously in the artificial intelligence software. Aguirre has a folding high chair for applying polish the old-fashioned way to kids waiting for Clockwork to finish mommy.
“I love how quick and easy it is,” said Dallas-based Sara Carruth, who was about to leave with honey-colored nails after her second visit to Clockwork. “I don’t have time to go to a salon and this is a great option.”
Casandra Martinez, 28, of Dallas, said she didn’t have an appointment but would be back. “I’m doing my nails at home now because I don’t have the time and don’t want to pay $50, but I would pay $10 for this.”
Counting it to be ready on time was a plus for Arundel Hunter, 43, of Dallas. She said she bought an offer of three packs the first time and that she was back for her second manicure. “I am a mother and I need to be able to pick up my children at 3 pm”
Martinez said she is open to new technology.
“The worst that can happen is it paints outside the nail,” she said.
Target aims to be a destination for beauty shoppers. The retailer cleared space in about 100 stores for Ulta Beauty last year and said in February it plans another 250 by 2022 with a target of 800 in a few years.