DALLAS — A robot that can paint nails is making its retail debut at a few Target stores in Dallas-Fort Worth.
Clockwork doesn’t do a full manicure, but it provides a change of color in less than 10 minutes for $10.
Clockwork founder and CEO Renuka Apte said the concept is for people like herself who want to look a certain way, and feel confident when they do, “but can’t prioritize beauty time.”
Apte said she won’t replace specialized beauty services for people who have the hour it takes to get a manicure and the money to spend. “We’re catering to women, one after another, who have told us this shouldn’t be as much of a commitment.”
There was a void between a multistep manicure treatment and DIY at home, she said. “There was no quick service. I had wished I could put my hands in something and they’d come out done.”
Target is testing Clockwork robot manicurists at six U.S. stores with an $8 introductory offer. 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 more Target stores in California and Minnesota have installed the robots.
The machine uses regular nail polish that’s free of DBP, formaldehyde and other chemicals.
It doesn’t cut or shape nails, but nail files and polish remover are available. Clockwork is shaped like a box, but it’s a robot in the mechanical sense.
Nail painting is one labor intensive procedure that most would have believed was safe against competition from automation. But Clockwork’s artificial intelligence and 3D technology quickly figures out the size of each nail and the right amount of polish to use. Technology advances in cameras, which allow robots to see better, make Clockwork possible, Apte said.
Fingers slide into a strapped spot, one at a time for painting. The polish is applied on the outside edges of the nail and follows the shape until the nail is filled in, much like a person might color in a circle.
Safety was the No. 1 concern in developing the machine, Apte said. Surgical robots are used by physicians with extensive training, “but this had to be safe enough for you to walk in off the street and use it.”
The robot was built so that people could see their nails being painted, adding a layer of confidence. The polish cartridge tip is soft tip and the robot itself is purposely “weak and not able to do damage,” Apte said.
Clockwork has been in the market as a pop-up and in offices since last summer, but the Target partnership is the first with a big retailer. The robots are assembled in the U.S. There’s one more in Rockefeller Center in Manhattan that’s a corporate amenity offered by real estate company Tishman Speyer.
Apte started the company in San Francisco almost four years ago after more than 10 years of experience working at Dropbox, WibiData, Citrix Systems and Nvidia. She’s a computer science engineer with a master’s degree from Georgia Tech and specialized 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 angel 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 from the seven robots in locations now, Apte said. So far, customers are supportive.
At Target, Clockwork is located in the makeup department and is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day except Tuesdays, when the machines are recalibrated. An attendant is always on duty.
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 clients are booked every 20 minutes.
Clockwork doesn’t accommodate small children younger than 13 partly because the customer has to sit still, but mostly because of privacy laws. The robot’s cameras take photos of hands that are anonymously stored in the artificial intelligence software. Aguirre has a folding child’s chair to use to apply polish the old-fashioned way on kiddos waiting for Clockwork to finish Mom.
“I love how fast and easy it is,” said Sara Carruth of Dallas, who was about to leave with honey-colored nails after her second visit at 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 was going to be back. “I do 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 on getting done on time was a plus for Arundel Hunter, 43, of Dallas. She said she bought a three-pack offer the first time and was back for her second manicure. “I’m a mom and I have to be able to pick up my kids at 3 p.m.”
Martinez said she’s open to new technology.
“The worst that could happen is that it paints outside the nail,” she said.
Target wants to be a destination for beauty shoppers. The retailer carved out space in about 100 stores for Ulta Beauty last year and said in February that it plans 250 more in 2022 with a goal of 800 in a few years.