Solo Artist

How Specific Experience Leads to Rental Success

Alisha Kurtz | June 21, 2016 | 1:38 PM
Susan Karow likes edgier looks, and wears bright orange hair, but avoids a severe cut, because balance in your appearance “attracts like-minded clients, but doesn’t scare anyone away.”
Photo By Susan Karow Photo 1 of 5
Karow’s Simply Gorgeous suite is within Salon de Luxe, which has been operating as a rental building for 10 years. There are two other rental operations in the small Wisconsin town.
Photo By Susan Karow Photo 2 of 5
Susan Karow is known for vibrant and rainbow colors. This client is one the local Roller Derby girls who wants an extreme version. “It’s like runway hair to her.”
Photo By Susan Karow Photo 3 of 5
Young students like their brights via foiled highlights. “Here, they don’t like to see roots, and I don’t have a lot of requests for ombrè or balayage,” says Karow.
Photo By Susan Karow Photo 4 of 5
Many women like chemical smoothing services that help them control curl. Susan Karow always finishes the look for just the right amount of body and movement.
Photo By Susan Karow Photo 5 of 5

With 20 years in the business, Susan Karow had no problem building a big rental business in a small town. Here, she shares which skills have the biggest payoff when going solo.

Susan Karow never thought she’d be a renter. But when the Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, salon in which she was working closed, she found herself with a huge following and no where to go. Salons either wanted her to start as an apprentice, or didn’t have a pricing structure that matched her own.

That was over five years ago. Today, she is one of 20 renters at Salon de Luxe in Sun Prairie. Her private-room studio there is named Simply Gorgeous, and women of all ages flock to it. In fact, over 90% of the clients from her previous salon followed her, and many have been with her through 15 years of relocations. Why? Because of key skills she built along the way, as well as a trio of business-building tactics.

Technical Artistry and Customer Service

Karow began in a Milwaukee commission salon, then taught for Toni & Guy, became the artistic director for the company’s Madison, Wisconsin, salon and even worked as a beauty school instructor for a while. These experiences, she says, taught her how to deliver what clients want most: soft skills, technical ability and professionalism. For instance, at her last commission salon Karow learned from the non-stylist owners how to leverage little things that make huge differences, like hand-writing thank-you notes and making every client feel important.

“At Toni & Guy, I learned to pay attention to detail, and how to personalize every cut,” continues Karow. “As their local salon’s Artistic Director, I would go to Dallas to learn the new collection, then come back and teach it to the stylists. From this, I discovered how to translate and customize any look, softening the edges, making the shape less strong or using not-so-extreme color.”

This teaching skill naturally translated into building a personal clientele that ranged in age from 18 to over 55. “Just take the rainbow colors teens love and make them peek-a-boo highlights for professional women, or translate a bright purple trend into a deep violet,” says Karow. Additionally, Karow’s cumulative experience honed her professionalism to the point where it’s natural to her to do a fresh consultation with every client, every time.

Any stylist with these essential skills still needs to build business, particularly when first going it alone. To that end, Karow advises taking your business cards everywhere you go, always asking clients for referrals and encouraging pre-booking.

“My first referral program involved a $15 service credit for each referral,” she recalls. “To strengthen pre-booking in 2013, I asked clients to pre-book in June for the rest of the year and through March of 2014. Every appointment they made earned them an entry into a drawing for a designer purse and a flat iron. My books filled up, I didn't have to take the time to schedule during the busy holidays, and clients learned they like pre-booking. Now, many of them book for the entire year at once.”

When it comes to the business aspects of running a salon, Karow says she easily manages most of those functions through her Rosy Salon Software, which awards clients points for referrals, pre-booking, buying retail and more, and also manages her inventory and online booking. Which by no accident, frees her to focus on doing what she and her clients love most: getting them looking gorgeous.

Schedule: I make about 37 hours a week available. I’m usually booked solid in advance for 30 of those hours.

Rent: $625/month

Service Fees: Most my clients get cut and color for $106 on average. My cuts start at $36 for women. Balayage starts at $100, which is similar to a full-foil price.

Retail to Serve Ratio: 31%

Last Price Increase: Recently, I added $3 to all chemical services. It was my first increase in five years, because I did not want to give clients an excuse not to follow me. I just put up a sign six weeks in advance, so chemical clients on five-to-six week turns got a one-appointment notice. No one had a problem, which tells me I should have done it sooner. Next year, I’ll increase cut prices.

Best Add-on: Olaplex

Best Rental Advice: Don’t look desperate by posting openings on social media every day. Give the impression you are doing well and are in high demand. People like to be part of success.


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