Heath Smith is the co-founder and director of operations at Ruiz Salons in Austin, a thriving, 20-year business with two locations. The Aveda-focued salons employ 20 color specialists and color service revenue is substantial. What was also substantial, unfortunately, was hair color waste. So when Smith heard there was a new salon system designed to manage backbar usage, he was all in.
“Beauty wasn’t my original career—I was originally in the retail realm,” he explains. “So when I entered beauty 20 years ago, I was surprised to discover systems lacking for many types of management.” One of the first things he noticed was the massive amount of backbar waste—half used bowls of color, abandoned opened products, unopened products going unused. So when he heard about Vish through Aveda colleagues, he was intrigued. “They promised more insight, active and up-to-the-minute tracking and the ability to track and count opened and unopened products based on usage in real time. I thought that was pretty brilliant,” says Smith.
Physically-speaking, Vish is simple. It includes a scale and the Vish Color Bar app on an iPad connected via Bluetooth. The idea is for colorists to use the Vish scale when they create their color formulas, which are stored in the app, and then re-measure each bowl after each color service to gauge how much product was left over (or poured down the drain.) The next time that client comes in, their formula is readily available and Vish has already subtracted the excess product calculated at their last visit. This allows the colorist to mix without wasting a drop of product. It also keeps track of every color service performed throughout the day, so managers have accurate data that can be used for planning, coaching, purchasing and pricing.
To begin the onboarding process at Ruiz Salons, Vish uploaded all the salon’s color and chemical menu items into the system, and each team member was assigned an individual log-in code. The next step was rolling out the system within the salon.
“We started by giving the entire team the big picture—explaining how this was the first real salon business innovation to come along in many years and how it would make our business and all of us more efficient,” says Smith. “Then we trained the senior colorists, followed by the mid-level colorists and finally the juniors and assistants. My thinking was, experienced stylists can multi-task and would pick it up quickly. By the time it got to juniors, there would be plenty of people who would have enough experience with Vish to help them out if they faltered.”
Smith says it took about six months to be up and running smoothly, which is to be expected. “It requires training,” he explains, “and you have to have a plan and be intentional. The scale system is intuitive, but change makes people nervous, so be prepared for some re-training and re-coaching. Give everyone a deadline for implementing and make sure the old system is no longer an option so they can’t fall back on it. Make sure everyone has support and there is always an advocate on the floor.”
In the early days of implementation, Smith says Vish eased the process by actually giving all colorists the cell phone numbers of support team members and making someone available seven days a week. “If something wasn’t working, it was remedied quickly,” says Smith. Plus there are tutorials and how-tos built right into each scale.
Savings were immediate and substantial. Smith says product waste dropped 25 percent in one year, leading to a rise in service profit. “We figure it takes two services per scale per month to cover the cost of the system,” he says. “And the value we get from the data is immeasurable.”
Among those data results are insights into the usage habits of individual colorists. For example, Smith can see if a colorist is mixing up additional color and forgetting to charge for it or failing to re-weigh bowls at the end of a service which prevents accurate measuring and tracking. In these instances, the management team can coach the stylist on making better decisions and can better gauge—and reward—performance. Everyone makes more money in the end.
“One thing we’re looking at is how often stylists fall into patterns of recommending certain go-to services,” Smith notes. “Does everyone get partial highlights or a balayage? We can analyze whether those recommendations are realistic, how they correspond with client retention. If a strong, busy colorist has a certain mix of go-to services and high retention, we can look at that mix and share it with the team.”
And hair color isn’t the only “win” with Vish. “All major manufacturers are heavily into treatments at the moment,” says Smith, “Conditioners, bonders, masks. These products are liquid gold, and with Vish, they can all be tracked. It helps us manage our add-ons, upgrades, treatments and smoothing services much more effectively.”
With the data accumulated by Vish, Smith plans to take a look at the salon service menu with fresh eyes. “A lot of salons price services based on the market,” he explains. “Vish tells you the actual cost of every service, so going forward we will use this data to revise our service menu service by service to make sure we’re covering our actual costs.”
Smith says his most important pieces of advice for any salon implementing Vish would be to set the system up correctly, train staff thoroughly and get everyone onboard. “You want good data in to get good data out,” he says. “Use it consistently and once you do it will pay for itself in no time.”