How to Talk to Clients About Drugstore vs. Professional Hair Care Products Purchased in a Salon

Client conversations related to retailing should happen throughout the entire service, not just at check out. Pictured: Beautiful styling stations at Aria Salon Spa Shoppe in Alpharetta, Georgia,

All beauty professionals and service providers have been there: You finish the perfect hair cut or color and your client is thrilled with her results. You showcase the products you used on her and she hesitates at check-out and says, “Oh, I’ll just buy that product at the drugstore.”

What next?

Alexis Bills, a colorist and extensionist at 4 Elements Salon in Chicago, admits that it can be frustrating when a client spends hundreds on hair services but declines professional products. “You can’t use Honda car parts in a Ferrari and have it work the same,” she says. “You can’t use drugstore products on professional color, cuts, or styles and expect it to work the same.”

But the conversation isn’t always so cut and dry. When topics emerge like price, convenience, ingredients and diversion, it’s important you’re prepared to tackle the talking points. Afterall, retail sales are the best way for clients to maintain their look, and the most effective way to boost overall ticket averages.

You’re the Expert
Only professional recommendations can ensure good hair days, and that comes with personalized advice on product selection. When it comes to the formulation of the products and quality ingredients, so many factors play into going pro versus drugstore.

Many clients are often wrong about their hair needs—“damaged hair” might actually just be thirsty. “Oily hair” might just be in need of a less-heavy shampoo. And your blondes/brondes/balayaged-and-everything-in-between should really consider using a blue-based shampoo or masque every couple of weeks to maintain that ashy effect. Hair experts aren't standing in the drugstore aisles assessing client hair needs.

“I’m practical—I do think for some guests the 'treat' is the hair service itself, versus the retail products,” says Carla Jean, a stylist in West Chester, Pennsylvania. “Once we have the convo and they determine they aren't able or willing to invest in the products, I settle with: ‘Okay, so I can’t stop you from buying the junk shampoo, but at the very least you need this (insert savior product of choice, ie: leave-in conditioning spray, deep-conditioning treatment, scalp scrub),’ and assure them I will see them sooner for maintenance. I do think not being pushy and building the trust they eventually see the light.”

Diversion and Price
So what happens when she says she’s buying professional products, but at a drugstore versus the salon?

“I always tell my clients that there’s no guarantee that the product you’re buying at the drugstore is actually the same product,” says Britny Bassett, a colorist in Richmond, Virgina.

Not only can diverted products be knock-off counterfeits, they can also be expired or, worse, tampered with. Have anecdotes? Share them, otherwise clients could chalk up your concerns to master marketing.

“I once had a client purchase purple shampoo outside of my salon, but when she went to use it, she noticed the shampoo was NOT purple, it was white!” says Renee Plante, an updo and bridal stylist in Raleigh, North Carolina. “I share this story and then clients are more likely to purchase directly from me.”

Not only might the products be counterfeit or expired, they might cost more than salons charge for the same items. In a study done by, professional products sold at drugstores were actually more expensive than had they been purchased at the salon.

To counter the convenience that drugstores and online shopping offers, some manufacturers offer customized shopping experiences for salons. “Our Shop Online card is handed to guests at check out," says Karie Bennett, owner of Atelier Studio in San Jose, California, whose salon was recognized in the 2019 Salon Today 200 for Retail & Merchandising excellence. "They can replenish their favorite products between salon appointments with free shipping and samples, and we get funds to use toward our continuing education. We saw a 20% increase in online sales over a 6-month period. Win-win!”

Beyond the Check-Out
Remember to keep retail conversations front and center throughout the service.

“Guests are educated the moment they walk in through our focused displays, as well as how-to videos that play throughout our space," say Phoenix salon owners Lisa and Dale LeMonds.

Track how often your client buys, so you know when she’s running out of a product and can suggest a purchase while she is present. Many of today’s Point of Sale software systems track purchasing to make it even easier to make recommendations.

Katie Deluca, a stylist in Mayfield Heights, Ohio, says to her clients: “Would you wash your silk blouse with dish soap? Would you throw your designer bag in the washer? Your hair is your permanent accessory that you just spent a lot of money on, wouldn’t you want to take care of it the proper way? That’s how I usually put it into perspective to my clients without saying ‘buy from me!’”

Many clients, over the years, become close to their stylist and want to show support. If a difference in price isn't a factor, and their hair will ultimately look better purchasing products from you, don't be afraid to tell them you see financial/educational benefits of their retail purchases, too. It might just be what gets them to make the switch to salon professional hair care.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.