Expert Advice

Summer Blockbusters

Victoria Wurdinger | July 10, 2011 | 6:21 PM

Summer Blockbusters

A few years back during boom times, salon owners said dog-days slowdowns were at an end. But with an economic downturn, things have flipped again. To keep stylists busy during July and August-and year 'round-it's more important than ever to bring something new to the table-and the chair. Get started with style. The coolest off-the-neckline crops and personalized color that goes beyond the box make you stand out fast. Then, make the business sing. Most salons have already cut costs and worked on keeping their current clientle. Next up: Exciting promotions that bring in
new clients. If you've got an antsy staff with downtime, it's time to do a photo shoot. According to Theresa McGaha, owner of Moutons in Grapevine, Texas, nothing satisfies the staff and brings in new clients more than sending photos of your latest work to the newsstand "style selectors."

"We use our photo shoot work everywhere, and it always brings in the clients," says McGaha. "When they appear in magazines like Cut and Color or Celebrity Hairstyles, clients come in with the photos, asking for the looks.

"We also use the photos on our website for direct mail pieces and in television commercials. For the latter, we created a collage of our photos and added music. We even paid to have a slide show of our work shown at the local movie theater, before
the film."

For targeted mailing, (for instance, to promo a special on the highlights of summer), McGaha uses her database to e-blast only the blondes-the ones most likely to respond.

The Happening

At L Salon in San Mateo, California, owner Elizabeth Stenstrom relies on a marketing pro to send thank yous to new clients, along with a gift certificate for a service they didn't get the first time around. In her version of a red-carpet event, she holds a "Day of Beauty" on Mondays, when the salon is closed, and throws a premiere party for her best clients.

"The entire staff volunteers, our best clients get to bring their friends and everyone gets free services," says Stenstrom. "Ninety percent of our clients' friends come back, and the event pays for itself because they all buy products."

The new guests are encouraged to pre-book appointments, which fills the chairs for weeks to come. Clients who make referrals to L Salon also receive gift certificates in the mail. Instead of telling everyone they get a reward for a referral, it's sent as a surprise, which gives it extra "they-thought-of-me" impact.

Everyone loves an event, which Xena Parsons does up New York-style at her namesake salon. Her Glamour Blowout 10 includes Friday night "mock-tails," ultra-girlie decorating (boas, chandeliers and crystals) and a 20-minute styling lesson from the salon's in-house blow dry diva.

"Then, we give them the tools and they blow dry their own hair, with guidance from our staff," says Parsons, who maintains a two-participants-for-every-stylist ratio.

"We use our young team members, who are already very experienced in blow drying. Last week, we had a group of 10 from Smith Barney. One of our clients who works there brought them all in, and we had real cocktails this time, since they were all friends."

Parsons charges $40 per attendee, and for the women of Smith Barney, she partnered with her cosmetic company, Beauty Addict, so that while five were at styling stations, the other five got make-up lessons.

"Our retail was huge that night; we sold flatirons, blow dryers, styling products and make-up," says Parsons. "We also include a goodie bag at every Glamour Blow Out-it's very popular for Sweet 16 and bachelorette parties."

Double and Triple Features

With complaints about appalling customer service at a national high, Bobby Fairbanks, owner of Hairbenders International in Chattanooga, Tennessee, made a move that guaranteed his business wouldn't end up on the receiving end of an internet rant. His newly instituted program, "We promise to give you 10" allows clients to rate the salon's customer service and spreads the message that he's serious about delivering the best.

Using a range of outreach points from newspapers and TV to the internet he touted his "10 all of the time" message. Simultaneously, he solicited feedback through customer surveys and backed up his service stance with a bold "10 or it's on the house" promise. He also tied in his 30th anniversary by using the surveys in a drawing for a free week of vacation at his Florida resort condo.

"In one week, we had 500 clients fill out our internet survey," says Fairbanks. "It's good for the staff to see the salon from a client's perspective; already they're
doing things right automatically-‘10' is becoming a habit."

But maybe the biggest payoff is that now, Hairbenders is associated with a 10 in everyone's mind. For another play on 10, Tony Anders, who owns Ha!r, a Tony Anders Concept in Columbus, Ohio, is starting up a "Go Green-Get Green" program, in which clients get 10-percent off their next purchase when they bring back empty product bottles. Besides being eco-smart, the program keeps clients away from the drugstore shelves, because the empties remind them of the salons' products and encourage returns.

The People's Choice

Salon owners can't do it all, which is why Frances Dubose, who owns London Hair in Charleston, South Carolina, encourages her stylists to pass out their own invites to high-profile job holders. This lets them decide for themselves when it's time to give away a hair cut. It also puts the responsibility for filling the chair in stylists' hands.

"We send out e-blasts to get models for our training sessions," adds DuBose. "This serves double duty: The staff gets training and we always end up getting the models as clients."

At Jamison Shaw Salon in Atlanta, Candy Shaw-Codner uses a similar tactic because it's always better to be busy and have your work on the street. Her newer staffers can give away free cuts Tuesday through Saturday. "It builds trust," she says.

"They can also target the type of client they want, whether it's a trendy student, a sophisticated businesswomen or the client who wouldn't dream of leaving the house without hair and full make-up. They hand out business cards that include their bio and a photo."

 Shaw-Codner's approach beats the old "get a free hair cut here," because clients judge stylists on how they look, and the potential client gets to read a little bit about the stylist who approached him or her.

"We get a far better return than we did back when stylists passed out traditional business cards," she says.

Get Smart

The smartest salon owners let big businesses test the waters and borrow what works. What's hot now represents a real mindshift. Instead of discounting products or services that are slow to move or build, let the customer choose the reward he or she wants. For instance, Barnes and Noble's bookstore chain recently mailed out a "25% off" sticker that shoppers could put on any book in the store that they wanted.

Anders is on top of it with an offer for any client who makes three referrals. That person gets a free cut with anyone in the salon. Guests who would not be able to afford higher-priced stylists get to trade up, but the real payoff is that clients feel free to move among the salon's stylists without bad blood. It exemplifies what's behind some of the best ideas today: What's good for the client is equally good for the business.

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