Grow Your Business with Extensions
The big-haired styles of the '80s provided stylists with multiple profit opportunities-permanents and other texturizing services, frequent styling appointments, highlighting and bleaching, and a frenzy on retail. Unfortunately, today's sleeker styles leave few ways other than the standard cut and color to achieve the ka-ching.
The one big exception-hair extensions. For the stylists who cater to this crowd, the proof is in their pockets.
Extensions used to be a secret luxury service reserved for the rich and famous. But as celebrities began opening up about their locks, and namedropping stylists as often as their designers on the red carpet, the extension market exploded.
"When celebrities such as Jessica Simpson, Carmen Electra, Eva Longoria, Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton publicly talked about wearing hair extensions, other women took cues from these style icons and sought out their stylists to replicate the look," says Michael Napolitano, president and CEO of Hair U Wear.
While the ability to offer extensions requires advanced education and an investment in the hair, and the service itself can be quite time-consuming, a full head of extensions can command $1,500 to $5,000 depending on the skill of the service provider and the market.
"Stylists who specialize in extensions can bring in three times what the average hairdresser does," says John Gelinas, artistic director for HairArt International.
Not only are extensions emerging as the single most effective way to add profit to the salon, but they also bring profit stability.
"Because the average extension client has to come back every few months for maintenance, it really allows you to forecast future revenue," emphasizes Napolitano.
Who's Your Client
At the Sam Brocato Salon in New York, the bulk of stylist Jason Wilkerson's market is the 30-something client with expendable income.
"The look for these women is the St. Tropez beach style of 16-inch hair just long enough to cover the chest," he says. "These clients don't like to be told âno,' and for a full head of extensions they'll pay between $3,000 and $5,000."
But Wilkerson also sees a growing number of older women who seek extensions to increase thickness after experiencing hair loss from menopause. "This is becoming more and more popular and I can charge around $1,200 for thickening," he says.
In Florida, the extension market is all about the middle-aged crowd, says Keela Gajadha, full stylist at the Cosmo & Co. Salon in West Palm Beach, who charges up to $1,600 for volumizing and $3,600 for lengthening. "Most of my clients are in their 40s and are looking for the hair they had when they were younger," she says.
If you think a business in extensions is only viable in a fashion-forward city, think again. Gelinas was amazed to learn of one busy stylist in rural Virginia. "She was making money hand over fist," he says. "That's because even though it's an expensive service, today's women see this as one way of improving their images without having to go under the knife."
And Robert Heim, managing director of Hair Dreams, tells the story of a small-town salon doing 15,000 strands a month. "I was surprised to learn the salon had only six employees, but extensions have simply become a part of what they do," he says. "Practically everyone who sits in the owner's chair or the two assistants' chairs ends up adding in a little funky color or thickening the hair with extensions."
For Mette Menotti, president of World Hair Institute in Chicago, it's fashion that dictates who asks for the service. "Our typical extension client used to be in their 30s, but now it's become a popular service for clients of all ages," she reports. "Many of our clients are women with finer hair who come in seeking a particular texture, volume or cut they can only achieve with extensions."
Stylist Sarah Peckles, from the Wave Salon in Minneapolis, Minnesota, boasts an extension clientele ranging from 15 to 70. "It's crazy how popular this service has become," she says. "It used to be top secret-now it's an accepted alternative for every age."
Beyond Just Long
Texture is a big consideration, says Rachel Hong, director of marketing for Bohyme Hair. "Many clients don't want the end result to be like their natural hair. Whether they want straight hair or curly, they should choose extensions with the texture of the hair they want to achieve. Then there is less stress on the natural hair trying to achieve that style."
Extensions are also becoming increasingly popular for tweaking hair color or adding dimension or highlights. It's a great way for a client to try on a new color without impacting the integrity of the natural hair.
No matter how you introduce a client to extensions, "for most clients, extensions are addictive," says Butcher. "They always come back wanting more. In addition, extension clients are among the most loyal and profitable-they frequently end up spending their money in every area or the salon and spa and they are strong retail purchasers."
The Right Fit
As the popularity of extension service exploded, so did the number of companies offering the product. For a stylist wanting to jump on the bandwagon for the first time, it can be challenging determining which extension company to choose.
The most important consideration, according to skilled stylists, is the quality of the hair, and in this, the old adage âyou get what you pay for' definitely applies. "Like any product you would put on your hair, your face or your body, you want to look at the consistency of the quality," says Hong. "It's always great to get a few referrals before making a commitment. Hair is a commodity and while it may initially look great from the outside, the coating may wash off or it may tangle easily."
Most agree that 100-percent human hair makes the best extensions, and the hair should be as fine a possible so the extension can easily be cut and styled with the natural hair. The company should offer a broad assortment of color and texture possibilities.
"Quality is so important-if you make a mistake, the client not only won't come back, they'll tell everyone else," says Gelinas. "Choose a company with strong standards, that's been around for several years and stands behind their product."
The next consideration is the form of application. "There are about 20 different methods of application," says Hong. "Some use glue, some heat, some are sewn onto tracked braids, some use medical grade tape."
The newer and best methods are those that keep the hair the healthiest. Before deciding on one company, research the different methods, understand them and know which ones are more likely to appeal to the bulk of your clientele.
It's also important to research how a chosen company will supply education and support your marketing efforts. Are they easily accessible? Do they provide strong education? Do they advertise in your area? Are they willing to support joint advertising efforts? Does their website feature a salon locator which will direct interested potential clients your way?
Many companies offer guarantees that support your efforts. For example, HairDreams offers a warranty. If a customer doesn't like the hair, it can be returned. Since the extensions can be reused, the warranty cards encourage customers to go online and login the number on their hair extensions to ensure that they don't encounter any bait-and-switch situations.
Stylists can also offer clients their own guarantee which makes many clients feel more comfortable with a first-time service. For example, Peckles offers to add in additional pieces or help clients style hair within the first two weeks of the service for free.
Get the Word Out
One of the biggest steps in an extension success story is the marketing. "As soon as you begin offering the services, start a look book," says Butcher. "You can start with photos of celebrities, but as soon as you can, start featuring before-and-after images of your own work."
One of the best ways to reach new extension clients is by going through your existing database and sending out a postcard or e-mail, says Hong. "Host a free demo day or evening where clients can learn more about the service, see how the extensions are applied and experience the possibilities."
A great way to address clients' questions about the service and pique their curiosity is by wearing extensions yourself. "Perform extension services on your assistants or on the salon's receptionists," says Gajadha. "Then interested clients can personally examine them in place and see that they are not just for length."
Extensions are new enough they still generate some press appeal. Let your local beauty editors know you are featuring the service and run local ads. "Advertise in your local regional magazines or your local design-related publications-wherever you see ads for cosmetic surgeons, that's your market," advises Butcher.
Quick and Easy
One of the best ways to introduce clients to the possibilities of extensions is by retailing the more temporary clip-in extensions. Offered in a wide variety of possibilities from clip-in locks to ponies and wraps, a retail display of clip-ins stimulates the excitement in the salon and demonstrates the possibilities.
"When choosing a brand, look at the amount of styles that are offered and how often they introduce new collections," says Napolitano. "Color is so important-the line should offer multiple shades so the extension can blend seamlessly with the client's natural hair. And, application's important-they should be easy to put in but the client needs to feel confident they won't move around or fall out."
Although the true extension client commits yearlong, there is a seasonal trend for when clients first jump on board. Many first-timers seek out extensions for a special occasion, such as a holiday party, wedding, vacation season and even prom.
Enhance those sales by hosting a wine and cheese evening. Models or mannequins can demonstrate a variety of holiday or wedding styles. Both seasons are a great time to boost extension advertising.
"It's incredibly busy in November and December in the salon and many clients are coming in wanting holiday styles that are just not possible with their natural hair," says Napolitano. "Using semi-permanent extensions or temporary hair pieces, stylists can double the average updo into the $300-$500 range without really increasing the service time. In the hands of a good stylist, these tools are pretty incredible."
(photos courtesy of Hair Dreams)
Do you have certain clients who just won't give extensions a try? Or do you have clients who need hair enhancement, but not extensions? Read Hair Enhancement Alternatives by Rosanne Ullman.
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