Retail Details: Conquering the Client Conversation

June 19, 2014 | 8:48 AM
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Retailing remains the most viable way to increase a salon’s bottom line and boost a stylist’s paycheck, yet for some, the fear of “selling” lingers in the salon air like your 9am’s perm solution.

Stylists that make product sales part of their routine can realize significant commission checks, improved client retention and, in some salons, benefits like retirement and vacation. Despite the countless perks that come along with selling product, for some stylists, fear overcomes the motivation to sell. For many, this fear lies in altering the relationship between stylist and client, sounding pushy or lacking knowledge about a product.

Jodi Connolly, stylist and owner of Buzz Salon in Iowa City, Iowa, feels retailing should be as much a part of the salon culture as delivering great cut or color. “If you don’t teach the client how to style his or her hair, you’re not doing your job,” she says. “We don’t sell products; we teach people how to replicate the look we’ve designed for them in the salon.”

Connolly recognizes that some of the newer stylists in her salon don’t even know where to begin the conversation. By encouraging her team to incorporate the following questions into their consultation, she removed the fear that accompanied the retailing process:

1. When did you love your hair cut/color the most?

2. When did you dislike your hair cut/color the most?

3. What tools are you currently using?

4. How much time do you want to spend on your hair?

5. What are your goals today and in the future?

“The first two things out of the client’s mouth will tell me everything. Her answers to these questions tell me to do a specific hair cut and find a specific product. People are always fighting their texture,” Connolly says. “If a client says she likes to let her hair air dry, but it always dries frizzy, I’m hearing she doesn’t want a razor or thinning shears used on her hair, and she needs a product for control.”

Before you even head back to the shampoo bowl, what the client shares during the consultation should tell you nearly everything you need to know when it comes to recommending products during and after the service.

For stylists with fear of retailing, she recommends keeping it simple. What are your clients asking for? Volume? Smoothing? Control? Connolly suggests stylists get comfortable with one product for each problem. Once those staples become comfortable, you can build on that foundation.

Once rapport has been established, keeping the conversation focused on your client and her hair is essential. While conversation can jump from family to vacations to weekend plans, it is important to use the time you have with your client to make both service and product recommendations.

Breanna Zink Vandenberg, a stylist at Buzz Salon, always redirects the conversation back to the client, says Connolly, allowing her to teach and explain to her client what she’s doing and why. For this reason, Zink Vandenberg has a product sales average that exceeds one piece per client.

Leo Zarovsky, owner of ZaZa Salon in Vernon Hills, Illinois, feels that choosing the product combination to style a client’s hair is just as much a part of the creative process as the service. “The number-one reason clients leave their stylist is boredom. The client thinks the stylist can’t give her a new look. Products can help,” Zarovsky says. “You don’t have a lifelong product—it doesn’t exist. You use a shampoo for a few months, and then you switch. I think it’s part of being artistic—having a choice—you have the opportunity to find what’s going to work for that client.”



The commission earned on retail can add up quickly for those that make product sales a priority. Take Zink Vandenberg of Buzz Salon, for example, averaging one retail piece per client. Let’s imagine that the average product retails for $30 at the salon. If Zink Vandenberg makes 10% commission for her retail sales, and sees eight clients per day, she would make an additional $24 per day. She could earn an extra $504 at the end of the month if she works 21 days. At the end of the year, she will have earned more than $6,000!

Zink Vandenberg’s sales far exceed the national average, so imagine another scenario. If a stylist were to average .25 products per client, with the same commission structure and number of clients each day, he or she could profit more than $1,500 a year for sales. While commission structures and product pricing will vary between businesses, there exists a real financial opportunity, and captive audience, when it comes to selling in the salon.

Client Retention

Zarovsky reminds his team that recommending product leads to client retention. “Stylists share a relationship with their clients that leave with a product. Every single time she’s looking at that bottle and putting that product in her hair, she reflects on the experience she had with her stylist. Seeing that product in the bathroom every day creates a bond.” That bond, Zarovsky says, will keep a client coming back.


Some of the products represented in salons come with different perks in the way of stylist station support and education. As retail reorders are placed, some manufacturers and distributors award points to the salon. Depending on the product line, these points can be used for opportunities like in-salon education or classes at an academy, oftentimes taught by well-recognized, or even celebrity, stylists. Complementary stylist-station and back-bar products are also sometimes redeemable.

At Illusions Color Spa in St. Louis, Missouri, retail is their culture, says owner Marian Stones. “If you want strong education, that’s going to come from retailing. If you want to be promoted and hit your bonuses, you have to sell retail. Every single thing in our salon is based around retail.”

Because of the retailing success her team has achieved, Stones consistently has stylists participating backstage at Fashion Week and traveling for education. “We get all of these opportunities from our vendors because we sell product,” Stones says.

According to Connolly, education goes hand-in-hand with client retention. “We are so loyal in educating ourselves that our clients are loyal back. You just can’t charge without delivering ‘the new stuff’ and constantly growing. Our business is all education and people-based; the rest follows.”


If your client tells you she loves the way her hair looks, feels, and smells, you’re on the right track, but your job isn’t done. When you finish the service and ask for the sale, there are many reasons a client will tell you she won’t buy. It’s up to you to interpret what she’s really saying and answer in a way that’s comfortable for you.

She says: “It’s too expensive.”

What she’s really saying: “I can find a cheaper version elsewhere.”

In many cases, the product you recommend could actually save the client money in the long run. For example, while a color-preserving shampoo may be more costly than a drugstore brand, it will protect the investment a client has made in her color. The product you’ve recommended can actually help a client save money in the long run by helping to extend the life of her color, allowing her to stretch time between touch-ups.

She says: “I have some at home.”

What she’s really saying: “I’m not convinced this is any better.”

If a client is hesitant to leave the salon with a product you have recommended, give her a sample, Connolly suggests. If you’ve armed her with the knowledge she needs to style her hair at home, she’ll come back to purchase it. Connolly keeps her approach pressure-free. She would tell a client, “If you have a mousse at home that you like, go ahead and use it up. I’m going to give you a sample today—see how you like it.” More times than not, she says, clients return to make the purchase. If a product recommendation comes with confidence and the knowledge to support it, clients will be more likely to purchase from you. “Trying is buying,” Connolly says.

She says: “I’ll think about it for next time.”

What she’s really saying: “You haven’t told me why I need it today.”

If a client isn’t purchasing products from the salon, she’s getting them somewhere else. Be sure to reiterate the reasons you’ve recommended the product, focusing on the main priority the product addresses. For example, “I know you’re working on growing out your hair. This thermal protectant will ensure your ends are protected from your blow-dryer, preventing the breakage you’ve been noticing.”

She says: “I’m okay.”

What she’s really saying: “I’m nervous about spending the money and not loving the product.”

When a client is on the fence about a product, sometimes the best way to alleviate any fear she has about purchasing is to let her know the salon’s policy on returns. At ZaZa Salon and Spa, products are guaranteed. “If you don’t love it as much as I do, bring it back,” Zarovsky tells clients. Inform your client if your salon has a similar return policy to alleviate any concern she may have in taking home a new product.

She says: “I saw the same product at the drugstore.”

What she’s really saying: “I don’t see a difference between the products.”

For a client, products packaged in identical bottles look the same. It is up to you, as a professional, to educate your client about diversion. Some products available only to salons can end up in other retail locations for a multitude of reasons, but diverted products are oftentimes expired, more expensive, and not guaranteed. Be sure to explain to your client that the products represented in your salon come directly from the manufacturer or distributer, whereas sometimes the “professional” products on drugstore shelves do not.

Stylists, With Benefits

Aside from privileges provided by product manufacturers and distributers, some salon owners will award stylists with incentives above and beyond commission for hitting high retail numbers.

At HIP Salon in Schaumburg, Illinois, owners Debra Hanaway and Vince Otero determine an annual goal for product to service ratio, and reward every stylist that hits that number with a week of paid vacation. The top performer, determined by this ratio, also receives preferred parking at the salon. Stylists forgo commission on retail products, instead “banking” their portion in a fund that can be used for industry events, out-of-state education, and professional necessities like new shears.

Hanaway and Otero have recently begun offering retirement benefits to their team, contributing a percentage depending on business. An increase in retail sales can not only benefit the salon, but staff IRAs as well.

5 Selling Suggestions

Marian Stones, owner of Illusions Color Spa in St. Louis, Missouri, provides these suggestions to help apprehensive stylists become more comfortable with retailing and get products moving: 

1. Place signage on your station that reads, “Ask me about (insert product).” “The client who reads that will initiate the conversation, and that’s half the battle sometimes.”

2. Do NOT ask, “Did you want any product today?” The client will inevitably say “no” because they don’t know what to ask for. The conversation has to start at the consultation, continue at the shampoo bowl, get detailed during the service, and close at the counter.

3. Participate in vendor classes. Many lines offer product knowledge classes to stylists. These sessions can help stylists to speak intelligently about the products their salon offers, as well as learn different features and benefits.

4. Don’t sell, prescribe. “If you went to the doctor and learned you had bronchitis, you’d want her to tell you what to do to get better. Recommending products is the same thing.” Listen for the issues your client shares about her hair, and prescribe a solution in the form of a treatment or styling aid.

5. Convey confidence. “Just as you show your client the cut that will make them look their best, and the color that will compliment their features most, you need to convey the same confidence in your product recommendation. Your clients come to you with the expectation that you will give them your best.”

 “Some of our best retailing months are when we offer a conditioner free with a waxing service. The client typically buys the shampoo—it’s probably the best promo we’ve ever had.”

—Charlotte Gardner Green, owner of Chrome: A Salon Experience in College Station, Texas

 “Designated retail goals must be achieved in order for our stylists to move up through our level system and receive pay increases. Our minimum requirement for our team to move up in levels is .50 pieces per client.”

—Debbie Riegel and Amy Carter, owners of Solaris in Evansville, Indiana

“We bring a basket of products used to the front desk after a guest is finished with their service. Our guest service team is trained to assist the service provider by asking, ‘which of these products would you like to take home with you today?’ Our basket program has proven to increase our retail sales by 30 percent.”

—James F. Pacifico, owner of Natural Lifestyles in Murray, Utah

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