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Building A Clientele In Your First Year And Beyond (2)Building A Clientele In Your First Year And Beyond (2)
July, 22 2005

NATALIE TESSLER, owner of SPA SPACE in Chicago cautions, “Go easy on the discounting—it’s not great for your image.” Instead, when Tessler opened her 5,000 square-foot, everything-but-hair spa four years ago, she introduced a technique which jump-started her business but preserved prestige: she gifted existing clients with something she called “spa dollars”. Here’s how it works: the client writes her name on the coupon, then gives it to a friend. When the friend makes an appointment and presents the card, both the referring friend and the new client receive something extra, such as a comp service (aromatherapy hand massage, bangs trim, blow-out) or a gift of product. These incentives cement loyalty in the relationship, rather than simply attracting fickle bargain-hunters.

Tessler’s also about to expand her “busting-at-the-seams” -successful business by another 2,500 square feet, an occasion she will make newsworthy by contacting the local newspapers (beauty and fashion writers), radio and television stations (local anchors and talk show hosts) and editorial staff from the area’s city magazines with a basic press release (visit for free tips and guidelines).

“Opening a new salon or spa is like opening a new restaurant,” she says. “And expanding is definitely as newsworthy as a grand opening, since it tells the community that things are going well.” Public relations is generally much more effective as a long-term strategy for creating interest and driving business than simply running a paid ad in the local media. Birdsall comments, “Ninety percent of advertising opportunities won’t yield the ROI you need or desire in your first year, and less than 1% of advertising reps understand your business well enough to make a sound recommendation. Their goal is to sell a defined number of ads each month, any way they can.” However, you might consider splitting the cost of a few targeted ads with your strategic partner, introducing the Martini Manicure (or whatever you dream up) during your first few months of business. An ad for a specific event or service will generally be more effective than a generic ad placed in hopes of generating awareness.

JUDY TUTTLE, manager of JOLIE THE DAY SPA in Atlanta, feels that passivity and the wishful thinking that clientele will magically appear are a liability in any business.

“You must proactively market your business every day,” she says. “This means handing out your cards to everyone you meet, including during your hours outside the salon, introducing yourself and explaining that you would love to take care of their hair, skin, hands and feet—whatever.” She points out that even if the recipient of the card is not a potential client, she or he undoubtedly knows someone else who is. And, pre-book the client’s next appointment before they leave your chair. “Again, don’t assume that they’ll call. Don’t leave the ball in their court. Get the commitment from them and write it down in the book before they have their car keys in their hand.”

There has always been a cathartic aspect to the beauty biz—hair stylists, facialists, massage therapists and manicurists touch their clients in intimate ways, and more often than not the secrets (and sometimes the tears) come pouring out. The better you understand the particular needs of your client, the better your bottom-line will be looking this time next year.

Esthetician ROSEMARY GWIN, owner of TIMELESS ELEGANCE SPA CENTER in Dallas, practices Reiki and the Vodder method of manual lymphatic drainage; many clients visit her before and after cosmetic surgery. “To put it bluntly, ladies are prone to gossip,” she explains. “Even best friends may not want the other to know what procedures they’re having. So to keep everybody happy, we are very discreet, and only write the client’s first name and last initial on the ticket. My clients really do appreciate having their identities protected in this way.”

While your clients may not require anonymity, some will no doubt require special handling of some sort. Be prepared to give it graciously. Feeling that their personal priorities are honored is what builds repeat clientele and spreads referrals.

GIGI ZUNIJIC, Miami-based tanner to the stars including Paris Hilton, launched her business, TAN2U, about a year ago. She says, “In any aspect of the beauty business, it’s all about making the client feel comfortable and wonderful with herself. Many of my clients come to me very modest and shy. They are not used to being naked in front of strangers, and they may even be wearing huge, granny panties! But I listen to them, and reassure them, and by the time they leave, they are strutting. I stock gorgeous G-strings, which I give to my clients as departing gifts—and the jumbo granny panties are retired for good.”

It’s so easy to get caught up in the moment, especially when the process and players are new. But those day-to-day details will eat you alive unless you also keep your eye on the big picture. LARRY DUNLAP, hair stylist, trainer, Artistic Director and General Manager for several HAIR COLOR EXPERTS (HCX) in the Raleigh, North Carolina area, advises, “Set aside time to manage. If you are like most salon managers, you also work behind the chair. Make sure that there are designated days to manage and grow your business. I’ve found that trying to work on clients and manage on the same day results in no management being done.” And, still, it all comes back to the details; success lies in being proactive and dealing with key issues before they become problems. Dunlap suggests, “Try to anticipate any needs you will have for managing your staff such as tip policies, day off request forms or refunds. I’ve found that management problems will usually arise when I have the least amount of time to handle them.”
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