If your household remotely resembles the average American home, then chances are you have a computer sitting on your desk. In fact, 76.7% of nail technicians say they have access to a computer (according to NAILS’ 2000-2001 Fact Book), a considerable increase from the 49.5% of nail techs who said the same thing in 1999. The question is: Are you using the computer to help organize and make your business more profitable?
Trying to keep track of all the responsibilities of running and operating a salon is a huge task. Not only do you have to book client appointments, there’s also employee payroll, client tracking, and inventory control to worry about. To top it off, you still have to attend to your own clients. That’s where salon software comes in.
Although the numbers are still small, more and more nail salon owners are putting away their paper record books and pens and are instead opting to rim their businesses using one of the many software packages available.
Keeping Clients in Mind
One of the main attractions of any software package is its appointment- booking feature. Inputting a client’s next manicure — or upcoming services for the rest of the year for that matter — can be as simple as pressing a button.
Most programs allow you to figure out the time it takes each staffer to perform a specific service so you won’t have to worry about having one appointment rim into the other. Systems such as the one offered by Leprechaun Salon Software even feature double bookings and find the first available appointment. Other systems book multiple employees by placing them side by side for easy viewing.
According to Rexine Patterson, a salon strategic planner with SMART Group, a salon management and training group in Philadelphia, every software program should be able to search for appointment openings and rescheduling, and track appointment confirmations, no shows, and check-ins.
Salon software is also helpful when it comes to focusing on your clients. Most software programs feature unlimited client service and retail history, so you know exactly what they purchased and when, and what services they usually request. You can even place a client’s photograph on her information page. “To sum it all up, it puts you in the know about your clientele base and each individual client so you can market better, sell more, and keep each client returning for more,” says Patterson about the client information features.
A software package also comes in handy when you want to market to your existing clientele. Most systems feature everything from built-in postcards for birthdays, thank-you notes, and direct mail to promotion tracking.
So instead of trying to remember which clients haven’t come by in a while, the computer can do it for you. This, in turn, saves time and money because rather than mailing a promotion to a certain segment of town and hope that you get a couple of new clients in return, you’re actually focusing on your existing clientele.
“Most salons don’t spend time on marketing to their existing client base,” says Dominic Minervino, president of Toronto-based Milano Systems. “With a software system, they can target mail 200 clients and get an 18%-22% response as opposed to getting less response from general mailings.”
And if a client’s birthday, anniversary, or another special event is coming up, the computer gives you a reminder. The software also tells how many new clients discover you and generates client lists in selected categories. This feature comes in handy if you’re offering a deal on pink-and-whites and want to get your natural nail clients to try a new service. Instead of looking through files to see which clients have natural nails, the software has all of that information stored.
Keeping Track of Your Business
When it comes to sales and inventory tracking, there’s no other substitute for salon software. “Keeping track of sales is a feature we get asked about often,” says Fred Daniel, president of E-Z Way Salon Software in Jacksonville, Fla. “You can run sales reports at the end of the day, end of the week, or end of the month.”
A good software system should keep all accounting figures and receipts organized and help you track growth to ensure that your income keeps up with or exceeds cost increases. That way, you’ll know whether your business has grown or if you’re not doing as well as you anticipated.
Sales reports also allow you to see how much work each employee produced. “Sales reports allow you to see in black and white which employees are actually producing and not just looking busy,” says Patterson.
Instead of trying to remember how many hours each of your employees worked during the week, the computer can do that for you. A software program can also track an unlimited number of employee appraisals and vacations. And by tracking your employees productivity, it allows you to be fair when it comes time for their reviews. “Now you know the exact status of each staff member, and you can map out a plan to help her improve her weaknesses,” says Patterson.
And if you want to keep track of what products are hot sellers and which are slow movers, the inventory features in software programs figure those out for you as well. Or, if you suddenly find yourself running out of a product, the computer will automatically alert you when to reorder inventory. “The reports the software produces assist you in determining how much to order and how often, who is possibly abusing product usage, and what has been ordered and what is still pending,” says Patterson. “You have all the information you need to order your product more wisely with a better understanding of which products move faster.”
Another important sales feature is the point-of-sale system (also referred to as a POS system). Daniel admits that most people who utilize his software use the point of sale function to ring clients in and out. “It basically works like a cash register,” he says. “You can even purchase a cash drawer and a receipt roll to go along with it.”
Patterson says the advantages to having such a system are many. “For one, it can serve to put the IRS at ease about your cash handling techniques,” she says. “Two, utilizing a POS system is a much more professional way of handling a client’s payment and giving change. And at the end of the day, it’s much easier to tally up and reconcile the drawer.”
The salon industry is better known for its creative savvy than its technological skill, so it’s understandable to be wary of computers and software.
“Many people are fearful of technology’’ says Patterson. “They’re afraid they can’t learn it and afraid of setting up a system in their salon. They don’t understand the power of the salon software tool and how it can assist them in moving their business forward.”
Kevin Swan, president of SalonPro Software in Roselle, Ill., also points out that many nail techs are wary of computers because they figure they don’t need them in their salons. “Nail salons tend to offer only a few services, so nail techs figure they can write everything down,” he says. “What they don’t realize is that a software program can help them bring back clients they might not have kept track of in the past.”
Luckily, most software manufacturers were aware of this when they designed their systems, so their finished products are easy to navigate and understand. “We consider ourselves very user-friendly. We designed our software with training wheels. Anyone can use it and understand it,” says Ronald Mataya, president of Pittsburgh-based Leprechaun Salon Software.
Most systems feature easy-to-read displays and buttons, and they’re forgiving of mistakes, thanks to editing and correcting features that restore client information even after it has been deleted.
Besides being user-friendly, most software packages also feature attractive graphics and displays, which entice both the salon owner and client alike. “In this industry, it’s all about visuals. People want the bubble gum look complete with colors and pictures,” says John Harms, president of Harms Software in Wayne, N.J., and manufacturer of Salon Solutions.
Fear of losing valuable information is a key reason that keeps salon owners from investing in software. Most systems have an automatic back-up feature that safeguards against any power outages or accidental turn-offs. Of course, it’s important to do a manual back up at the end of the day.
“We always suggest to our clients that they do a manual back up at the end of each day,” says Minervino. “It’d be like driving without insurance if they didn’t.”
Let’s Go Shopping
So you’re ready to buy some software. What do you do next? First of all, it’s important to research a company carefully before making a decision.
Minervino suggests asking a company for referrals and asking friends and work peers what software systems they use. Also, check to see how long the company has been in business and make sure it offers a strong support group. Look for companies that strive for the best in technical support. After all, there’s nothing worse than getting stuck with software you don’t understand and can’t get help with.
Also, check what kind of training each company offers. Smaller salons can afford to go with software systems that need no outside training, but larger salons may require an intense on-site training session.
The next step is to find a system you’re comfortable with. That’s why it’s important to not go with the first one that comes along. Shop around. Many companies have booths at trade shows offering free demos and literature. You can also check out their websites or ask them to mail you information.
Of course, it’s important to not go with the first software program that catches your eye, especially if you’re not computer literate. “Avoid using the lower price gimmick as a guideline for buying software. You need to obtain information first,” says Patterson.
If you’re interested in purchasing software but the initial price is just too much to bear, you do have the option of renting. “The future of software will be strictly rental,” says Mataya. “Rather than invest $2,000 in a system, you can spend as little as $39 a month renting the software.”
The other advantage to renting a system is being able to upgrade your software. In fact, most manufacturers who offer a rental option upgrade their clients’ software at no extra charge.
In the end, it all comes down to choosing the software that’s right for you. With so many systems out there, you’re bound to find a perfect fit, whether you’re a one-woman operation or a salon with several employees.
Learning to use the software might seem arduous at first, but eventually, it’ll become second nature to click on the computer and have it — and not you — work away. In the end, the pros outweigh the cons. As Mataya puts it, “There’s nothing else a salon owner can purchase that will be used every day for a decade.”