Business Management

What Would a Computer Do for Your Salon?

Computerizing has helped salons do everything from track product use an inventory, follow-up with clients, and determine profitability.

Do the terms’ cyberspace,” “multimedia,” and “information super highway” leave you yearning for simpler times? Do you know your RAM from your ROM? Or are you a “techno-geek” who communicates via e-mail and can’t understand why others have problems “surfin’ the net?”

Computers have change the way America works, and that includes salons. Many salons have computerized their operation s and many more are looking to. Even self-described “computer phobics” say that, with some basic instruction, computers aren’t that hard to operate. And every owner that we’ve spoken to who has computerized her salon says that computers have increased efficiency and profitability.

If you’re still holding back, thinking that a computer system will make your operations more impersonal, think again. Salon owners says computers make it easier to offer personalized service because, with the right software, a computer can tell you which clients you haven’t seen in a while, which one have a birthday that month, and even want client’s favorite shade of polish is.

Computerizing your salon is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Some salon owner use computers to track everything from appointments to service and retail sales. Some even track where a client is in the salon at a given time. Others use a computer to create their salon newsletter. No matter what the use, each salon owner said a computer system has helped them save time and money.

Admitted, several of salons are big, and a few even have more than one location. But before you dismiss computerization as being unnecessary or too costly for your salon, ask yourself, “How did they get that big?”


“As we were approaching the 1990s, I realized we had to stop trying to run our salon by hand,” says Jesse Briggs, owner of Yellow Strawberry Global Salon in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “We do about $50,000 in business each week. That’s just too much to track by hand, “he adds.

When first researching computer systems for his chain if 12 salons, Briggs looked at trade magazines. “I also asked others in the business for their software preferences. I chose Elite software because that company seemed to have a pretty good understanding of this industry. When purchasing my hardware. I was looking for a bargain. The best price I got was from Apple,” he says.

“Everything is done on the computer. This saves us tremendously on our labor costs. We have seen at least 50% savings in labor alone. We are able to do the same amount of work with our office staff of three that would take a staff of about 15 to do by hand. Everything from stock control, payroll, retail orders, retail commissions, and customer profiles are on the system,” he explains.

One of the primary benefits of his system is the personal attention it enables stylist to give clients “In the customer profile we are able to track not only the services the uses, but also her birthday and if she’s recently had a baby or bought a new car, etc. we like to keep it personal. This makes the clients aware she is in a place that cares about her. I don’t ever want one of my stylists asking a regular client if she’s been here before. Our receptionist gives a client background on each person to the stylist,” she adds.

Briggs also sends out mailers on a quarterly basis. Because there is a complete list of all his clients on the computer, he can send out promotional pieces to booth regular clients and those who haven’t been seen a while.

“This is the future of the industry,” he says emphatically. “This business is getting more and more technical every day. I don’t think the mom-and-pop establishments will be able to survive. My only regret is that I didn’t computerize sooner.

“If someone is thinking about computerizing, I suggest finding another salon that has done it and seeing how their system works before calling any software dealers.

Most people want to help. There are leaders in every town. Find that person and ask for help.”



Frank Burge, owner of Day Spa Boutique in Houston, Texas, realized what computers could do for his business long before any suitable software was available. “I started looking to computerize around 1973. At that time, I was trying to schedule 40 employees, which is very difficult to do on paper. I called all the software companies, but none of them were producing anything that met my needs.

“Then in 1984, a programmer called me looking for work. We collaborated to develop a program. It was originally intended to do just scheduling, but it developed into a point-of-sale program that handles everything, including inventory, payroll, etc.,” Burge explains.

The program, Come Again, is sold by International Expert System (IES). The program uses bar codes to ensure accuracy. Each stylist and clients are assigned a bar code, as are the 60 service that salon offers. When a client comes in, her bar code is affixed to a sheet. Each person who sees this client puts her own bar code on that sheet as well as a bar code from the service performed. When done, the sheet is scanned, and all prices, commissions, and client information are automatically entered into the computer. The client receives an itemized receipt that also shows the next appointment date.

Burge explains, “The service, the technician, and product purchases from the client’s last 10 visits are in the computer. We can recall a person in a specific time frame. For instance, if someone gets her hair cut every six weeks, we enter that. At the appointed time, the computer either prints out a reminder letter or prints a list of people who need to be called – whether we want.

“This program has helped us develop our business tremendously. We would never be able to track this amount of people by hand. We do $3.5 million of business and $600,000 in retail sales annually. We see 1,800 people per week. Of those, 57% have multiple services. That amount to a lot of scheduling problems. I have seen salons that aren’t as big as mine doing all of this work by hand. They have tons of office staff. It’s very efficient.”

Burge suggests if you plan to computerize your salon, look for quality hardware and software that is proven. You need to be sure a company will be around in the future to support and upgrade the product.”


Jackie O’Neal, who opened Mona Salon in Houston, Texas, 25 years ago, says computerizing gave her control over her business. “The difference is incredible. We have more control over our booking and better follow-up with clients,” says O’Neal. “We also have better control our accounting. Our employees no longer have to add   everything up by hand, which has created errors in the past.

“It has also helped us with our employees. We can pull up their records by day, week, or year-to-date and show them how close they are coming to their goals, their percentage of returns, and how many new clients they are getting. If a stylist complains we aren’t booking her enough new clients, we can easily pull that data up.” She says.

The ability to give clients personalized attention is what O’Neal appreciates most. “We can so 30-, 60-, and 90-, day recall letters as well as birthday greetings and thank your notes. We can make standing appointments. All of the information is in the computer,” she explains.

You don’t have to be a computer pro to use a system like this. In fact, O’Neal had never worked with computers before installing the system. “It was definitely a challenge for us,” she says. “That first month was pretty confusing, but now there is no comparison to the way we used to do things. We currently see about 150 clients per day. We simply couldn’t accommodate that amount if we were still doing things by hand. I know we lost a lot of clients in the past because we weren’t able to track their needs.”

O’Neal says she also stopped losing products due to theft. “Because this is a cash-based business, there is a lot of stealing that typically occurs at the front desk – even though many owners don’t want to believe that,” she warns. “Because everything is bar code, the numbers can be fudged. It is much easier to track that now.”


While Kelly Begin, owner of a Perfect Ten Nails & Accessories in Lynwood, Wash., hasn’t computerized her salon yet, she uses her home computer to create a newsletter for clients using Microsoft Publisher. “It took me a few weeks to write the newsletter and a few hour to create it on the computer,” says Begin. “We used paper that already had a design on it and printed right onto that.

I decided to produce a newsletter because we wanted to let our clients know about events, services, and products without having to tell them individually. For example, we sponsor a family holidays and people always wanted to help.

“In the last newsletter I also let clients know about specials and I spotlighted a product. It was incredible! We blew those products out!


Nancy Burke, owner of Serenity Day Spa in Chapel Hill, N.C., never even consider opening her salon without a computer system in place. “We were on—line when we opened in September. I have a degree in computer science and I have a computer, my husband has one, and my kids have one. There was no question as to whether the salon would computerize,” says Burke.

“I use the Helios software that I bought through Nailco. For hardware, I have the computer, a cash register, a receipt printer, and an inkjet printer. We ring clients up at the register using the computer keyboard. The computer opens the cash register and logs the information under the client’s name. if she buys retail products, the inventory is automatically decreased.”

Burke’s favorite function of the computer, however, is the variety of reports she can run at the touch of a key. “You can do breakdowns by product or by technician. You can group products. For example, I group services into face services, body services, and hand services, and makeup services. Then there are a bunch of codes in each group that identify specific services.

“Today is the last day of month, so I’ll analyze technicians’ work. I can also compute commissions on it, which makes payroll easy. These reports show where we’re doing well and where we need work. The demands aren’t highly technical, but I can out the data six different easy in minutes. There’s no comparison to doing it by hand. This system even lets you do analysis by day of week or time of day. We can tell that we do very well at night and Thursday and Fridays.

Everyone does transactions with computer. The software is very user-friendly. And it has passwords so I can block employees from accessing management information,” says Burke.

Her recommendations to salon owners considering investing in a computer system? “Most companies will send a demo disk of their software. Try it, if you have trouble working with the demo, you can be sure you’re going to have even more trouble when you get the whole system,” says Burke.

When you switching over to a computer, Burke recommends that you continue to do work by hand for a period of time to make sure that you understand how to use the computer and it does what you think it will. “It’s hard to go back six months later and re-create data if you did something wrong,” she says.


When Renee Adams, business operations manager of Gadabout Hair, Skin, Nails and Day Spa in Tucson, Ariz., first started researching computer systems with owner Pam McNair nine years ago, they knew nothing about computers except that they need one better track the information p0ouring in from their four salons.

“Now, each individual salon has a computer system from Stats Plus. The individual computers collect client data, do daily ticket and retail totals, and track inventory. I take the information from the salons and from there I do the weekly and monthly balancing. I do reports for each location that breaks down how many haircuts, perms, facials, manicures, pedicures, etc., were done,” says Adams.

Individual salons also need not worry about tracking their retail inventory because Adams pulls a report each week on the salons’ retail sales and orders product to restock the salon from the main office. This way, the salons never have too much, or too little, retail stock on hand.

Now that the salons are computerized, Adams says it’s hard to imagine how they worked without it. But finding the right system, she says, was difficult. When she and McNair first researched computer system, they felt their naïveté about computer left them vulnerable. “If you’re not computer literate, it’s easy to be taken,” she warns. “We got burned once. The first system we bought wasn’t large enough for our needs and couldn’t provide all the functions that we needed. The second time around we learned what to look for.”

Adams recommends finding out what pother salon owners have done and what worked and didn’t work for them. “Pam belongs to an association of salon owners called Intercoiffure. She gleaned a lot of information from members,” says Adams.

Before you start shopping, Adams says to analyze what you need the computer to do and then to write those items down so that it’s easier for the salesperson to help you. Be specific about what you need the system to do: How many retail items you will need to tract, how many clients you will need to track, etc.


Debbie Doerlamm, owner of Wicked Wich Nails in Ronkonkoma, N.Y., is no newcomer to the computer world. In fact, computers have been part of their life for 23 years – ever since she learned to program with punch cards. Because her computer and her salon are located in her home, computerizing her business was easy. “When I got to the point that I had enough clients, I started keeping track of them on the computer. That was about four years ago,” Doerlamm explains.

Doerlamm currently uses a database program to track her appointments, client lists, and client preferences. The program allows her to print out daily listing of appointment times and services. She also uses a spreadsheet program for accounting purposes. To create signs and business cards, she uses Microsoft Publisher, a desktop publishing program that retail for about $95.

Doerlamm also uses on-line bulletin boards to communicate with other nail technicians. “I was searching around America Online and found other technicians. I discovered that I could create a message board where we could conduct discussions. I e-mailed other and told them to join us.

“Right now, I am in the process of creating an Internet mailing list. Anyone with an e-mail address will be able to take part in roundtable discussions on nail-related topics. I will e-mail anyone interested a letter that explains topics that will be covered, how to post a question, where to get help, etc. When a person has a question, she posts it to the mailing list and all of the subscribers can answer it. The answer also go to all subscribers. This way we can create a discussion,” Doerlamm explains.

Topics for these roundtable discussions will include promotional ideas, allergic reactions and problems with brushes, acrylics, gels, nail art, and more. “I started this in July 1994. Over the past two months we have really gotten a good response. There are currently about 100 people involved,” she adds.

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