Business Management

Computerizing The Salon

Automating can be scary, but with these hints you can be master of the machine.                          

In the beginning it was simple. You start out with a few client’s name and preferences. You can probably recall the last four times the client came in.

Then it begins. Success. you gain clients. You hire another nail technician, then another, then a full-time receptionist who handles all the cash.

To track your clients you use index cards and record their names, addresses, and a few notes about how they like their nails. The cards fill a box, then two boxes.

To promote a special you mail a flyer to all your clients. This small bit of marketing takes you a whole afternoon sorting through the card boxes and typing address labels.

And every month you waste an entire weekend checking the inventory and cash statements by hand with a pencil and calculator. And finally you say, “Enough I’ll buy a computer.”

Sounds easy enough. But what software is available for salons? Where can you buy that software? How many computers will you need? How long will it take to learn the system? How much will all this cost?

“Help!” you scream.

 Computers can be pretty scary if you’ve never worked with them. But a computer is one of the most important tools of any business. The difference between having a good computer system and doing things “by hand” can be astonishing.


Look around your shop to determine your computer needs. What are your computer needs. What are you doing manually that can be organized or improved by automation? What tasks are done over and over?

For example, is this a typical cycle for you?

A client calls for an appointment. The receptionist notes the appointment in a book. When the client arrives, the receptionist writes a job ticket. The technician needs to know client’s preferences, her last appointment, and any specific information such as allergies. This information is read from the card and jotted down for the technician.

The client receives her services, information that is duly recorded on her card and filled away again. A bill is written up and presented to the receptionist or cashier, who then re-totals the information. A receipt is given to the client.

There are lot of steps in that cycle that may be eliminated with a computer.

This and other repetitive tasks can be easily handled by a computer.


The typical computer system consists of hardware and software. Hardware is the physical portion of the computer - the keyboard, printer, storage devices, video display, and the central processing unit. Software is the program or instructions used to operate a computer system. Most salon software is easy to use and will run on simple, inexpensive hardware.

If none of the available software programs fills your needs, consider custom software. Custom software is akin to a tailored suit-you pay more for the outfit but you know it will fit. There are software companies whose sole business is the development of custom programs for business. These developers meet with you to determine your needs, then write the software to handle the job. This can get expensive because developers often charge by the hour for their work. On the other hand, you’ll probably receive a system tailored to your precise needs.


There are tens of thousands of software packages on the market, but if you call your local computer dealer, chances are you won’t find what you’re looking for. It’s not the dealer’s fault. Since salon software makes up such a small percentage of the total market, the average salesman will not be familiar with this type of product.

In addition, the high overhead cost of retail computer operations tends to be passed on to the consumer. In recent years, there’s been a trend toward software specially shops, such as Egghead Discount Software and Comp. U. S. A. (formerly Soft Warehouse). You’ll find these stores listed in your local phone directory under Computer Software.

Beware of salespeople who want to sell you a product off the shelf that isn’t designed for salons. If they suggest a general accounting package or data-base, thank them kindly and run for your life.


If your local vendor can’t help, consider an independent computer consultant. Check your local phone book under Computer Services. In addition, consultants frequently advertise in newspapers and the free publications often found in computer stores. Consulting fees run from $40 to $150 per hour, depending on how difficult the research. Call around. The field is very competitive. In addition, insist on estimates and set cost limits prior to any consultation. A little money spent before you buy your computer may save you a lot of grief later on.

I also strongly recommend shopping at trade shows. Software companies frequently attend trade shows to promote and demonstrate their products for potential customers. As a buyer you have a chance to see the program in action and speak to the company representatives directly. You may be tempted to purchase a system at a trade show because the computer is right there and ready to go home. Don’t feel pressured. Salespeople make pitches, that’s their job. If they really want your business, they’ll work with you. Feel free to pick up literature and look around, but steer clear of trade show specials unless you’ve already decided on that company’s software.


The majority of salon software is sold direct from the developer or through distributors. More than likely, you’ll end up dealing directly with the manufacturer. It’s not as convenient as dropping by the local Computer Land, but look at it this way. If there was a particular nail product that you wanted to stock, you’d purchase directly from the manufacturer if there was no local distributor, right? Why do something different with a computer?

Some companies offer turnkey packages. A turnkey package includes the complete computer system, delivery, training, and technical support. Many people prefer this method so they don’t have to deal with six different people prefer this method so they don’t have to deal with six different people when they have a question. A turnkey system might also be the least frightening way of getting started. Before you speak with any vendor, put together a list of questions about exactly what you need the computer to do. If you go shopping prepared, you’re less likely to wind up with the wrong system or buying on impulse.


First, you enter your data. That is, transfer all your manual records to the computer. Depending on the software, this process means establishing names and prices for all your products and services, then entering that information into the computer. Some software makers offer a service whereby the software company sends you a form on which you list all your products and services. This information is entered into the database by the manufacturer and shipped to you. This significantly cuts your startup time.

Second, train your staff. Everyone who will be responsible for running the computer should be trained by the software company (if they offer training) or should complete any self-training manuals that come with the system. If you rely on one person to handle everything, you’re asking for trouble. What if they’re sick? What if they quit?

Everyone doesn’t need to be an expert, but there should be a minimum level of competency required of employees. Everyone should be able to display a client file and ring up a purchase. Only managers or bookkeepers need to worry about monthly reports or mailing lists.

Third, establish procedures. Figure out how things should be done on the computer. Write down step-by step instructions. Put these instructions in a three-ring binder with clearly labeled tabbed indexes. Make one manual for each computer and keep a spare. Make sure everyone reads the book and understands it.

Fourth, do it twice. Clients who are replacing a manual system with a computer should do everything twice. Why? Safety. Until you’re sure the computer is going to work for your salon, you don’t want to rely exclusively on the new system.

That means that every transaction should be entered into the computer and recorded manually. You’ll have to your regular books by hand for the first month or two and use that information to cross-check the reports the computer provides. If the computer should fail, you still have your paper records. And, if there are errors in the software, you can detect them before they get out of hand. It means some extra hours, but you’ll sleep a lot better.

Fifth, back it up! Having all your salon records on a computer is truly convenient, but what if something happens to the computer? Always keep a back up copy of all the data in the computer.

Beautique Salon in Houston once had a major computer failure and lost most of its database. However, because they had installed utility software that maintained a duplicate directory of their computer files, they were abl to recover the crucial client files within hours.


Since the computer is part of your business, it’s tax-deductible-not just the computer, but any training costs, consulting fees, and computer supplies such as ribbons and diskettes. Talk to your accountant about specific methods of deduction, but remember that every penny you spend on automation can be written off your taxes in some fashion.

As a consultant, I make my money promoting the use of computers. But if one of my clients doesn’t really need a computer, or can’t switch over from a manual system, I don’t push the issue. Neither should you. Buying a computer is a big decision. It will affect your business in ways you haven’t even considered.

If you’re ready for a computer, by all means jump in with both feet. Just look before you leap.     

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