Retail Success Strategies: Think Service, Not Sales

Retailing products is the most natural extension of salon customer service.

Chances are your clients’ bathroom counters are covered with beauty products, from polishes to hand creams to nail files. Did they buy them from you? Do the products your clients use to maintain their nails have your professional endorsement backing them up? Most important, will those products maintain your services at your standards?

If you answered no to any of those questions, it’s time to take a serious look at what retailing can do for you.

Almost 60% of nail technicians retail some products, according to NAILS Magazine’s research. That leaves 40% who are missing out on reaping big rewards. For example:

  • If your salon carries just five products and you sell four each day, you’ll bring in $20,000 extra per year.
  • Sandy Pappas, a Minneapolis based consultant for manufacturers, distributors, salons, and schools, earns $1,400 extra during the holidays by selling 14-karat gold nail charms and gold nails.
  • Retailing $10,000 in products last year earned four staff members at Noelle The Day Spa in Stamford, Conn., a Caribbean cruise.
  • At Class Act in Iowa City, Iowa, four nail technicians retail about $500 in products every week.
  • Retail profits can cover a year’s worth of overhead expenses, including a full-time cleaning crew.
  • Retailing is an easy way to give yourself a raise.
  • Retailing is like having a silent employee you don’t have to pay or train.

Thinking Retail

Nationwide, retail income brings in an average of 6% to 8% of salon’s gross dollars. But those figures are deceiving because of the disparity in salons even doing retail---some salons do upwards of 50%; others opt to do no retail at all. Why the difference?

The difference might just be in how successful salons look at retailing. We found that the higher a salon’s retail percentage, the more linked retail percentage, the more linked retail is to service. Those who don’t retail seem to think of it as a mere sales pitch. Those who do retail see it as the final---and maybe most important---extension of their service from one appointment to the next. It all goes back to adding value, a highly touted marketing philosophy that has been defined by the buying habits of Baby Boomers. While the members of this group, which makes up the largest spending segment of the population, are willing to spend money, they want value for it. To successfully service them, you need to meet their needs and expectations with your products. What this means to the salon is that you need to back up your service with products, and back up products with service.

“Product knowledge can be so second nature to us that we assume our clients already know it from beauty magazines,” says Pappas. “They might have read about nail strengtheners or top coats, but have no idea what they do. Chances are they’ll be too intimidated to ask, even if they want to know all about them.

“That means when clients leave your salon, they’ll go to the drug or department store and squeeze and smell products until they find one that looks like what you used,” adds Pappas. “If they pick the wrong product, they’ll probably think your service was bad rather than blame the incorrect product they chose. Can you think of a better reason to retail?”

When you do send clients home with the proper products to maintain your service, they’ll appreciate it and come to rely on you, which virtually guarantees client retention. Today’s more sophisticated clients want and expect you to suggest products to help them and, in fact, will questions your credibility if you don’t.

Retail Equals Added Value

“Think of every retail product as a solution to a client problem,” says Michael Cole, industry educator and president of Salon Development Corporation in St. Paul, Minn. “Never just say, ‘By the way, we have this new kit you should buy.’

“During your consultation or discovery period, raise problems or concerns and then offer solutions. For example, ask your client, ‘When you go home, what kinds of problems do you have with your nails?’ You’ll get answers like, ‘My polish wears off quickly or doesn’t look as fresh.’

“Next, ask questions such as, ‘What results are you looking for?’

“Then say, ‘While I’m doing your nails today. I will give you some tips to maintain them better.’ Such statements imply that you are not selling but educating. For example, demonstrate how you’re massaging in the hand cream and the benefits they’ll receive. Explain how you’re applying the polish and how they can do it at home for best results.

“As you take your clients through this process, it becomes a workshop. You’re showing and explaining what you’re doing, what products you’re using, and the benefits of those products. At the same time, you are creating a need and desire for the products.

“What you are really doing is giving your clients value-added service by doing the same thing you’ve always done, just in a new and better way. You’re motivating your clients to buy, and at the same time, they go home with a value-added experience saying, ‘No one has ever taken the time to teach me this before.’ You can bet they’ll tell their friends, too.”

First, some basic principles of retailing:

If you carry professional quality products that are not available at drug or department stores, clients will have to return to your salon to purchase all their products.

Next, use everything you sell and sell everything you use.

It builds your credibility all the way around.

Hold weekly or monthly meetings to set goals and review progress.

Monthly meetings focus on ticket building at Noelle The Day Spa, where the nail department grossed $50,000 last year from retailing.

“We begin with taking $15 manicures to $20 by adding services and retail products,” says owner Noel de Caprio. “If each nail technician adds just $5 per client and dose eight clients per day, that’s an extra $40 per day.” Multiply that by her 12 nail technicians and you’ve got $480 additional income every day.

Work as a Team

At Class Act, salon manager/nail technician Rachel Mathes works with twofull-time assistants. Mathes opens the product discussion/ discovery session with clients, then turns it over to an assistant who explains what the product is and discusses its features and benefits. (Features are qualities of the products; benefits are the results your clients will see.)

“We close by saying, ‘If you don’t use this product, here’s what will happen,’ Mathes explains, “so the client knows what to expect if she doesn’t use the product. If she still doesn’t want it, we remind her that we’re always here for her and we’ll write our suggestion on her card and invite her to stop back any time to purchase the product.”

Promote Your Products

Educator Carol Phillips of Huntington Beach, Calif., recommends featuring a different product each month that’s tied in to the season. Promote a product that clients might not normally buy without that extra enticement.

“For August, feature a body slougher to slough off dead skin accumulation, particularly for clients who have tanned during the summer,” says Phillips. Push nail strengtheners during the winners months. Sunscreens can move any time---in the winter for skiers and those vacation-bound or in spring and summer to get ready for the sun.

Great Incentives

Once your salon is ready to go with retail, you’ll need to get your entire staff as committed as you are. Incentives can be straight forward as paying a 10% commission or as creative and fun as games and contests.

Marlene Bridge, a nail technician who owns Elegant Distributing in Pittsburgh, split retail profits with her nail technicians during her 11 years as a salon owner. She suggests paying commissions in quarterly lump sums based on a technician’s service percentages. “When the nail technicians get a check for an extra $100 to $250 per quarter, they really begin to see how lucrative retailing can be for them, too.”

At Nail Craft in Gilbertsville, Penn., two favorite promotions of owner Christine Derr and her four nail technicians include “Scratch and Spiff”and “Tic Tac Retail.”

To play the Scratch and Spiff game board, you set a goal, say, $3,500, and then each square on the board is worth $35. Each time a staff member sells $35 of product, she scratches off a square and wins a prize. It could be cash, T-shirts, tote bags.

Tic Tac Retail works on a tic-tac-toe board, with each space representing products such as 12 bottles of polish, six cuticle oils, or six hand creams. Every Tic Tac Retail row can earn a prize, such as pizza parties or movie tickets for the high-selling technician.

While Class Act runs quarterly incentive programs, including bingo and prize board game, Mathes says the real incentive and excitement for technicians come when they feel they’ve really helped their clients.

“Helping our clients is our first priority and that’s why we move so much retail,” she says. “We want our clients to come back with nails that look as nice as when they left. That’s the best reward we could ask for.”

Beyond Nails

Even if your salon does nails only, don’t forget the money-making potential in selling hair care products. All it takes is a well-trained receptionist.

It’s best to keep it simple, says Phillips. Stock only five or six products, such as shampoos, conditioners, sprays, gels, and other styling aids, and select a line with brand identification so you’re catching clients when they need to restock.

Don’t overlook products everyone needs and will buy on impulse, such as sunscreen, mascara, and makeup.

Also, boutiques can be big money-makers and great motivators. According to Mathes, Class Act’s small boutique brings in $1,000 per week---that’s $4,000 per month, and almost $50,000 per year.

The receptionist runs the boutique, which carries skin care, make up, clothing, and accessories that clients cannot find elsewhere in Iowa City. That exclusivity is key to the boutique’s success. Best-sellers include scarves, belts, sunglasses, jewelry, and briefcases.

Staff members get a discount and love to wear what they buy, which leads to lots of client questions and sales.

Value-Added Service

If you’re concerned about the cost difference between your products and those available at the drugstore, remember this: Your clients will spend money for what is meaningful to them. If they’re paying for a professional manicure, pedicure, or tip and overlay, their nails are meaningful to them and they expect you to meet all of their needs in the salon and at home.

Start with a value-added consultation.

“A thorough consultation ensures that your recommendations address your clients’ needs, rather than your assumptions,” says Pappas. “Let your clients tell you what they want. For example, the most conservative businesswoman might love nail art on her toes.

“Just make sure you educate, inform, and update your clients on the newest trends. Then let them make their own decisions.

“Retail equals client retention,” sums up Pappas. “If you meet all of your clients’ needs, they won’t need to go elsewhere for anything.”

Clients Say Yes to Service

Once you’ve got your clients hooked on retail, you don’t need to worry that they’ll try to take nail care into their own hands.

Says Bridge, “Just because clients buy polish doesn’t mean they want to do their own manicures. They might just want to paint their toes to match but can’t afford a pedicure right now.” Retail all the right products today, and when a client is ready to try a professional pedicure, you can bet she’ll book it with you.

Bad economic times can actually be good for retail because your clients might need to spread out their appointments temporarily,” says Pappas. “I’d rather teach my clients to do their own glue and buffing to keep them coming to me. I tell them that I will miss seeing them so often but that I am trying to help them save money. And I make sure they know they’re always welcome to come back to me.

“They appreciate my thoughtfulness and concern so that when they can afford a salon appointment, they’ll come back to me. And, after doing their own nails, they’ll appreciate my expertise and professionalism even more.”

If you still aren’t convinced that retailing won’t hurt your service business, consider this: Saying clients won’t come back to you because they buy products to use at home is like saying they won’t go to the dentist because they buy a toothbrush and toothpaste.



Tell ‘Em to Take It Home

Marlene Bridge, a member of Nail Technicians America and veteran salon owner turned distributor, incorporates retail education into every technical class she teaches at Elegant Distributing in Pittsburgh.

Her motto: “By educating and communicating with your clients, you won’t have to sell. If you tell them what you’re using on their hands and feet and why you’re using it, they’ll naturally ask questions and want to take the products home.”

Bridge recommends that clients take home products after every service. For example, for a natural nail manicure, send the client home with a fine file, a buffer, a natural nail strengthener, polish remover, her favorite polish color, top coat, hand cream, and cuticle oil. Some companies now offer products that are a strengthener, base coat, and top[ coat rolled into one.

Start out with the most important products and work your clients up to the total package over two to four appointments. Set up the next purchase by saying, “Mrs. Smith, today you’ll need a natural nail strengthener, hand cream, a file, and some top coat to keep your manicure fresh until next week. Then, you’ll want to pick up your cuticle oil and one or two of your favorite colors. I’ll write that on your card for you.”

For artificial nail service or wrap: a fine grit file, a buffer, glue, a top coat, colored polish, non-acetone polish remover, hand cream, and cuticle oil.

Keep these clients prepared for breaks at all hours. Remember, you want her to always look her best and you aren’t on 24-hour call.

For pedicure clients: a fine grit file, a paddle file, sloughing lotion, a conditioning or moisturizing cream, clear and/or colored polish, polish remover, and a top coat. Many manufacturers offer complete min-pedicure kits that clients can take home, use for travel, and give as gifts.

For nail art: clear polish or top coat, in addition to the nail art itself, such as charms, gold nails, gems, and decals.

Remember, a coat of clear polish over your artwork keeps it looking salon fresh for two weeks.

For male clients: clear polish, a buffing file, buffing cream, and a smaller file to smooth rough edges.

By adding value to your service by recommending products, clients will soon see their bathroom counters covered with products purchased at your salon.

Her First Time

The nail technicians and educators we spoke with agree: When it comes to a client’s first retail purchase, stick to the necessities. You’ll want to encourage clients to buy what they need while gaining their confidence and leaving the door wide open for future sales.

“You want to create a chain reaction so that each product purchase builds further confidence in you,” says Marlene Bridge.

Creating a routine for product use ensures that products won’t sit on a shelf somewhere, says Bridge. For example, when you write a “prescription” for hand cream, include a recommendation for three times or places to use it, such as while waiting for a traffic light right after lunch at work, and before going to bed. Provide that sort of guidance for every product.

At Noelle The Day Spa, nail technicians target one specific product---vitamin E hand cream---for all new clients. Says owner Noel de Caprio, “We charge $14 and the salon cost is $4.”

Says Rachel Mathes, We carry a hand and nail maintenance kit that contains small bottles of all the products a first time client needs, that retails for $31.90. The kit comes with a pamphlet that explains each product’s benefits.

“Even if clients don’t buy the entire kit, I give them the pamphlet so they know what they’re missing,” says Mathes. “About 5%  of new clients buy the entire kit on their first appointment, 50% to 70% will spend at least $10 on products during their first visit and in the long run, almost all of my clients will buy all of the products in the kit, spending $5 to $10 per visit.”

Super Service vs. Discounting

When you want to move product, you might be tempted to discount, run two-for-one specials, or simply lower your prices. If you decide to take the discount route, first consider the long-term effects carefully.

Look at what you want your reputation to be. Do you want a high-service, high-quality image, or that of a bargain-oriented salon? If your answer is yes to the first, then avoid discounting. You cannot be both.

Look at your service prices. If you charge $50 to $100 for a full set of nails, you obviously don’t want a discount image. Next, ask yourself who your clients are. Do they usually shop in discount stores? Or do they shop at upscale department stores and boutiques?

Decide if you’re in business to turn a profit. We talked with one salon owner who moves a lot of retail by running price cutting promotions but barely covers her product cost.

Rachel Mathes, salon manager and nail technician at Class Act (not a discount salon) offers this perspective. “We don’t discount our products.” she says. “We don’t believe that as a professional nail salon our job is to discount. Discounts are for discount stores. Our job is to sell our clients the best professional services and products we can offer.

“If they hedge on price, we stress the quality of our products and leave it at that. We don’t want to push them because in the long run, they’ll learn that we offer the best.”

A Buying Atmosphere

If clients can’t see it, they won’t buy it. The message: Keep everything you offer in plain sight.

“Since most of the products used at the nail station are backbar size, clients won’t even realize you have products for sale unless they see them in an enticing setting,” says Carol Phillips, an industry author, educator, and consultant.

                Here are some other tips for great displays:

  • Pretty Polish Pointers. To show off your polish colors, Phillips recommends painting nail tips with all the colors you offer and hooking them through the tip and onto a key ring. Write the color name or number on the back of each tip and hang the ring on the client’s side of your table.

                Your clients can easily try the tips on over their own nails to see how they like the colors,” says Phillips. Don’t forget a minitent card and a mini-display on every table, too.

  • High Visibility. Retail is highly visible at Nail Craft/Hair Craft. That includes three walls in the reception area, two walls in the nail department and at every station, says co-owner Christine Derr. “Everywhere there’s a space to put it, we promote it.”
  • Turning the Tables. Maggie Boyd, owner of Avante Nail Studio in Barrington, III., doubled her retail sales by turning the tables on retail---literally.

                “The nail technicians used to face into the salon so they could see clients as they walked in,” says Boyd whose nails-only salon grossed about 10% in retail sales. “That meant the clients faced the walls all during their service. When we turned the table so the clients faced our retail displays, our sales doubled in two weeks.” Boyd says.

                Taking a lesson from that, now she rearranges her products practically every week.

                “Clients love change,” adds Boyd. “Now they always ask, ‘Did you just start carrying that product?’ even if we’ve had it for months, and the nail technician can begin educating.”

  • Give ‘em Gift Ideas. During the holidays, from Valentine’s Day to New Year’s Eve, make sure your displays give your clients great gift ideas. Creative and effective displays don’t have to cost a lot. Nail polishes and strengtheners become stocking stuffers just by adding a bow. Sandals, a sand pail, and shovel say, “Buy pedicure products.”
  • Tidy Shelves. Keep all displays stocked and clean. Take weekly or even daily inventory. You can’t sell what you don’t have.
  • Grab the Impulse. Most impulse buying is done at the cash register with items at waist height. This is an ideal area for countertop displays.
  • Put Products in Their Best Light. Keep displays well-lighted so clients are attracted to products and can read the labels. Spotlighting can also create a dramatic effect and increase interest.

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