Marketing & Promotions

Slow Times Busy Times Any Time’s the Right Time to Advertise

A steady advertising program keeps business growing year-round.

Several years ago, in a past career as a salesperson, I approached a small-business owner to sell her advertising space in a publication. The ad was small and reasonably priced but she declined, asking that I contact her again near Christmas time. She explained that business was slow in the spring so she wasn’t going to advertise until the holiday season was closer. 

Not understanding her point, I asked why she only advertised when business was good. Her answer? “Why should I waste money on advertising when my business is drawing fewer orders? I can’t afford it right now.”  

I explained that businesses advertise to increase customer traffic and sales. “Wouldn’t it be a good idea to advertise during business slumps to boost lagging sales?” I asked. She shook her head and repeated that she couldn’t afford the expense.

Although I lost a sale and a commission, her loss was the greater. She spurned an opportunity to heighten community awareness of her business and a chance to increase her traffic, image, and profits.

Most personal-service businesses experience slow periods during the year, and those are the times you can’t afford not to advertise if you want to succeed.

On the other hand, there are business owners who can’t get enough. You know the type: They sponsor every school event, advertise in high school yearbooks, and just can’t say no to persuasive advertising salespeople for local newspapers, weekly shoppers, and yellow page directories.

It’s easy to get excited about promoting your business and consequently advertise in the wrong places at the wrong time. Deciding when to advertise, how much to spend, and what advertising media to use can be difficult. Advertising salespeople often compound the problem by pushing you to purchase bigger ads with a high frequency, an investment you’re not sure the salon can bear.

But unless you’re a movie star about to open a trendy new restaurant, you can’t expect just to open the doors and have customers flock in. Salon owners have to plan ways to draw customers to the salon long before it opens. And once established, they must continue drawing new clients, while keeping current clients abreast of new developments.

Many salon owner tell NAILS Magazine they limit their advertising to the local yellow pages and rely on word-of-mouth referrals. Satisfied customers generate more new business than any yellow pages ad, they say, and any other advertising is a waste of money.


Advertising is an investment and requires careful planning. Take a moment to examine your goals for the salon. Are all the technicians fully booked with appointments? If so, is there still space to add new stations? Do retail items sell quickly? Do a majority of the salon’s clients have add-on services at appointments? Do most nail clients also indulge in waxing, facials, and other skin care services?

If you can’t answer yes to all these questions, your salon needs promoting. Word-of-mouth referrals are an integral part of any business, but if a client does not get facials, she can’t be depended upon to recommend your esthetician to a friend.


First of all, control your investment by establishing a realistic advertising budget. A budget helps you remain within your means, and it provides a figure by which you can measure your results.

Some salons approach advertising haphazardly and fund their ad budget with any money left over after the bills are paid and the salon owner has drawn a salary. This approach puts everything else ahead of advertising and leaves few resources for building your clientele and profit margin. Other salons advertise only when a good opportunity arises. Good opportunities, however, may depend on your mood instead of a truly effective medium to attract business.

Salons in highly competitive areas may try to match competing salons’ advertising. This could be a disastrous approach if both salons don’t target the same market.

A more reliable method of gauging what and when to spend is to allot a percentage of your salon’s monthly sales for advertising. Several advertising experts suggest that personal-service businesses, such as salons, reserve approximately two percent of their gross sales for advertising. But before you arbitrarily choose a number, determine your objectives.

Consider how much you want to increase sales, your desired profit, what competition you have and your target clientele (discount, high-end, housewives, male clients, nail biters, etc.).

If you decide to use the sales percentage method, don’t take a percentage of last year’s sales when deciding your current budget because, hopefully, your business has grown in 12 months. Project your sales figures for upcoming months and take a percentage of that figure.

Once you’ve determined figures for each month, you can shift dollars around to focus on increasing business by advertising more heavily during your slow periods. You need advertising most when business is slow, so pay special attention to your budget during these periods.

Review your projected sales figures every month to be sure your estimate was realistic. If you overestimated one month, grit your teeth and review the following months to be sure they reflect current salon income trends.

Advertising puts your business in the public eye, so a cut in advertising expenditures cuts your exposure. Once you establish a budget, stick with it and increase—don’t decrease—your advertising as the salon grows. Advertising makes your business grow, so you can’t save money by spending less. You wouldn’t cut the hours of the person who sells the most retail products because you had already met your retail objectives, would you?

Two percent of gross sales is an estimate, and you may need to adjust the percentage as your circumstances and goals change. For example, new services require more promotion, as do new salons. Heavy competition also means you’ll need to advertise more because potential clients will have more choices. You have to nab their attention—and their business—from your competitors. Expansion needs and location problems also influence your spending. If you want to grow, you may need to spend more. Likewise, if your salon is located in a low traffic area, you may need to spend more money to let people know where you are.


Now that your budget is established, you need an advertising plan. The most important task at hand is to define your target client. Envision a new client walking through your door. Who is she? (Is she a ‘he’?) How old is she and how is she dressed? Where does she live and work? How much disposable income does she have?

If the salon is already established with a regular clientele, ask them where they look when seeking new services. Do they read local newspapers or the weekly shopper? Do they read their junk mail? Do you have their addresses for direct mail advertising?

Once you’ve collected this information, you can reach the right market at the right time, through the right advertising medium. Door hangers and discount fliers may not be an option for high-end salons because these customers may throw away all junk mail. After all, clients accustomed to paying $70 for a full set of artificial extensions aren’t looking for bargains. Likewise, discount salons would send the wrong message with engraved invitations.


Once the budget is set and you know how to best reach your target audience, you may choose to reach prospective clients daily, weekly, or monthly with your established budget. You have several different options. Some businesses, for example, prod the community with a small, regular ad campaign. They advertise frequently and regularly so that people don’t forget about them.

Other salons hold large promotions or sales spaced throughout the year, or they focus on seasonal peaks. There’s no limit to the number of sales promotions you can have each year. Valentine’s Day, Spring Sprucing, Summer Blowouts, Back-to-School, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are great times for promotions. Or you can make up your own reasons for having a sale.

You can also combine the two approaches and do some regular advertising, perhaps in the yellow pages, and supplement it with larger, strategically planned promotions. If you want to boost your client base, regular advertising would best serve your salon because it would continually draw in new clients. On the other hand, if you want to increase retail sales or push your business through its traditional slow times, you may opt for larger promotions spaced farther apart.

Your approach depends on the focus of your campaign. For example, are you trying to increase your client base, retail sales, or add-on services? Or are you promoting a new service? Steady advertising, even on a small scale, will promote the stable growth of your customer base. Retail sales may be boosted by combining discounts or free trial sizes of nail or skin care products with services. Likewise, add-on services can be promoted by offering half-price paraffin dips with another, regular priced service.

New services, on the other hand, need a splashy send-off. Hang banners, offer discounts, and run a special ad announcing the new service. The promotion is more costly, but how often do you expand your service menu? The big promotion will help establish an immediate clientele, which can then be built up by incorporating the service into your regular advertising plan.


Sometime during the planning stages of your advertising campaign, call a staff meeting and discuss your plans with everyone. Involve them in deciding what specials, if any, you’ll run, and give them a chance to voice their opinions.

Discuss the salon’s image with the staff and decide if there’s anything you, as a group, can improve. For example, some nail technicians may balk at a salon dress code, but most should be willing to adhere to a dress standard established by the group.

Next, turn a critical eye on your salon and see it as a new client would. Is it clean, modern, and esthetically pleasing? Are the walls clean and the floor polished? Reception are couches and chairs should be stain-free and inviting. Salon personnel should maintain a dress standard and must be friendly and well-trained.

When the salon is ready and the first ad is finalized, tell the technicians the current specials and where they’ll be appearing. You may run a 20 percent discount on paraffin dips in the local newspaper and a coupon good for a $5 discount on a full set of silk wraps in the weekly shopper. Tape copies of the current ads near the cash register so technicians can see, at a glance, the current specials. And highlight expiration dates to remind technicians to check the dates and gently refuse expired coupons.

Now is a good time to review your salon’s goals. The future is yours to fill, so think big. If you want your client base to grow faster than word-of-mouth will spread, advertising may help let everyone know where you are and what you have to offer. So go ahead, invite them in.

Advertising Opportunities Never Cease  

Nike’s “Just Do It” “Coke Is It.” Anyone can rattle off a list of easily recognizable ad slogans. Sometimes jingles and tunes from familiar commercials stick in your mind all day. And it’s no wonder.

The average consumer is bombarded with approximately 1,600 ads every day, says Peter Eder of the Association of National Advertisers. The human mind, however, is amazing in its ability to selectively shut out whatever it doesn’t want to consider.

With the gauntlet down, businesses large and small are challenged to break through the consumer’s armor and catch her attention. Eder says the clutter of messages in society is extraordinarily intense. The advertiser, he explains, must pinpoint potential customers and then look for the appropriate media to reach that market with as little waste as possible. Why send messages to an uninterested group?       

The right medium is there, you just need to know your clients and where they look for information. Your obvious choices for a limited budget include direct mailings, door hangers, fliers, local newspapers, weekly shoppers, and yellow page directories. Radio, television, and magazine advertising are other options, but they tend to be expensive and usually reach too broad an audience.

Little league team sponsorship, charitable contributions to community organizations, and even operating a booth at the high school carnival are advertising and should be factored into your budget. If you give $100 in gift certificates to the high school raffle, deduct $100 from your advertising budget.    

When advertising, you purchase the space to send a message to an audience. You actually buy access to the audience, so you want to reach the highest number of people for the lowest cost. Once you know where your target audience can be reached, examine your choices. Ask the salesperson for the CPM (cost per thousand) and use it as a basis for your decision. For example, if you can’t decide which of two local newspapers to advertise in, examine the CPM of each.

Don’t depend too heavily on these figures, however, because one newspaper may have a lower CPM, but its target audience may differ from yours. If so, examine the newspaper with the higher CPM. If it reaches a larger portion of your target audience, it may be cost-effective in the long run.

Use the CPM as a guide, don’t let it turn you away. Direct mail, for example, has a high CPM, but reaches a known, qualified group of buyers for your services. You can match a mailing list to your target audience and ensure the people you reach are all qualified buyers.

Don’t bypass obvious advertising opportunities with a low CPM. Window signs, banners, roadside signs, and window paintings can be very effective. Painting your window with bright colors and timely messages is inexpensive, especially when you consider the number of people exposed to it daily.

If you do your homework you can find your potential customers and reach them with an ad that catches their interest and attention. Then you just have to provide the right incentive for them to call and book an appointment immediately.

A Truly Grand Opening

Nail salons normally do their heaviest advertising during grand openings to build community awareness and a regular clientele. Tiffany’s Nail Salon in Beverly Hills, California, celebrated its grand opening recently. Owner Tiffany Adams says most of her initial business came from the fliers and door hangers she distributed, as well as from local newspaper ads.

Adams began planning her advertising two months before the salon opened. She used several different advertising options to announce her opening to the community. She took out a coupon ad in two local newspaper, but only one newspaper ad has generated a substantial response. Heartened by the positive response from one newspaper, she says she’ll discontinue the less successful ad and focus her energies on the successful publication.

Fliers and door hangers with coupons have also generated much business for her. She distributed more than 3000 fliers and door hangers. The response has been so great, she says, that she hasn’t been able to count all the redeemed coupons.

Adams says she will continue advertising and will incorporate coupons into her newspaper ads, door hangers, and fliers. Coupons are key, she explains, because people like to save money. She says, “Coupons give customers a great sense of satisfaction because they feel they’ve accomplished something.”


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