Money Matters

10 Big Salon Money Drains

You work hard for your money — make sure you’re keeping as much of it as you can. Have you fallen into any of these common money-wasting traps?   

While working in a salon is fundamentally about making people feel better about themselves, we also need to care for ourselves — and that means earning a living wage and helping to provide for our families. This becomes difficult in the face of certain salon practices that drain the budget unnecessarily. Let’s take a look at 10 of the biggest money losers in most salons:

1. Pricing too low or failing to raise prices periodically.

If you are not charging enough for your services to cover your expenses and still provide an income, you’ve got a problem. Both business and personal expenses are always increasing. This means you have to give yourself a raise on an annual or bi-annual basis to keep up with the cost of living. If you’re not doing this, expect to make less profit on your services as time goes on.

2. Giving away free extras.

If you’re spending time and money on complimentary services like nail art, you’re really going to have a hard time making a reasonable income [see box below]. Not only does nail art take up your valuable time, it also comes with product costs. By charging appropriately for your services — whether you charge an additional fee or build the extra into the service price — you can ensure you’re financially stable. I’m certain your clients would rather do without free nail art than have you go out of business.

Do the Math on Free Nail Art

Imagine a scenario in which you have 50 clients a week, half of them get nail art, and you don’t charge anyone for it. Now let’s say you implement a $5 charge to cover your time and product costs on easy five-minute designs and a $10 charge for designs that take about 10 minutes. Of the 25 clients who normally wear the free art, only 12 are willing to pay. Let’s say half of those clients willing to opt for the $5 art (6 x $5) and the rest the $10 designs (6 X $10). You are now making an additional $90 a week. You’ve also freed up at least an hour and a half of your time, which would accommodate a new client and a lunch break!

 3. Unused product collecting dust on the shelf.

Maybe you bought something new that didn’t catch on with your clients, or perhaps you got a really great deal on something you don’t normally use and never incorporated it into a service. How about retail items that don’t move? When you discover something sitting unused on your shelf, take the time to evaluate why that is and how you can make use of it. Retail items could be displayed differently or grouped together around a theme, like Mother’s Day or quick birthday gifts.

Order with a friend and split fun items like glitter, crystals, and paints.
<p>Order with a friend and split fun items like glitter, crystals, and paints.</p>

Also beware of making impulse purchases that appeal more to you than to your clientele. If the majority of your clients wear modest nail styles, it may not be so wise to invest in the newest kit for sculpting tricked-out stilettos, no matter how much you love their look. Before you buy, ask yourself if at least three clients would be interested in the new product or service you’re considering. Will it pay for itself in less than 10 services? If you’re uncertain, consider splitting the cost with another tech.

4. Products that go bad.

Most beauty products have a limited shelf life — generally from one to three years. That means a small salon with a limited clientele may actually lose money and waste product by buying in bulk. Know how many services come from a container so you can evaluate what size to purchase. It does you no good to save $10 on that giant tub of spa scrub if half of it goes bad before you have the chance to use it. Don’t let the sales rep or manufacturer dictate what size will save you money. Bulk product is only a great way to save money if you do enough services to utilize all of the product in a timely manner. What about products that arrive in poor condition? Keep track of receipts and purchase through authorized channels so you can exchange faulty items rather than having them sit on the shelf. Review your inventory quarterly so you stay on top of products’ expiration dates.

5. Not using the suggested portions of products.

Don’t use a handful of scrub or lotion when a teaspoon or tablespoon is plenty. One way to conserve money on spa products is to dispense the exact amount needed onto a spa tray prior to the service. This gives the technician the ability to measure out product while also creating a pleasant display for the guest. Open containers also release pleasant aromas into the air. Polish and gel-polish are also commonly overused. When you apply too much, service breakdown issues are more likely, which can lead to having to do repairs or losing a client.

Using overly large portions of spa products wastes money and can cause problems with removal.
<p>Using overly large portions of spa products wastes money and can cause problems with removal.</p>

6. Buying product without seeking education.

Yes, applying that gel line you just invested in may seem simple enough; however, it’s easy to run into problems if you have no education on that specific product. One gel may need to be worked with a certain type of stroke, while another may require a different prep. You should not assume that all products will be used exactly the same. You can save time and money by taking the time to get some education and reading the instructions thoroughly. You don’t want to blame the products for service breakdown issues only to find yourself in the same cycle of events with the next product. Understanding the how and why of what you’re doing gives you the ability to troubleshoot in advance, and guarantee your success.

7. Complimentary repair work from service breakdown.

No one wants to constantly fit a repair into a tight schedule or redo an entire service. It’s important to know the proper procedures for the products you are using. In addition to that, you should also be educating the client on home care and their maintenance responsibilities. Having great nails is a partnership; we do our part in the salon, they do their part at home, and happy nails are the result! If you are having a specific problem on more than 15% of your clientele, it’s time to figure out what you should be doing differently. It’s not normal for every client to have product lifting or peeling. In a full book, one to three clients at most should need repairs, and even then, they should be more related to the clients’ home care routine or rough treatment issues than your application technique.

8. Freebies for family and friends.

You are not the fountain of free nails. Friends and family are using your time and product the same way anyone else who comes to you for services is. If you have created a barter system — perhaps you do your sister’s nails today and she babysits for you tomorrow — then that’s a great way to meet each other’s needs. But when people demand, expect, or guilt you into free or reduced-price nail services simply because you allow it, then that is a waste of your money. You do nails for a living, not as a gift to the people around you. It is not mean or selfish to expect anyone to pay for your time and service just like your clients do. Truthfully, it’s pretty sad when friends put you in the position of having to decline and explain that this is your job; they should value you more than your salon guests, not less.

9. Keeping chronically late and no-show clients.

Dealing with no-shows and late clients is frustrating and expensive.
<p>Dealing with no-shows and late clients is frustrating and expensive.</p>

This hurts your income in several ways. If the client is late, every subsequent appointment also runs late for the rest of the day. When you keep these clients waiting, it sends the message that you do not value their time. Put a late policy in place: If the guest is up to 15 minutes late, something will need to be omitted from the service — perhaps the massage or nail designs. When the guest is more than 15 minutes late, the appointment will need to be rescheduled and there should be a charge for the missed service.

Your no-show policy also requires a strict structure.  After the first no-show appointment, the client is charged for the missed service. After the second missed appointment, no further appointments will be booked unless they are prepaid. If there’s a third time, let that client know there are other salons in town that may better suit her needs. With no-shows, you lose the money from the missed service and the opportunity to put another person in that slot. Exceptions can be made for unusual events, but “traffic” or “the time got away from me” are excuses, and excuses will not pay your bills!

10. Unmotivated and dishonest staff.

The presence of these staff members costs you money. If you suspect someone of stealing or being a habitual liar, this is serious trouble. Document your evidence and present it to the staff member privately, then suggest that your salon is not a good fit for her. Keep in mind that if large enough amounts of products or cash are stolen, you could press charges.

Motivation can come from a lot of different sources: a class, an inspirational speaker, or in some cases an inner drive to succeed. Try a few different ways of encouraging and motivating staff members to give their best in the salon. When there is one member of the team unwilling to work, it’s time to let that person go. Having one person drag down the morale of the entire salon and deliver less-than-adequate customer service creates a negative and tense atmosphere.  You lose money by avoiding confrontation and keeping someone in the salon who needs to be let go. 

Holly Schippers
<p>Holly Schippers</p>


Holly Schippers is a contributing editor to NAILS and a member of Team CND. Follow her FingerNailFixer blog on


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