Borrow a page from real estate marketers to increase your business’s exposure and capture the interest of many new “buyers” by holding an open house.
Open houses are not only a time honored tradition (or selling a home — they’re a tried-and-true way to make a personal connection with existing and potential customers in a no-pressure environment. For a homeowner, the goal is simple: to connect with a qualified buyer who wants the home.
Your goal to build business is just as simple at first glance, but you’ll get the most out of an open house by partying with a purpose. For example, you’ve got many potential audiences of “buyers” — existing clients vs. potential clients, or men vs. women, teens vs. adults, to name a few possibilities. Then there’s the matter of what you want to market: Are you trying to introduce a new salon to a community, attract potential new clients to an existing salon, or introduce new services to existing clientele?
Certainly, you can take a shotgun approach by holding a generic open house, but salon owners say they have the greatest success when they target a specific set of products and services to a defined clientele. You may attract other buyers of other products and services, but a stated goal will help you plan and market the event. Here, six salon owners share their stories.
Welcome to the Neighborhood
Twenty years and a few miles from its roots as Anna’s Place (so-called for the original owner), Zender’s Salon & Rejuvenation Spa celebrated its grand opening in the downtown area of Iowa City this past September with a sort of reverse welcoming party where co-owner Donna Zender played host.
As the first Aveda Lifestyle salon and spa in the area, Donna Zender says she viewed an open house as the most effective way to introduce both existing and potential clients not only to new services, but also to new lifestyles.
The Zenders mailed personal invitations to faculty and staff at the nearby University of Iowa and to members of the downtown business association, as well as to Zender’s existing clients from its previous location. An ad with an open invitation to drop in also ran in the local newspaper. The timing — 5 p.m. on a Friday evening — was no coincidence.
“People are ready for some relaxation right then,” Zender says with a laugh. And Zender’s did not disappoint. The entire stall pitched in to move furnishings oil to the side to make space for a twin bed back-dropped with fabric and surrounded with soft lighting.
Twenty-live strategically placed scented candles completed the intimate setting.
At the door, Zender and her husband greeted guests who attended, passing out gift bags that contained product samples, a salon menu, and an 8-oz. bottle of body cleanser. “We filled the bottle half full and invited them to go to the aromatherapy center to choose a personal blend of oils and to have the rest of the container filled,” Zender says.
The estimated 200 guests also got a first-hand taste of the good life from massage therapists who invited clients to sit on the bed and enjoy a foot massage or reflexology, while Aveda’s local makeup artist brought in a team to offer complimentary makeovers. In the pedicure room, nail techs stood by to offer complimentary paraffin dips and explain their services, while estheticians did the same in the skin care room. “We really wanted to emphasize experiences,” Zender explains. “Our guests had a great time and purchased a lot of retail products simply because they’d never been exposed to these things before.”
Kick off the Holidays
Dianne Goodwin and Fran Vogel, co-owners of Focus on You in Alberta, Canada, hosted their first open house seven years ago to celebrate a renovation. In keeping with the time of year — they finished their renovation just in time for the winter holiday season — the pair focused on the pleasure of giving by deciding not only to showcase the new decor but new products and services as well.
The open house was such a resounding success that it’s become an annual holiday tradition. One Saturday each November, as many as 200 regular and potential clients crowd into the 2,000-square-foot salon, which is set up for the occasion with tradeshow-like “booths” where staff members and manufacturer’s educators demonstrate the salon’s newest services and retail offerings. A greeter at the door invites attendees to “walk the floor” and sample the wares.
In keeping with the holiday spirit, Vogel and Goodwin distribute gift baskets to the first 100 attendees, and everyone enjoys complimentary mini-services, retail specials, and 10% discounts on gift certificates.
Vogel laughs when asked how she justifies closing the salon on a Saturday during the busiest season of the year. “We do four to six times more business that day than any other Saturday of the year,” she says. “There are only so many manicures you can do in a day, while during an open house we can sell unlimited gift certificates and products.”
Vogel and Goodwin also view the day as a hands-on “lab” to test-market products and services. For example, intrigued by Ostrich Oil, a product for treating eczema and psoriasis, the pair invited the company rep to “exhibit” at the open house in order to gauge client interest.
Accommodating 200 clients plus the salon staff and company educators requires a lot of planning and coordinating. About three months in advance, the pair begins scoping out new products and services to introduce, as well as identifying existing services that need more exposure.
Staff and reps also demonstrated services such as non-surgical facelifts and microdermabrasion. Clients who wanted to go all the way with those services enjoyed a 50% “on-the-spot” discount, while those who booked a service before the end of the month received a 10% discount.
They also coordinate guest “exhibitors” to educate clients on services the salon doesn’t offer but which may interest its clients. This year, they chose permanent cosmetics.
“We don’t offer that service, but clients enjoyed learning about it and the esthetician offered everyone there a $50 discount if they mentioned our open house when they called her,” Goodwin says. In exchange for a few hours of her time, the professional gained exposure to as many as 200 potential new clients.
Vogel says some clients stock up on gift certificates as a way to discount their future services, but for the most part clients use the discount to buy for others. Nor has the one-day discount dampened full-price sales of gift certificates later in the holiday shopping season.
To defray their costs, the pair solicits donations of products and samples as giveaways and door prizes. They also stock up in advance on distributor and manufacturer deals to highlight during the event. “If there aren’t any promos out: there that we like, we ask them to create one for us,” Vogel notes.
At least a month before the event, they put up posters around the salon to announce the upcoming Holiday Open House. They also promote it through the salon newsletter, which gets mailed out to the salon’s entire client base. Everyone is invited to bring friends and family, which has really paid off. “We have longtime regulars who came to us first through an open house,” Goodwin says. The annual event has proved such a success that they now host a second one in the spring, right before Mother’s Day.
In Business, It’s All About Who You Know
In business, nail consultant Melissa Washington believes success stems not only from what you offer, but who you know. Hence her strategy of hosting open houses that target not the end consumer, but people who influence their purchasing decisions. For example, she recently hosted an open house to introduce area doctors to the services of Serenity, a new medical spa in Culver City, Calif. Owners of surrounding businesses also were invited via a personal phone call from Washington.
Who could say no — particularly when a note containing a gift certificate for a signature pedicure or massage confirmed the invite. Recipients were invited to schedule their service during the open house, then stay to mingle.
“A $100 gift certificate doesn’t really cost us $100, and what it does cost we earn back many times over from the re-bookings, gift certificates they buy for employees and others, and their word of mouth references,” Washington says.
Along with a tour of the facility, attendees received gift bags filled with products and informational pamphlets on the services and were invited to sample a chair massage and other services.
Washington says Sundays and Mondays — slower days for the spa — work best for open houses because the salon is already open and staffed, but is slow enough that everyone still gets plenty of attention. Staff members know to mingle with guests in the spa’s lecture room, answer questions and to educate doctors about services between their bookings, she says.
Washington also arranges to have on hand representatives of the salon’s retail lines to answer people’s questions. (While your staff might be able to handle these questions, physicians tend to ask more detailed questions that are better answered by these reps.)
Washington takes a similar tact in planning open houses at Connie Stevens’ Garden Sanctuary in Los Angeles. Most recently, she faxed invitations to concierges of local hotels for an open house in their honor.
“When a hotel guest wants to go somewhere, the concierge is the person they call for a referral,” she notes. She followed up the fax with a personal delivery of three gift bags filled with product samples to each concierge desk. The concierges were invited to book in advance two treatments — which Washington made sure were performed by the spa’s top technicians — to receive during the open house. (Those who couldn’t attend were assured they could schedule their complimentary treatments at their convenience.) For maximum attendance, she recommends a Monday or Tuesday evening, which lends to be a lighter time for concierges.
Something Old, Something New
Judging by the narrow, unassuming entrance, one would never guess the size of the full-fledged day spa inside — complete with a large salon, multiple spa treatment rooms, tanning rooms, and a hot tub area. In fact, even some long-term clients don’t fully comprehend everything Minot, Wis.-based Creative Salon/Spa can offer them.
So owners Bernie Hall-Bailey and Gary Bailey decided to celebrate their 20th anniversary in business and the spa’s expansion/renovation in a way that would encourage existing clients to lake a second look while attracting potential new clients as well.
“We’ve held a holiday open house for years, and it’s always been very successful,” Flail-Bailey explains. Once the finishing touches were complete, Hall-Bailey began preparing the invitations and putting up signage throughout the salon and spa to encourage clients to attend. She scheduled a makeup artist to come in and do makeovers and an educator to do mini-manicures and educate clients on nail care. Bailey, in the meantime, had his hands full offering complimentary five-minute chair massages. Staffers were kept free to mingle and conduct tours.
More than 200 people attended the open house, held in December 2000 — double what Mall-Bailey anticipated. For this reason, she recommends against trying to hold an open house during regular business hours. Rather than extend the staff’s day, however, she opted to “close” early on a Friday and start the party at 2 p.m.
To promote the open house, Hall-Bailey mailed invitations to existing clientele 10 days in advance. While their focus was on heightening clients’ awareness and interest in the extensive service menu, potential clients also were welcomed. To that end, she ran an ad in the local paper — and got more than she bargained for.
It might not have been a coincidence the Minot Doily News published an article on Creative Salon/Spa that week — but it certainly was a boon in marketing exposure.
Get Ready for Launch
No artificial colors, no perfumes, no high “from Europe” prices — that’s what clients asked for, and that’s what Ksenia Brkic, owner of Senka Spa in Burlington, Ontario, delivered after months of research.
Her next task: To translate requests for those qualities into sales of her new private label skin care line. Brkic planned an open house to celebrate the product launch, which she promoted with a flier that explained the product line and its key features and attributes. As an added incentive to attend, attendees were promised a 20% discount on the products during the open house. New clients were urged to R.S.V.P. and schedule a complimentary skin analysis and one-on-one consultation.
Brkic deemed the event a success, but says next time she’ll focus less on distributing fliers in favor of courting her regular clientele via in-salon signage, e-mail,” posters, and even personal phone calls. “I found we had a much greater response from our regular clients,” she says. She may encourage regulars to bring a friend via a special offer.
Show Some Appreciation
Miko Liou, owner of Salon Miko in Coral Springs, Fla., firmly believes in showing clients her appreciation for their business. But after several years of closing the salon one afternoon to hold a customer appreciation event, Liou realized too many clients were missing out. Hence her decision this past November to host a one-week client appreciation “open house” while the salon remained open.
Every afternoon during the week of November 13-17, the salon served up fruit platters and champagne punch along with complimentary skin care consultations, free polish changes, mini-manicures, paraffin dips, or five-minute neck massages.
Everyone received product samples Liou solicited from manufacturers and distributors. She also bought and traded for gift certificates and products from movie theaters, restaurants, and other local businesses to give away.
By spreading the event over an entire week, Liou says she was able to touch many more clients without sacrificing business as she had before by closing the salon.