Keeping an eye on your competition gives you insight into how to improve your own business. We asked  a few salon veterans for their advice on what to look for when visiting other nail salons — or when checking up on their online activities.

> Pay attention to how the staff interacts with you (or your secret shopper). When salon consultant Patti Biro employs mystery shoppers to evaluate a salon, she has them fill out a checklist with questions such as:

  • How long did you wait?
  • Did they offer you a beverage?
  • Did they try to rebook you or try to sell you retail products?
  • Did they text you a thank-you after the visit?

Note how their customer service compares to your own.

> Look at pricing. Are their prices higher than yours? If you haven’t raised your service prices in a while, this may serve as a wakeup call. Are their prices lower? If so, you should be able to articulate what it is that makes your services worth the extra cost.

> Keep an eye on demographics. If you and your competitor are both going for the trendy, 20-something crowd, it can get, well, crowded. Likewise, if your competition is homing in on demographics that you usually do not pay attention to, it may be useful to see if you are missing out on any potential customers.

> See if they offer any special services. Look at your competitor’s service menu; some salons might have special pedicure services for diabetics or services targeted toward men. Biro urges you to consider these questions: Have they started a membership program? Do they have extended hours? Are they reaching out to special groups like kids, teens, couples, mothers and daughters, or girls’ night out events?

> Look at sanitation practices. Keep an eye out to see if your competition is cutting corners on sanitation. Lack of cleanliness can ruin a salon’s overall atmosphere. “If I see something objectionable, I ask to skip that step,” says Karen Hodges, owner of Morning Glory Beauty in Fort Myers, Fla. “I’ve been known to ask them to not turn on the jets in a foot bath, for instance, if I don’t observe good disinfection practices.”

> Check up on social media. You don’t actually need to step inside another salon to understand some of the things that make it effective. “Looking at a competitor’s social media profiles can give great insight on marketing strategies for your own business,” says Ami McClure, co-owner of ProFiles in Cape Coral, Fla. “You can keep an eye on what they’re up to — if they’ve got new products or new techniques, or even if they’re looking for new nail techs or hair stylists.”

> Look at what specials or events area salons are holding. As the saying goes: “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Not only does following competitors online give insight into a salon’s theme and style, it will also keep you up to date on specials they may be offering. For example, if a local salon offers a special during prom season, you might consider whether your business can tap into that customer base.

> Look at both positive and negative reviews. This is important to do both for your competition and for your own business. Online reviews, whether good or bad, are a window into the customer experience and a valuable learning tool. It pays to understand what customer service efforts are making the biggest impression in the mind of the consumer.

> Sign up for Google alerts on your competitors. If a nearby salon is featured in local media, you ought to know about it. Biro suggests setting up Google alerts so you’re notified when competitors’ names pop up in the newspaper, press releases, or hot Facebook posts. 

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.