Your Power of Suggestion

by Michelle Pratt | July 1, 2006

Amber Edwards describes her old attitude as complacent and comfortable. “I became lazy,” she recalls. Edwards, a nail tech and national educator, was in the same position that many techs find themselves.

Most techs are passionate and excited about opportunities available to them when they begin their careers in the beauty industry. And most of them make their dreams a reality — earning good money, building a clientele around their chosen schedule, and creating a comfortable life. However, after years of hard work and dedication, getting “comfortable” often leads to becoming complacent. This leads to boredom, and in the worst cases, leads to resentment of clients and dissatisfaction with their career choice. It doesn’t need to be this way.

Techs can maintain job satisfaction by continuing to set goals — even techs who feel they can’t possibly add one more client to their busy schedule can add new challenges. One such challenge is to sell retail.

The benefit of selling seems obvious — more income per unit (client). But instead of being so clinical, cold, and calculating about retail, techs can embrace retail as a positive, sustainable way to reinvigorate their passion at work. If that sounds like a sales pitch to you, answer this question: When you make a purchase — a light summer scent, a bright shiny lipstick, a sparkly toe ring — do you walk away from the register feeling happy and excited or hoodwinked and manipulated? Why are your clients any different? If you’re the type of person who can’t walk into the beauty supply store to restock supplies without getting sidetracked by new polish colors and other tempting items, then you understand what clients are looking for when they walk into your salon.

Clients Are Looking

That’s right — they are looking for things to buy. They are shopping. Women love to shop. Women love to buy. Sure it’s a stereotype. Sure some men like to shop, too. Stop arguing and start imagining. Imagine your capacity to talk about what you love and pass the feeling of excitement — that one you had when you found the newest “greatest thing” — on to your clients.

Seth Godin, marketing guru and author of many books, including the wildly popular Purple Cow, was asked in an interview why a woman would pay $20 for a hair product that claims it has anti-aging properties. “Why on earth would my dear wife purchase hair product made from fish eggs to stop the aging process of something already dead?” Joe Jarvis asked Godin in an article “Idea Man,” which appeared on Jarvis quotes Godin: “Just buying it gave her joy, because what people pay for when they buy most anything these days is the anticipation. The feeling of self-satisfaction, the way it feels when you put it in the bag, the dream of how it’s going to make you happier or more attractive tomorrow. When it comes down to using the shampoo, in practice, it’s way less important.”

And don’t we know it. It’s pleasant to carry home a sweet-smelling candle you bought on impulse because you smelled it as you meandered past the storefront. It’s delightful to twist open a brand-new lipstick with moisture drops still on the untouched tip. It’s decadent to pop open your newly purchased, protein-enriched, skin-softening, tan-deepening, elasticity-building, sweet-smelling, earth-preserving (gasp) essential body cream. You get what I’m saying — it’s fun to feel pretty. You are selling more than a product. You are selling an experience. You enjoy these experiences yourself, and that’s what will make it easy to talk about (sell) it to clients.

Know How

So you admit you like fun new purchases, and you concede your clients probably like them as well. But where does that leave you? Most techs and many salon owners haven’t been trained to sell, so how do you get started in the retail business? “Start with something you know the clients want,” suggests Edwards.

The way to determine what clients want is to listen. When you have a hand cream on your desk, do clients comment on the smell or the feel? When clients talk about what they purchased, how are they describing it? In other words, what needs are met at the time of purchase? By listening to what clients are buying, and why, says Edwards, you will have an idea of the types of products they would be drawn to at your salon.

Next, develop a service around your clients’ needs using products that they’ve indicated would interest them, and ones that you’ve researched and now love. You may love them for the smell, or you may love them for their ability to stop nails from splitting, polish from lifting, acrylic from yellowing, etc. Whatever your reason for using the product, discuss it, explain it, and sell it to the client. Let her know you’ve done the research and have chosen a product with benefits that you believe in. Clients will listen to you. Remember, you’re the expert.

Edwards remembers when this idea became a reality. She had found an all-natural, eggnog-and-cinnamon-scented sugar scrub. She loved it. She introduced it in her manicure and pedicure services, and even she was surprised by the response. “Clients paid $45 for it,” she says with astonishment in her voice. “And it’s only the size of my hand!” The demand for the product proved to be more than an impulse, and clients began to request the scrub. Edwards met the demand in a way that shows her understanding of business: She offered the scrub in limited-time-only batches. She would alternate scents depending on the season and change her services to include the latest scent. This way, the clients could get the performance they were looking for in the scrub — the sloughing, the natural oils — but they were also being tantalized with the latest and greatest scent.

Edwards recommends techs purchase only a small amount of product at first and grow the retail presence of their salon as the market demands. “Start with only three or four bottles of your featured product,” says Edwards. “Don’t fill the shelves with stuff. Sell what you have and then move on to something new.”

Retailing in a salon is a unique environment. Exceptions include salons positioned in high-traffic areas and tourist areas, or spas with a changing client list, but the majority of nail salons see the same clients every two to four weeks. Because of this, retail items cannot stay on the shelves with little to no movement. Product sitting on a shelf unmoved since a client’s last appointment looks not only unattractive — it also looks undesirable. A client will think, consciously or not, that the product isn’t very special if it hasn’t sold in two weeks to what she perceives as a steady and changing clientele. To get the best results, purchase small amounts, use the item, perhaps place a few unopened bottles by the register or on a display near your desk, and once the items sell, feature another product.

Edwards reminds techs to reinvest the money they generate from retail sales back into retail to cover the cost of purchasing new items. The initial investment may run a couple hundred dollars or less, but if that money isn’t reinvested into stock, techs could develop the feeling that retail is threatening their income when it comes time to reorder or pay the bill. Retail is a different source of income and needs to be treated as such, especially in your bookkeeping. This way, techs will see the results of retail clearly when they review their books, and it will be easier to itemize at tax time.

Face the Fear

Techs who understand the benefits that retail can bring to them, their salons, and their clients may still have a difficult time overcoming the internal arguments they construct, which prevent many of them from entering uncharted territory. Kristi Valenzuela addresses this resistance each time she speaks to techs about selling. Valenzuela, a success coach and international speaker, has developed coaching tips to address the common reasons, excuses, and fears she hears at her seminars.

Most of her tips break down assumptions techs have developed about themselves and their clients. “Many techs assume clients don’t want salon products, or that clients won’t want to spend more money than the price of the service,” says Valenzuela.

What is at the root of this assumption? Where does it originate? Clients are coming to the salon for a service they are willing not only to pay for, but also to arrange their whole day around. It’s that important to them. Salon professionals have something they want. While some clients may not be interested in filing and shaping their nails at home (and many techs are grateful for this), they may be interested in a top coat, a cuticle oil, a moisturizer, a unique toe ring, or polish for their daughter.

Valenzuela and Edwards agree: Once the clients understand the benefit of a product (tangible or emotional), they are eager to have the product. And you have the knowledge that could be used to explain to clients the benefits of the products. Some manufacturers help techs open the conversation by providing marketing tools such as posters and shelf displays. Even with all these attention-getters, however, many clients need a personal invite to try them, and they need a personal explanation as to why the product is beneficial to them.

Once you’ve listened to clients’ needs (or wants), researched the products, and learned the benefits, don’t leave the sale to chance. “Suggest clients try them,” says Edwards. “Educate them about the benefits,” says Valenzuela. Spread the excitement to the client that you felt when you tried and eventually purchased the product. It’s not just selling. It’s sharing. And you do this every day, during every appointment. Whether it’s about a new restaurant, a new movie, or a great sale, you sell to your client throughout her whole appointment.

The catch is that if you “make the sale” on something you are excited about from your salon, you know the client knows you are making a profit. And somehow this seems like you aren’t being authentic. You’re not being honest about the product. You’re “just saying that” so you can make more money. Sadly, this is what many techs think, and that prevents them from opening up a whole new source of income. Not only that, it also robs clients of the opportunity to sample and purchase products they would enjoy, not to mention the joy they receive from simply making the purchase.

To overcome the awkward feeling of trying to make a sale, choose your retail products carefully. You know you haven’t selected them based solely on their ability to sell (an action motivated by money). You’ve chosen them because clients have indicated what they want, and you have found something special, extraordinary, worthy of your recommendation that meets their demands.

Once you’ve chosen a product to believe in and understand you can suggest the product with the confidence earned by your knowledge and research, it will be an easy sell. Because you know something they don’t know — and you’re dying to tell them about it!

Michelle Pratt is a freelance writer and licensed nail tech based in Johnson City, N.Y.

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