When Jessica Bernard, owner of Clara’s Heart Natural Nail Spa in Brooklyn, N.Y., decided to have her shop listed on www.nailsalonsonline.com earlier this year, she did so only because the listing came free with her subscription to a marketing newsletter for nail salon professionals. However, she was pleasantly surprised to find that the listing brought her salon some attention it might not have found otherwise.

“I’ve had people call me from out of state,” she says. Those customers contacted her because they were going to be in her area and wanted to find a salon that would service them when they got there. “When customers are coming to a particular area they’re able to find wider options with the Internet,” Bernard says.

What Bernard has discovered is what many small salon owners are beginning to realize. The Internet, while it won’t likely bring customers into the shop in droves, is an effective marketing tool when it’s used with other methods of reaching out to customers.

If you’ve been wondering about the value of adding your salon to one or more Internet directories, it’s important to understand the reach of the Internet. Seventy-three percent of households that make between $30,000 and $50,000 per year use the Internet, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project. That percentage rises with household income, as 87% of households that make between $50,000 and $70,000 are online and 93% of households that make more than $75,000 use the Internet. If you’re trying to attract customers with disposable income, statistics show the Internet should not be overlooked.

But the bigger question for nail salon operators and technicians is how consumers are using the Internet. According to a study released earlier this year by research firms The Kelsey Group and ConStat Inc., 70% of households in the United States use the Internet to find local products and services. That percentage has been rising steadily. In fact, it is up 16% since 2003 and is expected to continue to rise. If you want your salon to be among the local businesses that benefit from Internet searches, you’ve got to make sure it’s listed online.

“The Internet is becoming a great tool to find pretty much anything,” says Asya Rahim, owner of www.beautysalonandspa.com, a website that lists salons across the country. It’s free to list your salon with the site, but for a fee ranging from $19.99 to $39.99 per year you receive an enhanced listing, meaning you can add elements such as your logo, your website link, and downloadable coupons. “A lot of women are always traveling and many women relocate to a new area,” Rahim says. “One of the first things they want to know is where are they going to get their hair and their nails done.”

Be Realistic

Before you start counting the customers in your head that you plan to attract by listing your site online, it’s important to keep expectations realistic. Don’t trade your current marketing strategies for an Internet-only approach.

“We’re in a small town and most people here find us by word of mouth,” says Long Lee, a nail technician with 1 Nails in New Bern, N.C. “Most of the time, when we ask people how they found us, someone else referred them here,” Lee says.

Bernard agrees that her spa’s listing hasn’t generated a lot of customers, but the fact that it has resulted in even a few leads is enough to justify the listing in her opinion. Marketing is a multi-strategy effort. Some customers will find you by word of mouth, some will find you by seeing an advertisement in a newspaper, while others will find you online, she says. You don’t want to miss out on any of these potential customers because you failed to market to one segment of the consumer population.

When it comes to determining where you should list your salon, there are several factors to keep in mind. Internet salon finder sites such as Rahim’s www.beautysalonandspa.com and www.nailsalonsonline.com are natural selections. However, there are some local search sites that aren’t salon-specific that you should keep in mind, as well.

One thing Lee has learned about 1 Nails’ customers is that they “are more likely to look us up in the phone book than find us on the Internet.”

Sites such as www.yellowpages.com and www.yellowbook.com allow Internet users to find local businesses in a way that is reminiscent of the old-fashioned yellow pages they are familiar with. For these sites, you may or may not even have to do anything to get your salon listed. Yellowbook.com features the listings of phone books across the country, so if you’re listed in one of these, you may be listed here, as well. Yellowpages.com also compiles its own listings. However, you can add your site to the listings if it’s not there already, at no charge.

Both sites also let you buy advertising space if you want to step up your marketing efforts. There are different types of online ads, ranging from banners across the top of the page or listings that are designed to stand out from the rest through different typeface or some other distinguishing quality. These range in cost from less than $100 per month to thousands, depending on the scope of your advertising campaign.

The Power of Local Media

The websites of local Yellow Pages publishers aren’t your only source for getting your salon noticed by local Internet users. Newspapers, radio stations and local magazines are increasingly setting up online directories for their readers and listeners to find local businesses. For many consumers, the local newspaper is a brand that they trust and the online newspaper is just an extension of that brand. If your salon is listed in one of these directories, you can benefit from that sense of trust by association.

According to marketing firm Borrell Associates, spending on local online advertising was $2.7 billion in 2004, a 28% increase over 2003, as businesses have begun to take advantage of the power of advertising on local online media sites.

One of the most important things to consider when deciding whether to list your site is whether the user demographics of the site match the demographics of the customers you want to reach. For example, if you know the majority of your customers are women, it wouldn’t make sense to spend money to advertise on a local website that attracts mostly male users. Don’t forget you can always tweak your marketing message to appeal to different types of users. For example, if you did decide to advertise with a site that catered to men, you could create a message designed to educate men on the growing interest in manicures for men, or one designed to get those men to send the women in their lives to your salon.

Major Internet search engines are also getting into the local advertising game. For example, Google has created a local search network that can be accessed at www.local.google.com. You can list your business here for free, so the loss you’ll suffer if it leads to no customers is only a little bit of time. Another site, www.citysearch.com, lets you advertise your business and pay only for the leads it generates, so you know immediately whether the advertisement is worth your money.

There are other benefits to listing your site with local search engines such as Google. The Web is so inter-connected and many websites simply collect information from other sites and present it. Citisearch, for example, is another national service that lets consumers find businesses in specific cities. However, Citisearch gets its listings by searching the Web to collect helpful information for people. If your salon is not listed anywhere online, sites such as Citisearch won’t be able to find it.

Not All Sites Are Created Equal

The salon-specific locator sites on the Web vary in terms of their scope and their advertising cost. Many of them such as www.beautytech.com and www.heavenspa.com offer free listings, while some such as www.nailsalonsonline.com require you to pay a fee to list your salon.

Another thing you might want to consider before listing your site is whether the site you list it on will attract potential customers for you. A few sites offer not only salon listings, but information about nail care and other issues that will interest potential customers as well.

“BeautyTech.info offers the consumer a total informational site about beauty services, not just nails,” says Debbie

Doerrlamm, webmaster for BeautyTech.com and BeautyTech.info. “There are articles and Q&As touching on a variety of topics from how do gels differ from acrylic to what to expect when making an appointment for a Brazilian wax service.” A site with this much information is going to attract consumers who are interested in beauty services. This is your core customer.

Another thing to consider before creating a listing is whether you’ll have to do anything other than submit the contact information for your salon. Most of the salon-finder websites give you control over your listing, so if you change your phone number or move to a larger location, you can easily change the information that appears online. However, if a salon-finder site does not offer you this type of control, you might be hurt in the long run by outdated listings that give potential customers wrong information about how to find you and your salon.

If you’re thinking about developing a Web presence, a listing with a salon-finder site can be a first step to help you determine the benefits of doing so. Some of the sites, such as www.nailsalonsonline.com, will host a website for you. So while you’ll pay more to list your salon on these sites, you’ll have the added benefit of featuring information about your salon that goes beyond listing the name and address. For example, you can list an e-mail address for people to contact you and describe some of the services you offer in-depth. The cost of doing so isn’t likely to break the bank. For example, for $35 per year or $60 for two years, you get a listing on Nail Salons Online (www.nailsalonsonline.com), its sister website Nail Salons Directory (nailssalondirectory.com) and a free Web page.

Making the Case for the Internet

However, not all nail salons have found the value in listing their salons on the Internet. Some salon owners and employees say the number of people who find their sites as a result of using the Internet is too small to justify the energy involved with creating the listing. Lovely Nails, a salon in Bradenton, Fla., is listed on www.nailsalonsonline.com. However, according to Ashley Tran, a nail technician at the salon, the customer response has been less than impressive.

“We haven’t gotten any customers as a result of it,” she says. Would she recommend that other salon operators list their sites? In all honesty, no, Tran says.

Likewise, the size of your town or customer base might determine whether you want to make the effort to develop an online presence for your salon.

“We’re only a town of about 35,000 so it’s not too hard to get the word out about our salon,” says Jayne Jones, a nail technician with At Your Finger Tips, a salon in Bartlesville, Okla. Jones doesn’t see the value in paying to have the salon listed on the Internet, but she admits that a free listing doesn’t hurt.

All in all, the Internet’s use as a marketing tool for salons is still in its infancy. However, the danger in ignoring the Internet’s reach is that you could look up three years from now and realize that you missed an excellent opportunity.

Today, most of the salon-finder and local search sites let you list your salon for free. As these sites grow in popularity and attract more consumers, who’s to say they won’t start charging salons more for the visibility they offer.

But right now, if a free listing translates into one customer, you’ve seen a return on your investment. While the jury is still out among salon owners and operators on the value of paying to advertise on the Internet, a free listing can only raise your visibility in a crowded consumer market.

And that makes perfect business sense.

Some Sites to Consider

• Nailsalonsonline.com

• Citysearch.com

• discoversalons.com

• Beautysalonandspa.com

• Heavenspa.com

• Beautytech.info

• Citisearch.com

• Local.google.com

• Nailsalondirectory.com

• Yellowpages.com

• Yellowbook.com

Tamara E. Holmes is a freelance writer based in Largo, Md.

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