Who can forget bubbly Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde?” Besides defying all odds by going on to attend Harvard Law School, the bodacious blonde also made it a point to pamper herself and look très chic. She challenged the stereotype of the college student decked out in sweats and casual clothing by dressing to the nines at all times. And when she wasn’t studying or attending class, she could often be found at her local nail salon, pouring her heart out to her nail tech and confidante Paulette — all while getting her nails beautified.

It might have been a movie, but the reality is today’s college students aren’t a far cry from Elle Woods. They might not dress for class quite the way she does, but they can and do fork out the cash to pamper themselves.

According to the most recent findings from the 360 Youth/Harris Inter College Explorer Study, the college crowd (ranging from 18- to 30-year-olds) spends nearly $200 billion dollars a year. It is a large and influential market, with more than 15.6 million students in the United States. More than 75% of college students work while attending school, according to Rick Kincaid, associate director of career services at the State University of New York at Brockport and former president of the National Student Employment Association.

College students are faced with a whole range of life decisions, including a lot of first-time purchase decisions. It’s an important — and perfect — time to connect with this demographic group. After all, this is the time when college students are breaking away from the family nest and establishing their own life-long buying patterns and loyalties.

This demographic is often overlooked. Salons are quick to focus on moms, working women, and teenagers, but may not always think about marketing to college co-eds.

Salons with colleges nearby are in a unique and enviable position to build a loyal clientele — provided they know how to cater to them. We talked to several salons about the tactics they use to attract and keep the college crowd.

Salon: Gregory Marshall Blonde Salon

Location: Gainesville, Fla.

Owner: Gregory Marshall

Attracts students from: University of Florida

College tactics: Marshall recently opened a new location directly across the street from the university’s main campus. “Our best way to attract students is the salon itself,” says Marshall. “Lots of students walk by our salon during the course of the day.” Window displays are frequently changed to keep passersby interested — and to keep things fresh.

Since there is so much foot traffic, one of the most effective tools the salon uses is to have a staff member stand by the front door and hand out product samples to passersby. “I recommend any salon trying to build their business to try this method,” he says. “It’s cheap and nothing you can do will have more of an immediate effect on a prospective client than a short,  face-to-face conversation.”

Marshall likes to do promotions and events with various student organizations, clubs, and sororities to keep the salon’s name on everyone’s mind.

Natural nail manicures are popular at the salon. “We cater to busy students so we let them try the polish for themselves,” he says. “This in turn leads to better product sales, which is our main focus with nails.” With regard to products, Marshall stocks a wide selection of hair, nail, and skin care products and is in the process of producing a line of products he plans to have available next year. He’ll often ask students what they like and if enough of them request something, he’ll order it.

Marshall also advertises specials and services in the school paper and often prints out flyers. Staff members also paint their hair in the school’s colors on game days (the football stadium is across the street from the salon). “We also do discounts and use coupons for services and frequent sales for products,” he says.


Salon: Hair Spa

Location: Houston

Owner: Cathy Neben

Attracts students from: University of Houston, Houston Baptist University

College tactics: A section of Neben’s salon is dedicated to Joe Toga, a line of gear specially made for sorority and fraternity members. Neben also donates gift certificates to the homecoming king and queen. She also gives out door prizes through sororities. “College women are more into taking care of themselves now because they know it’ll prevent problems in the future,” says Neben. “They’re sophisticated consumers. They will bargain shop like you’ve never seen.”

Neben doesn’t offer student discounts, but she does advertise in school newspapers and includes coupons. She’s found that word of mouth can work wonders. “Of course you need to advertise your salon, like during homecoming, for example,” she says. “But students will get the word out if your salon offers good services.”

Here, students opt for manicures and pedicures. “They’re into the whole natural, healthy look,” says Neben. Red, pink, and French colors are popular. Funky, bright colors are not. They also love to purchase products, especially polish and scented lotion, says Neben.

Salon: Polished to Perfection

Location: Lakeside, Ariz.

Owner: Michelle Ramoz

Attracts students from: Northland Pioneer College

College tactics: One of Ramoz’s specialties is nail art, and she attracts students with her handiwork. Ramoz offers complimentary hand painted nail art with the purchase of a full set. “Students love nail art. The bolder the designs the better,” she says. “They love to attract attention and show off their designs.”

She does everything she can to advertise her services, including placing an ad on the screen of her local movie theater. Students present Ramoz their ticket stubs and receive $5 off a full set of nails. Students also get a discount if they show her their student cards. She also places flyers at movie rental places, clothing stores, bars, and restaurants.


Salon: Saturn Club

Location: Philadelphia

Owner: Rebecca Wright

Attracts students from: University of Pennsylvania

College tactics: Nothing beats being in the middle of college activity. This salon is strategically located on the university’s campus, right across from the University of Pennsylvania’s law school.

The salon attracts students of course, but it also attracts university faculty. It’s not rare to see a professor getting a manicure while a student gets her toes done at the same time.

The salon has a boutiquey feel to it that’s elegant, but the atmosphere is low key — something students appreciate. The salon does not enforce a dress code and employees usually dress casually in jeans and T-shirts.

Summer months are usually a bit slower since students are away on summer vacation, but business picks up once school is back in session.

To keep students coming back, the salon offers them a 10% discount on products and services. Coupons are also placed in a coupon book that’s distributed to dorms.

Besides natural nail care services, the salon also offers facials and hair services, as well as waxing. “Waxing is really popular,” says Wright. “It’s rare that we have an opening.”

Wright knows college students have hectic schedules, so she gladly accepts walk-ins. She also welcomes requests for products. If there’s a product a client wants that the salon doesn’t offer, she’ll gladly order it for her. Polish is always in stock since it’s a popular item. “Students seem to go for the light, pale pinks,” says Wright. “For formals we sell a lot of neutral pinks.”


Salon: Giacomo & Rondi Salon

Location: Boston

Owners: Giacomo and Rondi DiRedo

Attracts students from: Boston University, Emerson College, Northeastern University, Berkeley School of Music, Harvard

College tactics: “We’re in the heart of college country, so we see lots of students,” says Rondi DiRedo. In fact, when school is in session, about 75% of her clientele is college students.

The salon is full service, so DiRedo often creates packages for students. If a sorority dance is coming up, clients can head to the salon for hair, nail, and skin care services. The staff loves to help students with events, so much so that it’s not uncommon for a client to get all dolled up in the salon, outfit included. “It’s a lot of fun,” DiRedo admits.

Here, clients opt for natural nails and seem to shy away from acrylics. Summer months mean French manicures and pedicures and bright, funky colors. Wintertime is when darker polish colors make an appearance. Nail art is also popular, as are waxing services.

DiRedo advertises in school papers and offers specials on the salon’s website, but she doesn’t offer student discounts. “We don’t like to cut corners,” she says.

So far, she’s done a good job of attracting students. The secret seems to lie in keeping things fresh and new. In fact, she’s planning on installing flat screen televisions and she’s also redoing the pedicure area. She has even thought about installing a computer bar so students can work on their assignments while they wait. “If we get them as freshman they usually keep coming until they graduate,” she says. ■

Student Spending:

Facts and Figures

• Undergraduate students carry an average of three credit cards and have an average credit card debt of $2,327 in 2002

— a 15% decrease from the 2000 average.

• The average college freshman has two-and-a-half credit cards; by graduation they have almost tripled the number of cards they hold.

• Graduate students have an average credit card debt of $4,776 and hold an average of four cards each.

Source: Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service 


The Rules of Attraction

Lisa Starr, a business consultant with Preston Wynne Success Systems, lives in Swarthmore, Pa., a town that revolves around a college, and two small salons just happen to be in close proximity to the school. Here are a few things she suggests for building college student loyalty.

Make it convenient for them. Have hours that are convenient for students. Don’t just stay open evenings and weekends, but also late enough in the evening, especially in urban environments, suggests Starr. It’s not unusual for students to want to get a haircut or manicure at 10:30 p.m.

Allow walk-ins. That may mean scheduling your staff so that someone is available as much as possible. You might have to structure your compensation program so that you’re paying by the hour to insure that employees aren’t disappearing when they’re not previously booked with appointments.

Be the cool place in town. Your salon should be a place where college students would like to be. Have magazines they like to read, serve the beverages they like to drink, and have lots of snacks available. You can even have one or two Internet stations where they can surf the web while waiting for appointments or in between services.

Don’t be too pricey. Today’s students have a decent amount of discretionary income but they don’t spend a high percentage of it on beauty services.  Price products and services to sell.

Appeal to their senses. Carry product lines that appeal to them and help them achieve the looks that are current and desirable for them, says Starr.

• Reward them. Offer membership programs, such as frequent buyer cards, to reward them for their loyalty. Include incentives to try other services or departments, or to purchase products.

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