I recently attended the Las Vegas International; hair and Nail Conference, where I watched some of the Nail Olympics and was enthralled by the work I saw in every category. The fantasy art entries were mind-boggling. If you missed them, check out the photo gallery section at BeautyTech.com and click on Las Vegas Hair & Nail ‘03).

Being the consummate computer nerd, one thing I always notice at trade shows is the popularity of the salon management software booths. At this show, I noticed that almost very booth was busier than in the past, and the people manning these booths agreed. As I hovered, I heard salon owners asking some detailed and thorough questions.

A close friend of mine owns an auto collision repair shop. He recently went from making repair estimates by hand to using a computerized system. Dealing with insurance companies forced this completely computer-phobic man to make the move. In less than a year, he has become more than comfortable with the new system and his income has risen substantially. Why? He was giving away farm with every repair. He had no idea he was not being paid for his real labor time. The same theory can apply to almost any industry - including the beauty industry.

A computerized salon management system can rack your clients, your workforce, payroll, and inventory. In the long run, keeping track of this information by computer will no doubt help increase your income.

Know What You Need

Before you start shopping for a salon management software package, you need to sit down and decide what you want to accomplish. Some of the packages are very pricey, so you really need to know not only what you want, but also what you need out of this software purchase.

If a vendor cannot take the time to speak to you, answer all of your questions, and offer, then move on. I will admit that it has been some time since I had the need to walk a show floor and shop for products. One vendor was so thrilled to explain his product in whatever depth of detail I wanted that we left the show floor so he could give me his full attention. Another, whose booth was empty, virtually waved me off telling me to go online and download the demo.

Once you’ve begun shopping, make a checklist of features and prices. You may have to forego a feature and price. Or, if a feature available only on that really expensive package is very important to you, you have to realize to get what you pay for. Take all of the information you gather; lay it out, and start your evaluation process. Visit the companies’ website and make a chart to check off features. Also include a column for prices and notes.

Some of the packages I looked at had a one-time purchase price, some had a monthly if you also choose to buy the computer system from them as well. Don’t let the fact the company is not based in the same country you live in sway your decision. If they have a toll-free phone number you can call with questions before or after your purchase, then it makes no difference if they are around the corner or in Tibet!

One of your first questions to the software company should be whether a demo is available. Get their demo, install it, play with it. If the demo allows, use it for a week in the salon. Make constant notes about its features in these column: want, need, would like to have.

Most of these companies have computers running right on the show floor that will demonstrate the features. Try your best to go these booths when both you and they have time - either early in the morning or an hour before the show floor closes. Have your list of desired features handy and be ready to take notes. I would bet the house that as you speak to each of them, you will think of other features that you must have. They will want to demo the fancy features. If you have specific needs, make sure you ask if the software can handle them and ask a demonstration of how the task would be done.

Here are some capabilities you might be looking for:

  • l Ability to coordinate multiple salons with one package
  • l Online booking
  • l Appointment scheduling
  • l Client management
  • l Staff management (Are there limits?)
  • l Inventory management
  • l Payroll
  • l Packages (i.e., day of beauty)
  • l Long-term pre-booking you should also become familiar with the terminology the salespeople will use, for instance:
  • l PIOS - point of sale
  • l Modular - buy the program with only the portions you need/want/can afford.
  • l Updates - fixes (find out how often, how much, how you are notified)
  • l Upgrades - new features (find out how often, how much, how you are you notified)
  • l Mail merge - ability to create personalized letters from your client list.
  • l Network - ready - if you have or plan to have moire than one computer runnig in the salon, the system needs to allow all the computers to share and see the same information.

Some of these make full use of touch screens. If you want to use this feature, you will need to purchase a special monitor that is compatible. Touch-screen monitors do cost considerably more even the new flat-screen ones. The ones I looked at ranged from $639-$1169.

A good number of the systems allowed for custom receipts when yo9u purchase the optional cash drawer/printer. For those who are into e-mail promotions, the package will integrate with your online connection and send e-mails to all your clients about next month’s special or a newsletter with one click of a button.

On the products I saw, support ranged from none to one year. Some included free support, some were pay per incident. The more support you think you might need, the more important this point will be i your decision-making process.

The software companies do realize that commission and booth renter situations are very popular in this industry and many of the package I looked at can handle a salon fully staffed by commissioned employees or renters.

Most system had the ability to process gift cards. This is the ability to sell gift certificates using a plastic credit card like you see in the national discount chain stores. For salon that do a high level of retail, most packages have an optional UPC scanner. Inquire also if retail sales can be “tied” to more than one operator to track commissions. Some either have the ability now or will soon be able to create custom-designed cards with your logo, address, etc.

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