Get the inside track by cultivating a relationship with wedding planners in your area. Offer them free nail services or promise to refer your clients — whatever it takes to catch their interest.

Get the inside track by cultivating a relationship with wedding planners in your area. Offer them free nail services or promise to refer your clients — whatever it takes to catch their interest.

A sluggish economy, snipers, impending war, the spread of SARS... Diane Fisher of Eclips Salons and Day Spas didn’t need a crystal ball to foresee a drop in client traffic and sales volume in her four Alexandria, Va.-area salons and day spas.

With an eye to maintaining volume with maximum economy and efficiency, Fisher worked with Larry Oskin, president of Marketing Solutions, an Alexandria-based marketing services firm specializing in salons and spas, to develop several marketing initiatives. Their approach: to cross-market the salons and spas with local businesses to both parties’ benefit. Eclips rolled out a “Business of the Month” program supported by incentives such as free gifts and service discounts, redoubled its corporate gifting efforts, and renewed a discount program for employees of key local businesses.

The proactive strategy paid off. “Business has been great,” Fisher says. “All four locations are busy, and my worries never became a reality.” Economical, value-added, targeted exposures and endless opportunities make cross-marketing programs a low-cost, high-return staple of every successful salon’s basic marketing program.

“Whether you’re cross-referring clients or involving each other in marketing events, cross-marketing is an important element in every salon’s basic marketing strategy,” Oskin says.

Rather than wait for opportunities to arise, follow Fisher’s lead to create your own success stories. Start by considering the synergies between businesses in your shopping center and just down the street. “Join the local chamber of commerce and openly offer to get involved,”

Oskin also advises. “You can start as simply as presenting free lectures at ladies’ luncheons and participating in chamber networking events.” In reaching out to fellow business owners, don’t hesitate to suggest a closer relationship. Let other business owners know you’re interested in working with them to promote both businesses. Make suggestions, invite their input, and follow-up these talks with a suggested action plan that shows you mean business.

Target marketing opportunities to fit your strategic objectives. “List five to 10 goals for the year,” Oskin advises. “Those might include improving retail sales, boosting pedicures, building nail art, introducing reflexology, and adding spa-type pedicures.” Those goals will define your cross-promotions. For example, when you barter gift certificates, you’ll tie the certificate to one of your targeted growth areas (i.e., a $50 gift certificate might include a spa pedicure and 10 minutes of foot reflexology).

 Hit the Ground Running

The aging population has given rise to a new class of specialty retail — foot care solutions. The purveyors of services and products ranging from custom orthotics to compression socks to specialty shoes would love to hook up with your pedicure clients. Start by suggesting a simple cross-referral relationship. Offer to exchange a stack of pedicure pamphlets for brochures explaining custom orthotics.

Or consider trading spaces: Make room for a small display of foot care products complementary to your retail offerings in exchange for room in his store to merchandise pumice stones, foot files, and other home-maintenance pedicure products.

Develop a Full-Service Attitude

Even if you don’t offer certain services, you can still have a say in where clients go by developing a cross-referral relationship with a salon offering complementary services. Start by polling your clients to find out where they go now for services you don’t offer, such as hair or skin care. Contact the owners of the salons that garner the most votes and offer to trade a stack of service menus and business cards.

But don’t stop there. Salon clients are a visual bunch, so let them see to believe. Exchange portfolios and schedule in-salon demos: You host an anti-aging hands seminar at her place and then invite her over to put on a “style your hair like a pro” workshop.

Here Comes the Bride

Bridal parties can pack salon and spa aisles in the weeks leading up to the big day, making them one of the most desirable bookings in town. While many brides-to-be will stick with the salon they already know, many others haven’t yet committed to a regular nail tech.

Get the inside track by cultivating a relationship with wedding planners in your area. Offer them free nail services or promise to refer your clients — whatever it takes to catch their interest. Either way, provide them with photos illustrating your wedding work.  Jewelry stores provide another great resource for bridal referrals — just develop a sweepstakes that automatically enters the bride into a monthly drawing for a free day of beauty or spa manicure/pedicure combo. Console the losers with a direct-mail offer for a free service upgrade or wedding nails consultation.

Redefine the Gift Exchange

Looking to boost gift basket sales this holiday season? Branch out from beauty with goodies featuring your most appealing business partners. Court a chocolatier for tasty treats, a florist for sweet-smelling deals, and a specialty retailer to accessorize gift certificates with costume jewelry — the possibilities are endless. Pre-package a few custom baskets to showcase the possibilities, and then let customers pick and choose from a well-merchandised display or an attractively designed, comprehensive brochure. Just be sure to get as good as you give with partners who will promote your services in their gift suggestions.

Promote Employee Perks

With two salon locations close enough to reach out and touch the corporate headquarters of AOL and MCI/Worldcom, Fisher knows first-hand the benefits of promoting her salons inside local businesses. Several years ago she met with AOL’s concierge, who invited her to set up a booth at an employee event, where she offered free hand massages and passed out spa brochures. Employees received a 10% discount on Monday-

Wednesday appointments — a perk that paid off for Eclips by helping to fill in the slow times.  Eclips recently expanded the perks promotion to include a “Business of the Month” salon contest. Businesspeople drop their card in a jar for the chance to win month-long service discounts. “Everyone working at the winning business gets a nice card that entitles them to 10% off any listed service,” Fisher explains.

Go for the Group Discount

When you want the results of a direct-mail piece without the direct costs of renting a mailing list and designing, printing, and posting the piece, consider joining forces with like-minded businesses. Say you want to promote your services for prom season: Hook up with the local florist and limousine service, and restaurants to develop a one-stop planning ad. Similarly, you might team up with a maid service, nanny agency, and fitness center to develop a “Congratulations, New Mom” mailer.

Give Thanks

New clients may bring a welcome breath of fresh air to your business, but remember that existing clients are the lifeblood of every business. Oskin recommends giving thanks to your best clients with bartered gift certificates redeemable at nearby businesses. Your best clients will genuinely appreciate the gesture of a $25 gift certificate to a local restaurant as much as the restaurant’s most-valued patrons will enjoy a complimentary manicure or other like-valued service.

Remember your staff as you negotiate the trade: Oskin recommends $50$100 gift certificates to local businesses to use as rewards for contests such as “Most Improved Retail” and “Highest Average Ticket Sales” (by department).

Spa Services Make Great Sales Spiffs

Don’t overlook the promotional opportunities within local businesses. For example, most sales managers welcome suggestions of new incentives for top monthly or quarterly performers. Ask around — starting with your own client base — to learn which local businesses have large sales forces. Or start with auto dealerships. “If you want to build men’s nail care, don’t be afraid to work with an auto dealership or other business that employs more men, and suggest a men’s hand detailing service or other skin care treatment as a welcome change in sales spiff.

“Don’t be afraid to think in terms of large blocks,” Oskin says. “You absolutely can sell $1,000-$5,000 groups of gift certificates.” Many organizations will pay full price, but Oskin says there’s no harm — and potentially much benefit — in experimenting with offers such as “Buy 10, get the 11th free” or “Spend $1,000 and get $1,200  in certificates.”

Contact human resources for a contact name, then write a letter introducing yourself and outlining your corporate gifting program. For the best results — and those “big block” sales — Oskin also recommends developing a color brochure promoting the program.

Pedicure Prescriptions

Cultivating a referral relationship with a podiatrist is worth the work, not just for the pedicure referrals you may gain but in knowing you have a trusted professional to whom you can send clients needing medical attention.

Getting your foot in the door may be as simple as sending a letter introducing yourself along with pedicure gift certificates for the podiatrist and his office staff. If possible, consider setting aside an evening dedicated to servicing the doctor and his staff so that everyone has a chance to get to know each other while you discuss cross-referral opportunities with the doctor.

In planning the opening of Serenity Spa in Culver City, Calif., Melissa Washington took things several steps further, inviting all doctors in the local area to an evening reception at the spa. Along with service demonstrations, free chair massage, and goody bags filled with products, every doctor received an informational pamphlet that described the spa’s full range of medical-esthetic services.  “We had all the operators there to educate and answer questions,” Washington says. “We also had the owner as well as reps  from several product  lines to answer  questions.

Free With Purchase

Even the most reluctant business should welcome your offer to give a free manicure to their customers who spend a minimum amount — say, $50-$100. (Work with the owner to target, say, the top 10% of spenders on the average day.) The newest graphic design software makes easy work of professionally printed counter cards, then it’s up to the other business owner and her staff to talk up the offer (a sure bet since it boosts their sales as well).

Turn Them Out in Style

Teens are the hottest consumer demographic group right now, and they can afford to put their money where their mouths are. The real challenge is getting their attention — something the staff at Heidi Christine’s Hip in Grand Rapids, Mich., has mastered. Located in the local mall, Hip’s staff regularly stages fashion shows on the spa runway that are broadcast to TV monitors throughout the mall. And when the mall stages a fashion show on center stage, Heidi Christine’s staff narrates (highlighting the hair, skin, and nails, of course).  “We always see a spike in traffic,” notes president and CEO Patty Elzinga.

Do-Gooders Do Well

Although the almost daily requests for free products and services to support a good cause can be wearing on your patience and your pocketbook, don’t underestimate the power of these cross promotional relationships. Nor should you hesitate to ask how your business will be credited for your donation. Donating a $25 gift certificate, for example, will pay for itself simply by retaining the winner as a regular client, while having your name listed as a sponsor helps to build salon awareness in your  local community.  

Nor should you overlook the feeling of knowing you’ve done something good, says Kenny Zahn, owner of Lush Day Spa in Ramsey, N.J. When approached by a client who heads up a local charitable organization, Breast Cancer Connection, to donate services to the annual fundraiser, Fashion With Compassion, Zahn upped the ante.  

“She had mentioned previously that paying for the hotel and other costs ate up most of the donations from the fashion show, so I offered to do it in our spa,” Zahn says. Lush picks up the tab for the entire event in addition to donating the hair, nail and makeup services. “This year we raised more than $32,000,” he says.

“We’re getting new people into our facility, and they have a chance to meet the entire staff,” Zahn says of Lush’s participation. “And the association is a good one: People want to be attached to something like this.” Not to mention the coverage Lush gains in local newspapers and magazines, as well as by word-of-mouth referrals from the 100+ attendees.

Cultivate Concierges

Every day hotel concierges point thousands of guests in the right direction for local products and services. Get your salon or spa on the map with these local powerbrokers by inviting them to book two or three services, on the house so they can make informed recommendations.  Depending on your location, concierges may become some of your best customers, once-removed. Just don’t forget to tip, advises Washington: “We sent them 20% of the profits from those clients.”  

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