For me, launching e-mail inspires the same happy anticipation I felt as I opened the mailbox curbside as a kid. I love to watch my inbox fill with messages from friends, co-workers, and—I admit it—my favorite retailers. New products, free shipping, special events, gift-with-purchase—I want to know it all.

A marketing pushover? Hardly. With one finger always hovering over the delete key, I disconnect spam e-mails even more quickly than telemarketers. But, as salon owners are learning, I’m not alone in my willingness to keep in touch with businesses I know and trust via e-mail.

Permission-based e-mail marketing has emerged as one of the hottest trends of the decade. “E-mail marketing provides intimacy and a direct dialogue with your customers,” says Bruce Weinberg, Ph.D., associate professor of marketing and e-commerce at Bentley College in Waltham, Mass. “In many cases, e-mail marketing is one of the most effective methods for customer retention.”

Especially for salons, adds Michael Katz, author of E-Newsletters That Work (available at and founder of Boston-based Blue Penguin Development Inc. “People visit salons as much for the people relationships as for the services,” Katz comments, adding that e-mail marketing (and e-newsletters in particular) enhance that relationship.

“E-newsletters generate leads, increase sales, open up a two-way dialogue with customers, position your company as an industry thought leader, and provide you with an instantaneous means for communicating with the outside world,” Katz adds. “If you’ve got a house list of happy clients, a quality product or service, and a computer, you’ve got a sales generating machine that even The Boston Globe can’t match.”

Gary Friedmann, co-owner of Aqua Day Spa in Santa Monica, Calif., agrees. “E-mail is the most effective way to communicate,” he says. “Before, we advertised in magazines. They reach the upscale clients we target, but the cost is prohibitive for a single-location business like ours.”

Cost effectiveness is another strong motivator for salon owners. “We used to send 8,000 newsletter, which cost thousands to print and mail,” says Bob Steele, owner of Bob Steele Hairdressers in Atlanta. “I can do an e-newsletter and update it as often as I want, basically for free.”

With a goal to contact each client at least three times per year—and the cost of a single, simple postcard mailing topping $3,000—e-mail marketing has assumed a central role in Steele’s overall marketing program.

Click With Clients

Your e-mail marketing messages are limited only by your creativity. E-newsletters are the most popular format because they provide value-added service in the form of information and education. In Aqua’s most recente-newsletter, Friedmann spotlighted the opening of the spa’s new nail bar and communicated the variety of nail services now offered. He also explained the current treatment special, discussed the upcoming fall spa event, and spotlighted the product of the month. Friedmann says he also likes to feature relevant questions from clients, along with expert answers.

Panache Hair Salon and Day Spa in Whitehouse Station, N.J., on the other hand, emphasizes new services and product features in its e-newsletters. This past fall, owner Brenda Hunt also leveraged her e-mail list to invite Panache clients to celebrate Panache’s 20th anniversary by enjoying the “The Simple Things in Life”—in this case a month filled with special service and product events.

E-mail presents many marketing opportunities beyond the e-newsletter, as well. Jeff Lillemoe, business partner and vice president of marketing at Tom Schmidt’s Urban Retreat in Minneapolis, for example, e-mails special, customized offers to clients who’ve missed one or more appointment cycles or who only patronize one of the spa’s service areas.

Salon Moulin Rouge in Romeo, Mich., takes a similar tact. “Every Monday night our receptionist looks for holes in the appointment book for the week,” explains owner Ben-John Bellomo. “I then e-mail clients we haven’t seen in a while, offering them one of the appointment times.” Clients who take the appointment times.” Clients who take the appointment get a $5 gift card at the visit, a small price in Bellomo’s  opinion for getting them back on the books as regulars.

This past fall, spa director Chelsea Carpenter leveraged e-mail to spread the word on Burt Grant Salon Spa’s (Arlington, Texas) annual October gift certificate promotion. Carpenter reported great success, as did Hunt on a similar e-mail promotion in November.

The opportunities are endless: Use e-mail to announce new polishes, grow manicures, strengthen artificial nail services, or sell products. Or, just keep in touch.

Speak “E”- asy

View unread messages? You decide.

“E-mail marketing messages have to be useful, interesting, and relevant,” says Katz. “But most aren’t any of those.” Make sure your message has a relevant point and that it communicates it clearly and concisely. And, most importantly, just be you. Skip the slick selling messages and write from the heart.

“Small businesspeople without a marketing background have a natural sense of what to say,” Katz asserts. “You can’t talk like a salesperson if you want people to read it. But salon owners live for the relationship and their businesses thrive on word of mouth, so this isn’t that big of a step.”

“You want it to be conversational, and it has to be in your own voice,” Weinberg adds. “Salons are very intimate, and clients must hear your voice.”

For that to happen, be sure to speak up. For example, Hunt has learned that the subject line is arguably the most critical part of the entire marketing message. “That’s when they decide whether or not to open it,” she explains. “I did an e-mail back in the spring that didn’t get a good response. When I went back to review it, I questioned whether I would have opened it either.”

As for what to say once you have their attention, let your objective be your guide. “The ideal newsletter is one word,” Katz says. “If you have one word that says it all, use it.” That’s not to say that you can’t communicate more than one thought or message, he says. Just be sure they all support your main objective and stick to the point. When more details are available, drive readers to your website via a hyperlink.

“It’s totally new to me, but enjoy the dialogue that goes into it,” reports Hunt. The hard part, she adds, is to resist including too much information.

“I focus on links to the website that then prompt an action,” she says, adding that she e-mails her materials to herself first. If she loses interest, she knows clients will, too.

Instant Messenger

e-mail quite literally puts the world at your fingertips. Fortunately, everyone we interviewed says even the most low-tech individual can communicate like a marketing pro with visually appealing e-mails featuring colored backgrounds, text boxes, artwork, and hyperlinks.

“People get stuck on how to upload addresses when that’s not the hard part,” Katz says. “The real challenge lies in giving them a reason to open it, which is writing and content.”

Katz’s company works with clients large and small to develop e-newsletter content along with e-newsletter design templates. He’s also provided technical support in a pinch, he admits.

Rather than pay a consultant’s fees, however, Katz recommends salon owner sign up with an e-mail outsourcing service such as or Vertical Panache, for example, creates and distributes its e-newsletters with Constant Contact, a do-it yourself e-mail program offered by subscribing business owners pay a sliding-scale fee ranging from $10 (51-250 subscribers list management, access to a selection of ready-to-use templates to which you can add your customized message with product images and links, and automated e-mail distribution.

As an added bonus, and many other third-party e-mail services track responses so that you can gauge how many subscribers opened the e-mail and how many clicked through to your website as well as compare the effectiveness of individual campaigns.

“There’s a learning process to it, but isn’t that difficult to use,” Hunt says. “We tried to do something on our own, but it was too cumbersome.”

Aqua, on the other hand, has its own template in-house but outsources its list management to Daisy Interactive. And Carpenter both produces Burt Grant’s e-mails and manages its subscriber list, albeit more by accident than design.

“The people who worked on our website showed me how to set up, and I get the backgrounds free online,” Carpenter says. “It took me a while to really get going, but the website person came in and helped me to set up, then sat with me and walked me through creating and sending an e-mail.”

Message Received?

One of the aspects Hunt appreciates most about e-mail marketing is that she gains solid feedback on the effectiveness of each message. “With each mailing I can see who opens the e-mail, who clicks through on links, who goes back to the website, and who calls to respond to an offer,” she explains.

By the same token, Hunt emphasizes that effectiveness of e-mail marketing can’t be measured by client response alone. “Ninety percent of it’s brand reinforcement and 10% is about prompting clients to action,” she says, while admitting that she does get excited when someone presents an e-mailed coupon or offer.

Carpenter agrees. “Clients mention things they saw in our e-mails, so we know they’re reading them,” she says. “But they aren’t responding directly via e-mail.”

Nor are any of these owners completely abandoning their other marketing efforts. While some, like Hunt, hope to maximize e-mail marketing’s potential, Carpenter emphasizes that e-mail is just one part of the business-building equation. “The rule of thumb in marketing is that a person has to see or hear the message eight times before it makes an impression,” she explains. “E-mail marketing is just one additional way we get the message out.”

And even though she can’t cite statistics, her gut instinct is that people are getting it. “I recently hosted a makeup workshop that we promoted in our newsletter.” she says. “No one signed up via e-mail, but we had to turn people away.” Similarly, while she can’t quantify an increased call volume, Carpenter is confident that Burt Grant’s e-mail prompts some clients to call and book their next appointment.

Friedmann does track responsiveness, and backs Carpenter’s instinct with hard facts. “Within three days of going out, we get more than 1,000 people clicking through on the e-mail,” he says. “Our subscription base is growing and we know clients are forwarding the e-newsletters to their friends, some of whom call for an appointment.

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