"7th Heaven” and “Smallville” top TV ratings, PG-13 movies dominate the big screen, and MTV’s “Total Request Live” is the new “American Bandstand.” Teens may not rule the world, but they’re clearly in the driver’s seat of popular culture. Little wonder: These kids of the baby boomers already outnumbered their parent’s, and they’ve got money to burn – an average of $84 a week, according to Teenage research unlimited (Northbrook, Ill.).

Call them Generation Y, the Millennials, or Echo Boomers, or just call them your best new customers. Teens ages 12-19 number 31 million by 2010. Best of all, teens want to look their best, and they’re always up for a new experience.

If you don’t believe that teens have the money of the loyalty to make them worth your marketing while, think again. A 2000 Teen People survey of 9,000 teens revealed that 55% visit a hair salon every four to eight weeks, while 28.5% of the teens said they visit nail salon just as frequently.

The stats become even more impressive when you consider that hair isn’t the sole service offered at most hair salons. Over half teens told Teen People that they get at least two services done at the hair salon. Haircuts and color ranked head and shoulders above the rest (with 82% and 34% of respondents naming these, respectively, as their service of choice), but manicures made the top three at 25.7%. Finally, Only 31% of the teens polled had ever been to a spa, but when they did, 14.6% got their nails done there.

Are teens just the thing to build your salon’s client base? Salon owners, nail technicians, and teen describe what it takes to tap the teen market.

Have Money, Want value

A quickly show of hands at most high schools proves teens appreciate both manicures and artificial nails, but many questions whether they’ll patronize anything other than discount salons.

Admittedly, teens demand a lot of bang for their reputed $84 a week. (Note that the teens we talk to question where that figure comes from; they say they’re lucky to have that much to spend in a month.) But in that sense, they differ little from their parents, who have been politely described as everything from “value conscious” to “price sensitive.”

“Teens aren’t consistent,” argues Melodie Golinowski, a nail technician at Christopher’s Salon & Day Spa in Guilford, Conn. “They don’t really have the money for nails. If they do they go to a fast-service shop.”

But teens have a different take on their habits. “My friends go to [inexpensive] salons for nails and airbrushing because they haven’t been told how or why these place are bad for them,” says C.J. Poelman, a 16-year-old high school junior and nail technician apprentice at Heidi Christine’s Hip in Grand Rapids, Mich. “they aren’t aware of sanitation needs or the danger [of MMA]. “For instance, she describes a friend who continually bragged of her “unbreakable” nails should sometimes break.

Not have many salons given teens a reason to pay more or to show loyalty. “In most salons you have men’s and women’s and children’s services,, but they rarely offer anything for teens,” Poelman points out. Provide teens a friendly environment, relevant services, and a little respect, and you won’t be able to keep them away, she promises.

What teens Want

Teens demand the same respect accorded to adults, but they stress their distinctly different needs. With youthful nails, skin and hair, looking younger is not their goal. What they need, says Poelman, is education, expert guidance, and tips on the latest trends.

Teen magazine and music videos are a must to keep in touch with celebrity trends and coming fads, but don’t hesitate to take your cues from your teen clients themselves.

“Some teen girls in my school are into the early target trends and runaway fashions, but there’s a much larger group that watches that group,” Poelman says. “For example, you don’t see a lot of Abercrombie & Fitch in Vogue, but that’s all you see in my high school.”

Still, teens like to be daring and different, and they thrive on experimentation. In the past six months, for example. Poelman’s hair has changed from purple to blond to brown with highlights to a “Nicole Kidman red.” She also admits to sampling almost every new lip, eye, and nail color to hit the salon shelves.

Teen magazines and mass-market retail lines like Jane, Maybelline and Hard Candy do a great job at delivering do-it-yourself trends to teens. The salon’s advantage lies in education. “Teens don’t know about many nail and skin care services or how those services can help them,” Poelman says. She cites her guy friends as perfect examples.

“My boyfriend’s face gets sunburned and wind-burned from being on the slopes all day. And teen guys are just starting to shave and have skin problems,” she says. “But they don’t always know that salons can help them learn how to care for their skin and solve their problems.”

Nor do teen girls. Poelman and Kim Warfield, a 17 year-old cosmetology student and high school senior, both say their friend were amazed when they first started telling them how they could benefit from salon services such as facials, manicures, pedicures, and deep conditioning hair treatments.

If you really want to attract teens, say these two students, develop services that provide solutions to their unique problems. Rather than slot them for your entry-level facial, for example, create a “Teen Blemish Blaster Facial” a stripped-down basic manicure, consider a “Wild thing” manicure that skips the massage in favor of two nail art design.

Talk the Talk

One of teens’ biggest complaints about adult is that we tend to lecture rather than listen. “At many salons I’ve been to, it’s almost like they’re not listening to you or they’re looking to your parents for what they want,” Poelman says. She remembers once asking a stylist to cut her waist-length hair to two inches only for the stylist to refuse, saying that I would look awful on her. “She never would have said that to an adult,” she contends.

Rather than alienate young clients, leverage your position as a beauty and fashion experts. “Teens are looking for role models,” says Andau Silbaugh, a nail technician at Ladies & Gentlemen Salon in Mentor, Ohio. “They want information and advice, but don’t talk to them like a mother.”

The best role models lead by example. Rather than managing a teen to stop biting her nails, emphasize with the urge and tactfully offer some suggestions on how to resist nibbling. If they complain of ragged cuticles, give them tips on when and how an orangewood stick), and recommend daily application of cuticle oil or cream.

Teens also love to keep up with – or better yet, stay in front of – the latest trends. Let them know about the newest colors and show them pictures of your newest nail designs. And be sure to ask them what they think is hot – you’re sure to learn something new.

“Teens have so many different role models, and they don’t all want the same thing,” affirms Nancy Brown, owner and CVEO of Ladies & Gentlemen Salon. “I find that they’re very discriminating and knowledgeable.”

The same holds true in retail. Just as teens want services relevant to their needs and lifestyles, they expect the same of products for home use. Even so, they’re a much easier sell than their parents. “We sell them polishes, topcoats, and hand creams to use at home,” Silbaugh says. “It’s amazing: What use in the service, they buy. And parents are willing to pay.”

They key is to keep your recommendations relevant and to remain focused on solutions. Even 18-year-old girly-thing.com co-founder Christina Olivo, a self-admitted bargain hunter, will pay almost any price for a product that delivers solutions to her problems. “I want someone to recommend to me something that will calm down the frizz or provide sun protection to my hair,” she says. “These products may exist now, but they don’t communicate them very well.”

As you build a teen clientele, consider adding makeup to your retail section. Because it’s one product category that literally sells itself. Ladies and Gentlemen offers a complimentary makeup touchup with every service, and clients rarely leave without buying a new eye or lip color that they like.

Retail packages also have proved popular with teens. For instance, Ladies and Gentlemen enjoys strong sales of home maintenance packages, Valentine’s baskets, back-to-school bags, and Easter baskets.

Nailing Teen Clients

Haircuts, color, and conditioning treatments top the salon request list of teens, but Poelman believes it’s a matter of exposure. “I’ve never been in salon where someone explains to me about the other services while I’m getting my hair done,” she comments.

Teens mostly view manicures and artificial nails as special-occasion services. But nail techs should view these appointments as an opportunity to develop a regular client. Silbaugh says she is “constantly amazed” by the number of 14- to 15- year olds who want artificial nails or natural manicures. “They’ll do the extra chores at home to get their nails,” she affirms.

Last year the American Pediatric Association spoke out against artificial nails on adolescents, and many salon owners require a parent’s permission to overlay a minor’s natural nails. “When kids ask for artificial nails, I talk to them about what it takes to care for them. I also like for them to pay for themselves,” Silbaugh says. She recommends natural manicures to most, adding that she finds teens too rough on their nails and too lackadaisical about regular maintenance for her comfort.

If you do, be honest and upfront about the consequences of not maintaining their artificial nails. Kim Warfield, a 17-year old cosmetology student and high school senior says, she didn’t learn the consequences of not caring for her artificial nails until she entered the cosmetology program. She recommends urging teens to pre-book their maintenance appointments.

Other just say no. At Spa Du-Jour in Alpharetta, Ga., owner Saed Esfandiari urges younger clients to heed the call of natural. “The first thing I ask about any service is how much maintenance they want,” he says, adding that most choose a manicure when faced with the time and financial commitments of artificial nails.

These salon owners and nail techs also expect teen pedicures to heat up, particularly in spring and summer. “Sandals and open-toed shoes are really big, and kids don’t hesitate to comment on someone’s yucky-looking toes,” Silbaugh says.

Set theTteen Scene

Haidi Christine’s Hip Salon aims to make their salon the teen hangout at Centerpoint Mall. A fashion runaways sits center stage in the new salon, and video cameras keep the action in hair, skin, and nail area on center stage via TV monitors strategically placed in the salon’s front windows and throughout the mall.

“We have a cappuccino bar and a juice bar because we want it to be a hangouts as well as a place where kids can find out what’s going on in fashion,” says Patty Elzinga, president and CEO. Hip’s fashion runway will feature mini0fashion shows put on by mall clothing retailers as well as bands. Her 26-year-old daughter, Betsy O’Connell, is also setting up an informal weight loss roundtable for teens to get together and analyze their diets and discuss healthy alternatives (which Elzinga calls “instead ofs”) to popular snack foods. Hip is planning a daily “Power hip Walk” for teens who want to window shop whole they get in shape.

Of course, within this setting, teens will be able to observe and personally enjoy a comprehensive menu of salon services geared to their wants and needs – the latest hairstyles and colors, the hottest, wildest nail art, and full range of skin care and spa services.

“My friends love the idea of a hangout with all of the different programs we’re planning at Hip,” Poelman says. Hip is sure to be hot with the 15- to the yo9ung at heart 30 something it targets, but salon and spa owners say there are many other ways to cater to the teen market without alienating your core clientele.

For example, Esfandiari attributes Spa D-Jour’s three-fold monthly sales growth to simply making services more family-oriented. “We talked to clients about what services they wanted, and we found that lots of mothers are worried that their sons and daughters don’t know how to take care of their hair and skin and how to wear makeup,” he explains.

“Teens have a tendency to do too much or too little, so we made our services very educational,” Esfandiari continues. “We don’t just shampoo their hair before a cut – we teach them how to wash their hair and with what type of shampoo.”

These educational tips not only engender loyalty, but they make Spa Du-Jour’s clients more savvy consumers. “Now, when they go to a lower-priced salon, they know what’s not right,” Esfandiari says. “When a stylist tells them they can get their hair colored and permed in the same day, they know that’s not right and it brings them back to us.”

At the urging of two part-time, teenaged front-desk coordinators, Esfandiari also launched a monthly Teen Nigh this past March. He’s reaching out to teens through his front-desk coordinators – one of whom is a student counselor at her high school – to inform teens of the night dedicated just to them, with classes on makeup application, skin care dos and don’ts, hair care, and the benefits of massage.

Esfandiari plans to limit attendees to no more than 20, and is charging just $10 for the education-package evening. He’s confident most will return soon for full-price service, and he anticipates many will bring their friends.

Girlything.com’s Olivo says she and her price-conscious peers would appreciate a “Girl’s Night Out” on a Friday or Saturday night where all teens enjoy a 10% discount.

Little things like a Teen night say a lot to teens. If a Teen Night doesn’t suit your salon’s style, experiment with clustering teen appointments and offering an afternoon hands-on seminar. Or consider a more informal Teen Club.

Where the Teens Are

Teens have been exposed to so much advertising in their life that they’ve develop an immunity to traditional marketing methods. Many salons enjoy some success with ads in high school newspapers and yearbooks, but consider a more direct approach. For example, ask if the school would allow you to offer an education seminar on skin care to health classes or even in the media center during lunch. Or, schedule a free teen night and ask the school to include mention of it in morning announcements.

And don’t forget the parents. Let mom know about the service solutions your salon offers to treat problem skin, teach makeup application, solve oily or dry hair, and reform nail biters. Advise them to invite their daughters in and to let you take care of the rest.

Finally, Brown recommends leveraging the current popularity of salon and spa parties with younger girls. She also recommends a booth at local kid’s expos as an ideal venue to meet kids and their parents.

Go Straight to the Source

To learn if teens want what you’ve got, Elzinga and others recommend going straight to the source. In developing the Heidi Christine’s Hip salon concept, Elzinga invited two teens from schools in her area to get to know her market. In exchange for free services, these teens tell Hip Salon how to stay cool, and they’re also spreading the word about Hip through their schools.

“I’ve found that they know what they want and what we need to so,” Elzinga says. “All they need is someone to direct them and organize their thoughts. I know what works from my two other salons, so I just sit down and ask them how to do it in their world.”

Student Discounts?

It takes no small fortune to raise a child these days, and many business over the years have opted to give parents a price break. But while discounted children’s haircuts are standard across the industry, not everyone agrees that teens should make the cut.

Heidi Elzinga, for example, adamantly adheres to the same high-end pricing of her two Heidi Christine’s salons. “We produce quality and we teach quality,” she says “We can create the runway looks and hot trends. We do our own trendsetter release, which cover hair, nails, skin, and clothing, every spring and fall.”

Saed Esfandiari, on the other hand takes the long view, calling teens his “coveted future clients.” Spa Du-Jour teen-orientated services are priced 15% - 30% less than standard services, but they’re also shorter appointments.

“We’ve adjusted the pricing on our teen menus because the service aren’t quite as extensive,” agrees Nancy Brown. In establishing your teen service pricing the most practical approach is to base it on time. If the service takes the same amount of time as an adult service, charge the same price if it takes less time charge accordingly.

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