illustration by Chris Murphy

illustration by Chris Murphy

It’s lunch time, and you run out to your local fast food restaurant to get a burner. As you enter the drive-thru lane, several other cars are in front of you. The restaurant has made a menu visible to you and the several cars in front of you to view while you wait. As you inch your way up in line, you also see signs with new sandwiches offered, value deals, and the suggestion that you are so hungry that you should super-size your meal today.

You finally make your way to the speaker, roll down your window, and you hear a cheery voice say, “Welcome to Burger Town! May I take your order?” You quickly place your order and the voice over the speaker asks, “Would you like to super-size that today?” You quickly respond. Then the voice tells you your total is $4.35 before ordering you to the first window.

By the time you arrive at the first window you have exact change ready to pay for your meal, and are ready to move on to the next window to pick up your order. Without even knowing it, you, the consumer, have been conditioned by Burger Town to behave a certain way. You made your decision on what to order prior to arriving at the speaker, you had exact change ready before arriving at the first window, and you probably kept your window down so you could be handed your food quickly at the second window. And you moved away from the window without getting everything settled in your car, to allow the car behind you to move tip.

Behavior training and conditioning are techniques you should actively practice in your salon on a daily basis. Can you imagine what the drive-thru window at Burger Town would be like if consumers hadn’t been trained to behave as they did? It’s the same in your salon. Training your customers to behave in a certain fashion will allow your business to function more efficiently.

For example, my customers run from the parking lot to the door if they are late, and are just a blur as they make their way from the door to the washroom to wash their hands. And they apologize for making me wait, even if they’re just seconds late.

The Training

My salon has a tardy policy that we enforce, and I don’t service anyone who hasn’t washed her hands. When a customer comes into my salon for the first time, I have her fill out a client card. On the back I have a release statement regarding the use of chemicals, and a statement about arriving late for appointments.

I reinforce that statement each time a customer arrives late by explaining that policy, and putting it into their terms. I usually use the line, “We are starting a little late today, so I will need to make up this time in your hour, because I wouldn’t want my next client to have to wait for us to finish, just like I wouldn’t want you to wait if I ran late with someone before you.” If the customer continues the behavior, I will ask her to reschedule, or offer her a later appointment time.

Training a customer is accomplished by establishing rules. When the rule is broken, you — the trainer — need to give what is called a correction. This is clone by discussing it in a diplomatic fashion. When the rule is broken again, a tougher correction is given, such as rescheduling.

The key to successful training is consistency. If you have a tardy policy, that policy must be enforced every day with every customer. And customers need to know the importance of that policy. I tell customers all the time how I realize that they are busy people and have places to be. I know they have kids to pick up at soccer or meetings to gel to.

Another approach is to reward customers who always arrive on time with a treat like a free paraffin dip or nail art. While they receive this extra service, thank them for always arriving on time. This can also be used on customers who occasionally arrive late to heighten their awareness of the issue. If they know there are benefits to arriving on lime, this might help them stop arriving late.

The Conditioning

When a customer walks into my salon she knows she should go straight to the bathroom and wash her hands. It becomes easy to spot when someone walks in and goes directly to the waiting area. Your receptionist should always be aware of who came in and if she went to wash. I also always greet my customer, and ask her “Did you wash?” I then ask her to have a seat and get comfortable while I wash my own hands. If she didn’t wash, I walk with her to the customers’ washroom. Doing this consistently will condition your customer to wash her hands without being asked. The idea is reinforced when she is told that I am washing my hands also.


Always practice what you preach. If you don’t want your customer to be late, don’t consistently run late for her. If she sees that you respect her time, she will do the same for you. If you want your customer to wash her hands, always ask if she has washed her hands, and let her know it’s important by washing your own. And before you know it, she will do it without asking.

This is a simplistic example of conditioning and training. But this theory may be applied to every area of the salon business. You can condition customers to buy retail by always using products that you sell. You need to explain to them the reasons why they need to use each particular product. Keep a record of the recommendation, and then follow up with the client at a later appointment. Check from time to time to see if she is running low. Before you know it, your clients won’t buy a nail care product without consulting you.

The technique we use to condition our customers to send in referrals is simple. Start by having each nail tech give each customer three cards at every service. Have the nail tech ask if she could pass the cards onto friends. When a referral comes, give the customer a giant thank you and a coupon for a free bottle of polish. Your cost will be anywhere from $1.75 to $3, depending on your product line. This is the cheapest form of advertising — and it works. Allow other customers to know about the reward; it will get them thinking.

Don’t be afraid to be tough. Set rules that enable your salon to run efficiently and stick to them. This is your business and it is your job to make sure that customers move through your salon just like you moved through the Burger Town drive-thru.

Shari Finger is the owner of Fingers Nail Studio in W. Dundee, Ill. A former Nail Tech of the Year and Salon of the Year winner, Fringer is a frequent contributor to NAILS.

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