Less than 15 years ago, computers were cumbersome, mysterious pieces of machinery that usually sat in huge rooms on the floors of office buildings. Stories and movies portrayed these monstrous inventions as intimidating, menacing competitors that threatened to take away human jobs and turn our society into programmed button-pushers.
But slowly, through the years, computers have become smaller and friendlier, and people have discovered these hi-tech machines are as necessary and helpful as washing machines, microwave ovens, or other twentieth-century inventions. Today, it’s almost impossible to enter an office – and increasingly any business – that doesn’t use at least one computer.
Although many people still harbor a fear of working with computers, few can argue their merit. They have proven to be invaluable tools that save time for salon owners and technicians by completing tasks quicker. Salon owners report computers help them dig out from piles of paperwork – allowing them to find ways to expand business, increase profits, lessen waste, and even take vacations.
Yet despite the obvious plusses of computerizing, most nail salons don’t even consider it.
“Half the time, I have to convince shop owners that a computer doesn’t bite, and if you touch it, it doesn’t blow up,” quips Kent Crabtree, software designer and president of Innovative Business Computer Solutions (IBCS). “But, once people overcome their fears, they discover how helpful computers are, and how easy they are to use.”
Many salon owners don’t consider computerizing because they feel their salon is too small to justify the expense. Deborah Soloway, vice president of marketing and sales at Pro ˆ Trak, Inc. says. “Is your business small or are you just thinking small? I’ve yet to find a salon that couldn’t improve its business by using a computer Steve Colon, vice president of Elite Software, says one of his customers operates a one-woman salon, and she believes her computer is instrumental in helping run the business properly.
“The way this customer puts it,” Colon says, “is whether you are a one-person salon, or employ 20 people, as a salon owner you have to keep track of your sales. You need to keep detailed records of client information, inventory, accounting data, etc., and all this paperwork takes a lot of time. A computer helps you complete this work a lot quicker, while giving you a handle on how well your business is operating.”
There are so many benefits to buying a computer, it’s hard to find anyone in the industry who advises against it.
“The only time I ever tell someone not to computerize,” says Fred Dengler, executive vice president of the Mikal Corporation, “is if their salon is a disorganized mess. If a business runs poorly manually, then, of course, a computer will make a bigger mess – and faster. Otherwise, computers benefit the small shop owner who can’t afford to hire help, and the large shop owner who works 18 hour days trying to complete the work a computer can do in a matter of hours.”
Dengler says he’s found the main reasons salon owners don’t computerize are:
- lack of direct knowledge of computers
- fear of not receiving proper training
- fear that computer equipment will become obsolete
- fear of the cost of equipment and training
- fear of “fast buck” sales people
- fear that the staff won’t be able to learn how to run a computer
- fear of not seeing a return on the investment
- fear of buying the wrong system
NAILS Magazine looked at these and other fears and came up with ways salon owners can overcome them.
LACK OF KNOWLEDGE
Ultimately, you are the best judge of whether a computer is right for your salon. But don’t decide against it because the very word “computer” makes you run the other way.
“We spend as much time educating salon owners about computers as we do selling them,” says Steve Colon of Elite Software.
All the computer/software companies NAILS interviewed for this article (all of whom specialize in working with salons) agree with Colon, and say a lack of knowledge about computers is the major reason salon owners don’t computerize.
They advise owners to take a good, hard look at their businesses. Make a list of all the positives and negatives of running your particular salon. Do you find yourself swimming in paperwork? Do you know exactly how much money you’re making on a manicure or pedicure? Do you know the amount of nail polish and other products in stock at any given time?
Industry experts also suggest you learn about computers by finding someone who owns a computer and asking if you can see how it works, and by learning basic computer terminology so you feel more comfortable when buying a computer. For instance, do you know the difference between hardware and software?
“If you can kick it, it’s hardware,” Dengler says. “Hardware is the physical parts of a computer.” Another way to understand the difference between the two is to think of the computer’s hardware as the body of the computer and the software as the brain that tells the body what to do.
FEAR OF NOT RECEIVING PROPER TRAINING
Instead of worrying whether you’ll receive proper training, think about how you would prefer to be trained. Are you the kind of person who likes to learn by herself? Are you good at following directions in a book? Do you like being counseled on the telephone? Or do you prefer one-on-one, personal contact, where someone guides you through each step?
Once you determine how you learn best, find a company that offers what you want. There are companies that offer free on-site training with the purchase of a system, while others offer free telephone support. Still others have a detailed training manual, and other companies provide all three.
With fierce competition existing between computer companies today, you should be able to receive the type of training you desire. So if you’re doing business with a company that offers no training, or offers training at an outrageous price, simply try someone else.
FEAR THAT COMPUTER EQUIPMENT WILL BECOME OBSOLETE
Computers are getting more sophisticated all the time, and a few months after you buy a machine, chances are a newer, more powerful model will be introduced on the market. But so what? As long as you buy hardware that is compatible with the software you choose (and powerful enough to run it), it should be years before you need ot buy another machine. Besides, all the companies NAILS spoke with offer upgrades on their software programs – either free or for a low price, so your system can remain up-to-date.
FEAR OF THE COST OF EQUIPMENT AND TRAINING
Because most of us are ignorant about the computer field, we feel like sitting targets for cunning salespeople. But salon owners have the advantage of buying software and hardware from companies that specialize in developing systems for them. This means you can attend state and national shows, talk to exhibitors and find out average costs. Chances are you’ll find some low prices, a few high ones and quite a few right in the middle.
Talk to other salon owners. There’s nothing like learning the ups and downs of buying a particular system from someone whose needs are the same as yours.
Also, know what you are paying for. Generally, you will pay for hardware and software (sometimes sold separately, sometimes in a package), training and support, and, with some companies, extras. Beware of “extras” or hidden costs. Always ask for a complete price, down to every cable and plug, in writing. Some companies price their computers very low, at bargain prices – until you realize the deal does not include a monitor or keyboard.
FEAR OF “FAST BUCK” SALESPEOPLE
True, there are salespeople who will try to pressure you into buying their computer, regardless of your needs. “This is the best bargain on the market,” they shout, “but you must buy it now!” You can avoid these “fast buck” talkers by choosing a company that sells directly to the industry, and has a solid reputation. One that has been around for a minimum of three years and has installed more than 50 computers in several states and:
- can give you references of satisfied customers
- will take the time to explain and simplify computer jargon
- will try to explain things clearly to avoid confusion or making computers sound like complicated machines only they can understand
- is recommended by other salon owners. By networking, you will hear about companies that are known to give customers a bad deal or bad service. It’s a small world, and word of disreputable salesperson, or company, usually travels fast.
You can also make it easier for both the salesperson and yourself by knowing what you want a computer to do for you before you shop for a system. Make a list of all the things you would like a computer to do, and know how much you’re able to spend.
FEAR THAT YOUR STAFF WON’T BE ABLE TO LEARN HOW TO USE A COMPUTER
Your employees may have the same initial reaction to computers as you did – “I can’t learn how to use that!” But the truth is they can, and will, learn how to use it. A lot depends on your attitude and how you introduce it in the salon.
Salon owners who have computer systems recommend that you go slowly. Don’t intimidate employees by giving them 24 hours to learn to use it. Instead, introduce the computer as a positive addition to the salon. Tell them how it can save time and increase everybody’s earnings.
“Employees usually like the idea that goal setting can increase their income [an example of goal setting is determining the number of new or repeat clients a technician should service each week].” said one computer owner, “and that direct mail can increase their customer base [direct mailing software includes features to automatically print cards to send to customers, reminding them to call for an appointment, wishing them a happy birthday or offering a particular discount on a particular service].”
Soloway agrees. “With our system, employees receive a performance analysis report with each paycheck. I know some women who use the information on these reports as a kind of competition. For instance, they compare how much they sold, or how many wraps they did. Then, they try to beat those numbers by the next paycheck. One salon owner I know even offers plane fares to the Bahamas for the technician who makes the most retail sales. You should see how motivated those women are!”
Most salon owners find their employees not only learn how to use computers, but become more involved in the business because of it.
FEAR OF NOT SEEING A RETRUN ON THEIR MONEY…OR, HOW TO JUSTIFY THE INTIAL EXPENSE
“Even with minimal service use, a computer can save you approximately seven weeks of work a year, and bring in extra money,” Dengler says. “Let’s say you have a customer base of 1,000. If you can get each client to come in one more time a year just by using the direct mailing capabilities of the program you’ll increase sales by $10,000.”
Soloway agrees. “Being more organized saves you money,” she says. ‘By keeping track of inventory employees, and advertising costs, most of my customers increase their earnings within the first three months.”
Another way you can justify a computer expense is by leasing, instead of buying it outright. “Leasing is a lot less intimidating for many salon owners,” Colon says. “And unless your salon has a large cash flow, it can be more advantageous. When leasing, you pay for the computer as you use it.”
Other justifications for computerizing are:
- Gaining control of your business. Industry experts predict that salon owners who use a computer to help them in their business planning are less likely to go out of business than those who are not computerized. Computers can help you plan your profit by helping you to calculate and to keep track of how much you are spending on overhead expenses (rent, telephone, etc.), how much you’re paying your employees, and whether or not you’re charging enough for your services to ensure a profit.
- Organization. Once you enter basic information into your computer, it eliminates timely duplication of your efforts. For example, inventory. If you take an accurate count of your inventory, both for retail and for services, you can update that information simply by keeping track of your sales and usage. It means you won’t have to recount all your bottles of nail polish, files, etc., and you can easily reorder those supplies you need without over-ordering those you don’t.
- Payroll is made easier.
- Computing commissions is easier, and more accurate.
FEAR OF BUYING THE WRONG SYSTEM
You should have little fear of buying the wrong system if you know what you want your computer to do for your business, talk with other salon owners who currently have computers, and buy from a company that specializes in working with the nail salon industry. Remember, the reputation of the company is at stake and they want to stay in business. A good sale can make or break their business so they want to make sure their customers are happy, just as you want your customers to be happy.
“The danger with buying from a regular computer store,” Dengler says, “is that their salesperson has most likely never even set foot inside a salon and has no idea what your needs are.”
Also, industry experts advise that you always choose your software first, then your hardware, because different software packages require different hardware to run properly. “By choosing your software first, you will be sure to buy a machine powerful enough to perform all of the software’s operations – and at an adequate speed,” Dengler says.
“Computers are the way of the future,” Colon says. “They’re like VCRs were years ago. Soon it will be common to see salons using computers. It’s more professional, and the money invested helps salon owners run their business better, while gaining more credibility with the public.”
To better understand what computer can do for you, let’s take a specific example. All good software for the nail industry should have a point of sale capability. This means you can keep track of what is going on from the moment a customer walks through the door by using your computer. Instead of a cash register, you have a cash drawer hooked into your computer.
Although different software companies offer programs with different variations, you should be able to retrieve the file of a repeat client when she comes into the salon.
If the client is new, have her fill out a card with pertinent information (name, address, phone number, birthday, type of service, favorite colors, etc.) and input the information into your computer, so you can pull the file next time.
When the client’s appointment is over, check her out by retrieving her file and typing in the date, service rendered, products used, technician who rendered the service, and her next scheduled appointment.
By doing this, you keep a permanent, updated record on each client, and you know what type of services she received last time and what she needs next time.
Your client is now entered in a large data base or basket of information. From this “basket” the computer can:
- Print a card to send the client on her birthday
- Add the client to a list of other clients who receive the same service, so you can tell what percentage of your clientele gets silk wraps, acrylics and so on.
- Add the client to a list of clients who like a certain product, so you can keep track of inventory
- Track how often the client comes into the salon, and print out a reminder card if the client doesn’t come in for a few months
- Keep track of your costs, by keeping track of what products are used on each client
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