Business Management

Get on the Fast Track

Put your salon on the fast-track to business growth with leadership, teamwork, and the proven business systems. NAILS reports on the hows and whys of business growth through team development taught at Salon Business Strategies’ Fast Forward Live!

They came from all styles of salons and backgrounds, from the M.B.A. opening a salon as a business venture, to the 35-year industry veteran who’s worked in — and owned — just about every type of salon you can imagine. They came for many reasons: Some are long-time owners looking to re-energize their salons. Others have staff with full clienteles, but a salon nowhere near meeting its profit potential. While others are still developing a business plan and looking to identify the industry’s best practices.

“We have to reach the level in this industry where the attitude becomes, ‘We are here to service the client,’” said Neil Ducoff, founder and publisher of Salon Business Strategies to the owners and managers in attendance last September at the Fast Forward Live! Salon and Spa growth seminar in Atlanta. “It has to go beyond who the client’s favourite stylist or nail tech is. If you have people with waiting lists, that’s a symptom of a problem.”

Teamwork, Ducoff reiterated, means that the performance of everyone in the salon—owners, technicians, and support staff—is measured as it relates to the salon’s performance and growth.

Enter Fast Forward Live!, a seminar designed to teach owners and key personnel the whys and hows of team development systems. Including everything we learned over the two days would fill a book. (Indeed, Ducoff’s Fast Forward Salon & Spa Business Resource— free to attendees — is 482 pages.) Instead, we summed up several key points on growing your salon business through leader­ship, teamwork, and systems.

Lead the Way

“Truly being a leader is a discipline you have to master,” Ducoff said True leadership is a state of mind, he said, adding that leaders create a culture of change. Culture, in turn, defines behaviour. “You manage systems, you lead people,” he said. “If you don’t like the results, you change the system, not the people.”

Take retailing. “Retail is 10% of sales, and you tell the staff they’ve got to sell more retail,” Ducoff said. “They never say no, do they? Yet sales don’t go up, so you come back every week and tell them to try harder.” Instead, change the systems by systematically consulting with clients and recommending prod­ucts at every service.

“Try this: Make it a requirement that every client come to the front desk with three products written on a piece of paper,” he said. He told of one salon owner who recently abandoned individual retail commissions in favour of a 15% team bonus. Everyone who hits 90% of their individual retail goal is eligible to share in the bonus. Within months, Ducoff said, the salon’s retail sales grew from 10% to 18% of total sales.

Leaders know and understand the needs of the people they lead, and their goal is to fulfill those needs. Ducoff described different leadership styles, highlighting the strengths and weak­nesses of each.

Ready for a change in your leadership style and salon culture? Ducoff advocated the “bookmark in time” strategy as a tool to identify the point of transition from what was, to what will be.

“Explain the frustrations of management and of team members,” Ducoff said. “Detail the ways in which your leadership style and the resulting business culture contributed. Then an­nounce, ‘Today represents a bookmark in time for our salons. We cannot change the past, but together we can co-create an exciting and rewarding future.’ Paint a picture of the future — detail a fresher, more exciting work environment.

“All progress should be measured against the condition of the salon at the time the bookmark is set, and communicated to the staff through updates, meetings, and huddles (fast, concise performance updates),” Ducoff said.


For great examples of the benefits of teamwork, you need look no further than nature, Ducoff said, citing Canadian geese as just one example. Each spring and fall, Canadian geese cross the country in aerodynamically efficient “V” formations that allow them to fly faster and further together than they could alone.

“How can we get that to happen in our business?” he questioned. He then answered his question by identifying five criteria for effective teamwork

  • Vision: Develop one so you know where you’re going.
  • Communication: Share the vision so people know where the team is going.
  • Action: Plan your work and work your plan.
  • Assessment Set goals that people can relate to themselves. If you project annu­al sales for the salon, break them down to daily and weekly salon goals, then communicate them as individual goals.
  • Refocus. Constantly assess where the team is in reaching the goals, then refocus on the goal and how to reach it from where you are.

Everyone Is a Salesperson

“Retailing: It’s about servicing the client, it pays the rent, there are no employment costs associated with it, it sells itself — these are just a few of the promises salons have heard about retail,” said Eric Manual, skill certified director for Salon Business Strategies. “But has it fulfilled all its promises? No.”

But don’t blame the products, he said: There’s just no getting around the fact that staff members have to sell. For those who argue they aren’t salespeople, Manual disagreed. “Sales have been around forever. How many of you have talked yourself out of a speeding ticket?” he asked. “And we’ve all talked someone into doing something for us.”

To make retail sell in the salon, the entire staff has to be responsible for it. “Make it a requirement of the job, not an option,” he said.

And just as you provide a workstation and products for the service, make sure your staff has the right selling tools. Offer product knowledge through education and systems for recommending products, and provide the retail stock and displays that entice clients.

Give Them the World

The complaining client: Who doesn’t dread her? But the clients you should really worry about, said Strategies education director Keri Manual, are those who thank you, pay with a smile — and rush to tell family and friends about their bad experience.

“In the United States, companies lose around half of their customers in five years, and half of their employees in four,” Manual said. “We lose them because we’re not meeting their expectations.”

While most clients won’t express outright their dissatisfaction, client retention rates are a fairly dependable gauge of customer service.

Start by mastering the basics, Manual advised: Make sure every client is greeted by name when she enters the salon, and use active listening skills during the service.

“Think relationships,” she said. “Talk to clients to find out what they want every time they come in. Next, develop an ‘attitude of gratitude.’ Show your appreciation that they chose your business.”

Your staff is another good source for feedback. What do they identify as the hallmarks of good customer service? What do they hear from clients?

At the same time, learn about your employees’ needs. Are you providing them the tools they need to do their jobs well? Is their work area comfortable? Do you provide them training and opportunities for growth? Do you give encouragement and positive feedback?

Ducoff urged owners and managers to remember that, as a guide, a leader has to know exactly where she’s going.

Evaluate where your business is and where you want it to be, then identify what you and your team will need to do to get it there. Create a culture of change to make those accomplishments possible, and guide your staff toward growth. Develop the systems and deliver the service together — and be prepared to move forward, fast!

The Mark of a Good Leader

There are many different types of leaders, but the best ones all share these qualities:

  • Vision to spell out what they will do for those who depend on them;
  • Drive to share that vision with others;
  • Courage to challenge status quo and stimulate change;
  • Ability to inspire people to achieve goals;
  • Foresight to empower people;
  • Wisdom to listen and learn, and translate knowledge into performance;
  • Integrity to serve as a good example;
  • Willingness to recognize accomplishments and celebrate contributions and successes.

Is Your Salon Team-Oriented?

To help attendees analyze their salon’s performance as a team, Ducoff asked attendees to rate their team in eight areas on a scale of one to five.

1. Staff members know that “waiting lists” have a negative impact on salon pro­ductivity and client retention rates.

2. Every client has been educated that the skills of the entire salon are at their disposal.

3. We never turn away clients just because their favourite technician is busy when we have other skill-certified technicians available.

4. The client’s scheduling needs are more important than ours.

5. Every staff member strives to build client loyally to the salon — not to build personal client followings.

6. Our prime focus is on building salon retention rates — not individual request rates.

7. If a technician quits, at least 75% of the clients she serviced continue to patronize the salon.

8. Our overall salon productivity rate (hours sold vs hours available) is at least 70% or higher.

If you totalled 36 points or higher congratulations: You offer superior team service. Twenty-nine to 35 ranks “good”; 22-28 rates “fair”, 16-21 is “poor”; while a score of 8-15 means you have no team service.

5 Ways to Boost Retail Sales

Try these five tactics for boosting retail sales

1. Retail only the brands that fit your professional image. Do the products perform as promised? Do the nails they show in their advertising appeal to your clientele?

2. Make clients aware of the products they’ll need to maintain the service at home, and show them how to use them. Give them samples whenever possible

3. Use the products you retail, and make every product part of a retail display by making sure product bottles on stations are clean and positioned appealingly

4. Use manufacturer-provided signage and displays.

5. At the end of each service, write out the products you recommended to the client for home use. Remind staff that all they’re doing is making the recommendation — the client has the final say in whether she completes the purchase.


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