Business Management

On My Mind: Are You Focused?

Earlier this year I took part in a focus group for a store called Lucy, which sells cute and comfortable yoga and casual weekend clothes for women. They were trying to assess their market position and asked frequent customers like me to participate in an online blog Q & A session. They not only wanted to know what we liked and didn’t about the brand, they also wanted to know about our lives — our leisure activities, our other favorite stores and brands, even what songs we liked.

It was an interesting experience. And it was gratifying to think my input was being taken into consideration by Lucy bigwigs. Naturally, it got me thinking that the focus group format would be great for nail salons.

Focus groups are a great tool for assessing people’s attitude toward a specific product, service, or brand. You can generate feedback not only on things you currently offer, but also on new services, advertisements, products, or changes you are thinking about making in your business.

And the great thing is, you can do focus groups on whatever scale works for you. If you’re a larger, more corporate salon or spa, you can hire an outside consultant or moderator to conduct the study for you. But you can also just ask a handful of clients out to lunch or dinner and make it more informal. There’s a relaxed, intimate environment you get with a focus group that you just can’t match with a survey.

To invite people to participate in your focus group, you should provide some type of incentive (they’re spending their free time helping your business, after all). You might pay for the meal and give them a gift certificate to the salon. Simply being asked to be in a focus group can make a client feel important and involved in your business, which in turn can create loyalty to you. (The Lucy people game me a $125 gift certificate to the store.)

You might make the topic specific (just focusing on new pedicure options) or it might be more general about their perception of the salon (what new services they want to try). The discussion should be loosely structured and open to the free flow of ideas. Ask them to tell you the good and the bad about your salon. Do they like the range of services? Do they get put on hold when they call in? Do they come to the salon for pampering and relaxation or to socialize? Would they like to see you open different hours?

Take notes (or ask someone to help so you can be involved in the conversation), promise discretion, and stress the importance of their honesty. Don’t take things personally. If one person says she thinks the salon smells funny but all the others think it’s heavenly, you can take the word of the majority. A few hours is probably a good amount of time to get all the information you’re looking for. Let them know when you’re finished if you’ll be following up with them on the “results” from the session. And make sure to be gracious and thank them for their time.

There’s no right or wrong occasion for a focus group, and in fact, any time is the right time to get re-plugged in to what your clients are thinking. Good luck. Now go get focused!

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