How To Make the Most from your Salon Spa Gift Certificate Sales

How To Make the Most from your Salon Spa Gift Certificate Sales
Douglas Preston
salon gift certificate sales
Many of you experience high holiday gift certificate sales. This happily means lines of customers at the front desk ready to deck your halls with piles of money!

It’s a windfall that helps your business finish the year on a bright note, swelling your bank account and guaranteeing a fresh stock of new customers for the coming year. Many spas virtually depend on this last-minute infusion of cash to catch up financially and add a little financial padding when flat spots in sales occur. And as good a thing as the gift certificate rush is there may be plenty of opportunities for the savvy spa operator to make it even better.

Here’s how you can pull the maximum value from holiday gift certificate and package sales:

Smart spa package programs

• Keep your packages at 4 hours or less. This makes them easier to schedule and limits the impact of sudden cancellations. The more packages you sell the more trouble you’ll have fulfilling them they way clients will want you to. Be prepared!

• Offer no more than 3 or 4 packages total. Gift certificate purchasers are happy to buy according to your suggestions and don’t need or demand lots of options. With fewer packages it’s easier for you to manage your programs, requiring less training and specialty products.

• Include slower selling services in some of your packages. Wet room treatments or your more exotic services may do better when sold as a special experience than they do as part of the regular menu.

• Put your high retailing services at the end of the package. That means facial or makeup services–the easier ones to generate a sale from. The closer these services are to client departure, the higher the retail result.

• Don’t discount your packages! Most customers won’t expect a discount when they’re buying a special gift. A holiday, just like a wedding, is a time when the wallets are looser than usual. Create your packages from “special” services not found priced individually on the spa menu. Design unique body, facial, and nail services that are much like, but slightly different than, your standard offerings. This can be done without adding cost or time. Give these services an alluring name and then build your spa packages with them. Now, charge more for the package (at least 10-15%) than you would for standard services grouped together as a package. This way you profit from package sales (as you should). The client can’t add them up as separate services since they aren’t sold outside of the package. This works amazingly well!

• We all know that gift certificate customers are not the most reliable product shoppers so why not build some retail items into at least one of your packages? Select fun products that reflect the package themes but aren’t specific to skin type or require regimental use. A stress relief packages can come with an aromatherapy candle, room spray, and eye pillows. Body treatments can be sold with body or massage lotion, bath gel, and heated neck roll. This is a great opportunity to thin out slower sellers, ones that you simply change as stocks run out. Build the price into the package itself. And hey, no retail commission to pay!

Package sales tips
Most spa packages are sold as gift certificates for someone else to receive and use. But did you know that the average purchaser isn’t set on any particular package or price when making their selection? Instead of handing the customer a spa menu and waiting for their decision, direct them to the most popular programs you offer. Instruct employees to recommend a certain package first, or to suggest only your higher priced packages–describing them by the wonderful experience they’ll produce. Remember, your customer is buying a gift–something intended to please a friend or loved one. Sell the pleasure, not the price–the price will look smaller to your customer as the desire for it increases.

And don’t overlook online and fax sales. Whatever you do, the easier it is for customers to purchase gifts from your spa the better your sales will be.

Scheduling your packages
Here’s the dark side of package sales: your obligation to schedule and perform them. Suddenly the tide of demand is rushing in and you quickly find your schedule and schedulers inundated with appointment requests. There’s a real danger that you’ll run out of the most coveted time slots, forcing you to offer appointments unacceptably far into the future, and irritating customers. They all seem to want the same thing–evening and weekend hours–but there are only so many of them to go around. Worse, your important regular clients want those same limited appointment times as well, so you’re risking their loyalty with an over-packed schedule. Try this–not only with your package clients but also those who are scheduling anew or returning: offer your low-demand appointment time first, before suggesting any others. You’ll discover that a remarkable percentage of customers will accept them, and probably would have all along had they been proactively suggested before. One of the costliest questions at reception can be, “When would you like to come in?” Change that to, “We have an opening on Tuesday at 3:00. How would that work for you?” You won’t know if you don’t ask.

If you have the courage to do it, drop your spa packages altogether and, instead, sell smart cards and gift cards for spa credit. They’re easier to manage, free you from the package glut trap (the card doesn’t guarantee a spa package on demand), and customers tend to use them in smaller installments. This is good because a returning customer is more likely to develop a habit for your spa than one who gulps down a big dose of services in a single visit. The retail potential is also better when the client is spending spa dollars rather than being assigned to a package. My former spa made the switch to smart card-only gift sales years ago with very positive results. We were thrilled to be out of the package business and made more money in the long haul!

Best of luck to you!

Day Spa Startup Horror Stories – Part 2

Day Spa Startup Horror Stories – Part 2
Douglas Preston
day spa horror stories
Lindsay S., operates a day spa she purchased from former owner, Lake County, CA: on facilities

When I bought my day spa from its former owner, everything told me that I was getting the deal of a lifetime. Health problems were forcing her into an early retirement, demanding the sale of her business. The décor was beautiful, most of the fixtures and equipment were like new, and the lease was affordable with an extension. After two years in operation the spa was still a fairly new business, and I saw lots of potential for service improvements and new clients. What I didn’t know then but wished I had thought to investigate was how the facility actually functioned as a facility. I hadn’t actually ever had a service there myself and had no idea what the working environment was like when in normal use. Since purchasing my deal of a day spa 18 months ago I have had to invest considerably more money to correct poor soundproofing in the walls, replace an inadequate water heater, upgrade the cheap carpeting, and implement a better working point-of-sale system. So far, my total out-of-pocket cash has soared to almost $11,000. It scares me to think of what might come next.

I would recommend that anyone thinking about buying a business do the following before signing on the dotted line:

Have a service or two in the spa and pay attention to the building more than the therapist or the treatment itself.
Spend some time in the lobby during a normal business day to get a feel for the flow and functionality of the working area.
Ask to see a copy of any recent building inspection, if possible (will possibly require the cooperation of the landlord if the business space is leased.) Termite repair may be someone else’s responsibility but tenting or reconstruction will certainly affect your business income.
Closely inspect the quality and source of the equipment and fixtures you’re about to buy–maybe they only look good.
Learn as much as you can about POS systems so that you’ll know in advance the difference between high and low-performing programs.

John W. MD, medispa partner, TX: on compensating employees
I think that my physician/partner and I soundly reinforced the cliché of doctors as poor businesspersons by adding a spa component to our dermatology practice. Evidently, we had become intoxicated by the trade articles and presentations touting the merits of a spa as an added marketing and income source. Our area had become increasingly populated by medical services, so we felt that having a spa available for patients would provide us with a competitive advantage. It’s probably too soon to know if the experiment has proven correct or not but one thing we did realize soon after opening the spa: it was far more expensive to operate than we originally believed. Our weekly payroll was killing us and we didn’t think we could sustain the cash drain rate for more than a year, maybe less. While we came to regret it we had based the rate of employee pay on local averages and the results of a survey published in a spa trade magazine. I’m not sure how others have fared with those pay programs but they seemed to be failing us.

Our solution was to hire a highly regarded spa compensation consultant who overhauled our plan and instituted an intelligent merit system that rewarded productivity. The change wasn’t exactly well received by the staff, resulting in some employee turnover, but the situation has stabilized. We’re not making impressive money yet but our cash flow is positive and we’re finally positioned to grow the business.

Janette K., day spa director/owner, AZ: on leadership and boundaries
I’m a big pushover and I admit it. I just had no idea how that attitude would haunt me while trying to act as the director of my spa. We’re not a large business–only 12 employees including myself–but it’s still more than a full-time job for me. I’ve got a young daughter at home and a husband who travels for his career so there’s a lot of responsibility both in and out of the spa! The trouble I have is in saying no to people when I know that I should. I imagined that my employees would be more like family and that, as professionals, would behave as such. While most of my staff is very cooperative, there are a few that are really demanding and lean on me pretty hard to get their way. They constantly push for work schedule changes, more personal time off, and privileges like free spa services and expensive training classes. It’s not that they’re rude about this, but the constant demands and my old inability to draw a line between my employees and me has been a real hardship. I think that I lost control of my business from day one and just didn’t know how I was going to fix the situation.

At this point things are beginning to improve quite a bit but are by no means fully corrected. A friend of mine that has attention deficit disorder raved about a personal life coach she began working with to help her manage her family life and career, and how helpful it’s been to work with someone who understands her challenges. I made an appointment with the coach and in our first meeting she described a plan that would help me become more assertive and set some personal boundaries with both employees and, sad to say, my daughter who has become quite the controller thanks to my permissiveness and my husband’s long absences. We now work on weekly goals, set boundary limits, and then I am given little challenges to test my commitment to improving. All I can say is that it’s really worked for me. Initially I was worried about being the bad guy with my employees, and some of them clearly resented my sudden no-ness! But I also have less day-to-day stress now and feel a lot more confidence and self-respect. I think most of my staff like the change, too. Anyway, before becoming a people manager I would highly suggest that boundaries-challenged persons like myself read books on assertiveness or get some professional assistance in that area. It’ll save you a lot of misery, that’s for sure!

Good luck to you!

Salon Spa Startup Horror Stories – Part 1

Salon Spa Startup Horror Stories – Part 1
Douglas Preston
day spa horror stories
Considering the startup of your very own day spa? A parade of beautiful, customer-filled spas and retreats has finally tempted you to bet with the players in this glamorous business.

Let’s assume that you’ve done your homework well. Feasibility study by an industry expert? Done. Stealth visits to your local competitors? Done. Trade show research on equipment, marketing, products, service menu, feng sui, and scented candles? Done. Bank loan? Done. Location and lease? Pending. You’ve planned, and planned and planned, and waited long enough. What more is there to do? Just one thing: reading this article!

I’ve assembled some testimonials from experienced spa owners that were willing to share hindsight lessons gained from the months and years since starting their businesses. All believed that they had conducted adequate investigation into the realities of costs, management and future trends prior to opening their spas. And while it’s normal and expected that any good business plan will require adjustments as you go along, here’s an opportunity to learn what other spa owners wished they’d known earlier than they did. So get out that completed business plan and double check it against the pearls of wisdom that others suffered to offer you!

Monica S., day spa operator, northern OH: on partnerships
I had a successful career in real estate but had become burnt out from the 7-days a week grind of paperwork, sales, open houses, and property tours. The stress of this career was partially relieved through regular visits to a massage therapist, one that had a dream of opening her own day spa. She had the industry expertise and skills, and I had saved enough to fund the investment so it seemed as though we had the perfect plan. Our troubles began soon after opening our six-room “dream”. We spent much time developing the look and feel of the spa but in hindsight, virtually ignored other seemingly less significant details such as our roles and responsibilities, communication styles, and personal accountability. Since I needed to maintain my sales career in order to support myself while we built up customers, it was important that I remained free to see clients and prospects as before. I quickly learned that my business partner had neither the ability nor the desire to manage people, plan marketing, or even to balance a checkbook! She had also become steadily more resentful of my absence from the spa–although I thought we had agreed to that–and reflected this by spending more and more time performing massage while allowing day-to-day management to flounder. It wasn’t long before our spa’s service reputation was nearly shot, I was pumping even more money into the business, and my partner and I were barely on speaking terms. Since then we’ve been locked in a lawsuit over my proposal to take over the business and let her just walk away. She feels that she’s earned thousands of dollars in sweat equity, and yet I’m the only one that’s ever contributed a single dollar into the project. At this point I’m more deeply invested in this thing than I ever expected to be, am emotionally and physically drained, and there’s no end in sight to all of this.

If I could do it all over again I would have chosen a partner more carefully, properly defined our roles and activities, and discussed how to handle disagreements or conflict before going into business. I’m amazed and embarrassed that I overlooked such an obvious trap!

James R., day spa operator and esthetician, WA: on management
In deciding to expand from my small, busy skin care practice to a 2000 square foot day spa, I knew I didn’t have the time or desire to be its manager. Honestly, the reason I expanded the business at all was because of all of the new clients I had to turn away–it just drove me crazy doing that! At first I only wanted to add a couple of new facial rooms but then it seemed smarter to try and attract customers for services we didn’t already offer yet–massage, body treatments and reflexology. I wound up spending more money that I had planned to but figured that it would pay me back pretty quickly. Boy, was I wrong about that, but that’s another story! I then quickly found out how hard hiring an experienced spa manager was going to be. Not only was it a struggle getting anyone to even apply for the position (we had advertised in our city newspaper for three weeks) but, when someone would show interest they weren’t even close to being qualified. This was a major shock for me, and I panicked as the finish date to our expansion got closer and it was looking more and more like I was going to personally manage the place. Since opening the new spa almost two years ago we’ve been through two managers and are searching for our third. My sister-in-law has been helping me with some of the management duties but is pregnant and needs to stop soon.

Looking back I can see how much I would have benefited from taking a closer look at our management needs and the local availability of skilled personnel–like making sure we’d be able to find what we needed before needing them. On the other hand I’ve had to learn more about my business than I might have otherwise but I’m still reluctant to slow down my practice and take on this job.

Cassandra L., day spa owner & former chiropractor, 3-locations, FL: on business growth
How many times have I kicked myself for not listening to my business advisor’s advice? There I was, all in a lather worrying about some hot, new day spa opening up and stripping away my hard-won customers! I knew it was only a matter of time before we had to deal with that so I made up my mind that I had to corner the market on spa services in our area. There went my life in one crazy decision. Suddenly I had three locations all within eight miles of one another, debt for the first time in years, and more hats than heads to wear them. Now I’m dealing with higher employee turnover, frequent customer complaints, and the world’s worst landlord. To really salt this self-inflicted wound, I now make less money than I did before the expansion got underway–a LOT less! So, instead of freaking out about potential competition I’m totally swamped with trying to make these spas survive. And the worst part is that I now have two competitors nearby anyway.

My lesson? Having foolishly overridden my advisor’s warnings even though I knew (and feared) that he was right. I should have remained calm, waited to see who might come along while spending my time improving our product and service sales. I’m still optimistic about getting through this mess but I can’t help wishing that I hadn’t been so headstrong at the time.

…now read part 2!

How To Create Mens Day Spa Treatments

How To Create Mens Day Spa Treatments
Douglas Preston
mens spa menu
Thanks to the popular television series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy a sudden wave of men are having their eyebrows waxed and shaped to improve their appearance. Men have increasingly become enthusiastic customers of many traditional spa services, particularly therapeutic massage. But now we are seeing more opportunity for spas to work with male clients.

Men’s health and fitness publications, travel magazines, and lifestyle television shows are routinely pitching the spa ritual to the male client, encouraging him to upgrade his level of personal care. Some spas dedicate specific time to men’s treatments, and new spas are emerging that are designed to cater to men. This client also represents a growing consumer market for skin and body care products. The progressive salon and day spa will want to know how this client differs from his female counterpart; what are his environmental and personal sensitivities, what type of service does he prefer, and what approach to professional skincare works best for his unique physiology and needs.

Understanding the male client
No longer must his romance-seeking wife or partner drag a man into the spa. Men have become acclimated to this once-mysterious world, and they are having a growing influence over the way spas are planned, including its service menu. However, men do not have the long cultural history of multi-step personal grooming habits that women do. Men, in general, prefer fast and simple skin care routines to more complex, time-consuming methods. He is sensitive to scent, color, product design and names. And it should not be assumed that he automatically recognizes or understand the types and uses of beauty products that are commonly familiar to women clients. Our men need to be gently and thoughtfully introduced to the world of professional esthetic care.

Because men often have little grooming experience beyond a razor and a splash of aftershave, your spa menu should describe their services differently. Don’t expect him to understand the meaning of exfoliation or extractions. Even when describing personal care products to men, the concept of a toner is easier to understand when you refer to it as an after wash rinse or something more descriptive. A good example is found on Christopher Watt’s West Hollywood, CA spa menu:

Men’s Deep Pore Cleanse
Intense cleansing facial to rid the skin of impurities that lead to blackheads, breakouts and acne. We start with our specially formulated seaweed and algae-mint Deep Pore Cleanse and CWE Pore Refining papaya and pineapple enzyme peel. After a soothing neck and shoulder massage we vacuum clean the skin and use a pain free high-frequency electrode to kill bacteria and provide a germicidal effect. Your skin will feel fresh, clean and new!

The description walks a potential male client through the process of a facial and even includes a little high-tech aspect, which all men love!

Promoting facial and body treatments to men
Men care about their appearance, some far more than others. Today’s sophisticated man is interested in looking his best, delaying aging, and feeling confident about himself. Men now account for more than 25% of all cosmetic plastic surgery performed in the US. He visits health clubs, subscribes to diets, and has even become a significant statistic among people suffering from eating disorders. But many men still are reserved about openly expressing interest in facial care while quietly being receptive to advice and instruction on the subject. When advising a potential male client on the benefits and selection of spa facial treatments keep the following in mind:

Assume that you’re talking to someone entirely new to the concept. Explain concepts such as exfoliation, masks, and extractions. He may nod in agreement but have no idea what you’re talking about. Take the time to respectfully educate him. Also, emphasize that you have numerous other male clients just like him. They often wonder about that. These men need approval for wanting this kind of self-indulgence.
Emphasize the benefits of the treatment you’re describing. Tell him how the treatment will make his skin look and feel using more masculine references such as healthy, vibrant, and smooth. Avoid words like silky, radiant, and beautiful.
Don’t describe the treatment in deep technical detail–it’s boring.
Don’t offer lots of choices and then ask him to decide. Men prefer the professional confidence of a well-planned recommendation. Tell him, “For your skin type I think we should go with a glycolic treatment. That will produce a much smoother and healthier looking texture to your skin. How does that sound?” Be sure to tell him how glycolic acid performs as an exfoliating product.
Make sure that he knows that you plan to tell him how often to return for treatments, and then do so before he leaves the spa. Get him to reschedule for that next wonderful appointment with you!
Always provide written suggestions for proper home skin care and products. Keep product regimens compact–3-4 items max on the first visit.
Always follow up his initial visit to you with a phone call within 48 hours. He’ll appreciate the concern, the extra service, and he can report the results of both your treatment and the products he may have purchased.

Treating male skin
Many men have developed incorrect habits for the care of their skin. Cosmetics and shaving manufacturers have long promoted strong and aggressive products and procedures that encourage men to take a “masculine” approach to grooming. Soaps may contain abrasives such as pumice; pre and aftershave products are often heavy in alcohol and fragrance, and razor companies stress achieving the closest possible shave because “women love it!” All of these techniques, besides their unfortunate physical effects, reinforce the underlying message that personal care is basically a feminine activity, so men must find a way to do it that doesn’t conflict with their manliness. And while, thanks to modern marketing, male grooming techniques are beginning to reflect a more aesthetic recipe, the major objection men have in learning new ways to care for the skin remains the gender-based fear of embarrassment or shame. Men need liberating, too!

Your male client, particularly one new to the spa environment, may require some time to settle in to the relaxation you want him to experience. His trust in you may not be won immediately, and he may look about the room, talk, or ask nervous questions about the procedure or that scary dental-looking device standing next to the facial chair. A man may also be reluctant or unable to express his personal feelings and preferences (as men are generally conditioned to behave like) so it is important to introduce him slowly to the culture of high-efficacy personal care. Men like information, especially when they feel off-balance or alien, so be sure to offer plenty of it as you proceed. And do not expect a man to convert right away to your treatment recommendations and instructions. Give him a chance to enjoy the experience, to build some trust in you, and to open up to an altered idea of himself as a legitimate man in this strange new world.

Men who have already adopted the culture of aesthetic care can be a true joy to work with. They love the freedom to fully express themselves, enjoy the sensations of professional spa services, and can be remarkably loyal customers. Such men have no problem buying and using aesthetic skincare products, and are ready for the latest information on technique and ingredients. He is a vast and lucrative market for the spa owner that’s willing to invest the time to learn about his unique characteristics and values.

Best of luck to you.

The “Behind Schedule” Cure

The “Behind Schedule” Cure
Douglas Preston
salon spa equipment
You know the story: no matter what you do, somehow you, or your employees if you have them, find a way to get behind on appointment timing. And while there’s little you can do when a late client or coworker backs you up, this late problem seems to have a mind of its own–you just can’t keep up with the clock.

Time management is a big problem for spa professionals and those who employ them, the consequences of which are well known: angry clients, annoyed colleagues and supervisors, and lost income. Your business reputation will suffer; clients will defect to other spas and take their referral power with them. Everyone pays, and all for a problem that’s not too difficult to fix–if you want to. I know of a hair salon that offered a free service to clients if their stylist ran more than 15-minutes behind schedule, yet never came up with a plan for staying on time. The company had to drop the policy after being bled white from comped services. It takes more than a promise to be timely–you must have a method.

In my years as an employer and trainer of estheticians and body therapists, one thing was consistently evident: that beauty and post-graduate schools stress technique much more than expedience and efficiency. Most of the technicians we hired had previously practiced by feel: that is, according to the pace that was comfortable for them. And while that approach may seem logical, even correct, it ignores some very substantial realities about the business of personal services: that time and money do matter in the survival of a spa or salon. One must realize that a service must be performed in the time allowed for it; we can’t stretch the hour, so must learn to work and work well within its limits.

Whether you are a practicing therapist or manage them, you’ll find our treatment protocol model a valuable tool for your use. The graphic guide helps the esthetician or body therapist follow the sequential steps of a treatment while remaining mindful of the clock (see diagram below). I’ve provided a model for a basic facial that can be customized to fit any of your own treatments and time allowances; the same format can be used for body, nail, and other multi-step services. Using the diagram can help you learn the feel of staying on track; if you’re training new staff members, you can simply observe them as they perform the routine on a model as detailed in the protocol. Once training is complete, the treatment guide can be kept nearby on a counter and referred to as needed to fully master the steps and the timing. This is especially helpful for not only new staff members, but also when you introduce new services to your team.

When using this method for the first time or when training therapists, you’ll notice some of the more common causes for late-running appointments. Look for places where one commonly becomes “stuck” in a procedure, such as taking too long with cleansing and rinsing of the skin, or a facial massage that runs on and on. You may also discover that the treatment room itself–the location of products and tools, etc.– actually impedes the service “flow”. If a technician has long reaches to water and supplies they may find it difficult to maintain a smooth pace during an appointment. Consider making changes in rooms that hinder the tasks at hand.

It’s important for therapists to understand that a treatment can be adjusted to meet the needs of individual clients and their conditions. An exfoliation may be shortened or extended depending on need, massage may be abbreviated to accommodate a deeper focus on extractions, and so forth. The various segments of treatment in the training guide should be seen as flexible (wherever possible), to be altered as circumstances, including a tardy client, require. Therapists who adhere to a rigid interpretation of a treatment protocol are set up to fall behind, and often. This is especially true for new or relatively inexperienced professionals who will not feel comfortable making independent changes in procedures. Allow for lots of practice time, and if you have staff, supervise these sessions so you can see where timing issues crop up.

But perhaps the key to maintaining timely service output, beyond training, is in making a firm commitment to being on time. Bad habits can be difficult to break so better to start on the right foot. For those managing a team, lead the way and then show that you’re serious about your expectations. Be consistent or you’ll lose the cooperation.

Using this facial training guide you can easily teach yourself and others how to think through a treatment cycle with better precision and less stress. Your customers will appreciate the commitment to service excellence!

salon spa equipment

Download your own blank version of the image above to customize here.

Best of luck to you.

Don’t “Peel” Away Your Profits

Don’t “Peel” Away Your Profits
Douglas Preston
salon spa equipment
Microdermabrasion. Sonic microdermabrasion. Alphahydroxy acids. BHAs. Enzymes. Vegetable peels. Blue Peels. Laser treatments–enough already! The march for the latest, best, most innovative skin exfoliation technique has created, in its wake, a deepening layer of confusion, contradiction, and treatment expense for spas and their clients.

We seem to be awash in competing devices and product formulations designed to produce similar skin-smoothing effects in a “unique, more effective, or revolutionary” way. The concerned spa owner or skin care professional worries that, unless equipped with the latest and greatest product and technology, they’ll fall behind in the game. So how does one stay on top of the ever-evolving exfoliation methods while, at the same time, manage operating costs and glean a profit?

Relax. There is a sound and reliable way to produce great treatment results, satisfy your customers, and protect your business’s bottom-line, but first you need to understand the kind of business you’re actually doing–what your real product is–before you can take the correct action. Let’s begin with a little business lesson.

First, some interesting facts. In survey after survey I’ve conducted with practicing estheticians throughout the world I’ve discovered a genuinely puzzling reality: that most estheticians are rarely if ever consumers of the services they sell, that is, they almost never receive facial treatments from other like professionals. You could argue that a skin care expert doesn’t need the care and advice of another but this is overlooking a powerfully important point. By failing to be in the customer’s spa robe ourselves we, as professionals serving clients, lack a real understanding of what the customer experiences, values, and keeps them returning again and again. By luck or through skill many estheticians have built up lucrative followings over the years and yet still guess as to what their clients appreciate the most about the treatments they purchase.

In my 21 years of work with both skin care clients and spa business owners I’ve spent much of my time interviewing both, attempting to uncover the motives and benefits that drive them together. Some fascinating results have surfaced from these “semi-scientific” studies: 77% of all facial clients rated “stress release and relaxation” as the greatest benefit of their treatment. 20% rated skin improvement benefits as most important to them, and the rest weren’t sure what to expect. Interestingly, spa business owners and estheticians rank skin improvements as their primary goal for client facial treatments, roughly 92% of the time when questioned. What’s wrong here? It seems as though what we’re trying to do for customers, while important to them, actually ranks below what most customers chiefly value in their treatments. Why is this important to you, the practitioner and businessperson? Because dollars spent on improving your company’s service quality should be directed toward things that make the greatest impression on customers from their perspective, not ours. Clients evaluate us more on a feeling level rather than a technical one–the one they’re the most qualified to perceive and relate to others. And because we, the professionals, have only a partial appreciation of what clients value most (not being one ourselves) we approach business and treatment planning from a self-directed rather than a client-directed point of view–one that’s likely to waste money and fail to significantly grow your income or profits.

Ask yourself a few honest questions:

• How many of my clients have been dissatisfied with my conventionalexfoliating techniques?

• How much better do clients actually look from the “new and improved techniques” I’ve added to my list of services.

• How much more money have I actually made (take-home pay) from these new treatments as compared to before I introduced them?

• Is the new technique going to hold the long-term attention of my clients or will my investment be eclipsed by the next new (and expensive) device?

• Have the prices of my exfoliation techniques held or has competition driven them down?

• Could I have been just as successful doing something else in my treatments with less expense and even greater client satisfaction?

The point here is not to discredit either the value or efficacy of evolving exfoliation techniques but, rather, to address the pressure many estheticians feel to keep up with the so-called “cutting-edge” products and equipment. Some of the most successful estheticians I know, many of whom have maintained loyal and satisfied clients for years, use little if any of the more “advanced” treatment methods available today. One in particular, a close friend of mine and a tremendously popular esthetician, has never even introduced glycolic acid into her practice! Yet you can’t argue her success. Now, in our technique-biased way, we may say that she’s not providing her customers with the best possible treatments but those customers aren’t complaining or being milked away by more technologically savvy skin care professionals. How does she do it, then? Simple. She gives her customers exactly what they want most–a peaceful, relaxing, and technically satisfying treatment. Not the most advanced, not the most invasive, not the most expensive-to-perform, but treatments with a proven history of satisfying clients and winning new ones through the golden system of word-of-mouth referrals..

So, what’s the best approach in deciding which exfoliation products and equipment to add to your business? Maybe a few of the following guides can help you:

1. Don’t let worry dictate your business decisions. Unless the dark clouds of disappearing clients is something you’re experiencing and can prove is the result of being behind the times in the latest services, don’t act as if it’s true. You need to know for certain what’s happening in your company, what clients want that could make the critical difference between staying with you or trying the newest spa in town. Ask questions, take a survey, but don’t go out and buy a supposed solution that may not be needed.

2. Is the problem…you? Are you or your employees bored with your routine? Are you or they losing interest in your work and your customers? Has the loss of enthusiasm led to the loss of clients as well? While buying a new skin care device or introducing a new procedure may light up your attention for a while it may not be the best, most enduring, or even wisest approach to an “internal” problem. Consider a better (and cheaper) way to rev up your practice: take a business-building seminar, read a book on customer service, find a career coach to help you set and attain goals. Expanding your service menu or adding redundant exfoliation techniques may only add to your expenses and obscure the true reason things have begun to slide downward.

3. Select a new exfoliation method that serves the needs of your specific clientele. If your customers are more focused on relaxation and normal skin maintenance then the most expensive exfoliation technology may not be a prudent investment for you–glycolic acid or enzymes may suit your customers nicely–and these are already proven to work well. If you practice in an area or facility where anti-aging clients abound such as in a major metropolitan center or medispa then the more advanced techniques may be worth the investment, especially if they are widely offered and in demand.

4. Before you add anything new to your practice or business be certain that you and your employees are fully committed to promoting the service. Far too many spa owners have found themselves saddled with a costly machine that their technicians insisted upon only to find the thing silent and neglected because the same proved employees too timid to promote the higher-priced services to their clients. What often follows is an employee demand for service-promoting advertising that only builds the investment load while not guaranteeing its immediate or long-term success.

And wait! Don’t be the first to do anything in this business. The first to get in are often the first to drop out. Be cautious. The spa and esthetics business will be around long enough for you to make sound decisions. The question is, will you be?

Best of luck to you.

Choosing the RIGHT Equipment for your Salon or Day Spa

Choosing the RIGHT Equipment for your Salon or Day Spa
Douglas Preston
salon spa equipment
You’ve seen them gleaming on the trade show floors, you’ve craved them in the pages of industry magazines, and you’ve envied them at work in the spas you admire: those impressive and exciting machines that will make your treatment services state-of-the-art too!

It’s a big decision involving potentially lots of cash, some risk, and a assumptions about dependability and client acceptance. You’ve got the brochures, you have your business dream, and are approved for a loan or lease. The questions now are: what do you need, where should you get it, and what will your equipment investment do for your new business or expansion?

In order to make a sound decision you’ll, in fact, need to ask yourself a few more questions about the benefits versus the cost of certain treatment devices, as well as how likely you will actually sell the services such equipment is designed to assist in. Also, you’ll want to do some background research on possible vendors whom you may have to call upon to deal with delivery or warranty problems that might develop. While I could write a master’s thesis on this important subject I’ll try to offer some helpful guidelines for those of you who are about to plunge some serious money into these products.

Evaluating your “needs”
Think about why you’re convinced that a $15,000.00+ investment in a hydrotub is the best way to grow your business. Are clients demanding this service? Do you disappoint callers each day that hoped you offered this type of service? If not then perhaps you may find that you’ll have one old tub by the time you ever recoup your investment, if you ever do. For others who have been successful with marketing and selling hydro treatments,(and many have), there may be a need to upgrade or even add a second unit to meet the demand. Just make sure that the decision is grounded in practicality rather than emotion–that the need is based on proven customer interest in the services these devices will deliver and not simply your own desire to work with or own them.

Spa employees are famous for nagging owners to shell out large sums of cash for the latest treatment devices only to ignore it soon after its arrival–the new puppy syndrome. Just because they want this equipment doesn’t mean they’ll work in earnest to sell the services it was designed to produce. Before committing to a big purchase pull your team together and get not only a serious pledge to promote the new services with customers but also a plan, that is, exactly how this will be done. Set sales goals and obligate those who want you to invest the money to come through with their end of the bargain. Otherwise, no deal. You’ll find yourself with a costly white elephant and a staff that now expects you to invest in heavy advertising to get the new program off the ground.

Hotel and resort operators that still regard their spas as guest amenities rather than the profit centers that they could be, may have the budgets and incentives to spend lavishly on costly fixtures and equipment. If the idea is to use the spa as a means to attract travelers or vacationers to guest suite and other services then a well-appointed spa may be worth the expense; a marketing expense, that is.

Seriously consider equipment, however, that contribute to the quality delivery of high-demand services, devices such as facial steamers or electrically elevating massage tables, first. Their cost relative to the service demand will make immediate financial sense for your business. A steamer can cut linen costs and save time while massage tables that change height easily may help you keep a therapist or two on your staff longer and reduce the chance of employee injury.

Think retail
The heart and soul of any spa’s profitability lies in the successful retailing of personal care products. Body therapy products are fast coming on as the second tier to those reliable facial regimen sales. Here is where an investment in special body treatment equipment may really help your business’s income. A Vichy shower or Thalassotherapy tub, when used to support body contouring programs for example, may help to put a lot of stimulating and firming products into those shopping bags. That can mean big money for your spa but you’ll need to provide superb service and sales training, especially in this traditionally slow-retailing department, if you want to see those numbers. So if you’re trying to decide between buying the tub or a sauna, buy the tub unless you think you can move more bathrobes than bath salts!

Shop for quality
The lowest-priced vendor of spa equipment may turn out to be a high-ticket headache in times of sales and service support. You’ll have enough challenges running your business and don’t need to add equipment support hassles to your list. Here is where you’ll want to stick with the name brands that have a proven reputation in quality and ease in servicing. Don’t fool around with “bargain” manufacturers and small-time suppliers. Read product reviews (when you can find them) and ask other spa owners about what equipment they have and what their experience with it has been.

Another thing, if you want a rock-bottom price on a treatment machine, don’t expect much attention after the sale. Equipment vendors have to make a living too and successfully goading them to shave their prices to the bare bone will make them less likely to provide the essential product support you’ll also want. Time is money and you’re not going to get both when driving a hard bargain. Compare vendor prices and look for a good deal and a commitment to fast, reliable service. Don’t be afraid to ask for customer references either if in doubt about a particular equipment dealer.

And just because you spent $10,000.00 on a piece of treatment machinery doesn’t mean you’ll automatically be entitled to free staff training, or any for that matter. Spa operators have come to expect this kind of vendor support (because many have provided it as an expensive means of competing for a sale) but it’s becoming harder to get these days.

Think about it; while you may be able to afford to buy a Mercedes Benz it doesn’t obligate the dealership to provide you with driver’s training as part of the deal. Some things you just have to do on your own. Beyond basic operating instructions a product vendor most often will not want or agree to assist you with lots of on-site staff training. Many equipment customers not only expect such value-added service but also want the vendor to tell them how to market and make money on the treatments themselves! It simply isn’t realistic. But you can bet that generous offers of equipment training, when found, have their costs built into the retail price of the product you’re buying. Either way you’re going to have to shell out a little extra for high-quality instruction. Just do it and get down to the business of making your investment pay for itself.

Shop for the long-haul
What’s new and innovative today may become old and outmoded tomorrow. Some cutting-edge technologies change so quickly, especially in the upper-priced categories, that’s it’s difficult to settle on a choice. No one wants to become stuck with an expensive device that’s no longer “hot”, or can’t deliver the best of what’s currently available. In the early days of hair removal lasers a number of spa owners found themselves saddled with long-term lease obligations on what rapidly became obsolete or even discredited machines. Look for equipment that has a proven track record for results and is not likely to be upstaged by a competing technology or method.

Also look for those rare manufacturers who offer some kind of business support plan to help you understand where your best opportunities are and how to run your spa more efficiently and profitably. It’s very much in the interests of equipment manufacturers to see their customers prosper if they expect repeat sales and a high degree of buyer satisfaction. You may have to pay extra for such a plan but the cost may more than offset the price of equipment sitting idle or other potential sources of waste in your company.

Whatever you decide to do, remember this: that introducing a new service involving new spa gadgetry is subject to the same conditions as is opening a new business–customers may not flock in just because it’s there. It’ll take time for clients (and even members of your own team!) to become fully aware of the new service offering, and probably a little longer before they decide to try it. You’ll need patience, perseverance, and a solid belief in your program before you’ll realize success in this new department of your business. You can make your wonderful new machine make money, but do expect to work at it first.

Best of luck to you.

Are You Wasting Your Salon’s Advertising Dollars? – PART 1

Part 1: Are you wasting your advertising $$$s?
Douglas Preston
salon advertising
Every business needs to market itself, to get the word out about the availability, uniqueness, and quality of its goods and services. In the increasingly competitive day spa industry it’s important to make potential customers aware of a company’s distinctive qualities. As a result of all this competition, it’s also become more expensive to attract and expand on sales.

Many spa owners have become disillusioned with the investment return of conventional advertising and promotion; particularly print ads in newspapers, circulars, and magazines. The few businesses that can afford television and radio spots have seen returns even more disappointing. Product and service discounting, while producing some new sales, often fails to expand either the customer base or profits, particularly profits since the cost of sales can rise in direct proportion to the depth of those discounts. Employees await new appointments like baby birds in a nest–mouths open and calling for the next parental feeding, often lacking confidence in the hunt for more business. What’s the anxious spa owner to do–litter windshields with day-glo flyers? It’s time for a little marketing lesson.

Begin by understanding that marketing is a complicated science, one almost requiring a master’s degree for those interested in mastering its methods. Most of us are novices at best, tossing precious advertising budget into a game we don’t understand, like first-time gamblers sitting at a table of card sharks. Unfortunately there are plenty of willing hands to help you lose money in this game. In this article I’ll offer you some insights and strategies for making the most from your marketing efforts, with a goal of gaining better results from fewer dollars spent or wasted. Before you commit to another advertising contract, print a new brochure, or stamp another mass mailing take the time to approach marketing from a different angle.

Marketing: What’s the Point?
In consulting with spa operators I’m yet to meet one that didn’t have questions about marketing at the top of their list. When I ask why marketing is so important they look at me as if they had made a horrible mistake by hiring me. Those operators exclaim that marketing is so important because we need to find more customers, to get the word out that we’re here! And here is precisely the problem with many business’s marketing efforts–it’s all about attracting MORE customers, not about making the most of the customers they do attract. Their trading bucket has a big unseen hole in it, and great time and money is spent in searching out enough inflow to keep the thing full. This is a losing game if ever there was one. The point I want to make is that it’s wasteful to buy “front-end” marketing when you don’t make the most of new or existing customers currently.

Maybe more marketing isn’t what you need, yet. Maybe what you do need is a more efficient means of maximizing every client opportunity. How would you know this? Let’s find out.

“I Need More Customers…Don’t I?”
Once I saw my aunt brilliantly solve a problem with an unhappy child. She had given him a small chocolate bar as a treat but, rather than being pleased he immediately flew into a crying fit because he didn’t want one-but two pieces of candy. She took the bar from his hand, broke it in two, and then returned it to him saying, “There, now you have two pieces.” I couldn’t believe that it worked, but it did, and I learned something valuable from that example myself–that there are ways to make more of something without actually having more in quantity.

These are some valuable questions to ask yourself about the way you do business with your customers:

Do they buy all of the retail products from me that they could or would?
Do my employees faithfully try to upgrade customers’ services?
Is everyone in the spa doing their best to reschedule and retain clients?
Do I have a reliable system of contacting clients we haven’t seen in a long time?
Do employees always ask their clients for referrals or is that left to chance?
Are my receptionists properly trained in, and rewarded for, telephone service sales and upgrades?
Are receptionists properly trained to conduct post-treatment and walk-in product sales?

Do I know how to motivate employees in sales and self-promotion as well as I could?
Are employees taught to sell our most profitable services and products to clients instead of what they’re most comfortable with or prefer themselves?
Do I spend as much time improving company performance in these areas as I do in other management activities?
Is our advertising investment really working for us?
What’s cheaper–to bring in new, but undersold, customers or to increase the value of those that we already have?
See where I’m heading? A close look at your present marketing efforts may reveal a sleeping giant that’s barely been touched. You don’t want to spend more money on additional weakly performing promotions, not with all of this pre-paid potential lying dormant in your business. The last thing that you need is to increase your cost of sales through elevated advertising expenses, particularly when history shows that you may be wasting the fruit of those ads as it is.

Now you can really do something positive with your past marketing investment. Let me show you how.

Taking Responsibility: The Main Event
As hard as it may be, you’ll need to accept the fact that all things happen in your business because you, the manager, allow them to happen. You’re probably thinking, “hey, how can I help it if an employee fails to sell a product, is poor at rebooking clients, or runs late all of the time in his or her appointments?” It’s simple: if you train for the behavior that your business demands, closely monitor employee performance, and then take appropriate action (including termination) upon the failure to meet your standards, you’ll eventually achieve an improved overall company performance. It’s your show–never expect employees to voluntarily perform like the caring professionals you trust they are. Some will deliver and others will fall behind, but your role as manager demands that you keep the front line tight. In other words, their failure is your failure. Are we together on this?

Good! Read on to part 2.

Are You Wasting Your Salon’s Advertising Dollars? – PART 2

Part 2: Are you wasting your advertising $$$s?
Douglas Preston
salon advertising
Discovering the marketing gold in your business You don’t need a bigger pan or a wider river–you already have everything right in front of you. You do need a keener eye for detail, however. Let’s run through this short list and see where there might be some overlooked nuggets in your spa.

Retail potential
Do you require your employees to achieve a certain level of retail sales per pay period? I don’t mean expect but require–the achievement of a set level of sales backed up by weekly tracking, retraining for those that fail or refuse to participate, and termination of those that won’t handle this professional responsibility as they should. How often do you train employees on retail sales? If you leave this item up to product vendors you’ll get very little in the way of uniform sales performance. Retail productivity is a “zero-option” job performance requirement in any spa business I consult for, perhaps one of the most critical revenue sources in this cost-heavy industry. If you have tried in the past, brought in sales training and that training didn’t seem to sustain results, you’ll need to ask yourself why that happened. Have you given up on it? You must keep looking for the answer, perhaps through some management training instead of more retail classes. Pass this one up and you can skip the rest of my list.

Service upgrades
Do you have a requirement for this? A plan? Train on it? Script it? Measure it? How effective are your employees–all of them–at selling service upgrades? This is one of the simplest and most low-cost means of adding considerable daily business revenue. Most spa operators leave upgrading services to volunteerism or the famous, “Well, I expect them to do it.” Expect=reject. You must require the activity you want and need from employees.

Okay, it’s winter now, so just about every facial client is experiencing a drier-than-usual skin condition. Your estheticians know this. They see it every day and saw it last year and every year of their professional life. Their clients don’t want dry skin, and there’s something the esthetician can do to help prevent it before the problem sets in–isn’t that what they’re supposed to do? Of course. So here’s what you do: have a meeting with estheticians and plan a winter conditioning treatment upgrade for facial clients. Teach them to suggest to every appropriate client that, “I have a special vitamin C and collagen serum treatment (make it up from existing products or find something that will suffice) that will help to deeply hydrate and protect your skin for the coming winter months. It feels wonderful, leaves the skin amazingly soft, and will work to prevent the fine lines and rough skin texture that cold weather causes. And it’s only $18.00 in addition. How does that sound?” Easy sale. Then the esthetician should recommend a special hydrating mask for home use during the next 6 weeks to continue the protection and smoothing process. Plan it, teach it, measure it, reward on it, but require it!

Client retention
What’s your per employee client retention percentage? What? Don’t have one? How do you track performance? Are employees trained on the fine art of initiating client re-bookings? How effective is the method? Who on your team is very good at this? What’s their method? You can dig all day into this question, and you should! A returning customer is the most valuable asset your company has–expensive to find and very expensive to lose! How big is the hole in your bucket? Nothing is more wasteful in terms of marketing than the willful loss of the customers that marketing brought you. If you have a problem here then this is one of the first places to reroute your advertising dollars to.

Client resurrection
How many inactive clients do you have? I don’t mean the lady with the gift certificate from 2 years ago, but those formerly happy regular customers that, for some unknown reason, suddenly dropped from the appointment schedule. Where have they gone, and why? Not sure? Well, one this is for sure–they’re missing and so is the money that you once enjoyed every month. And you need these clients to come back if that’s at all possible! Today’s busy client is challenged to find time in their schedules to maintain even the more pleasurable pursuits in life. One little blip in their routine can result in an extended absence from your spa.

Many business owners I’ve talked with assume the worst about these missing customers: that they’ve moved away, lost interest, are unhappy with the spa, found somewhere else to go, are suffering under the bad economy, and a string of other imagined excuses. But when I ask how often they call these customers I’m usually told that they don’t. Some will send reminder cards, often in form format and impersonal but, while better than nothing at all, these rarely generate the desired revival of patronage. Worse, these reminder notices sometimes offer a discount on the next service–where the spa takes a financial hit over the assumption that money was the reason the client suspended their service habit. The truth is that we don’t know why this client has not been visiting us lately. A warm and friendly phone call will provide that answer. They’re cheaper than postage stamps (local calls, anyway), more personal than paper, and they allow you to engage the customer in a little promoting. Remember, the spa business is based on relationships not commodities, and if you’re afraid to call your customers then your service commitment is probably weak as well, and showing. You’ll find that you can probably revive at least 25% of all recently missing (last 12 months) clients via direct contact. And what you’ll discover are people who have long wanted to get back to the spa–a place they love to visit–but “just haven’t gotten around to it.” If you have 40 missing customers and can retrieve 10 of them you’ve likely out-performed some very expensive advertising. Better yet, these customers already like, trust, and have done business with you. Don’t you wish that you could attract more of those through conventional marketing? Only a customer newsletter can do that for you.

Is your referral machine running itself, too?
Ask any spa owner where their best new customers come from and you’ll hear the same thing: word-of-mouth. Referrals, the great client cloning engine that we all love and depend upon! It’s the least expensive source of the best customers you can ask for. But that’s exactly the problem: we don’t ask for them. Employees hand departing clients their business card, managers create referral reward certificates that offer special discounts for clients that recommend others to try the spa, and everyone is confident that clients will automatically encourage friends, coworkers and family to visit.

Why am I whipping this issue when you know that you’ve been winning referrals–lots of them? Because there are many more that you could’ve had IF you asked your clients to send them to you. It’s a mistake to believe that referrals are simply a natural happy client reflex. They aren’t. In fact, the busier your spa seems to be, the less likely your customer will want to increase their own difficulty in getting the appointment time they want. And some customers believe that if you’re as busy as you say you are the last thing you need is another customer to work on. Why…they’re actually doing you a favor by keeping potentially pesky customers away from your already overloaded schedule. See how expensive assumptions can be?

Here’s a simple and elegant script that works very well in prompting your clients to send you more: require (that critical word again) that technicians tell departing clients (new and first repeat clients), “Sara, I just want to say that it was wonderful working with you today! Many of my best clients come from the referrals of others I see and I’d be honored to work with friends or family of yours whom you think would also enjoy my services, especially if they’re as delightful as you are. May I give you a few of my cards?” Works beautifully and customers are deeply flattered by it. Now the client knows that you want more customers and, after a request as personally thoughtful as this one was, will be more actively seeking them for you. Referrals are the product of generosity on the part of those who are loyal to someone that has treated them especially well. Save your discount and give more love!

Receptionists: the hired killers of spa business
They don’t mean to be–they were set up for the crime by management! Inadequate training, overwhelmed by tasks, unfamiliar with your services and products, under-rewarded–these are but a few of the many reasons front desk personnel are unwittingly bleeding many spas of their sales potential. Call one up sometime and see if the receptionist can sell you on the service you ask about. Do they ask your name before engaging in descriptions? No. Do they offer you a sense of what a visit to the spa is actually like? No. Do they describe services like they’re users of them, or more like they’re reading from a menu? And what service do they offer you if you ask them to select one: the least or most expensive that you have? Who is responsible for this performance? You guessed it…you!

There are so many effective ways to massively improve this department’s sales yield–both with first-time callers and retail–that it’s impossible to do it justice in this article. But this much I can say-that if you are going to spend either training time or your time anywhere in the spa, spend it here! No other point of operation is more impacting on service sales, rescheduling, and retail than this one. Most spas I have visited are appallingly inadequate in this key area of sales and service, and management is more negative about this department than any other. Plagued by high turnover and poor quality commitment, concierge and reception desks seem to be the bane of every spa business, and yet this is the very function you can least afford to set adrift. Work with these people! Get expert help! Force yourself to accept the reality of the situation and rebuild the pretty sand castle every high tide will flatten. In time you will get a return on your investment but you must invest wisely.

Now do you understand why marketing is one of the last subjects I want to address in my business coaching role? Sure, placing ads is far easier than tackling the internal problems I’ve described. Just know that advertising can never deliver a higher, sustainable sales yield for as low a cost. And if your business isn’t functioning well why spend money showcasing those flaws to the public? What you see before you is the great divide between those that will succeed in the spa world and those that will only contribute to a growing statistic of failed dreams. It’s a matter of choice and hard work but that’s true of any business anywhere–at least you get to do it in a spa!

Good luck to you!

Power-Up your Makeup Sales

Power-Up your Makeup Sales
Douglas Preston
makeup retail sales
In 1983 I landed my first real job as a career esthetician at a famous Union Square skincare salon in San Francisco, CA. High on enthusiasm but lacking experience and clients I found myself positioned on the bottom rung of 8 staff professionals that all received new customers ahead of me, leaving this new recruit with many an empty hour on his schedule.

To help fill my time and, hopefully, earn a decent paycheck I proposed to the salon owner that we offer a complimentary makeup application to anyone following a facial treatment. I would do the work without compensation other than a commission on any product I sold. He thought I was crazy. “We don’t give our services away”, he flatly told me. “Our clients pay for them!” Well, yes, except that with makeup services clients hadn’t been paying because they hadn’t been buying them. Our so-called in-house makeup artist was perpetually on call and almost never in the salon. The makeup testers were in bad shape due to neglect and disuse. Foundations had separated and open lipsticks had grown a beard of dust and lint. Pencil waxes had hardened into graphite and heaven only knew the last time those brushes had been sanitized. Yuck!

Realizing that a salon owner who didn’t know his makeup business was terrible would probably not be aware of a sudden improvement in it, I embarked on a career as a guerilla makeup designer. First, I cleaned up the department, refreshing old testers and arranging simple-to-sell items within easy reach. Next, I drew facial clients into the makeup chair using hot new lip colors and a super lengthening mascara as lures. I figured, who wouldn’t prefer to leave the salon with fuller lips or well-defined eyes? It was the rare woman that turned down a free few minutes of personal enhancement and some professional tips on brow shaping, or a help selecting a correct blush color. And more rare yet was the woman that didn’t buy at least one item I used on her, with three or more items a normal post-service result. After all, here’s a man that gave them a better approach to routine makeup wear, free of charge! If you’ve done a good job of making the session fun and fast, your customer will find it hard to resist owning the products you used. It was nothing to turn 15-minutes of breezy brush and stroke into a $100.00 retail sale. Of course our manager didn’t notice the sales increases, just that my checks were growing faster than my scheduled treatments! When the day came to open my own small skincare salon those complimentary makeup sessions became a standard post-treatment feature for the next 20+ years of business growth. That was well over a million dollars in makeup sales ago.

During these sessions I would ask customers to show me any of the products they were carrying. Out would come a motley collection gathered from major cosmetic lines but without a discernable preference for any one in particular. From home party brands to those sold in the most glamorous department stores, all were represented (and mixed together) in the purses of makeup wearing women. A Chanel lipstick circled by a Wet ‘n Wild liner; Mary Kay foundation supporting a swath of Clinique cheek color; Maybelline mascara defining the lashes fluttering above MAC painted eyelids. All of these products had been fiercely marketed against one another and yet there they were all together in a mismatched heap created by the target customer. What a magic revelation that is! No matter how hard they try and how much money is spent on achieving customer brand loyalty I never saw it achieved with the countless makeup shoppers I worked with. Over many years of cosmetics retailing one fact was crystal clear: makeup sales had far more to do with in-the-moment inspiration than actual product need. And the one key advantage I had over all those multi-million dollar makeup lines was that for a moment at least I had the customer’s full attention on what I was doing, saying and selling. Here in this setting I could out-promote and win business from the world’s largest and best-established brands. You may be doing battle with a mega-company, but one-on-one you’ve got fair fight and even odds!

Ready, set, sell! Here are just a few things you can do with even minimal artistic skills to grow your makeup business among your many eager and willing customers. You’ve allowed them to be served by the big girls long enough. Take back your rightful place as a true beauty professional!

Foundation color check: Did she buy her product under the greenish fluorescent lights of amakeup counter that was located far away from natural light? If she did, offer to check its color for skin tone correctness in the full spectrum of daylight.Don’t be surprised to find that product leaning heavilytoward pink or coral, well outside the proper shade for your client’s face. She’ll have your choice in her shopping bag in seconds!

Makeup audit: This is one of my favorite professional services! I ask my clients to bring in all of their makeup for a color evaluation by me. You’ll discover a trove of odd and ancient product, many bought on impulse or received as gift-with-purchase from the majors. Does she really want to wear that brown lip gloss? Is she hooked on that hot pink blush a la Valley Girl 1984? Glittery eye shadow at 60? This woman needs your gentle guiding hand and will appreciate the professional advice. You can bet she’ll replace every tossed-out item with a better choice from your inventory. Repeat at least once a year, preferably at the beginning of spring or fall when fashions evolve and sales pick up.

Mascara miracle: I’ve watched legions of women struggle to find a clean way to build up layers of lash thickening mascara only to comb out chunks and wipe it from their lids. Take a mascara brush and load it with a reasonable amount of product. Then scrape the brush over the mouth of the tube, trying to reduce and evenly spread the product you’ve collected. Now, begin to apply the mascara to the lashes. Slowly and evenly it will begin to build up and produce dense but well separated lashes that require no combing of wiping up after. Repeat the process if needed. This is an excellent way to win a sale and open the door to more suggestions.

Lipstick refresher: I almost never permitted a woman to leave my spa without full, colorful lips. There’s something just so radiant about a rich and well-shaped mouth, and for many women lipstick will be the only product they’ll still use in later life. See a client about to depart with dull lip color? Stop her! She’ll love the consideration and buy the product if the shade is a good suit. Lip color is a very low-commitment product and an extremely common impulse purchase.

Shall we match the nail color, too? An obvious idea often overlooked by many a makeup designer. Keeps those nail colors close by the lipstick display and catch that easy add-on sale every time!

Now you have the tools you need to attract new business and diminish the allure of your mightiest retail competitors. Remember, most makeup companies offer skincare products, too, and they want those sales just as much as you do. They’ll be all-too-happy to serve your clients where you fail to so don’t make that easy for them!

Good luck to you!