The owner of New York’s Maximus Spa/Salons in New York talks about what keeps clients coming back, the importance of taking risks and how he gets his creative juices flowing.
ST: You’ve been in business since 1970, what’s different about business today?
Calcasola: There was a time I was arrogant enough to believe no one would leave us for a hair cut that’s $10 less, but they will, and they are. And while I still believe it’s a bad idea to discount your prices, we’re coming up with strategies that help our customers and keep them here. For example, Gina Khan showed me once how to strategically place foils to do a ¾ head of highlights that appears like a full head of highlights. And we’re known for pricey manicures, so we put three stations in the color area and added an express manicure to the menu that’s done while the client processes.
Let’s face it, we all do commercially acceptable hair cuts—but what makes people come back is how we make them feel. We’re stressing hospitality, even more than customer service. And it’s working—I’ve received three wonderful customer letters this week. One was from a client who came in for a trim before her daughter’s big communion. Her stylist noticed she could use a color touchup and told her, “You’re going to be taking pictures tomorrow—I can squeeze you in and we can touch that up if you like.” Then, she noticed the client’s hands, and suggested a quick polish change while the color processed. The client wrote me that she had been considering looking for a less expensive salon, but after that service, she was staying right here.
ST: You’ve talked about taking more calculated risks in marketing. Why is that a good idea now?
Calcasola: Although Armani recently scaled back his runway show, he opened up a big, new boutique in New York and explained his decision to the press by saying that today it’s the owners who take risks who are going to be noticed. Although consumers are being more cautious, they’ll still buy something that’s new and different. We’ve learned that our riskier marketing campaigns typically have the most impact. I used to do a photo shoot with a beautiful model and a nice quote. Now we’re doing single-page or double-page ads that simply feature a single, edgy quote. And we hand-painted quotes on about 70 canvasses and placed them throughout the salons. Quotes like, “Don’t measure your hair style by what’s on the floor, it’s what’s on your head that’s important.” Or, “Beauty is skin deep, ugly is to the bone.” That one got a few clients riled, but this is the year Ugly Betty won an Emmy.
ST: I noticed you have a very personal presence in your marketing—your voice chats with callers when on hold and you write tips of the week for your website. How do clients respond to that?
Calcasola: Actually, they think they’re terrific. I barter with a vendor who records those spots for us in exchange for gift cards he can give his top customers. They are a bit spontaneous. I have a few points of advice I want to make but I don’t do a big sales pitch.
We do a lot of exchanges like that which are very good for business. For example, I write a monthly column for the local magazine Boulevard in exchange for advertising. We give out cards for complimentary make-up consultations to a local bridal shop, so these brides start consulting with us on their beauty plans a full year before the wedding. And, twice we’ve worked with The Women’s Channel on a makeover bridal show.
ST: How has your role as North American creative director for Intercoiffure Mondial shaped your business?
Calcasola: It’s terrific sitting in meetings with art directors and creative directors from all over the world. Although we don’t speak on a regular basis, it’s always interesting to find we’re on the same page—we all read the same obscure architecture, photography and fashion magazines, and we discuss where things are going and how we can communicate that back to salons. It’s harder to share business ideas, because we all have different compensation methods and some countries have mandatory six-week vacations. But, I do come back with great trend ideas and marketing ideas. And, when someone you know is talented pays you a compliment on your work, it truly validates you.