Repeat Business (Part 1)

By Rosanne Ullman | 03/03/2010 2:11:00 PM


Follow the advice of these retention-focused salons and you just may have to install a revolving door.
Repeat Business (Part 1)
Repeat Business (Part 2)

“Our retained guest is our bread and butter,” says Laura Ortmann, co-owner with Jeffrey Evenson of Ginger Bay Salon and Spa in St. Louis. “We spend the majority of our marketing dollars on rewarding and thanking our retained guests for their loyalty.”

More and more salon owners are gravitating toward Ortmann’s way of thinking. Whereas in today’s tricky economy precious advertising dollars are doled out sparingly and with varying success, the investment in loyal clientele appears to carry a sure payoff at a lower price. That’s because your best clients do the business-building for you: They recruit new clients by delivering referrals; boost your average ticket figures because they tend to be not only your most frequent, but your highest-spending clients; drive up your retail numbers by following their stylists’ recommendations; and help you limit staff turnover by keeping their stylists happy.

That loud noise you’re hearing is the bang for your buck.

The traditional client-retention benchmark allots three months between visits, with software programs normally flagging the 90-day mark as a good time to sit up and take notice of an absent client. Lately, though, owners are questioning whether the edges of the time frame should be softened. “As clients stretch the number of weeks between visits due to perceived economic conditions,” observes Kay Charron, owner of Bien Soigne in Windham, New Hampshire, “the traditional benchmarks for being considered ‘retained’ are forcing our numbers down.”

Prebooking is an important number, because it is one of the primary behaviors that directly impacts retention.
—Laura Ortmann, owner of Ginger Bay Salon and Spa in St. Louis, Missouri
Pamela Dvorak agrees. “With the current economy, some clients are extending the time between appointments, so we also look at the 120-day numbers,” says Dvorak, co-owner of Total Look Salons and Academy in Fairfield, Connecticut, which keeps retention rates hovering near 90 percent by selling services in multi-visit packages. Stylists at Hair on the Avenue in Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania, also wait 120 days before sending out a note plus incentive to their missing clients. If there’s no response, a week later the educational director calls to get a first-person account of why the client didn’t return, and further offers to monitor the client’s next service and help the stylist if necessary—a one-two punch that results in an enviable 97 percent return client retention and 89 percent new client retention rate.

The Hair Company in Leonardtown, Maryland, takes a similarly aggressive approach, but begins early. If, by three to four weeks after her visit, a client has not even called to book her next appointment, the front desk makes a proactive phone call. After 120 to 160 days, a follow-up postcard or e-mail is sent along with an offer for 20-percent off the next visit; if another four weeks passes, that discount swells to 50 percent.

Within 48 hours of a stylist leaving The Hair Company, the salon sends out a letter to the former staffer’s clientele and encloses a hard-to-resist offer for 75-percent off the next visit if redeemed within six weeks, 50-percent off for another visit redeemed during the six weeks after that and 25-percent off for a third visit during the following six weeks. “We feel that if we can get them back into the salon, over three visits we’ll find them the perfect service provider to match their needs,” says co-owner Jackie Buckler. “This has been very effective for us.”

The Prebook Drive

Pledging Loyalty
As you pursue new clients to secure a second visit, don’t take the long-time client for granted. Salon owners have learned the hard way to introduce loyalty programs that turn good clients into great clients and show their highest flyers true appreciation guided by a time-tested rule-of-thumb: money talks.

Loyalty programs take many forms:

• Avalon Salon and Day Spa, Deer Park, IL: Clients who pay in advance for five services receive the sixth for free.

• Bell Tower Salon, MediSpa and Store, Wyomissing, PA: Premier Club, which costs $25 to join, lets members accrue 2 percent of their annual spending and offers them 5-percent off retail products, first shot at promotions and convenience in scheduling.

• Josephine’s Day Spa and Salon, Houston, TX: All clients receive 10-percent off services when they prebook four appointments.

• Lemon Lime, Cohasset, MA: Guests earn per-dollar points they can redeem for credit toward services and retail items, including pricey blow dryers and other tools.

• Mango Salon, Richmond, VA: Rather than a rigid loyalty program, the “Delight of the Day” randomly surprises returning hair clients with complimentary express nail and waxing when they accept the offer by 5 p.m. the day prior to their appointment.

• Satori: A Salon/Spa/Shopping Experience, Ithaca, NY: The VIP Program rewards members with monthly specials such as a complimentary make-up application and express pedicure with that month’s hair appointment.

• Silhouette Hair Design, Melbourne, FL: The Lucky 7 Card offers every seventh hair cut free.

• Sun Day’s Salon and Spa, Laconia, NH: A point-based system rewards prebooking, referrals, spending on services, retail and gift cards with periodic surprise cash discounts at checkout time.

• Total Look Salons and Academy in Fairfield, CT: For $750 annually, clients receive the Total Care Card, entitling them to 20-percent off all services and products during that year. “This encourages higher-ticket clients to remain in the salon even if their preferred technician is not available,” says co-owner Pamela Dvorak.

• Westend Hair Co. and Day Spa in El Paso, TX: The Perfect 10 program offers a 10-percent discount on every prebooked appointment that is not modified or moved.
A business that could convince every client to prebook before leaving the salon and keep the appointment would score a
100-percent retention rate, which is why prebooking is one of the hottest items on many salons’ training agenda.

“Our educational systems teach dialogue for each individual designer on how to prebook,” notes Debbie Meas, co-owner of Hair on the Avenue.

“Prebooking is an important number at Ginger Bay, because it is one of the primary behaviors that directly impacts retention,” agrees Ortmann. “We coach new employees repeatedly on the importance of prebooking and show them how their paycheck and productivity can both increase over time.”

At Bien Soigne staff meetings, Charron reports that “a staff member who has been particularly successful with the prebooking process will be asked to share her techniques and offer pointers from a peer perspective.” The process is carried through with stylists required to write their recommendation for the next appointment on the bottom of the slip they hand to the front desk.

Salons further establish the link between prebooking and retention by including both stats in the numbers reviewed at daily huddles and regular one-on-one coaching sessions. At Maximum FX SalonSpa in Austin, Texas, prebooking and retention figures are updated hourly on scoreboards in the staff’s break room, while stylists at The Hair Company each keep a daily journal that notes that day’s prebooking activity. “In one-on-one sessions, we ask staff to tell us what benefit they will get from raising their prebook rate,” says Buckler. “This gives them a better understanding of the ‘why’ to prebook. If we simply tell them how to do it, they will have no real purpose to want to do it.”

At many salons, the payoff for staff is tangible: Prebooking is among the key performance factors that impact promotions, salary increases and profit sharing portions. Other salons motivate through contests and targeted rewards. While owners sometimes face an uphill battle when they introduce a prebooking focus, once the ball gets rolling prebooking tends to snowball.

“It used to be upsetting to both the staff and clients when regular clients were blocked from their usual time,” Charron says.

“So we started encouraging clients to book through the year and found that many of them were willing. We were then able to use this as leverage with other clients by having our stylists tell them, ‘Many of my clients are already booking through the year. Would you like to book your appointments ahead so you’ll have your time slot with me?’”

After trying various punch cards and other programs over the years, Charron has settled on giving clients one entry in a periodic drawing for every time they prebook. Recent prizes have included a full day of beauty, a pedicure for the winner and two friends, and the grand summertime prize of free services for a year, along with 20 runners-up receiving various one-time complimentary services. “The staff has become competitive with each other to see how many clients they have booking through the year,” Charron notes. The prebooking, in turn, has been the salon’s most cost-effective path toward retention.

Any prebooking policy may need to be accompanied by two more Ps: persistence and patience. Avalon Salon and Day Spa in Deer Park, Illinois, aimed to raise its prebooking rate from an anemic 33 percent to a healthier 60 percent. Despite a year-long series of comprehensive, organized efforts that included a focus at morning huddles, coaching throughout the day, posting results daily, writing down the suggested date of the client’s next appointment and including a prebooking incentive in the client loyalty program, the salon’s prebook rate climbed only nine points, to 42 percent. “Our goal of 60 percent has proven to be a difficult target,” laments co-owner Bonnie Conte.

Repeat Business (Part 1)
Repeat Business (Part 2)






ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rosanne Ullman

Rosanne Ullman, Project Editor | Modern Salon Media

Rosanne has been writing for the salon division of Vance Publishing for more than 30 years, contributing landmark articles ranging from a year-long historical series in the 1990s marking MODERN SALON's 75th anniversary to a more recent, comprehensive tribute to Vidal Sassoon's impact on the industry. She was involved in the conceptual planning for First Chair and has directed several of Modern Salon Media's custom publishing projects. Rosanne holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University's famed Medill School and contributes to her community through three elected terms on her local school board.

Rosanne is our go-to provider for Modern Salon Media's Healthy Hairdresser e-newsletter. You can e-mail Rosanne Ullman at


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