Whether it’s going bombshell blonde, covering gray, or simply adding a few subtle highlights, hair color has become hot business in salons. Younger clients and many men are emulating their favorite celebrity color chameleons with streaks, tips, and volleying between caramel and chocolates hues. Baby boomers are rethinking their roots with toners that take a few years off their look, and even the formerly color-shy are seeing the light in dimensional shades that perk up mousy or washed-out hair.

According to a study by Professional Consultants and Resources, half of all American women color their hair, with color being the fastest growing service in 2006, representing $12.5 billion in service and retail revenues. It’s easy money.

Well, not so fast: Color training is intensive, and can require a substantial investment from salons. Stocking professional color also means spending money—and then watching a lot of it go down the drain when it’s wasted by careless technicians. Finally, convincing clients that color is worth the extra cost and maintenance can take finesse, not to mention a thorough consultation that outlines realistic expectations and results that fit each individual.

When done right, color services have the potential to be your highest grossing service, enhance loyalty in your clientele and give your salon a reputation for excellence. But too many salons are still floating in a murky gray area, with little understanding of how to max out profit and make this department a main draw. Here, meet a few savvy owners whose tips will help make your color services shine.

Like a (Color) Virgin

Ronit Enos, owner of Maxime Color Salon in Higham, Massachusetts, loves color so much she made it part of the salon name. “All of our clients know we’re color, so that’s how they get in the door,” she says. All services are tailored for color-treated hair, so a client that comes in just for a cut will learn the salon’s philosophy that every cut is enhanced with the right color design, and that the color is looked upon by the staff as an art form.

The Business of Hair ColorThe support staff is a key factor in capturing new clients, says Enos. “The front desk staff have to explain our color system to clients without losing them. The prices are high; we are not cheap.” The rundown includes a description of their color level system, added treatments to strengthen and protect the hair, and colorist training (all done by Enos).

A concise summary counts: Clients are bound to get lost when there are too many details. For more information, they can visit the salon website, which covers the department in-depth. Over the phone, “we can explain our system in five minutes,” says Enos. “We’re very upfront about the length of time a color appointment takes, and that our cancellation policy requires 48 hours notice,” she adds, “When it’s a phone customer, 90 percent of the time they book a color appointment.” Today, 80 percent of Maxime’s clientele gets color, with the majority 25-50 years old.

At many color-oriented salons, including Maxime and Carenza Color.Cutting.Experience in Brookfield, Wisconsin, large, eye-catching color bars get the message out loud and clear. Carenza co-owner Laurence Seybold says his color bar was the first in his area. “It’s 25 feet across with a huge, color video screen, a wonderful counter and plenty of room to mix. Clients can sit there with their lunch, laptops or a magazine. It tells people we’re really into color.” Nearly half of their clients get color, with twice as many baby boomers opting for the service as the younger crowd.

Though their TV commercials ensure widespread exposure, it’s personal attention that really encourages Illusions Color Spa clients to go for a new hue. Owner Marian Stones says that clients coming to her St. Louis, Missouri, salon for even a pedicure or eyelash extensions get a consultation that includes color. As a result, 90 percent of her clients get color. “We have several consultation books where we can point out a color that would enhance their style,” she says.

The Business of Hair ColorWhen regular clients come in for color, Stones says the staff is trained to ask them if they’d like to try something new. “We never duplicate color and cut,” explains Stones, “because when someone always looks the same, others won’t ask where they got their hair done. And when you ask, you’ll find clients do want a change.”

A guided tour will also help color newbies get comfortable. At Maxime, new guests are shown the processing area, with sofas and a long table that resemble a lounge. Staff goes out of their way to welcome them, which really wows them, says Enos.

Picking a Palette

When it comes to color, there might be nothing more important that selecting the right manufacturer. For Gaven Smith, owner of Studio Gaven Hair Colour in Brentwood, Tennessee, using Camo Color by Redken helped boost his men’s color business to where nearly half of them now get color. (Overall, two-thirds of his regular clientele do). A color trainer for Redken, Smith knows the value of education, and has had the majority of his stylists undergo the 4-day Redken Color Specialist program. Additionally, the salon brings in corporate trainers four times a year for ongoing education.

To keep things fresh, Smith recently introduced a new luxury lightener service from the same manufacturer called Blonde Icing. “It’s extremely high-end, takes a couple of hours and is great for conditioning,” he says. “Our staff was talking it up to guests, telling them why it works better and will get them better results. Clients were asking for it before we even had it in stock.” Better yet, Smith can charge $15 more for Blonde Icing than for a typical lightener.

Carenza relies on in-salon education provided by their color manufacturer, as well as DVD training that is particularly helpful in their Protégé program for new colorists. The salon has also expanded its color service to include extensions. With a line of clip-in extensions from HairUWear, the salon is able to color and clip individual extensions into clients hair for fun, temporary color that is great for kids or special occasions. For this service, the salon charges between $250-$325, depending on the amount and length of the extensions.

The Business of Hair ColorBut, as with many things in life, variety may be the spice of the color industry. Many prominent salon owners believe using color products from several manufacturers ensures clients get the best. “It’s like being a chef,” says Enos. “We use it all, and it gets expensive, but it’s the way to color hair. One shade from one company might be better on a certain texture hair, or one lightener might be the best.”

At the End of the Rainbow

You’ll need to get the best results to break clients of their box-color habit. These DIY clients are easy to spot. Explains Stones, “When someone uses box color, they will apply it all over their head every single time. That creates build-up and several zones of color. It also leads to monotone.”

Gray clients are particularly notorious, she asserts. “When women color their gray themselves, they usually end up with ashy, almost green tones. We’ll show them a swatch that matches their hair, and they don’t believe it ... but when they hold it up to their head, they can see for themselves what their color really is. They say, ‘Oh my gosh, I had no idea.’” Unsurprisingly, Stones does a brisk color-correcting business, especially after explaining how dimensional color, in the form of coppers or mochas, will reflect light and add body.

Besides correction, fortifying add-on treatments allow you to charge more for services while obtaining better results. At Maxime, colorists always infuse the hair with protein, hydration, or collagen, whichever element seems to be lacking after the service, so that a client leaves with healthy, shiny hair. At Studio Gaven, Smith says there are always at least two add-ons for every service, whether it’s a glaze or conditioning treatment. “This is a part of the color business,” he says. Because color is locked in, it won’t fade, making touch-ups easier. To persuade clients to care for their hair at home, Smith recommends color-protecting shampoo, conditioner and masks for every client. If a client buys the whole regimen, their color is guaranteed. If they don’t buy all the products, then it’s not. What better way to drive home the importance of proper home care?

Dollars and Sense

Calculating prices is a critical factor in the salon business. With inventory costs, stylist commission and overhead, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s coming in and what’s going out. As it turns out, there are many methods for setting prices for color services; it’s a matter of finding the right one for you.

According to Carenza owner Seybold, “We set a standard baseline of how much a hair cut should cost for 45 minutes, and then work off that as an hourly fee. We look at a color service as somewhere between 1 1/3 to 1 1/2 times per hour what we would get for a hair cut.” Although conventional pricing states that services should be set at 10 times the product cost, says Seybold, “With entry-level designers, we are on the low side of that. With senior designers, we are on the higher side.”

At Illusions, the magical number is 70: That’s the minimum dollars per hour that Stones would like her designers to bring in. With an elite designer, the number can go as high as $100.

For Smith at Studio Gaven, researching his community shed light on the pricing game. “We are in a small county, but we are in the top 10 of the most affluent in the nation,” he says, adding that the average annual household income around his salon hits $186,000. By working with KRS Consulting, developing a resident survey and straight out asking clients what they would be willing to spend on their hair, Smith determined a median number he could charge for a standard color service, then tweaked the number to as low as $50 for shorter services by entry-level designers, to more than $100 for other services.  “We found people were very honest with their numbers,” he says, “although we do have a pricing range to attract clients of all income levels.”

At Maxime, Enos and her staff create customized color programs for each individual that lets them choose the amount of maintenance and money they want to devote. Based on a half-hour consultation that asks guests about their lifestyle and personal style, the designer will come up with two or three program options—including a prebooked appointment schedule, home maintenance care, add-on treatments and the total costs—that gives the decision-making power back to the client. “They love the honesty,” declares Enos. “We give them our opinions, but we don’t tell them what they should do.”

Colors That Don’t Run

Bowls of color swirling down the drain ... that’s something no salon owner wants to see. “Reducing backbar waste is always a challege,” says Stones. “The best thing I’ve done is completely eliminate regular color bowls. Instead, I went out and bought little bowls about half that size from the dollar store. It sounds crazy, but the bigger the bowl, the more designers tend to fill it and the leftover gets thrown away. Of all the things I’ve tried, this has been the most successful.”

Seybold has a similar trick: he discards the scoops that come with lighteners and uses smaller scoops that he bought from HomeGoods. “More lightener usually goes down the drain than color, because it’s so easy to throw in one big scoop. The small scoops have come in very handy.” Additionally, Seybold has changed the way color is measured in his salon from volume to weighted scales from Product Club. “It’s hard to read and measure ounces,” he explains. “The tendency for most colorists is to take a 2 oz tube, squeeze it all in a bowl and mix it. They won’t take the time to cut it down by a third, so they end up throwing 1.5 oz out. But with grams, you can go down to 20, 40 or 60, and it’s much easier to do that math. The savings really add up.”

Finishing Touches

The right extras can also boost your color business. Besides the all-important color bar, technology, environment and incentives are changing the way color services are carried out—and clients are taking notice.

Maxime, which held its grand opening this month, was designed in an all-white palette. “Many salons have beautiful colors on the wall, but it affects color on the hair,” says Enos, which results in reflections that make it tough to discern the true shade you’re putting on the head. As such, the floors are non-staining, white Italian tile, the color bar is white, and the shampoo bowls are white. Color application is done out in the open at the long table, not at stations. Heated dryers from Takara Belmont are specially designed to roll slowly around the head to ensure even processing while allowing a client to carry on a conversation without shouting over the noise. For the opening party, Enos created her own color collection, showcased on live models, and provided champagne beverages that coordinated with the featured shades—blonde, brunette and redhead. Her future plans include introducing a private label make-up line, so color clients can get a cosmetic consulation to go with their new look; and eyebrow shaping to complete each client’s beauty regimen.

Convenience counts, agrees Seybold. His biggest retail item right now is ColorMark, a temporary color touch-up brush. “It works very well, and it’s terrific for helping clients stay with color,” he says. “When a client starts to see outgrowth in seven to 10 days, you can lose her if she decides it’s too much maintenance. But this will do an awesome job of camouflaging the line and makes colored hair more convenient.”

Depending on the type of color service, you’ll want to suggest that clients come back for touch-ups between five and 10 weeks, say the owners. And with color menus literally spanning the spectrum with various offerings, there’s no doubt that color-shy clients really are a thing of the past. Hair color has always been an art form, but now it can be brilliant business as well.

Headmapping Color Conservation

It’s a shame when color goes down the drain. When it happens to your clients in the shower, you sell them color-preserving shampoo. But what about when it happens at the chair in your own salon?

Wasted color not only affects a salon’s bottom line, it hurts the environment as well. Now, HeadMapping, created by Walter Claudio and presented by Neill Corporation, is helping owners reduce color usage, improve inventory and grow their business by creating systems that lead to consistent, efficient color usage. Better yet, the program improves a client’s experience without compromising the artistry.

Inspired by the restaurant industry that precisely measures out portions, HeadMapping accounts for each step of the color service, and breaks it down to a science. A “map” defines each section of the head, and determines the time, product and cost required for each service.

Put into practice at Claudio’s salon spa in Santa Barbara, California, in 2000, HeadMapping has reduced color product costs to less than 4 percent (with the industry average hovering around 11 percent). In 2006, Walter Claudio was awarded California’s Waste Reduction Award, the first salon to receive the honor, and helped Claudio win for Client Philosophy and Marketing at the Global Salon Business Awards in Barcelona, Spain last June.

For more information on HeadMapping, call Walter Claudio at 805-722-7561 or e-mail sos@walterclaudio.com.