Strategies for Tackling the 2024 SALON TODAY 200 Application
Strategies for Tackling the 2024 SALON TODAY 200 Application

Recently, SALON TODAY extended the deadline application for the 2024 SALON TODAY 200 from October 31st to November 15th, giving owners a few more weeks to pull their applications together. As the deadline nears, we continue to get calls and questions from prospective applicants as they prepare their applications. This post attempts to answer many of those questions and offer you strategies that improve your chances of being named to the 200 for 2024. 

What is the SALON TODAY 200. In our 27th year, we're one of the longest, most respected business competitions in the professional beauty industry. For those of you who haven’t entered before, we at SALON TODAY are attempting to meet multiple goals with this competition: 

  • We want to identify and celebrate the best business minds and their teams in the beauty industry.
  • We want to create data benchmarks that all salon businesses can use to measure their own progress.
  • We want to create a forum where leaders share their ideas on salon growth and successful business practices.
  • We want to give our SALON TODAY 200 honorees a vehicle to celebrate their team, their clients and their community.
  • We want to develop a community of like-minded owners and their teams who can support one another and raise the bar for others. 
  • And, for our own SALON TODAY brand, we want to get a handle on the challenges and opportunities beauty-based businesses are currently facing so that we can develop content that delivers what you need most right now.

The application contains a few different components:

  • The first section collects basic contact nformation on your business.
  • The second section contains information where you supply data about your business and list the top brands you use. It helps to have access to your software management program so you can look at your data when filling this out. 
  • The third section is an essay section, and we ask each applicant to craft two essays. The first asks you about your Successes and Challenges. The second essay allows you to select one among 10 best practices and write an essay about how your business drives progress on that best practice.
  • The final section of the application invites you to submit images that we can use to create your profile should you be honored in 2024--this is strictly voluntary. Headshots of the owners, group shots of the team or interior/exterior shots of the salon are all welcome. If you have an image that corresponds to your essay, that’s even better. For example, say you write an essay on your philanthropic activity and you have a picture of your team participating in a fundraising event. You aren’t limited in the number of images you can submit.

A few things of note: 

  • While we love and welcome pictures, they have no impact on whether or not you are selected. If you're waiting to enter because you're bringing in a photographer for a shoot, don't. You can submit your images at a later date by emailing or
  • The application process is entirely digital. We no longer have a downloadable version, as that creates confusion in the entry process. But we have listed the Best Practice Categories and the Essay Questions in this article here, so you can plan ahead.
  • Once you start the application, our survey platform Alchemer will email you a link that lets you back in the application so you can stop and restart at any time. Sometimes people have a challenge finding that email with the link because it can be sent to spam. Instead of starting the application from the beginning again, please email or and we can find the link for you and send it back. Please provide the salon name exactly the way you filled it out on the application, for example if you put your name in all lower caps, let us know that. (FYI—we do see every time you start then restart the application, so if you’ve done that multiple times, let us know the date of the one you’d like us to send you.)

Specific Strategies to Improve Your Odds

The way the SALON TODAY 200 works is 100 honorees are named in Growth, and the other 100 nominees are spread among the different best practices. Last year, we weighted the honorees in each best practice category based on the percentage of applicants applying in each category. Therefore, the category that received the most applications (Salon Culture) had more honorary positions than some that received the least, but I’d argue it was also that hardest category to receive a win in, because there was so much more competition.

Always Enter Growth, Even if You Think You Don’t Have a Chance

The only reason you would not want to enter growth is if you don’t want your gross sales for 2021 and 2022 published publicly. Or, if you know for a fact that you didn’t grow at all between those two years.

Why do you still want to enter it? First, 50 percent of our honorees are from Growth, which means if you experience growth between those two years, this is a good shot. Plus, we ask you to share your gross sales anyway so we can develop overall benchmarks, but we do respect your wishes to not share that information publicly, if you so desire. You simply check that box in the application. (FYI-we no longer ask you to verify your financial with tax returns. This is an honor system.)

We also asking you to write the Success and Challenges Essay, regardless of whether or not you are entering growth. This essay isn’t judged, because our Growth honorees are selected strictly based on the percentage of growth between 2021 and 2022. We use this essay information to pull a great quote from you for your profile should you be honored. But more importantly, this essay helps us get to know you and your business better and to help us shape content and identify sources for our magazines, website, email newsletters and live event, Data-Driven Salon Summit.

Read Over the List of Best Practices and Choose Your Strength

When you look over the past 18 months, which of these areas did you excel most in? Which ones did you implement specific actions that drove results? In which of these do you excel among other beauty-based businesses in your community?

Last year, we had our most applicants in Salon Culture, Salon Leadership and Customer Service. While you may excel in one of those areas but if the only thing you write about is,“We have a great culture because we all love each other, or we love our clients and our clients love us,” I’ll tell you straight that isn’t a winning essay. Every single essay starts that way and our judges tend to skip the flowery prose and look for ideas and concrete measurements.

Read the Entire Best Practice Question and Ask for Feedback

Each of the Best Practice questions is a series of questions. We aren’t expecting an exact answer to each of those individual questions but rather they are designed as prompts to get you thinking in the right direction about the kind of information we are looking for. Take the opportunity to discuss the prompt questions with your managers and overall team and invite their suggestions of things you’ve done over the past year to drive growth in this area. They may remember things you hadn’t though of.

We Judge on the Quality of Ideas, Not on Grammar

When you start writing your essays, don’t get hung up on grammar, spelling and punctuation. We’re judging you on the quality and uniqueness of your ideas. Our editors don’t cut hair and color hair, so we would not want to be judged on our artistic hair abilities. We aren’t expecting you to be expert writers.

Focus on Your Uniqueness

I hinted at it above, but I’ll emphasize it again. What makes you unique makes you stand out. What does that mean? For example, if you had a success client retention campaign but it was a carbon copy of one your manufacturer structured, I can assure you we will be reading multiple essays that sound like they came straight out of the same playbook. We want to know how you put your own unique spin on it, what made your program unique and how it drove results in your own community.

We are Data-Focused, You Should Be Too

In their essays, many honorees wax poetic about how wonderful they are without giving us proof that they are wonderful. In short, when we judge we tend to cut through the BS and start scoring when we see the ideas. You can put that flowery language in there if it makes you feel good, we won’t count it against you, but you’re using up your wordcount on words that won’t influence us. In short, get to the point.

Give us data that supports your claims. A great essay would state the goal you were trying to achieve, explain the idea or program you and your team designed, show how you implemented the program, and demonstrated that you measured the impact of the idea. Even if you didn’t meet the original goal, but you moved the needle in the right direction, that’s a win in our book.

Don’t Feel You Have to Write the Full Wordcount

We give you 1,000 words for each essay because some owners literally will write novels, and our judges don’t have time to read novels. Don’t feel you need to use every word if you can get your point across with less. In fact, if it helps you to organize your ideas in bullet points or with small headers, go for it. At the same time, each year we open essays that literally are a sentence long. Even the best written sentence in the universe isn't likely complete enough to earn you an honor. 

Develop Your Own Thinktank

There are many salons who have entered and been honored in the 200 multiple times. If you know one of them, don’t be shy about reaching out and asking for advice. Many of them have developed their own strategies, like developing folders for each of the best practices and throwing ideas in each one throughout the year as they happen so there’s a collection of things to write about when the time comes.

Again, brainstorm with your team or even some of your top clients on where they think your salon excels. The process can give you some amazing fodder for your essay.

Learn From the Journey

We are the first to admit filling out the SALON TODAY 200 application can be daunting, especially the first time. But as one longtime honoree once told me, “If it was easy, then winning wouldn’t mean as much.”

For every one of next year’s honorees, there will be others that don’t make it. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t make it right out of the gate, and please don’t give up. Instead, focus on what the process illuminated for you. Many of our honorees have told us the journey of thinking through the application gives them a jumpstart on their strategic planning for next year. Others have taken the best practices and set specific goals against bettering the business in each one, with team members assigned to keep the team accountable on those goals.

The Deadline is Just That

Applications should be posted by midnight, Pacific Standard Time, November 15th. But if you neglect to sign your application or forgot to pay the fee, we will reach out and see if you meant to complete the process. If you have a true emergency, we also are compassionate and work something out with you to give you a bit more time. Just keep in mind, just like you know those clients who constantly no-show, we tend to remember those who always ask for extensions:) Again, just reach out to or

Good luck, and we're here if you need us. 

Open the application.



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