Owning a salon is a labor of love. On one hand, the work is arduous and sometimes feels endless. On the other, running a salon is up there with the most rewarding professional and entrepreneurial experiences you’ll find. It’s a trade-off, for sure, but most salon owners will tell you the rewards far outweigh the challenges. 

Lately, though, the challenges have been piling up. Between increased competition, rising costs, the upheaval of decades-old industry norms, and a stubborn sense of general economic uncertainty, you can forgive salon owners for feeling the labor a little more than they’re feeling the love right now.  

Here’s the good news though: the last few years have proven that this industry is nothing if not resilient. Are the challenges you’re facing right now frustrating and maybe even a little scary? Sure. Are they insurmountable? Not by a long shot.   

With that in mind, let’s take a look at five issues keeping salon owners at night right and examine how to address them head-on. 

Everything’s So Expensive! 

Every salon owner I talk to is grappling with rising expenses and skyrocketing overhead costs. I’m not an economist, so I can’t tell you if or when costs will start heading in the other direction. (Neither could an economist, if we’re being real.) All I can suggest is that you focus on controlling what you can control — and the one thing you have total control over is how often and how well you communicate. 

First, communicate with your team about how rising expenses are impacting the business and how that, in turn, impacts them as employees. The more aware your team is about the challenge and the more connected they feel to it, the more assertive, proactive, and enthusiastic they’ll be about finding creative ways to help you keep costs down. 

Don’t just focus on keeping costs down though. Think about ways to offset rising costs through additional revenue. Maybe that means raising your base prices or entirely reimaging your pricing model. Maybe it means adding a fee to support the rising cost of things like sustainable waste disposal. 

Whatever you do decide, if it impacts your clients, be ready to communicate with them thoroughly and endlessly. That doesn’t just mean you, either. Everyone on your team should be able to comfortably and confidently discuss this topic with clients. Remember, we don’t get to decide who gets asked what and when. Make sure everyone is trained up. 

The Tipping Point

There’s no denying it at this point: consumers are exhausted by seemingly endless requests for gratuity. At the coffee shop. At the bakery. At the dry cleaner. Every time they swipe a credit card, consumers are confronted with the question of whether or not to tip — and they’re getting sick of it. 

Now, does that mean they’re sick of tipping their stylist? Of course not. But, as much as we teach our kids not to let a few bad apples spoil the bunch, well, a few bad apples do eventually spoil the bunch. It won’t be long before growing tip sensitivity hits the salon. 

So, what can you do about it? Well, let me tell you what can’t do about it: expect your employees to just do without the income they earn through tips. Tips are what enable self-care professionals to make a living wage and stay in this career they love. That money can’t just disappear. What you can do, though, is at least start to think about (and perhaps model out, if only on paper) what an all-inclusive pricing structure might look like, so that if the future is indeed tipless, you’re not caught flat-footed. 

In the interim, make sure you are doubling down on the things that inspired clients to tip in the first place. It’s not that consumers don’t ever want to tip; it’s that they don’t want to leave a tip when one hasn’t been earned. So, make sure yours is a salon where clients are greeted by name, served their favorite drink, related to on a human level, treated as the unique individuals they are, and engaged in real, meaningful conversations. Backlash or not, that’ll earn the tip every time. It’ll also keep clients coming back, which is pretty important, because…

It’s Crowded Out There 

Competition is not new, but the market sure does feel more crowded these days. When it feels like there’s increased competition, there’s a tendency to reach for something new, something different, something no one has ever thought of before to make your salon stand apart. 

Skip all that and just go back to basics. 

At its core, this is an experience-driven industry. The better, more seamless, and more memorable the experience you create for clients, the more likely you are to win the repeat and referral business that’s essential in a crowded and competitive marketplace. 

What goes into creating a great experience? In a word, everything. Make it easy to find your salon online and even easier to book an appointment while there. Be ready for a client the moment they walk in the door. Check them out, process their payment, and book their next appointment without them having to lift a finger, and keep in touch and nurture the relationship long after they’ve left. 

Remember, for many clients, a huge part of the salon experience is escaping the stress and anxiety of daily life. The more you can relieve that stress and anxiety for clients, the more you can expect to see them. The more you add to it, the less you’ll see them. It’s that simple. 

Making Sense of Marketing 

I’m a marketer by nature (and now by trade), and even for me, nothing was more difficult when I ran a salon than marketing. So, no, this isn’t going to be easy (and that’s before accounting for the fact that you have no time or budget for this). Ok, now that we’ve established how hard it is… just go do it! 

That’s right, just get out there and get started. Get on social media. Share some before and afters. Showcase your work (after all, it’s amazing!) and encourage your clients to do the same. Emails old clients letting them know you can’t wait to have them back in. None of this has to be super complicated. If you find yourself straying a bit too far outside your comfort zone, leverage technology to help automate tasks like email marketing. But above all else, have fun, experiment, and see what resonates.   

What Do I Do with AI?

I get it: there are a lot of scary conversations happening around AI right now. But there are also a ton of “intelligent” (and not at all scary) technologies out there that can be beneficial for your business. For example, are you leveraging intelligent technology to simplify and streamline email marketing campaigns? Are you leveraging intelligent technology to cluster appointments and reduce downtime so that you can fully optimize your calendar and maximize your revenue? Forget about the big, scary AI conversations. Focus instead on simple but intelligent automation that can unlock new opportunities for your salon. Leave the other stuff to the doom scrollers.  

Take Control 

The best thing about being a salon owner (aside from the incredible people!) is that YOU own the place. You’re in charge. You can explore whatever you want to explore, try whatever ideas you want to try. If an idea doesn’t work, so what? You’re the owner; you can just try something else. So, take control. Attack challenges head-on. Who knows? You might just find a little more love to pair with all that labor.  

About the Author: Shanalie Wijesinghe is the Content Strategy Director at Boulevard, where she lends her industry and platform expertise to both in-house staff and partner salons and spas. A salon industry veteran with more than 14 years of experience working for high-end luxury salons such as Sally Hershberger and BENJAMIN, Wijesinghe was previously a sales engineer for Boulevard and blends her knowledge of the beauty and technology industries to help put the company’s partners and employees on the path to success. A Bay Area native and first-generation immigrant, Wijesinghe is a graduate of the Paul Mitchell School specializing in cosmetology, styling, and nail instruction.

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