Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at the 2024 Data-Driven Salon Summit. As I walked the show floor and spoke with countless salon owners, managers, and professionals, I was struck by a recurring theme: competition. It’s no secret that the salon industry is on fire right now, and with a hot market comes fierce competition; for clients, for talent, for mindshare, for just about everything. 

That means your salon has to be firing on all cylinders. Fall behind in one area and you’re liable to fall behind in all. The margins are too thin and the competition is too eager to pounce. To keep pace and eventually get ahead in an environment this competitive, you need a plan that’s up to the task, one built around the modern pillars of a successful salon. With that in mind, let’s dive into the four pillars of modern salon success and how to build a plan for each.

Pillar #1: Fostering a team culture built around adaptability 

We’ll start here because, well, everything starts here. Competitive environment or not, if you don’t have the right team culture, your salon stands little chance. Simple as that. In the modern era, the most successful cultures are those built around adaptability. As with everything else we’re about to discuss, as the leader of your salon, you set the tone. If you want your team to be open-minded and willing to adapt on the fly as your clients’ wants and needs evolve, you have to reciprocate by being open-minded and willing to adapt on the fly as your staff’s wants and needs evolve.

From there, make sure your leadership style is conducive to building the type of culture you want to be reflected in your team and the type of experience you want to be passed through to your clients. Every leader has to find the style and approach that’s right for them, their team, and their salon, but there are a few things that are simply non-negotiable in the modern era, namely transparency, collaboration, and mentorship. 

If you’re not transparently communicating with your team and sharing your vision and your goals, your culture will suffer. If you’re not encouraging collaboration among team members and creating an environment where everyone’s voice is heard, your culture will suffer. And if you’re not mentoring your staff (like it or not, you are a mentor) and providing opportunities for professional growth and development, your culture will suffer. But if you do these things (and you can!), you will instill confidence in your team and draw out their immense passion, and they’ll do the same for your clients. 

Pillar #2: Attracting and retaining clients 

In a competitive market, you simply can’t afford to be passive in attracting new clients and retaining existing ones. Let’s start with attracting clients first, because as important as client retention is, you can’t retain a client until you attract them. If you feel like you’re not getting enough new clients in the door, it’s time to up your marketing game. There’s no silver bullet for more effective marketing. It’s about trying a little of everything and finding the mix that works for you. One great place to start is with social media. It’s free and easy to engage with the community by posting before and after shots and recording educational how-to videos. If you want to get a little more targeted, investing in paid social advertising is easier today than ever. 

But don’t stop there. Load up your website with testimonials that showcase your team and talent. Build enticing referral programs, partner with other local businesses, collaborate with influencers, and open your space to host events and workshops. If you put yourself out there often enough, clients will find you. When they do, make sure your website meets the modern standard. That means a seamless online booking experience that’s mobile-friendly and makes it easy for prospective clients to share the information you need to be ready for them the moment they walk in the door. 

Once they do walk in the door, now the real work begins – the work of sending them home so happy that they come back for a second appointment. Client retention is ultimately what makes or breaks your business. According to a recent report, 70 percent of clients who complete a second appointment book a third, and 79 percent of clients who book a third appointment book a fourth. In other words, if you can get a client back in after that first visit, there’s a good chance you have a client for life. Owing to this stickiness, salons that are merely average at retention need twice as many new clients to generate the same volume of revenue as salons with best-in-class retention, and thus have to spend far more time, energy, and money on customer acquisition. 

This is where client experience becomes everything. Studies have shown that about 15% of client retention is driven by professional skills, while 85% is driven by the quality of the overall experience. So from the moment they visit your website to book the appointment to the moment they walk out the door and beyond, do whatever it takes to make the experience as memorable and stress-free as possible. 

Pillar #3: Effectively tracking your KPIs

Chances are you didn’t get into this industry because you loved playing around with numbers. (I know I certainly didn’t!) Like it or not though, if you own or manage a salon, you’re in the numbers business. Knowing your KPIs and tracking the ROI of your investments is essential. 

Now, certainly, KPIs should and will vary depending on the salon, but there’s no KPI more important than client retention. Set a retention goal and track it relentlessly. If you’re looking for a benchmark, the top-performing salons convert roughly 70 percent of first-time visits into a second appointment and 57 percent of first-time visits into a third appointment, compared to just 45 percent and 39 percent, respectively, for salons with average retention rates. 

Other important KPIs include online booking rate (the more you can drive online booking, the better), average ticket value, add-on service percentage, and client lifetime value. While you’re at it, don’t forget to set and track KPIs for marketing so that you can find the most effective digital channels and adjust your mix accordingly.  

Pillar #4: Embracing technology to grow your business 

Technology is your friend. Technology is your business partner. Technology is your growth engine. Technology – in particular, software – is involved in pretty much every touchpoint along the modern customer journey.

Finding your salon. Booking an appointment online. Confirmations and reminders. Text communication. Digital intake forms. Checking in. Checking out. Processing payments. Follow-ups and nuture. It’s all centered around and dependent on technology. The more capable that technology is, the more it can automate, and the more it matches and builds on the brand aesthetic you’re trying to create, the better the client experience you can deliver. 

Technology is an investment, not a cost. So, don’t just be open to leveraging modern technology. Embrace it. Love it. Take advantage of it. If you’re not, I can assure you that your competitors are. 

The competition is fierce. So are you. 

Ok, I know what you’re probably thinking: “C’mon Joz, I can barely keep my head above water most days. How am I supposed to do all that?” 

Well, how about getting started? Take gradual steps. Focus on training your staff, nurturing your culture, and delivering the best possible client experience. The rest will follow.  

Above all else, believe in yourself. You CAN do this because you have done it. You’re here. Your salon is a success. You are a success. Yes, the competition is fierce, but so are you. 

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