Throughout last year’s holiday shopping season, many retailers detected a perceptible shift in the mindset of their shoppers. In past years, when a shopper spied a well-priced gift item that was perfect for someone on her list, she happily grabbed it up and checked the name off her list. But last year, she studied the gift with skepticism, thinking, “That’s nice, but what’s in it for me?”

“Our newest location is in an upscale shopping mall,” says Becky Damiano, general manager of Headquarters Salon and Spa in Lorraine, Ohio. “Being surrounded by all these sophisticated retailers offering a variety of incentive programs, we have to be more and more creative to compete for gift shoppers.”

For example, let’s take a shopper at the Gap last Christmas. From Thanksgiving weekend through December 24 she could accumulate a $15 reward card for every $75 she spent in the store. The reward cards could be redeemed the week before Christmas through January, when most of the merchandise is heavily marked down. In addition, if our shopper holds a Gap credit card, she receives a $10 loyalty coupon for every $200 she applies to the card, and if she shops on the first Tuesday of the month, she receives an additional 10 percent off at the register. Most likely, one of her purchases will trigger an at-register invitation to go online and complete a customer satisfaction survey, earning her an additional 10 percent off. With wares for men, women, children and babies in its stores, the savvy Gap shopper could fulfill everyone on her list, simultaneously racking up discounts and cash-back reward cards she can later use for herself.

From Christmas to Mother’s Day to Valentine’s Day, the holidays provide a season of opportunity. But these days, if you want to compete with the larger retailers for gift sales, you must go beyond the alluring retail display and attractively printed gift card. You must surround your product and service offerings with value-added incentives, package opportunities and loyalty rewards, not to mention your everyday impeccable customer service. You’ve got to lay out your very best offer, mentally challenging your shoppers with the now popular game-show challenge, “Deal or No Deal?”

How do you make what works at the Gap work in your salon? What value-added incentives best support each holiday? How do you create gift opportunities that target everyone on the shopper’s list? How do you translate even a non-gift-giving holiday into a retail opportunity? Well, let’s take ’em one by one.

Valentine’s Day: Leverage the Lover

Why it’s Hot: In the salon and spa, this represents a key opportunity to ignite some sales in the traditionally sluggish months following the holiday rush. Valentine’s Day is a great opportunity to promote tandem services, such as couple’s massages, or gift certificates for the husband looking for something unique.

Say it with Flowers: For shopping cupids, flowers and chocolate are the traditional gifts of choice. Many salons and spas have decided that if they couldn’t beat them, join them, by forming partnerships with local florists and confectioners to create a packaged offering.

“Two days prior to Valentine’s we used to set up a flower bar with fresh-cut flowers and bouquets that could be sold with gift cards,” says John Stefanick, production manager at Noëlle Spa for Beauty and Wellness in Stamford, Connecticut. Deciding the shelf-life for flowers limited the time he could provide the package,
this year Stefanick hooked up with a local chocolate store.

“In exchange for providing them with space to promote their chocolates, we were able to buy gift box sets of chocolate at cost to package with our gift card sales,” says Stefanick. “If a shopper purchased a gift card valued at $100 or more, they’d also receive a box of chocolate. It’s always a great idea to package your gift card with a gift item—it gives the shopper something tangible to wrap and present.”

Gina Henning, owner of ME Salon and Spa in New Hope, Pennsylvania, also went the chocolate route. She decided to combine Alterna’s White Truffle shampoo and conditioner gift sets, which were already packaged in seasonal red and gold, with a box of white truffle chocolates. “It was a beautifully packaged gift with a very indulgent sweet treat,” says Henning.

Henning also created a successful Valentine’s promotion that treated gift card purchasers with a complimentary caviar conditioning hair treatment for themselves. “Not only did it boost gift card sales, but it helped us encourage cross-sell throughout the salon and spa.”

Targeting Cupid: At Changes Salon and Day Spa in Walnut Creek, California, Bonnie Waters knows that the vast majority of her clientele are women. She also knows these women are the most likely recipients of a salon or spa gift. To reach male shoppers, she created the clever Cupid Club program. Starting in early January, clients checking out at the reception desk are offered postcards that could be filled out with a list of items they’d love to receive for Valentine’s Day and the name and address of their intended Cupid. Or clients could log on to the salon’s website and request that the spa e-mail a hint to a gift purchaser. In turn, cupids can purchase gifts online or come in to take advantage of the seasonal promotions. (At Christmas, Waters does a similar program, titled “Tell an Elf.”)

When Cupids purchased a gift card for $150 or more they received a package of the salon’s exclusive Remember fragrance in the bath salt, lotion and body butter balm. The products, surrounded in soft pink packaging, were presented in a cranberry-colored gift bag.

To promote the program, Waters mailed advertising pieces to client homes and placed ads in regional magazines. To bring awareness to male shoppers, she also advertised on the local radio sports station and hosted giveaways during drive time.

The Results: The Changes Salon
and Day Spa’s Cupid Club program, combined with the special product and
gift card package, increased Valentine’s
Day sales by 25 percent over last year’s, which resulted in an additional $30,000, reports Waters.

While Noëlle only starts promoting the event with in-store signage and newspaper ads two weeks before Valentine’s, gift card sales are brisk. “The frenzy creates its own excitement in the salon,” Stefanick says.

Mother’s Day: Honoring the Caretakers

Why it’s Hot: A traditional Mother’s Day gift gives mom some relaxing time off. According to, a gift of relaxation ranks fourth out of top 10 gifts behind cards, flowers and dinner out. What better place to relax than in your spa?

Packaged Deal: When it comes to designing spa packages, creativity counts. Stefanick created three different pre-wrapped gift sets of products from the spa’s own body care line, paired with a body loofah and cotton gloves. The sets priced at $50, $70 and $100 were discounted 20 percent.

The holiday also inspired Stefanick to design four new spa service packages with moms of different stages in mind: The Mom-to-Be package thanked expectant moms with a pregnancy massage, blow dry and three body products. The Mother’s Break gave harried moms some pampering stress relief with a white paraffin facial, spa pedicure and three body products. The Mother’s Rejuvenation, designed for older moms, offered a lifelong thank-you with a collagen facial, body massage and three body products. And, finally, retailing at $540, the One of Everything package gave mom the ultimate with a therapeutic massage, stimulating facial, gentle body cleanse body treatment, spa manicure, spa pedicure, blow dry, make-up application and three take-home body products.

“Designing special packages for a holiday gives us a chance to feature spa services that don’t make it into our traditional package offerings,” says Stefanick.

Trial Time: For Henning, a holiday is the perfect time to introduce a new service she’s considering adding to her menu. “This year we discovered a great manufacturer with ice cream-scented products, which inspired us to design a menu of eight ice cream pedicures.”

From the Chocolate Mint Sundae to the Strawberry Blonde Sundae, each scrumptious pedicure combines a bath fizz with a foot mask with a body icing. Guests also are treated with miniature sundaes to eat during their service. All ice cream pedicures retail for $65.

Results: Henning’s ice cream pedicures were a scrumptious success. She not only boosted pedicure sales by 30 percent, she also enjoyed healthy retail sales. “Many people who had the service took home products to recreate the fun themselves,” she says.

Noëlle’s creative Mother’s Day spa packages boosted gift card sales by 7 percent over last year’s already successful sales. And although they didn’t really expect to sell any of the high-priced One of Everything packages, Stefanick reports they sold six.

Father’s Day: Just for Him

Why it’s Hot: For most salons and spas, Father’s Day gift sales pale in comparison with Mother’s Day. But for salons hoping to expand their male clientele, promote male-oriented spa services or push male product lines, Father’s Day represents a golden opportunity.

Men’s Night: Hoping to boost male clientele, Sandra Dunn used Father’s Day to launch a men-only event in her Imprés Salon Spa in Traverse City, Michigan. Through a sports-themed invitation in the salon newsletter, she encouraged female clientele to book appointments for their spouses on Men’s Night.

“We moved the furniture around and rented a flat screen TV and played videos of baseball and football bloopers,” says Dunn. “The men sat around, enjoyed wine, beer and snacks and had their services. In conjunction, we offered a percentage off our male product lines.”

Results: “The first time we hosted Men’s Night we had 25 men, all of whom had never been in the salon before.” says Dunn. “We thought it was a success and have continued it year to year and it just keeps growing.”

Wedding Season: Here Come the Profits

Why it’s Hot: Weddings can mean big business for salons and spas with the patience and organizational finesse to deal with a frantic bride and her entourage. And, while May and June typically represent high wedding season, a strong bridal program can bring profits to the bottom line year-round. Catering to large bridal parties offers an additional opportunity to expose whole populations of potential clients to your expertise.

Little Extras: Every bride wants to feel special on her wedding day. In addition to providing a fabulous updo, glowing skin and perfect nails, many salons are including a little extra wedding gift that emotionally binds that bride to the salon.

At ME Salon and Spa, Henning treats brides with a gift pack of shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer and bath wash for their honeymoons. “We give the gift to any bride, whether she brings her entire party or just has her hair done here,” notes Henning. “It’s a nice extra for the brides, and they always seem touched.”

At Andre Chreky The Salon Spa in Washington, D.C., the something extra has taken the form of a fun-filled Wedding Survival Kit. “It’s filled with all the little things you might be searching for when you’re getting ready in the back of the church,” says Cassidy. “In addition to the sample size shampoo, conditioner and moisturizer for the honeymoon, we added a bottle of water, breath mints, aspirin, a pen and a razor.”

Getting Started: To build her salon’s wedding business, Henning worked with local bed and breakfast locations, providing them with copies of the bridal menu and business cards. Andre Chreky The Salon Spa caters to hotel concierges through a professional association.

Results: Serena Chreky, co-owner of Andre Chreky The Salon Spa, projects that by year’s end her staff will have provided services for 175-200 weddings. “Our bridal department accounts for about 15 percent of our total revenue for the business,” she reports. “Bridal services are a huge opportunity for salons.”

Back to School: Get on the Bus

Why it’s Hot: Traditionally, back-to-school season has presented the perfect opportunity to promote liter sales of shampoo and conditioner. But for salons focused on the future, it’s also a great time to groom an entire population of future clients.

Get ’em Young: Just before area schools open in D.C., Andre Chreky The Salon Spa features a kid’s cut promotion on a Sunday. “We don’t typically offer children’s cuts, but on this day for $20 a child receives a back-to-school style and a bottle of spray-in conditioner,” says Cassidy. “It’s really a thank-you to our moms, almost like a bring-your-kids-to-work day.”

In an innovative loyalty program, Noëlle Spa for Beauty and Wellness proves it’s not just your mother’s salon. The Get ID’d membership program invites teens to enjoy discounted hair, color and spa services, a specialized T-shirt and welcome package, invitations to teen-inspired events and a personal Get ID’d card.

“The program offers us two benefits,” says Stefanick. “We’re attracting younger and younger clients and we book their services with our new talent, helping associates grow their business and giving them a clientele where they can experiment with edgy styles.”

While the spa uses the back-to-school season to join with teen retailers to promote Get ID’d, the program runs year round. The memberships are valid until the teens reach graduation. Special programs offer additional incentives. “For example, we’ve hooked up with local theaters and given away movie tickets with retail purchase, offered make-up lessons at discounted prices, and worked with a manufacturer to get an iPod to raffle off,” says Stefanick. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s really fun and we’re building for the future.”

Results: While Andre Chreky The Salon Spa is earning bonus points with busy moms, Noëlle’s Get ID’d program has enrolled 231 teens to date.

Christmas: ‘Tis the Season

Why it’s Hot: Whether it’s Christmas, Hanukah or Kwanzaa your clients celebrate, December is the number one gift-giving season, offering your salon the chance to boost sales of gift certificates and products just as the calendar year ends. While other gift-giving holidays target a specific demographic—mothers, fathers, graduates, etc.—virtually every single client who walks through the door in December is working on fulfilling a holiday gift list. The season also offers a unique opportunity to celebrate clients, staff and the success of your business.

Party On: For the past several years, Imprés Salon Spa thanks loyal clients and lures potential clients with an invitation to a Beauty Expo on an evening two weeks before Thanksgiving. Timed before the holidays get too hectic, yet close enough that attendees have their gift lists in mind, the party combines educational beauty stations with retail opportunities.

“For example, this year we’re planning a table where a stylist talks about the latest hair products, a table where an expert provides information on laser treatments, a table where attendees learn to style hair with the latest hair accessories, a table of festive make-up ideas, and all the products featured on those tables will be for sale,” says Dunn. “In addition, we’ll have models circulating featuring fashions from local boutiques, we’ll serve wine and hors d’oeuvres, and guests will have an opportunity to receive a set of products free with the purchase of $150 gift certificate.”

At Headquarters, holiday open houses are planned simultaneously at the salon’s two locations. Typically held on the first Friday evening in December, the client appreciation evening combines mini-experiences with retail opportunity. “To determine the guest list, we’ll run a report of the top spending clients and send invitations to the top 1,000,” says Damiano. “The postcard invitation includes a $10 coupon that can be used for retail or gift card sales on the night of the event only.”

Once guests enter the party, they can partake in six different experience stations including hand and arm massages, make-up application, hot stone massage, seated chair massage and hair styling tips. To keep guests circulating, each attendee is given a card, which is stamped at each experience station. Completed cards can be entered in a raffle for a large basket of retail products.

Playing Santa: Parties aren’t the only way to thank loyal clientele. At Noëlle, gift card purchasers receive a discount on retail products that correlates to their level of spending. For example, a shopper receives 10-percent off if she buys a $100 gift card; 20-percent off for a $200 gift card; and 30-percent off for a $300 gift card. Stefanick reports the event is so popular that the salon opens up a special room in the salon and staffs the floor with extra sales assistants.

Last holiday season, Henning gifted each client with a bag of sample-size products and a ME member card. The loyalty card tracks clients’ purchases and rewards them at specific spending levels. For example, 300 points can be redeemed for a free styling aid; 600 points for a manicure; 900 for a 30-minute massage. “Our members got really excited and some even brought in their spouse so they could get their own ME cards,” says Henning.

Who’s the Target: For the December holidays, everyone is a target. But Stefanick has some thoughts on who makes the best gift-card purchasers. “When shoppers know what they are giving people on their list, they tend to shop far in advance, but those last-minute shoppers are excellent targets for gift cards.”

Results: Customer appreciation events can add a significant sales increase to a salon’s bottom line. For example, of the 1,000 invitations that were mailed to Headquarters’ clients, 450 clients attended the event. Of those, 222 redeemed the discount cards when purchasing product or gift cards. In addition, Damiano reports that many clients brought spouses to the party and, as a result, the salon experienced a healthy 30-percent bump in online gift card sales following the event. 

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