A dozen years ago, a salon was just a salon. Then massages and facials, formerly the province of the elite and wealthy, gained widespread appeal and salon owners felt the heat. The salon/day spa (and then the salon/medispa and, more recently, the salon/wellness center) became ubiquitous, with owners revamping layouts to squeeze in treatment rooms, hiring esthetics staff at a rapid-fire pace and concocting new and ever-more-exotic treatments to keep the momentum going.

 Some businesses have transitioned successfully, combining the best elements of both salon and spa and keeping careful tabs on their staff and investments. But for myriad reasons, the spa dream for many salons has fizzled.

“Opening a salon was a great experience, but one of the biggest mistakes I made was opening as a salon and spa,” says Kate Herzig, who launched Jolie Laide in Bristow, Virginia in 2003. “Regretfully, I agreed to offer spa services in hopes of catering to more clients. But the space we used for the spa just wasn’t big enough to work, and therefore demand never materialized. The spa never took off, and I saw no financial benefit.” Like many struggling “spa-preneurs,” Herzig made the tough decision to remove the spa altogether and convert the space back to salon use.

Plenty of owners already know opening a spa is a big risk: It requires space, products, staff, marketing, equipment and more. But for salons that still want to compete in the skin care arena, there are low-risk, high profit ways to give clients what they want, in the chair or at the shampoo bowl, without going the full-on spa route. Think small: The real money and allure is found in the simple stuff.

In the Chair

Plenty of salons already offer a taste of the spa experience: At Shear Artistry in New Holland, Pennsylvania, owners Melanie Loboda and Cindy Duffy believe their signature shampoo experience wins over even spa-shy salon clients. “Our clients rave about the scalp massage, which is not available in any other area salon,” says Loboda.

At Catherine Crum The Salon in Jefferson City, Missouri, massage is done at the styling station. After clients undergo a hair consultation, the stylist uses essential oils to massage their scalp, neck, shoulders and upper back before giving them a shampoo. While these quickie massages are usually complimentary, owner Catherine Crum believes clients will fall in love with the extra attention and seek out additional treatments at future appointments. As a bonus, relaxed clients are usually more receptive to add-on options, says Crum, whose staff provides facial waxing at the shampoo bowl—eyebrows are $15, lip and chin is $10, and the whole process takes no more than 10 minutes. It’s been easy money, and Crum is now considering adding on a mini-facial for clients processing color. Who needs the added expense of treatment rooms? “Value-added services at the shampoo bowl really set us apart,” she declares.

After Hours

With a full-service salon like Alluring Designs in Murrysville, Pennsylvania, the challenge was to overcome clients’ perception of a hair-centric business and make them realize that there was pampering to be found among the blow dryers and curling irons—even if “spa” isn’t part of their name. Last winter the salon held a “mini-spa evening” to introduce clients to services like a paraffin wax dip for hands, a mini facial, a make-up consultation with lesson, and scalp treatment. Clients, who paid $35 to attend, also enjoyed wine and cheese, product samples, a $5 gift certificate and 20-percent off their first visit if they prebooked. The night was a success because time-saving services are a big draw, says owner Tracey McHugh, meaning more clients are regularly booking these mini treatments. Other big hits for her salon? “Multi-tasking services that include manicures, pedicures and chair massages while getting chemical hair services,” she says. Even if your salon doesn’t have space for bulky pedicure thrones, portable footbaths will do the trick.

Extended Experiences

To really get your clients feeling spa, take a tip from salons everywhere that have created “hair spas” in the shampoo area, complete with dim lighting, soft music and fully reclining chairs that function almost like treatment rooms. Owner Darla DiGrandi-Aguilera of Hi-Lites Aveda in Cathedral City, California, says that every visitor to her Hairspa receives an Aveda Stress-Relieving Blue Oil treatment that includes aromatherapy, neck and shoulder massage, hot towels on the neck and face, and scalp massage. Though the treatment was created as a precursor to a typical shampoo, cut and style, DiGrandi-Aguilera says that guests were calling to book just the Hairspa experience.

Realizing that clients were driving to her salon for a shampoo service was the catalyst for an even longer, more luxurious Hairspa service called Pure Indulgence. Explains DiGrandi-Aguilera, “Pure Indulgence is a head-to-toe mini spa experience all done while lying in one of our full-body heated massage chairs. It includes a Caribbean Therapy foot bath, a lower leg and foot massage, a hand and arm massage, the Stress Relieving Blue Oil neck, shoulder and scalp massage, a face cleanse and Tourmaline Charged Radiance Mask with hot towel facial wrap, toner and rehydration.” Clients love it as much as any spa treatment done in a traditional treatment room, and they’re willing to pay traditional spa prices too; in this case, $80 for an easy add-on that can be done during color processing. Additionally, says DiGrandi-Aguilera, it makes a great couples or mother-daughter package because it can be done side-by-side, and no undressing is required.

For clients who want spa on a smaller scale, Hi-Lites Aveda offers upgraded experiences like chair-side manicures ($22) and full-face make-up application ($55). DiGrandi-Aguilera believes there’s a perfect fit for every client: “They allow the guest to choose their level of pampering, fill in last minute openings and create retail opportunities, which all result in higher revenues at the end of the day.”

Man Sized

When, after 10 years of being hair-only, Dimensions Design and Wellness Studio in Carver, Massachusetts, decided to launch esthetic services, they wanted to make sure their male clients would be on board. Expecting men to shy away from skin care pitches, they marketed their mini facials vigorously. “We started giving them a value-added experience at the sink,” says owner Linda Crawford. “Before our male guests have time to say ‘no thank you,’ a steamed towel envelops their face and they become putty in the technician’s hands.”

To reach out to other spa-challenged guests, Dimensions has started offering skin-care solutions workshops, or free classes where clients can get a free skin analysis and test products before they buy. “It’s been a great marketing tool,” explains Crawford. “The concept lets guests know we really believe in our products and the spa services we can offer them.”

Customized for Every Client

Salon owners can’t read every client’s mind when it comes to spa wishes, but forward-thinking salons will be able to adapt and evolve services to fit most client requests. At Craig Berns Salon Spa in Delafield, Wisconsin, owner Mary Beth Berns says that the salon has packaged foot soaks, foot massages and hand
massages for a group request and created a deluxe scalp massage service for a particularly devoted salon client.

When such requests come in, Berns will calculate the time the services require, the space the clients will need, product cost and the number of technicians required, and come up with a price. Your salon costs may vary, but Berns emphasizes that you must charge enough to make up for all the styling chairs that will be filled during the appointed times and recommends that salons ask to be paid up front.

Most of her custom spa requests come from women, in their 40s or older, who want to spend quality time with their girlfriends and relax, but can’t do it in a isolated treatment room or under a roaring blow dryer. The hottest services tend to be pedicures and hand and foot massages, all of which can be done in side-by-side styling chairs or even in a lounge area. “Any service where they can all be together and socialize is the best thing,” says Berns. “We’ve accommodated baby showers, professional women and stay-at-home moms.”

Even clients in the salon for a standard hair appointment are encouraged to discuss spa
options. Berns says that estheticians who aren’t busy will generally offer complimentary foot soaks to color processing clients, give them a skin analysis and describe body treatments. If a nail tech has time, she may offer a five-minute hand and arm massage while discussing manicures and even demonstrating the benefits of natural microdermabrasion on the backs of their hands. A five-minute demo can go a long way to getting them to book a $20 treatment on the spot, observes Berns.

She says these types of spa introductions are successful when the whole staff pitches in: “Our goal is to have staff busy all day long, no matter what.” That flexibility, and an understanding of your operating costs, will make spa in the salon easier than ever.

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