While each of these salon pros takes a unique approach to marketing, all have earned their black belts.

Salon Marketing Masters: The Retail Queen

Karate, Judo, Kempo, Tae Kwon Do, Kung Fu-these represent a small handful of the different disciplines among the martial arts. Similarly, there are scores of ways for salon businesses to approach marketing-while one owner may choose one path to success, another may find their victory on a very different road. Black belts are acquired when owners gamble just the right amount on a campaign, choose a strategy that embraces their culture and enhances their brand, and succeed in fully engaging the support of their staff and the attention of their customers.

We've identified five marketing masters and dubbed them with our own titles-the Retail Queen, the Media Darling, the Digital Diva, the Promo Man and the Niche Marketer. While their approaches are drastically different, they all tackled their marketing missions with heart and determination, carving their own place in a difficult marketplace.

The Retail Queen, Inez Gray
The Media Darling, Kim Vo
Digital Diva, Aura Mae
The Promo Man, John Donato
The Niche Marketer, Stacey Weinstein

Salon Marketing Masters: The Retail QueenThe Retail Queen
As Inez Gray seeks a new outlet for her creativity, she taps into a surprisingly successful retail venture.

For many, the evolution from stylist to salon owner to business leader necessitates putting down the scissors and stepping away from the chair. It was no different for Inez Gray, owner of Habitude Salon Spa Gallery with two locations in Seattle, Washington, who a few years ago surrendered herself to the paperwork.

 "I would still do hair for shows and conduct classes for apprentices, but I had to stop taking clients-I felt like I was canceling on too many guests or when I was with them, I wasn't truly in the moment," she says.

What is good for the business isn't always good for the soul, and Gray quickly discovered she missed the creativity of cutting hair. Just before the 2007 holiday season, she found a new artistic outlet when she launched Offerings, an eco-boutique specializing in gifts "chosen for their powerful stories, fair-trade philosophy or just plain whimsy."

Offerings creates a whole new salon experience. Integrated into Habitude's existing salon retail area are Offerings-tables of handbags and jewelry, displays of pottery and educational toys, and racks of scarves and gift cards. Instead of competing with the sales of salon products, Gray feels the gift items bolster and enhance her salon and spa sales. Admittedly, 2008 was a tough year to measure, but Habitude's salon retail sales remained steady while most salons took a hit.

Habitude Salon Spa Gallery
Seattle, Washington

Owner: Inez Gray
Offerings' 2008 retail sales: $200,000
Percentage of salon's overall retail sales: 20%
Overall salon space: 4,000 square feet
Space devoted to retail: 1,000 square feet
Most popular Offerings items: handbags and jewelry

"Clients used to come in, get their hair done, read a magazine while they processed, and grab a shampoo-kind of la-di-da like they were buying dishwashing detergent," she says. "Now they stalk the handbags and linger at the jewelry and are in that sort of shopping frenzy mode we all know so well. There has been an emotional shift in the shopping-it's fun. And, for me, it's a delight to see women up and stalking the front in their foils instead of slumped behind a magazine."

The salon now is a place to multi-task, where guests pick up gifts for friends and fill out cards while their color processes; a place where women seize a handbag before their appointment and carefully transition the contents of their existing bag throughout a service. As a result, the salon has gained its own nomenclature. "The other day I overheard a guest on her cell phone say, ‘We'll be right there, we're shopping at the 'Tude,'" laughs Gray. "It's really deepened our overall brand."

The salon backdrop offers a strong retail advantage. Because Gray doesn't have to outlay additional expenditures for sales staff and space for Offerings, she has a competitive edge over other retailers in the area. While many boutiques are forced to mark up wholesale items two times over, Gray simply keystones or prices her items by doubling the wholesale cost. "My guests can go into Anthropologie and see a bracelet for $18 that we retail for $11," she says. Plus, she has a somewhat captive audience-a number of shoppers daily who've committed to being in the space to have their services.

Combined, that adds to brisk sales, which in 2008 totaled more than $200,000, half of which was profit. While her staff receives a commission on salon and spa products sold, "the commission on Offerings' items are Mama's," she says. But gift sales still benefit staff, because Gray carefully replenishes all items using a credit card that accumulates miles and pays it off each month. For every dollar the staff earns in retail commission, Gray is contributing a dollar in airfare or tuition that accumulates through purchasing for salon inventory." She says, "As a result, we're planning an educational trip to Milan."

The new atmosphere solidifies the culture of the business. Gray does offer all staff 20-percent off the gift items, so many now shop where they work.

"Another interesting dynamic is that the staff are wearing the scarves and jewelry and carrying the handbags, so Offerings not only changed our space, but the people walking around within it," she says. "Instead of the faded black all salon staff wear, they now are adding a colorful ethnic scarf or an interesting piece of jewelry-now they've got a conversation starter with guests."

The boutique also changed the way non-clients approach the salon. "It used to be a bit awkward for both the guest and the greeter if the guest is not a client and simply walks in to look around," says Gray. "Offerings gives them a comfortable landing pad, a familiar atmosphere to browse and do some treasure hunting, an activity we promote by putting the 50-percent off merchandise in the atrium."

Salon Marketing Masters: The Retail Queen
Purses, cards, scarves and jewelry-a peek at some of Offerings' displays.

In addition, the ability to buy things at wholesale allows Gray to make decorative purchases for the salon and treatment rooms, but now that decor proudly displays a price tag.
Before Gray launched Offerings, she wisely hired a retail consultant for about $500. "She taught me how to do it, taking me to market one day and introducing me to vendors," she says.

Now that the retail area is established, Gray spends two weekends a year purchasing at trade shows, and about four hours a month replenishing stock from catalogs. "The shows are fun, my husband goes along and it's a big shopping adventure," she says. "And, I'm always thrifting or junking to find tables for displays and fabric for table coverings. When's it's an order day, it's fun for me, and when I feel the need to be creative, I can work on a new display."

The entire experience has given her a fresh perspective on the salon. She says, "I'll go to a show and have lunch with other retailers, who are stressing out about backorders or broken glass on display cases-they have no idea how easy they have it-that's nothing compared to a hair color or bikini wax gone wrong."

Check out other Marketing Masters:

The Retail Queen, Inez Gray
The Media Darling, Kim Vo
Digital Diva, Aura Mae
The Promo Man, John Donato
The Niche Marketer, Stacey Weinstein

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