Grassroots Initiatives: Grow Simple Ideas

Grassroots initiatives grow simple ideas into big impact by inspiring action among your staff, clients and community.
Grassroots Initiatives: Grow Simple Ideas
Last year, when SALON TODAY posted a query on inviting readers to make suggestions on what editorial they’d like to see in our pages this year, one reader challenged us to write about how to develop a grassroots campaign for the salon.

In politics, a grassroots campaign refers to a movement that starts at the bottom of the political pyramid—with the people—as opposed to the top of the pyramid which is the establishment. Basically, “the grassroots” refers to an attitude of freedom, of creativity, or unrestrained enthusiasm, of people willing to band together for a common purpose.

It took our editorial team a few months to wrap our brains around how the grassroots concept relates to salon business. We decided it could relate to a number of initiatives—think marketing, philanthropic efforts or retention/referral programs—in which the salon rallies the staff, clients, like-minded businesses and their community to transform a simple idea into a campaign that generates big results. Better yet, going grassroots typically means implementing innovative and low-cost ideas that fit well with your economy-conscious budget.

Of course, the very best way to illustrate how you can launch your own grassroots initiative is to focus on how some salons, professional beauty companies and marketing experts are successfully doing this right now:


Grassroots Initiatives: Grow Simple Ideas

Grassroots Initiatives: Grow Simple Ideas

Want to start a grassroots effort, but don’t know how to begin? Start small—that’s the basis of any grassroots campaign. Focus first on your client base and staff, and brainstorm fun ideas to keep them inspired and engaged. Inez Gray, founder and owner of Habitude Salon and Spa, Seattle, Washington, gives special discounts to her salon’s biggest evangelistic clients—exotic dancers. “They are very connected with one another and spend a ton of money on color, extensions, wig styling,” she says. Real estate agents are also valuable: “They are seen by a lot of people, and someone moving in might ask them about a good place to get a hair cut. We give them postcards offering service discounts that they can hand out to anyone moving in.” Other clients who may be in a prime position to talk up your salon include personal trainers or yoga instructors.

Habitude also reached out to local tech firms with easy, low-cost marketing. To encourage their employees to book appointments during the slow lunch hour, they printed simple bookmarks that read: “15 minutes to eat, 45 minutes to relax. Lunch and pampering in an hour” and hung them in corporate cafeterias.

The copy explains they can come in with their bag lunch, get a complimentary soda with their hair cut, and be back at work within the hour. It includes the salon phone number and website, and invites the computer-savvy crowd to book online. “It feels cooler than a flyer and it fits in a pocket,” says Gray. “I don’t believe taking a ton of service menus and distributing them around town is that successful—and it’s super expensive.” A small card that drives people to your website is more convenient, and can be handed out anywhere, like coffee shops, banks and universities.

Gray encourages her staff to continuously brainstorm grassroots marketing strategies whenever there is downtime. One slow afternoon, the staff stamped $10 off coupons and hung them from a tree in front of the shop. “It may get a client to walk in, but if not, the staff’s day is filled and they can feel good about it,” she says. And in the end, “it increases team morale and gives them a giggle. It’s those things that make our day.”

The community aspect is a strong component of a grassroots campaign. As founder and president of In Ballard Merchants Association, Gray has helped bring together local businesses and pool money for co-op advertising. In turn, her neighboring business owners reward her work by supporting her salon in small ways.

“You can’t measure it, but you can feel it there,” says Gray. When her salon team participates in local festivals, they spread their fun sensibility. Their “spin to win” wheel awards eventgoers prizes like free giveaway product from manufacturers, and coupons for $20 off a spa treatment or hair cut. To boost interest, the salon also features a smaller wheel with kid-focused prizes, which draws families. While they’re there, staff encourages the moms to give the big salon wheel a spin.

Other community-based ideas Gray has brainstormed: art walks through local businesses and creating “a shopping passport” with neighboring stores that provide customer incentives. To take the idea a step further, consultant Nikki Brown of IM Marketing Group suggests businesses cross-promote each other through trading ads on their marketing materials or swapping gift cards for team or client rewards.

The dollar effectiveness of a grassroots effort may be harder to gauge than with traditional marketing, says Gray, but you will notice an impact. “Mostly we gauge the effectiveness by the spirit, the energy, the vibe—do they walk away with a smile?” And if you give your efforts time to germinate, you’ll be primed for future growth, she adds. “Someone may not come in today, but you plant the seed for the future when they may need to make a change.”


Grassroots Initiatives: Grow Simple Ideas

As you see the results of your grassroots campaign build, fuel its success by developing and communicating a brand message that clients and the community will remember. Sally Hogshead, author, speaker and marketing expert, calls your unique branding points “fascination badges.” These badges include such components as your product (how you’re different or better than the competition), core beliefs, actions, culture, heritage or “back story,” the benefits of working with you, and the purpose or mission of your business. Need help determining what makes you fascinating in work and business? Take Hogshead’s F Score test at “Use your answers to create messages that demonstrate what makes you different, better and more fascinating, than your competition,” says Hogshead.

Once you figure out what makes you fascinating, play it up as much as you can. Do you have a cutting-edge color department? Your city’s best therapeutic massage? Unparalleled customer service? Then enter contests or participate in polls to garner top honors and free publicity. For example, apply to next year’s Salon Today 200 Competition (view past honorees at, or campaign for your city’s “Best Of” award by rallying your team and client base. Then make sure you get the word out about your accolades.

Hiatus Spa + Retreat in Dallas, Texas, has won numerous awards for their massage and spa services from places like AOL City’s Best and Citysearch, reports managing partner Kristin Heaton Peabody. “Most of these websites create their own list of nominees and they alert us when we have been nominated,” she says. “We let our staff know, who alert our guests, and we kindly ask for their support on Facebook and Twitter.” The salon has also sent out e-mails to their guest database to garner support. When they win, they publicize it on Facebook where news spreads virally. It’s also posted on their website’s homepage for SEO purposes. “If someone wants to search Google for ‘Best Spa in Dallas,’ it will almost inevitably direct them to our site since we make reference to having received the award,” explains Peabody. Never underestimate the power of social media: According to IM Marketing Group, Facebook accounts for 35 percent of U.S. web traffic, and a Harvard Business Review study showed that after liking you on Facebook, fans give more referrals, visit you more and spend more money.

Why? Because they are constantly hearing good things about you!

Finally, let the press in on how great you are. Make note of your awards on press releases in the “About You” section and invite local editors and reporters in for services so they can judge for themselves. “It always pays off,” says Peabody, who says a writer for a widely read publication described her mani-pedi at Hiatus as “the most relaxing” she’s ever had. “We couldn’t have asked for better editorial!”

Plan the Event

William George, owner of James Joseph Salon in Boston, Massachusetts, is a veteran of coordinating events for charitable causes. “It’s great to work with a group and be part of something special,” he says. “There’s no good reason not to do it.” Fortunately, you don’t need a big budget to pull it off—just smart planning and lots of energy. Here are George’s tips to ensure it all goes smoothly:

1. Choose your charity wisely. Consider what is important to your clients—that’s what will get them excited to come in and help raise money. Make sure the charity resonates within your community, too. For example, if you’re a salon in New Jersey and your charity is in Latvia, it’s not a good fit unless you have Latvian clients!

2. Outline the details of the event. Plan how you can meet the needs of the charity, and how to make it fun for your guests. Break down steps into tasks and designate who is responsible for them. Do all the footwork in the beginning to ensure you’re not scrambling at the end.

3. Create a timetable. A common mistake is that people get too involved in the details of planning and don’t give themselves enough time for marketing. No marketing means no attendees. The media works months in advance, so think three-month lead time, not three weeks.

4. Build a concise message. A sound bite is in an important part of marketing, so find a way to make your point in a few seconds. Create five bullet points to put on your press releases and client postcards, and use as talking points to the press. The simpler it is, the faster people will get it.

5. Put together an outreach package. Create marketing materials that include a printed info sheet on your charity and a detail card on your event. Bring these to neighboring businesses when you solicit sponsorship and/or donations for door prizes, a silent auction or food. Remember, everything you can get donated frees up another dollar to go to your charity.

6. Expand your marketing. Send your outreach package to the press (and call to follow up) and community organizations, such as Rotary International or the fire department, which may want to assist your efforts. These partnerships mean more helping hands and more exposure. Continue to build excitement among your staff and clients, and encourage them to get the message out.

7. Make it great on a tight budget. It’s easy to overspend on unnecessary items. All you really need is food and spirits (which you should be able to get donated), some decorations and a good crowd. Energy and fun is more important than expensive decor, and your clients will feel the same way.

8. Consider growing it the next year. You can always make it bigger the second time around and add a fashion show. The planning will be easier since the groundwork has already been laid. As long as you have made it memorable, guests will come back for your second annual!


As you gain confidence in your grassroots campaign, consider joining a larger grassroots movement—one that brings together a wider community for a greater good. Philanthropic efforts have always been a huge part of the beauty industry, and many salon owners say that what they’ve gotten out of their charitable works has been far more valuable than the time and energy they’ve invested. Make helping others a cornerstone of your culture, and you’ll get back as much as you give.

Walter Claudio Salon Spa in Santa Barbara, California, has clients who have lost children, so they happily support the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation (TBCF) among other charitable organizations, says Angela Zungri, vice president of development and resources. That includes sponsoring and hosting a free spa day for moms with kids in treatment. “We open the salon, do massage, pedis and manis, and cuts, and we take care of people in the community.” The salon even invites other stylists to come participate and bring their own clients. “We build community across the board,” Zungri reports. “We had 25 professionals here doing skin, massage, nails. It was an all-day event.”

Other times, the salon donates a portion of their proceeds to TBCF and alerts their clients about it via e-mail blasts. “Our clients know we give back to the community and they come to us for that,” says Zungri. To broaden the exposure of their charitable efforts, she finds that benefit organizations typically have PR people who are always willing to help. “They always want to do that for us, it’s awesome,” she says.

Nuovo Salons Spas in Sarasota, Florida, has also partnered with competitors for charitable benefit. Terry McKee, Nuovo’s founder and president, says he’s proud of his salon’s reputation of being there for the community and charities. Even though it’s not the goal of his charitable work, he does notice that it has impacted his salon in a positive way.

“We have people support the salon because we have supported them,” he says. As another benefit, his team has been positively affected, as they handle themselves professionally and compassionately and are always enthusiastic about being involved.

Umbrella Salon in San Jose, California, likes supporting charities that are active locally, like Second Harvest Food Bank and EHC (Emergency Housing Consortium) Lifebuilders, which works for homeless prevention and services. They also support the national Locks of Love organization, with a unique twist, explains business manager Khiem Hoang. They ask freshman at the local high school to sign a contract stating they will not cut or color their hair. Four years later, when they are seniors, the salon team comes back to cut their hair and collect it. Not only do they inspire teenagers and the rest of the community to contribute to a good cause, the event attracts the attention of interested clients.

Umbrella keeps their marketing for charitable events simple and effective. “We e-mail our client base and tell them what the issue is and how they can contribute. Then we create a simple flyer and put the same flyer on Yelp, our Facebook page and our iPhone app—that way the message is consistent,” reports Hoang.

“At the end of the day, we have to look at the world beyond our chair.”

Chairs of Change

AS SALON OWNERS find little ways to transform their communities with grassroots efforts, Matrix is celebrating hair stylists’ commitment to personal, professional and social change with their Chairs of Change program.

Grassroots Initiatives: Grow Simple Ideas

“Matrix has always been inspired by the positive change that hair stylists create every day,” says Jennifer Rosado, marketing director for Matrix. “No client leaves the salon looking or feeling the same as when they arrived, and there is something truly amazing about the power that the hairdresser has to transform people’s lives.”

Grassroots Initiatives: Grow Simple Ideas

Grassroots Initiatives: Grow Simple Ideas

Grassroots Initiatives: Grow Simple Ideas

At stylists can “Create a Project” for positive change big or small—anything from losing weight, running a marathon, conducting a client makeover or organizing a cut-a-thon—and share their actions toward achieving that goal, as well as post photos and tips. Meanwhile, explains Rosado, clients and stylists can offer support or encouragement; fellow stylists can join in the project to make its impact even greater; and ultimately, stylists can enter Project Challenges where their ideas can gain funding. However, the biggest reward is that stylists can share the results of their positive change efforts and continuously inspire each other. As Chicago salon owner Nick Stenson notes: “As hairdressers, we have so much more power than we realize.”

The inspirational stories on illustrate powerful changes beauty professionals have already made within themselves and their salon. In one video message, Josh Ristaino of New York City describes how he went from being homeless with a chemical addiction at age 18 to currently working as a celebrity hair stylist. Gina Bertolino of Mystic Images Salon in Suffern, New York, talks about how she organized a fashion show right outside of her salon to celebrate and benefit the breast cancer survivor clients inside. Current projects on include:

• Charlene Prudhomme of Coventry, Rhode Island, is spearheading “Hair’s to a Healthy Weight,” which encourages “people with eating disorders to reach their healthy weight and rewards them with visits to the salon as they reach their goals.”

• Laura Polko of New York City, a diabetic since the age of eight, is cycling in the American Diabetes Association’s Tour de Cure event and getting other supporters to join her.

• Kevin Lane of Hairbenders Salon in Joplin, Missouri, is hosting former victims of Cambodia’s sex trade—who recently received their cosmetology licenses—in his salon to help them start their careers, so they can go back to Cambodia and help train other sex trade victims.

Visit to read more on these stories and see how you can join the movement. “These are all amazing ways that hair stylists are creating positive change and changing the world,” says Rosado, “and there are so many more projects, ideas and stories we hope hair stylists will share!”

Visit to see how the beauty community is making a difference.

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