All along, it was my intention to roll out the 2013 SALON TODAY 200 application on the date that our STAMP (SALON TODAY ANNUAL MARKETING PROGRAM) applications were due, May 31. After all, it's quickly becoming a tradition to have a SALON TODAY recognition program active at all times, and we do our best to make that happen. That being said, I also listen to my readers, and there was some requests for some changes in the ST200 application process, and that change can only come after some quiet contemplation, and for me that takes a little bit of extra time.

So a week or so after I intended, I am finally unveiling the 2013 ST200 application. (CLICK HERE to download it now.) First, thank you for your patience, and yes, about a dozen of you have emailed me, eager to get working on next year's app. Secondly, I want to point out there are some very distinct, but exciting, differences in this year's application: 

Time for a Little Role Play. After totally reshaping the competition five years ago to focus on a variety of best business practices in addition to growth, we developed a series of three essay questions for each best practice category. And, while I'd try to tweak the questions a bit from year to year, a few readers voiced concern last year that for owners who entered year after year, the process was becoming monotonous and tedious. In addition, as we've seen the number of applications grow over the years, the burden of evaluating three essays for each category for each applicant  was becoming a little overwhelming for our staff.

So taking a cue from this industry I adore, I decided to get creative this year, and I crafted essays that invite applicants into role-playing scenarios. For example, for Customer Service category, I'm asking applicants to convince a Ritz Carlton concierge to add their salons to the hotel's list of preferred salon partners. And, for the Recruitment and Training category, applicants are asked to convince graduating cosmetology students why their salons are best places to launch new careers.

By presenting each essay as a scenario and inviting applicant to state their best case, I narrowed the number of questions in each competition category from three to one, effectively rolling a number of questions into each scenario. Yes, in essence, we're trying to get the same information out of you—we're just taking a  more creative approach. I'm hoping this makes the application process a little more interesting and exciting for salon owners, and the judging process a little easier for our editors.

Tackling Profitability. While examining growth and best business practices are ways to view business success, the gold standard always is profitability. And for more than a decade, we've considered looking at it with the ST200. But, comparing and evaluating a salon's profitability is tough. And, convincing owners to share that information is even tougher. But after forging a partnership with Scott Missad and Frank Gambuzza of Strictly Business over the last year in a series known as The Profitability Project, we thought it was time to take on the challenge.

After careful consideration, we decided that who we really want to honor are those owners who forecast, budget and plan profitability into their businesses so they can develop a more sustainable salon (and a more rewarding personal life) over time. For that reason, and also because we didn't want to ask them to publicly reveal the dollar amont of profit they take home each year, we decided to ask owners who are entering this category to show us the percentage of overall revenues that they forecast for profit (or planned) for 2011 compared with what they actually produced. And to prove it, we're asking them to produce a signed waiver from a financial planner, accountant or salon coach attesting that those percentages indeed were planned and produced.

(Note: It's important to note that there are 11 different competition categories within the SALON TODAY 200 and to be eligible, a salon only has to enter one category. Planned Profitability may not be the category for you this year, and that's perfectly alright—you have plenty of other options.)

Borrowing from the 2 to 10. One of the most important aspects of the SALON TODAY 200 is that the research questions we ask all applicants and the resulting data we publish in each ST200 issue helps establish important business benchmarks that all salons owners can use to measure their own businesses against. Another of SALON TODAY's strategic partnerships has been with Tom Kuhn's Qnity and ISBN in the 2 to 10 Project, a research project that studies the best practices of small-chain salons with between two and 10 locations. While most of the results of the study are only available to the salons that participate in the study, as a sponsor, we were privvy to the study, and I quickly noted that Tom designed some pretty sophisticated and savvy questions. Since he had asked to borrow some of the ST200 questions when designing his study, I didn't hesitate to ask if we add some of his illuminating questions to the ST200. So if you've entered the SALON TODAY 200 before, you may notice a number of new questions in the general section. For example, we ask "What keeps you up at night?" and "What single revenue-related key performance indicator do you review most frequently to assess the health of your business?" And before you start to sweat those responses, these questions are multiple choice— you simply chose the answer that sings to you.

Simplifying the Process. In the past few years, we've also had owners ask for a version of the application that could be completed online. We did try to make that happen for this year, but in the end didn't have the time necessary to reassure ourselves that we had worked all the kinks out, and the last thing we wanted to do was cause more frustration. So we opted to table that for a later date. But our designer, Himanshu Suthar, did create an application with fillable fields, meaning that you can fill in the blanks and check the boxes of most questions on your computer, then print your application and send it in. Although the essay responses still must be typed on a separate sheet of paper. But one step at a time...

Up A Notch. The overriding goal of the SALON TODAY 200 is to continuously raise the bar when it comes to salon business, while simultanteously honoring and celebrating our industry's most successful business leaders. To do that, SALON TODAY needs to continually examine this competition and ask ourselves how can we strive to be better, how can we best serve our readers, and how we can best add value to this industry. To accomplish that, I'm always willing to learn from and share with those who are blazing trails in like-minded areas.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.