Kristi Valenzuela leads the Front Desk Division of the Summit Salons Business Center.  (photo...
Kristi Valenzuela leads the Front Desk Division of the Summit Salons Business Center. (photo credit: Rhiannon Mack)Rhiannon Mack

When Kristi Valenzuela founded her consulting company, Crystal Focus, 15 years ago, she coached salon owners on all aspects of profitability in the salon, including marketing, retail and team training. In fact, she still teaches a popular class on conquering retail phobia at shows today.

But soon after she launched, she found more and more of her clients asking her the same questions surrounding the front desk—how to train staff, how to make it profitable, how to foster a good relationship with the front desk staff and service providers. The list was endless. Valenzuela saw a need and narrowed the focus of her education to an area every salon owner wants to see more productive and profitable—the front desk.  

On November 1, Crystal Focus merged with Summit Salon Business Center, becoming its new Front Desk Division. While Valenzuela is still at the helm of the front desk-focused division, the merger will help her and her team establish a broader reach to salons and bring more training and products to established clients.

Roots and Beginnings

In the early days of Crystal Focus, Valenzuela was teaching at a Maly’s show in Grand Rapids, Michigan, when Mike Maly told her there were a lot of requests from owners for a front desk program. So Valenzuela asked him what he thought it should look like.

“He created bullet points in our conversation, and combined with a severe demand from stylists and owners, my character—the Front Desk Doctor—was born.”

Valenzuela still does the Front Desk Doctor workshop, and it sells out wherever she goes. And now, Valenzuela and the new SSBC Front Desk Division is the recognized expert on front desk systems.  “We have dedicated our resources and time to develop videos, programs and products for the front desk,” she says. “We are passionate about it, and on top of that, we found our scripts create revenue.”

Before starting Crystal Focus, Valenzuela was a frustrated service provider who found the right hand didn’t know what the left was doing in the salons where she worked. “Because of that, my mission has always been to connect the dots between service providers, front desk and owner,” she says. “I wanted to open a company to help those communication lines as related to client experience. What I found was, when those things happen, it was easier to make money in every department.”

With an emphasis on customer service and sales, Valenzuela employs five other trainers who share her mission and passion.

These coaches went through an intense three-day training process in addition to sending in a pre-recorded example of themselves teaching. Recently, she has put another parameter on hiring. After analyzing the cost of training people and the type of person she wanted as a coach, Valenzuela made the decision to only hire those who have had the training in their salons and reaped the benefits.

“They want to be part of it,” says Valenzuela. “They see a different career path and want to do what we do. We made it a new standard this year that you must have gone through one of our workshops and be using our systems seamlessly to be considered as a coach” she adds.

Are You Ready To Focus?

You run a pretty good front desk in your salon. Appointments are booked seamlessly, your software is up-to-date and your front-desk staff is an asset to your salon’s culture. But Valenzuela knows there is always room for improvement, and more importantly, room for more revenue.

For owners who aren’t sure if a complete front-desk coaching program is right for their salon, Valenzuela offers a complimentary coaching call.

“First we send them a ‘discover’ sheet that gives us some basic information—how many service providers, average service ticket, etc.,” she says.

“After we look at the sheet, we complete a one-hour coaching session with some stats and projections, and then ask them three things they’d like to do with front desk or staff.”

Based on their needs, Valenzuela sometimes sends them her counterpart coaches at SSBC, but more often than not, her team is able to put simple systems and tracking in place that makes a difference.

If a salon owner still isn’t sure, she puts them in touch with another salon that used her  company has had a success with, and that owner sells the program based on his or her success.

Next up, comes the in-salon training. Valenzuela carefully chooses a coach based on personality, experience and size of salon to train.

“It depends on a few factors, but I wouldn’t match a trainer who works in smaller salon into a salon with three locations, for example,” she says.

Naturally, there are many salons that started as Summit salons who also work with Valenzuela. But she says it doesn’t matter if a salon has never worked with a consulting company or worked with one different than Summit—they can still be a Front Desk Division client.

“Over the years we’ve worked with a lot of salons with great systems in place from other consulting companies,” she says.

Coach Kristi Valenzuela trains her salons’ front desk teams to target 5 profit areas: Gift cards, Referrals, Upselling, Prebooking & Retail.

Once a salon has hired her company, Valenzuela has the owner peruse her main workshops: First Impression, Team Synergy in Action and Front Desk Profit Power. Although the company offers many other workshops, these are the key programs.

“We have a pre-call that helps us customize the perfect program for them,” says Valenzuela. “Probably 80 percent of the time what we hear in the call helps us customize and create a blend of what the salon needs. They can check out the programs on our site, which helps them pick and choose.”

When a Front Desk Division trainer comes to the salon, the whole team participates for the day. A system goes in place and follow-up happens via conference calls with the salon owner and any other key people. Valenzuela also highly recommends owners invest in phone coaching sessions, which are six modules, each 60 minutes long.

“It’s our after-care program on steroids,” she says. “Each module has a different topic, once a month. We keep them under our wing until they are ready for another program in six months or a year. At that point, they’ve already got systems in place and need advanced systems—it’s very customized.”

Principles for Profit

Valenzuela and her team waste no time getting down to business once they’re in a salon. The key take-away for the front desk team are her Five Profit Principles.

Valenzuela explains, “These principles are attached to the front desk to generate thousands of dollars more with the salon’s existing clients.”

The first three principles—gift card sales, referrals and upselling—are ones Crystal Focus can do projections on to see where the front desk is at and where it can go.

The next two principles—prebooking and retail—are team goals. The idea behind the principles is to create the most revenue possible from the clients who are currently walking through the door of the salon.

So how does the front desk implement these principles? With careful tracking and clear goals.

For example, a goal may be for a front desk staffer to achieve two upsells a day on services. So anything added to the book through the front desk is an upsell—a brow wax added to a bikini wax, a conditioning treatment added to highlights, a manicure added to a pedicure, etc.

“Let’s say at the end of the month, they create an added $800 in revenue,” says Valenzuela. “Then a second front desk person creates an additional $800. That’s $1,600 a month and $19,200 for the year—and that’s just for upsells.”

Gift cards are another opportunity to set monthly goals for upselling. If a man walks in and wants to buy his wife a $50 gift card, the front desk staffer tries to upsell him to a $100 card by telling him about a new spa package or highlighting service.

Valenzuela makes no apologies for encouraging the front desk staff to be great sales people. In fact, she points out consumers are upsold every day in every other business outside of the salon industry.

“Do you want fries with that? Do want the bra to go with the panties? Do you want a double scoop? Everyone is so scared to upsell because nobody realizes they are being sold to every day,” she says. “We need to have the techniques so nobody feels like they are being sold to—just like every other industry does.”

But at the end of the day, how does an owner know if a gift card sale or extra service was an actual upsell or simply what the client requested?

“It’s an honor system,” says Valenzuela. “But this person you hired for the front desk has a key to your salon and uses the cash drawer. If you can’t trust them to track correctly, you have the wrong person holding your key.”

Part of the training includes a strong message to the front desk staff: Lying about their tracking is the same as stealing and will be dealt with the same way as if they were stealing money from the cash drawer.

Referrals are more cut and dry. Front desk staff are given their own special cards that look like a business card on the front and say something like, “Be our guest. Enjoy $20 off a service of $50 or more.”

A salon’s front desk compensation budget should equal 5 percent of monthly gross (service + retail) sales.

“The front desk feels special that they have their own piece,” says Valenzuela. And for the salon owner—this area is easy to track.

For the team goal of prebooking, Valenzuela figures out the current prebooking rate and sets a new goal for the front desk and service providers to achieve together.

“If you add up the business that’s on your books for the next month, it should cover all your fixed expenses,” she says. “You shouldn’t worry about making payroll, rent, education classes—that should be taken care of through prebooking. If you know your business is secure because your main expenses are taken care of, it gives more of a purpose and ‘why’ behind prebooking.”

For retail, Valenzuela sets a goal of about two points higher in retail to service ratio (for example, if a salon is doing 17 percent, she sets the goal at 19 percent). This is also a team goal and the Front Desk Division puts scripts in place for the front desk to support the service providers and direct the clients into the retail area.

These five principles may seem daunting to a front desk team accustomed to simply answering phones and running the cash drawer. But Valenzuela maintains even if the front desk only hits the goals half way, the salon still makes money.
“Even if you’re really bad at this, you can still make money,” she says.

Eliminating Emotion, Embracing Numbers

Running a business should never be a guessing game—it’s all about the numbers. And numbers talk loudest when it comes to the budget.

How much of that budget should be allotted to the front desk staff? “Your front desk budget is 5 percent of monthly gross sales (service plus retail equals gross sales),” says Valenzuela.

“The size of the salon will help dictate how many people you can have at front desk. Smaller salons don’t even have a budget for the front desk and can only afford someone 20 hours a week even though they are open 50 hours a week,” she says.

The next step is to break it down into what you can afford. Valenzuela tells clients to figure out how many hours the salon is open and what hours will be covered. Then multiply this by the hourly rate and stay within the 5 percent budget.

Valenzuela also stresses you can offer a more experienced person more money, but they need to meet their goals. “Do give raises according to performance,” she says. “Everything we do is performance-related. But we don’t guess. We do all the math—it takes the emotion out of a business decision.”

Taking the emotion out of paying the front desk staff is good start, but Valenzuela recognizes there is often drama and emotion involved in the relationships front desk staffers have with service providers as well.

“If we’re doing all six steps as an owner and quantifying everything, the fastest way to close the gap is to show service providers that the front desk is making money,” she says.

At monthly meetings, Valenzuela recommends owners take the opportunity to say, “Hey team, just wanted to let you know the front desk gave you XXX more money on the books this month. Let’s give it up for them.”

Once the conversation has been started, you can then ask service providers how the front desk helped them this month.

“Service providers are quick to go to the mistakes the front desk makes,” says Valenzuela. “But a lot of forgiveness comes from financials. If we can close the gap in systems and scripts, then things like prebooking and retail become about a business relationship instead of a friendship.”

And that’s what the SSBC Front Desk Division is all about—creating a better, more efficient business with proven systems and scripts and accountability from the front desk all the way to the salon owner.

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