Leon Alexander is on a mission.
In fact, Alexander, who holds a Ph.D. in behavioral psychology and is the founder and president of the salon design company Eurisko, is striving to elevate the thinking of the professional salon industry on how to accommodate the consumer of the future. So passionate is Alexander, he recently wrote a book on the topic and is making the rounds speaking about it at salon business events.
A Window into the Consumer Mind takes readers on an experiential journey of understanding how today’s consumers think and behave, and how that understanding can help salon owners grow client rosters, improve the client experience and boost sales of products and services.
Creating the Third Space
“I don’t think future salons will survive purely on hair services alone,” Alexander says. “I believe salons will be competing with places like Starbucks to become the third space—a place other than home or work where people gather to connect with one another. We’re now designing salons with wine bars and coffee bars in the front of their locations.”
Alexander is encouraging salons to think of how they can drive consumers back to the salon more frequently than the average four to six weeks they visit for a service. “You can call your customers a client or a guest, because that’s the polite thing to do, but you need to start thinking of them as consumers. What would happen to your sales if you could get them to visit your salon two or three times a week?”
Designing for Behavior
Taking a note from supermarkets and serious retailers, Alexander designs spaces that don’t try to reform consumers, but rather gets them to move in preferred directions. “When we design spaces for consumer behavior, we are much more successful than when we rely on persuasion. The environment surrounding an individual encourages and supports behavioral changes.”
Many salon owners already embrace the idea of designing a space to create a response when they dim the lights and play soft music to help guests relax in the spa area.
“The same rules of environmental psychology applies to your retail space—you can design a space that encourages consumers to buy,” Alexander suggests. “The problem is most salon owners come from a service background and they lay out spaces from a service perspective, but if they begin to lay out the space around the emotional needs of the consumer, they begin to maximize the sales potential of their businesses.”
What does that look like? Take for example, the retail experience at the David Ezra Salon & Spa in Wayne, New Jersey (see above). When the consumer enters the salon, she is immediately immersed in a buying environment. Graphics and shelf-talkers grab her attention. Focus tables featuring launch promotions show her what’s new. And, the lighting and color scheme combine to create an experience that maximizes the potential of the retail business. The front desk is located in the back of the retail space, so to check in, the consumer has to take a retail journey, exposing her to the greatest amount of inventory for the longest period of time.
Why do people buy Cartier earrings, BMW sedans or Victoria Secret bras? “It comes down to dopamine,” Alexander says. “A designer’s goal is to raise your dopamine level while you are in the retail space. They know it takes 2.5 seconds for a consumer to make a purchasing decision. As the consumer exits, dopamine lowers and logic begins to return. But while they are in the salon, you should leverage lighting, graphics, shelf-talkers, and the direction of the pathway to maximize the probability of a purchase.”
The Three Es
“Your goal should be to create an experiential space—you need to entertain your clients as well as deliver a personal experience,” Alexander notes. “Ipads mounted on retail walls can encourage consumers to touch the screen for more product knowledge, touch again for a demonstration video, and touch again to get information on the promotion. Entertaining salon guests while shopping shouldn’t just rely on your sales person.”
According to Alexander, a store in London already offers consumers a virtual shopping experience by showing them their images on a screen and allowing them to try on every single clothing option and change colors without ever getting undressed. He predicts salons in the future will offer virtual personal stylists, where consumers can access their avatar in the network mirror and try on different hair styles, color applications and makeup before deciding on a service.
“Think about how Apple builds their stores—they create a comfortable environment that invites you to entertain yourself,” Alexander says. “Today’s consumers are time poor, not cash poor—the longer you can entertain them in your space, the more you’ll be able to retail.”
The winning formula for driving sales boils down to three Es—Entertainment, Education and Experience. “Entertainment keeps consumers in your salon longer. Education will create a higher average ticket, and experience ensures they will communicate to their social network about the salon,” Alexander says. “Remember, consumers don’t talk about average experiences. They talk about exceptional ones or poor ones.”
The three Es don’t only apply to the retail area. Alexander encourages salon owners to think about how they can entertain, educate and create experiences in all areas of the salon or spa. For example at The Mastery, owned by Arlene Lyons in Roswell, Georgia, (see above) a color bar accomplishes all three. “The consumer is involved in a fun interactive and energetic experience—they can play with the iPads built into the application table or watch the visual action in the color kitchen.”
Competing by Design
Fifteen years ago, companies competed on price, now they compete on quality and tomorrow they’ll compete on design, Alexander stresses. “Great service and functioning products will be intuitive, it’s design that will awaken a positive, emotional response.
“Design is emerging as one of the most powerful forces in the world,” Alexander continues. “Take iPhone for example. It’s not as technology-savvy as Samsung, why is iPhone the most popular phone in the world? Its design.”
Design is the number one determining factor in whether or not a consumer will purchase a product, and that will only increase in the future. It’s the seduction of your salon’s design that will lure consumers in and keep them there longer.
Each area of the salon though must have a design that’s conducive to its objective, Alexander stresses as he points to the Van Michael Salon owned by Van and Michael Council in Alpharetta, Georgia (see above). “The styling area should be designed to be aesthetically pleasing to the consumer and functionally operative to the service provider.”
A Future Shaped by Consumers
The future is not simply a place invented by scientists. Instead, it’s the sum of all the things that people will do differently on a daily basis,” Alexander says. “The anthropology of consumer behavior is a human phenomenon. When you understand how consumer behavior shapes the future, that’s where the real magic happens.”
According to Alexander, the question is not how you will compete, but how will you evolve. You need to create a culture of possibilities, then rise up and achieve beyond anticipation.
“Yesterday the world changed, now it’s your turn,” he says.
EDITOR’S NOTE: If you find Leon Alexander’s exploration into the consumer mind as fascinating as we do, follow his blog on salontoday.com.