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London’s super-elite have one salon in their sights when they need the latest colour or most luxurious facial. They all head for Urban Retreat, possibly the most glamorous salon in Europe, where they rub shoulders with royalty and film stars and the rest of the super-rich living in the English capital.

Housed in the city’s famous Harrods department store, it is a unique salon with unique needs. With more than 250 staff, 100,000 clients on its database and 26,000 sq ft of space, it is, unquestionably, the world’s biggest day salon and spa. But it still faces the same challenges every salon has to deal with, regardless of size and location – how to ensure standards remain constant across every element of the business, especially during times of change.

This was tested to the limit recently when Urban Retreat switched its software system. The salon’s sheer size meant it was no mean undertaking, but the management team recognized they needed an updated system that was adaptable, with high levels of support and high-quality training, 24/7. And like all salons, it needed the new system implemented quickly.

Finance and operations director Emile Qadri explains. "All businesses change over time, and our existing software was increasingly failing to meet our needs and expectations, which was holding the business back. At various times over the past few years we’d investigated possible alternatives, but faced with the massive logistics and the need to train everyone to use any new system, we delayed and delayed. It just seemed insurmountable. But, finally, we couldn’t put it off any longer."

Urban Retreat has more than 20,000 clients coming through the door each month, but whatever the size of salon, transition to a new system that manages schedules, appointments, marketing and point of sale needs planning of military precision to minimize disruption. So the first step was to agree a detailed project timeline with the new supplier, including on and off-site training, with sessions tailored for specific levels of users. The management team also opted for a staggered introduction, with stage one covering bookings, schedules and finance.

"Rotas, booking and reports are the holy grail of a successful business so we developed a plan for Urban Retreat that focused solely on these areas for initial launch," explains Paul Tate, CEO of Shortcuts Software, which won the contract to supply Urban Retreat. "After a few months of bedding in the software, we returned to initiate the team into the next crucial area, automated marketing."

Training for the first stage started in earnest eight weeks before installation, with two weeks of user-acceptance training and four weeks of configuration followed by a further two weeks of end-user training. It meant carefully staggering who attended which sessions to ensure the salon had the complete range of skills available to clients at all times. Just because the team was upskilling didn’t mean the phones stopped ringing.

The second stage of training involved introduction of the full marketing platform, but this could happen only after the first stage was working smoothly.

Transition was set for September 2015, months after the initial decision to seek a new partner. The Shortcuts Software was activated and, with everyone holding their breath, the old system switched off. It is still available for historic reporting should anyone on the management team need it. Thanks to the careful planning and training, it went smoothly. ‘Implementation time was short,’ says Emile. ‘Even after the first day, the reservations and front of house teams were using the system fairly proficiently. There have been amendments to the system over time to refine it for the needs of our business, and no doubt this will continue.’

The new system has also been popular across the salon. Stylists and beauticians have welcomed being able to clock in and out through the system with ease, and view the unique live dashboard with images on their phones when they are not in the salon. The bookings and reservations team can now choose specific stylists, see a weekly view of appointments, check booking notes and view a client’s appointment history, while the checkout feature has made the procedure quicker and easier for the front desk team and the client, bringing a better service all round.

Meanwhile, managers are finding the wealth of possible data on income, profitability of services and retail sales an incredibly powerful tool. The White Space report, showing any free or unbooked spaces within the business, also gives them the opportunity to see which areas can be improved on and how quickly appointments are filled. For the marketing team, reports showing the success of particular promotions allow them to analyse what is working and what isn’t and see where improvements can be made.

Urban Retreat general manager Jo Harris says: "The retail team has engaged with the system more as they are checking their targets and constantly monitoring how much they have sold. Service providers are running their own reports and checking the client’s history and future appointments, and the reception team has access to more information on the client, allowing them to provide a better service at the point of booking."

The management team did their homework well. They didn’t look just for functionality; they also took into account ease of use. They needed a system everyone could use, no matter how skilled they were or were not on computers. They then backed it up with extensive training for all. Because the new system is more comprehensive and easier to use, it allows more data to be recorded about all aspects of the business. Standards were sustained during the changeover, and they’ve been sustained since. As for the clients, the biggest change they’ve encountered is the appointment confirmation on their phone. And they’ve all embraced that element wholeheartedly.

About Shortcuts: Shortcuts Software provides top-level technology to salons and spas across the world, offering solutions in nine languages to more than 14,000 clients in 46 countries. Its clients range from multi-site chains and franchises to single-site businesses. Designed specifically for salons and spas, Shortcuts is continually updating its core products with the largest R&D team in the industry and business experts across all the major markets.


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