Each year as the SALON TODAY team studies thousands of pictures and essays that are submitted by the Salons of the Year competitors, we try to pin down the trends, and this year is no different. Typically, we report on things such as popular color schemes, innovations in lighting or materials and finishes that are on point.

This year’s entries, though, vividly point to more overarching trends about the direction professional beauty is heading, the demands today’s customers are putting on the businesses they patronize, and the experiences that today’s retailers are delivering as a result. Three of these global trends spoke loud and clear:

LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE BOYS

For the last few years, industry research, including our own 2015 Men’s Grooming Study, pointed to the men’s market as a fast-growing, lucrative segment. Today, were seeing evidence that the industry is responding. Not only did a record three barbershops place prominently among our finalists this year, but Parker Barber and Royal Rhino Club Barbershop and Lounge also scored so high and so close, we declared a tie for First Runner-Up. In addition, a number of applicants—including Gene Juarez Salon and Spa, Five Senses Spa, Salon & Barbershop and the Fashion Focus Academy—built a separate barbershop experience right into the salon space.

GOING DESKLESS

With cloud-based salon software allowing full functionality on iPads and phones, many of this year’s applicants showcased deskless reception areas. Several other salons featured laptops and tablets on a reception table, and invited guests to check themselves in. Not only does this help busy clients get in and out of their appointments with ease but, it also allows the salons front desk to be more efficient—an important factor considering the rise in the minimum hourly wage across the country. In addition, a quieter reception space allows guest-service employees to focus on guests who are in the salon, and help them sample products or upsell add-on services.

 THE THIRD SPACE

The third space—a gathering space that isn’t the home or the office—has become an important concept for businesses looking to create a closer connection to their clients.

Salons and spas are a natural to fulfill this important emerging role, and our Salons of the Year took the initiative to build it right into their design. Color bars, color processing tables, foot-soak bars and nail suites invite clients to enjoy the services in groups or simply to interact with other guests in the salon. Lavish Salon in Friendswood, Texas, expanded this communal spirit by incorporating an art element of a cork board message center where stylists can post finishes of their favorite clients and guests can leave messages of appreciation for their service providers.

I encourage you to consider these three overall emerging trends as you tweak your salon and spa space or contemplate a new location—I predict all three are here to stay.