Yene Damtew, owner of Aesthetics Salon in Arlington, Virginia. Photo by Antwon Maxwell
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Yene Damtew, owner of Aesthetics Salon in Arlington, Virginia. Photo by Antwon Maxwell

When we first selected Yene Damtew, owner of Aesthetics Salon in Arlington, Virginia, as the cover owner for this issue, the world was a different place. While a handful of cases of Coronavirus had hit U.S. shores, most of the public still thought of it as a mysterious disease impacting far-away lands. While racial equality and police reform were topics of concern, today’s wide-sweeping national protests were still a quiet fuse waiting to be lit.

By the time we interviewed Damtew in late March, she had joined owners across the nation in temporarily closing her location due to the pandemic. The 400-square-foot salon, close to Washington, D.C., features two chairs and is home to five working stylists, and Damtew was working on a second, larger salon space just down the street.

Unlike many other owners at the time, Damtew was not panicking. She was confident that several months of cash reserves would help her weather the crisis. In addition, her team members immediately started offering their clients 30-minute virtual consultations for $45—doing assessments of the products and tools the clients had on hand at home and developing customized game-plans on how to treat, condition and style their hair.

A Fascinating Trajectory

When you examine Damtew’s history, there’s no surprise this owner and her moxie could confidently face an unpredictable crisis. As a young stylist working in an Orange County, CA, salon, Damtew had a mentor who was called upon to do Michele Obama’s hair when she and Barack were on the 2008 presidential campaign trail. When her mentor was offered a more permanent position, he recommended Damtew as well, and she started by doing hair for the Obama daughters.

“I picked up my life and moved to D.C. to be one of the First Lady’s chief stylists, as well as her mother’s and both Obama girls,” Damtew says. “But, I also wanted to develop a high-end salon that caters to all hair textures for professional business women, independent from my association with the White House. I’ve been working with the Obamas since 2009, but no one knew that until it was mentioned in an Allure article that talked about Mrs. Obama's hair color during their second term in office.”

Yene Damtew with her Aesthetics Salon team, including Frey Desta, Nikka Whisenhunt and Salem Desta.
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Yene Damtew with her Aesthetics Salon team, including Frey Desta, Nikka Whisenhunt and Salem Desta.

While catering to the First Family and building her own salon, Damtew also earned her business degree. “I worked full time and attended school full time, earning my degree when I was 25,” Damtew says. “I remember I wrote my final paper on the licensing and marketing strategy of an album Beyoncé was dropping with Apple, while I was working late one night during a holiday party at the White House.”

More recently, Damtew used some of the downtime of the pandemic to create “The Brown Beauty Summit,” the first digital summit dedicated to beauty professionals of color. Within a few days, she pulled together an incredible list of speakers—leading beautypreneurs and celebrity stylists, including Felicia Leatherwood, Tippi Shorter, Larry Sims, Nakia Rachon, Kahh Spence, Sir John, Ashunta Sheriff, Merrell Hollis, Keita Moore, AJ Crimson, Ericka Dotson and Tiyana Robinson to talk about the arts of flexibility, resilience, creation and community. More than 2,300 viewers streamed the digital summit.

The Tech Tools of the Trade

As the owner of a small bustling salon, Damtew is an early adopter of technology and leverages many of Rosy Salon Software’s features to improve efficiency, manage costs and gather data to make important managerial decisions. By embracing many of these features, she offers her guests and her team the best possible salon experience: 

Text-message confirmations: Some of the salon’s textured hair services are multiple hours long, so missed appointments seriously impact revenue for both the stylists and the salon. If clients cancel within 48 hours of the service are charged a cancellation fee—if the cancellation happens between 48-24 hours before the scheduled appointment; the client pays 50% of the service price. If the cancellation is made 23 hours or less before the appointment, the client pays 100% of the cost of the service. Using Rosy, the salon sends guests two appointment reminder texts—one 48 hours before the appointment and a second 24 hours before.

“Clients are more inclined to check an incoming text than an email, and this feature has really helped minimize our cancellations,” Damtew states. “Of course, if someone is really sick, we’ll waive the fee, but we can also look through client histories and spot the repeat offenders, and we ask those clients to pre-pay. Soul Cycle makes you pre-pay for a class and if you miss it, you lose it—like other licensed professionals, our time is just as valuable.”

Yene Damtew loves Rosy's new SalonRunner Pay for its low merchant fees and the ability to store credit card information in a way that is PCI compliant. "I can email receipts, which is eco-friendly, and it keeps all the client history." Photo by Atwon Maxwell
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Yene Damtew loves Rosy's new SalonRunner Pay for its low merchant fees and the ability to store credit card information in a way that is PCI compliant. "I can email receipts, which is eco-friendly, and it keeps all the client history." Photo by Atwon Maxwell

SalonRunner Pay: One of Rosy’s newer features is SalonRunner Pay, a credit card processing platform, which happens to be one of Damtew’s favorites. “I’ve tried a lot of software over the years, but there always was something missing for me,” she says. “The merchant fees with SalonRunner are low, and the system stores credit card information and is PCI compliant—and as a creative we hear the word ‘compliance’ and we tend to freak out—but I know SalonRunner Pay has my back.”

The hardware is compact and sleek and connects to the computer through a USB. “I can email receipts which is eco-friendly, and it keeps all the client history. Under the profile feature, I can merge clients int a ‘Parent-Child Account’ so if the daughter of a client visits, I can charge it to the mother’s card with her permission.”

With clients hesitant about handling cash or touching a pen to sign a credit card receipt, SalonRunner Pay’s ability to store the credit card numbers for clients is also helping minimize human contact in the salon.

Email Newsletters: Damtew keeps clients informed through seasonal email newsletters—giving guests a preview of the next three months. Each stylist participates in the newsletter, presenting a styling tip, expressing an overall message to guests or announcing any recent education they taken. The salon rounds out the news by announcing new policies, spotlighting new services and products and sharing information about any fundraisers the salon is supporting.  

Online Booking: When the overall ability for clients to book their appointments online first hit the beauty industry, salon owners and their front desk teams worried about losing control of how the appointments were scheduled. But today’s programs are much more sophisticated, allowing the salon to drive the way appointments are booked.

“You can even customize how long a particular service takes for a specific client with a specific stylist,” Yene shares. “For example, one service may take me an hour, while my stylist Jessica can do it in 45 minutes. You can actually customize the program, so the appointment is booked at one time length if booked with me, and the shorter time if booked with Jessica.”

Client Connect: A mass email marketing program available to Rosy users through an integration with SalonInteractive, this feature helps Damtew communicate with all guests or subsets of guests, for example, those with upcoming appointments. “This was really helpful when we had to alert clients of the closure because of the pandemic,” Damtew says. “But it also helps us fill last-minute cancellations and capture possible lost revenue. We broadcast any schedule openings to our clients, and we can fill the space without having to discount the service.”

“We also use the feature to send a Thank You to every client a day after their appointment—we ask them for their feedback and direct them to leave a review on Yelp or Google Business,” says Damtew. “It really helps us attract new clients.”

Reporting Function: For a data-savvy owner like Damtew, the ability to run a custom report is very important. For example, although the salon’s stylists are independent contractors and have complete control over the hours they want to work, they still are paid on a commission rate. Damtew can run a simple report that shows what each team member generated in a specific time period, share it with her accountant, and the funds will be deposited into the service providers’ accounts by the end of the day.

“But I also love that I can really study what services we are doing each month and determine where I should raise my prices,” she says.

The Advantage of Being First

As a member of the Friends of Rosy, an advisory board of owners and beauty pros for Rosy Salon Software, Damtew has both a say in and a sneak peek of features the software brand is working on for the future. In that role, she and Aesthetics Salon often are called upon to serve as a Beta-test salon for features in development.  

"Clients are more inclined to check an incoming text than an email, and text confirmations have really helped our cancellation rate decline." Photo by Antwon Maxwell
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"Clients are more inclined to check an incoming text than an email, and text confirmations have really helped our cancellation rate decline." Photo by Antwon Maxwell

Like many software companies, as Coronavirus cases climbed in numbers and salons started imagining the new client experience, Rosy rushed to develop new features that helped salons minimize human contact with guests to help ensure the health and safety of both salon professionals and guests.

Test Message Marketing: Going beyond appointment confirmations, text message marketing allows users to text simple marketing or informational messages to the bulk of their clientele at one time. “As we reopened, it’s been a great way to communicate information to guests about when we reopened, the new guidelines and how we want them to come—for example for a curly service, we ask that guests not was and stretch out their textured hair before the service.”

Damtew says these text messages help take away client confusion, but also prevent expensive gaps in the book. “For example, if the client wants to go blonder during the appointment but she just washed and irritated her scalp, we’d have to reschedule the color—but with our tight schedules, they can’t just get in the next day.”

Curbside Check-In: As owners are tasked to maintain social distancing and limit the number of people in their spaces, for the time being they don't want waiting guests congregating in their reception spaces. With curbside check-in, guests can notify the salon when they are in the parking lot and, in turn, the receptionist can text them when their service provider is ready for them.

Custom Service Fee: Many salons are charging a small fee for the costs of the personal protective equipment (PPE) or a sustainability fee for recycling salon materials. Through Rosy, that salon fee can be automatically built into the receipt, so a service provider doesn’t have to remember to add it each time.

Custom Message on Email Receipt: On the receipts that are emailed to the clients, owners can choose to craft a customized message, maybe explaining the custom service fee or encouraging guests to review the salon on Yelp or Google.

Enhancement Notes: If there is an appointment note within the appointment on the schedule, the appointment box will have an icon indicating that there is a note to read, keeping stylists in the know about client requests.

While the new beauty reality is posing some tough challenges for salons that are striving to get back on track with 2020 sales, technology is helping them adapt to the new changes quickly and easily while continuing to offer guests an enhanced experience.

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