The Business of Skin Care
Q. How do I know if I’m ready to add skin care services?
A. You must consider several factors, agree experts, not just client demand— although client demand is certainly a big one. Christi Cano, a spa development consultant with Creative Spa Concepts based out of Kauai, Hawaii, says you should perform due diligence by envisioning who your skin care clients will be and what their characteristics are. Then consider if non-salon clients may be interested in your esthetics offerings, and how you will get them in the door. Finally, review existing spas in your community and their strengths and weaknesses: What services do they offer? What are their price points? How do they market their services? Are there still unfulfilled needs in your market?
Beware of the financial factor as well. Bonnie Canavino of Spa Specifics and Red Cherry Labs in Downers Grove, Illinois, advises adding a skin care retail line alone will cost between $2,500 and $5,000. Adding treatment rooms—Canavino recommends a minimum of three, as any fewer won’t fulfill clients’ needs or recoup marketing costs—can cost between $25,000 and $500,000 depending on materials used and whether it will accommodate wet or dry services.
Q. What is the minimum equipment/space I need for the skin care room?
A. “The average treatment room should never be smaller than 10’ by 10,’” says Canavino, because a massage therapist needs room to move and an esthetician needs room for equipment. What type of equipment? “You should provide a basic facial steamer, high frequency machine, hot towel cabi, UV sanitizer, wax system, five-diopter lamp, treatment bed, ergonomic technician chair and possibly hot mitts and a warming blanket for under the body,” explains Canavino, while an esthetician will usually provide her own small tools, such as scissors and tweezers. You might opt to bring in a galvanic unit, LED lighting, and microdermabrasion in the future.
Q. How do I choose a product line?
A. Know your market. You should already know your client demographics, including their age, income, as well as the demographics of your community as a whole. Your climate and geographical region may also be a factor. When you have this information, take a look at your own salon culture, says Canavino. “If you’re a ‘green’ salon, look for organic lines. If you’re urban and trendy, find one with cutting edge technology. And if you’re suburban/conservative, a cost-effective line is the way to go.”
Cano advises finding out about training, support and minimum order amounts from the manufacturer, as well as if the line is already carried in nearby salons. But don’t bother buying a warehouse full of products or carrying several lines. “Just choose one and commit to it wholeheartedly,” says Cano.
Q. What kind of skin care staff do I need?
A. While an esthetician is non-negotiable, a spa manager is a bonus if your business can support it, says Canavino. “You don’t have to pay a $55,000 salary,” she explains. “She could be at a lower base salary and get a small percentage of growth, maybe 1 or 2 or even 3 percent.” She recommends paying this bonus quarterly so you’re not stuck with the whole amount at the end of the year. The following year, she says, set up a new pay structure for the spa manager based on where your growth is currently and lay out new growth goals with quantifiable benchmarks. Even if you can’t afford a spa manager initially, make sure your receptionist is well versed in the skin care services you offer and the lines you carry.
Where to find these employees? Visit schools and host a booth at job fairs, post an ad on craigslist.org, put a sign in the salon window or recruit via Cosmetologists Chicago, a national organization (www.americasbeautyshow.com).
Q. What type of compensation should I offer?
A. “Commission should be no higher than 45 percent,” declares Canavino. “Someone with no experience and no clientele should be at fixed dollar amount per hour, and when their services exceed that dollar amount, they can go to 35 percent. As they grow, take them up to 45 percent, based on retention, retail sales and existing services.
“When you pay per hour, have a list of tasks for them to perform, like taking care of the relaxation area, working the front desk, cleaning retail shelves, and doing laundry. You want them to build their career and their expertise in customer service and all areas of the salon.”
Q. Which skin care services should I offer?
A. Don’t think you can play it safe by offering just the basics. You also need to offer acne, rosacea and anti-aging treatments at minimum, says Canavino, or you won’t be able to compete. Every employee should be trained in how to do each service the same way.
Above all, be flexible. If no one is booking microdermabrasion, transform that room into a massage area, says Cano. Salon clients tend to be more regular than spa clients, so if you can transform your existing hair clientele into spa clientele, you’re on the right track. Try offering a series of skin care services at a discount or giving cut and color clients a percentage off their first facial. A refer-a-friend program also works well, says Cano, because your clients are your best advocates.
Q. What pitfalls should I watch out for?
A. Apathy is the biggest one, say consultants. “Don’t assume if you build it, they will come,” says Cano. “You can’t forget the importance of marketing and advertising.” Get all departments on board, adds Canavino, so your stylists are talking it up to their clients and the receptionists is mentioning it to those calling or checking out. And be realistic: Have a financial plan with a real-world estimate for development and your projected treatment and retail sales numbers, says Cano. Recognize that it will take time to make your investment back.
Q. How is a skin-care environment different from a hair-care environment?
A. There’s a big difference between environments and it’s not easy to keep them separate, says Cano, who visits a massage therapist who rents a room in a busy salon. “I have to walk through a bright, exciting area where I can smell acrylics and perm solution to a treatment room in the very same space. I can hear everything that goes on in the salon.” Cano keeps going back because her therapist is so talented, but your clients may not be so tolerant. Pay attention to noise and smell: Your clients will expect a quiet, peaceful skin care area, and you want to exceed those expectations.
Q. What kind of questions do I ask potential spa staff?
A. A thorough interviewing process is a must for hiring any type of staff. Consultants advise communicating the culture of salon or spa to the candidate on the first interview, and finding out about his or her own goals, education and experience. Clearly define the responsibilities and expectations of the position he or she is applying for, as well as how the salon will support them through advanced education or otherwise.
For a second interview, says Canavino, ask potential managers how they would handle specific situations and confrontations. Have a potential esthetician perform a service on a staff member, and observe how she communicates with the client. What questions does she ask in the consultation? How does she guide the client through the process? How does she close the sale? How does she ensure that the client returns? Let the candidates know they will be doing this beforehand, so they have time to prepare.
If the candidate makes it to the third and final interview, discuss the employee manual and how they feel about policies and procedures. Don’t rush it, says Canavino. The more you talk to a person, the better understanding you’ll have of whether she’ll fit in your culture. A recent grad may be an easy fit, but you’ll have to provide a broad education program when she joins your staff. Conversely, experienced technicians will need less training, but it’s imperative they work within your culture, not that of their previous employer.
Q. How often do skin care professionals need continuing education?
A. Education should be ongoing, as things change so rapidly in skin care. The skin care line you carry should have an education program, says Canavino, and there are schools that offer CEU credits, as well as classes at various shows and events. “Get copies of every CEU credit your staff gets and keep it in their files so you know they are all up to date.” Put a certain percentage of their retail or service dollars toward an education account for each employee, or match their education spending dollar for dollar.
Q. How do I market skin care services to salon clients and who should I target?
A. Make a splash! Have a grand opening for your spa area or esthetics department with cocktails, mini services, product samples and discount coupons. Do it during salon hours, so clients will wander over after their hair cuts. Have your spa staff explain treatments to clients and make skin care suggestions.
Afterward, keep introductory spa kits at the reception desk with a service menu, massage or esthetician’s card, coupon, and other goodies inside, says Canavino. “Any client who has not tried the spa should get a kit,” she says. The receptionist should track those clients, and offer to give tours of the spa area.
Q. What kind of retail program should I have for skin care?
A. The standard is 10-percent commission on retail sales, says Canavino, or you can do a sliding scale if you want to go higher. To get your clients hooked, factor the price of a skin care starter kit into a treatment so clients have something to take home. Educate the esthetician on ways to recommend products so she doesn’t feel like she’s selling, and structure promotions so there is always something new to catch the eye. “Another key is compensating the front desk for retail sales, although the commission might not be as high. Receptionists sell to walk-ins and must close the sale if the esthetician is busy or not willing to sell.”