Warm reception

Getting the reception area right in terms of both the welcome and the retail sales can make or break a salon, writes Angela Bartlett

Whatever the size of your salon or spa, possibly the most important area of your business is the reception, both in terms of its physical appearance and the welcome it offers to clients.

Reception sets the scene for the client experience and should be the transitional area from the hustle and bustle of the outside world to the tranquillity of the salon or spa. It should be a place where a client is happy to spend time – it’s the beginning of their physical encounter with your business.
 
I’m not telling you anything new when I say that the reception is a key place to display retail products. But are your retail displays effective? And is your reception truly showcasing what you do? Make sure that the products you retail are relevant and support the treatments that you provide. Too often when mystery shopping salons and spas, we see a mismatch of products that bear little resemblance to the type of treatments on offer. How often are your displays changed? Do they capture your clients’ attention and imagination? Try to be imaginative with your retail displays.
 
Show and tell
 
To price or not to price retail products on display is hotly disputed, I know some salons and spas don’t price their retail stock as they would rather their staff explain the benefits of the product alongside the price. However, not pricing products can really put customers off buying.
 
Think about how you view a dress shop that has clothing displayed in the window without prices. You automatically feel that it’s probably because they are expensive and out of your price range, so I would always recommend either individually pricing retail products or displaying prices on the shelf edge or in attractive frames nearby.
 
The comfort of your reception area is also important. In many salons the reception is often very near the front door, which can be a draughty and uncomfortable place to sit, especially in winter. At City Retreat in Newcastle we saw an exceptional re-thinking of the reception space which allowed the salon to keep it close to the entrance yet cosy by elevating the area and placing a curved and protected seating space facing away from the door, giving a snug feel to the waiting area.
 
Clear the decks
 
Unless you have a very large or busy business, when staffing reception the “less is more” rule generally applies. Too many people at a reception desk can be very
intimidating and offputting for clients. An industry colleague once told me she thought that during training beauty therapists had a large magnet implanted in them and that corresponding magnets were engineered into the reception desks, which explained why therapists who are not working on clients are inextricably drawn to the reception desk and congregate there to chat – to the detriment of the business. Consider how staff can be best managed between client visits.
 
When visiting salons for the Professional Beauty Awards last year, one of the reception areas that made the best use of space was Zen Lifestyle in Edinburgh (left). Client coats, record cards and range of refreshment facilities were all stored neatly behind glossy white sliding doors combing chic elegance with efficiency.
Chamomile Sanctuary
The reception at Chamomile Sanctuary, also in Edinburgh (below), was a lovely place to sit, feel soothed and unwind. It is the living room of a large Georgian-style house so it feels as if you are relaxing in someone’s lounge and really helped the transition between the busy, external bustle of Edinburgh and the spa-like treatment rooms.
 
Smiles go miles
 
I have recently been giving expert guidance to a new Channel 4 programme about helping small businesses and my lasting impression of the struggling salon was of a bored therapist slouched on a stool at reception at the front of the hair and beauty salon in full view of the general public. What does this say about the salon?
Staff demeanour at reception is critical.
 
It’s been said many times before, but I will say it again because I don’t see it enough – smile when someone enters the salon and do it with feeling. Nothing makes a client feel more welcomed than a warm and friendly smile.
 
Also make sure that you make immediate eye contact with the client as soon as they enter the salon. No other job that a therapist or receptionist is doing is more important than greeting a client. Reception is the beginning of the client journey and the first impression will often be the one that they take away with them.