[Updated] Are professional brands damaging the salon market by focusing on retail?
With many leading professional brands becoming more retail-focused in a bid to keep profits strong in the highly competitive beauty market, the move has somewhat divided opinion among UK salons and spas.
While some see the strategy as a positive idea, helping to raise brand awareness and get clients through the salon door, others are unhappy that some retailers are able to discount professional products to such an extent that they are selling them to consumers at cost price, feeling like the professional market is less valued.
Two successful and long-standing salon owners share their opinion on the issue and reveal the strategy their business took because of it.
Opinion one: Donna Stothard, PB Awards judge and owner of Bedale Beauty in Bedale – “I dropped a brand and have been haggling with suppliers since”
“It’s no secret that the retail industry is becoming increasingly competitive. Although online shopping is popular and convenient, people still like to buy from people. A computer or mobile phone won’t give clients the face-to-face service or knowledge of their skin that we can. This edge is our advantage in the retail war.
“So, if everyone uses products and needs good skincare, then why are they buying them from our salon less and less? Is it availability? Lack of education? Or is it price? More recently, I’ve found it’s the latter.
“It’s tough because there’s never going to be a fair platform for high-street salons to compete with the buying spend of big shopping channels or online retailers, which is how they can price products so low. It’s truly gut wrenching when you see a professional brand you stock being sold by retailers to customers cheaper than what you can buy it at cost price.
“Is the brand’s plan to sell it cheap so they get greater product awareness? My view is, buy it cheap and it cheapens the perceptive value of the product. So, a once prestigious range just becomes another brand in the mass market with no differences.
“I was using a certain professional brand for a long time but ended the relationship for this exact reason. My overall yearly sales with their company had dropped and my loyalty and passion for what they did lessened, which is extremely sad.
“However, I stayed with my other brands and since then I’ve been taking extra time to build great working relationship with my RDM’s and I regularly haggle on costs, pushing to see if they will give me the great deals I see the brand offering on shopping channels or their own websites.
“I’ve even threatened to hold back from regular orders before while I was challenging them for a deal. For example, if I spend X on this order, what can you give me, your loyal account holder, for free, or what discounts can you offer me? It’s really worth a try. I then pass these savings onto my clients by offering VAT-free or buy-one-get-one-half-price deals.
“You have to be tough like this because it's a constant battle, especially when clients tell you they can buy the product you’re recommending cheaper elsewhere. When a customer says this to me, I smile and reply, “I can’t compete with those retail channels, but what I do know is that this product is from a genuine supplier and buying from me keeps the high street thriving”.
“It can be scary to be this honest with your clients, but I’ve found that for some people it’s opened their eyes and changed their shopping habits, with them now putting their trust and money in my business. It’s not about moaning to the client, but explaining to them why you’re the best person to turn to for skincare recommendations.”
Opinion two: Clare Rogers, PB Awards judge and owner of The Treatment Rooms in Brighton – “I weighed up my options and created my own product line instead”
"Having owned my Brighton-based beauty salon The Treatment Rooms for 24 years, I've seen many start-up skincare brands grow to become so successful that they’ve been bought by big-name retailers.
"For example, skincare company Elemis has grown at such a rate that it was recently bought by international retailer L'Occitane, spa brand Espa was acquired by the giant that is The Hut Group, Liz Earle has been picked up by Walgreens Boots Alliance, and Dermalogica, Ren Skincare and Murad are now all owned by Unilever. It’s a hot topic and one that has divided opinion in the industry, but I say good luck to these brands. It’s an amazing achievement to reach that kind of success and they should be proud of where they’ve got to.
"The only problem I have with the situation is that some acquired brands have become so focused on consumer retail that they tend to forget about the treatment market, with some withdrawing from it completely. As a business owner, to find another range to stock is a costly process because it means retraining your therapists in new protocols, as well as renewing your marketing materials and updating your website. In today’s market, keeping your clients loyal boils down to whether they trust that you've got a treatment and product range that really delivers, so who you work with is now the biggest, and often most costly, decision you make.
"I believe this is why there’s a wave of salons and spas developing their own brands (myself included), starting with a few staple products that can be used in treatment and retailed to clients for home use. It’s a favourable route if you’re unsure about sticking with your current product house, especially if it means no more competing with that brand’s exclusive online offers, which unfortunately aren't passed on to you as an account holder.
"Also, it means no more being told suddenly that something is discontinued or out of stock. The situation with product availability is yours, so you know ahead of time if something is going to run out. Plus, you can choose quality ingredients and know exactly where they come from.
"However, creating your own brand doesn’t come without its challenges. You have designers, printers and manufacturers to work with, and bringing them together can be a struggle. Also, having a big product name on your menu, especially if you’re a fairly new business, is a good way to get people through the door.
"So, don’t be short-sighted and only develop a product range. Create signature treatments for your menu too using the collection, and then you have the same solid route to customers as the other brands.
"This is a big choice to make and it needs serious research before diving in. Weigh up your options between the cost of launching your own brand and the deal you have with your product house, and go from there."
What’s your opinion on the issue? Comment below.
Disclaimer: the thoughts and opinions expressed belong solely to the authors and are not the view of Professional Beauty or Trades Exhibitions Limited.