How the beauty industry has changed in the past 18 years

Fiona Fowley, owner and founder of award-winning Zen Lifestyle in Edinburgh, which is a finalist in both the Salon of the Year categories in the Professional Beauty Awards 2018, talks about the developments in treatments, products and consumer behaviour over the years. 

It only feels like yesterday that I opened the doors of Zen Lifestyle, so it was a pinch-me moment when we recently celebrated 18 years. We’ve seen some incredible developments in the industry in those years, in terms of treatments, products, market size and shape, consumer behaviour and client expectations. 

If I could pick two keys area which have seen the greatest changes in those times, I think I would point to the explosion of choice for clients, and the impact of technological development on the industry.

Rewind to 18 years ago and salons had a simple offering, focused on waxing, nails, massage and basic facials. When I opened in Edinburgh, there were only a handful of salons and spas and choice was limited.

Over the past few years there has been a massive increase in the number of salons in the market. In 2017, it was reported that more beauty and hair salons had opened than any other type of retail business.

We’ve also seen the emergence of myriad niche channels in the form of brow bars, waxing salons, nail bars, day spas, hotel spas, and laser and skin clinics. The choice for clients is now vast, while the competition for both clients and staff is more intense than ever. In this environment, I believe that only very professional salons offering superior value for clients will be able to survive.

Technological advancements

Choice for clients has also been driven by the breath-taking advances in technology, both in products and treatments. Salons can now offer a whole host of device-based treatments for the face and body, including laser/IPL, radiofrequency, ultrasound and LED.

This offers both challenges and opportunities. Opportunities for higher revenue and a richer sales mix. However, challenges include training, quality control, insurance costs and capital investment.

The millennial generation seems to have a shorter time horizon in terms of commitment to an individual role or employer, so this puts a lot of pressure on training when trying to develop advanced therapists. However, it does mean for dedicated therapists a career in the industry has become more varied, stimulating and rewarding than ever.

New communication channels

Client marketing has changed massively too. The internet, social media and salon software provide salons wonderful opportunities to connect with new and potential clients. A small beauty business can now do the kind of targeted database analysis and marketing previously afforded only by huge companies.

Yet, there’s one thing that hasn’t changed at all – we are still in a service business, and the essence of what we offer can never be replaced by the internet. We’re still in the business of making clients feel better about themselves than when they walked through the door. 

It is the quality of our human interactions and physical skills which define us as beauty professionals, and that will never change.