Specialist subject

To stay ahead in 2016, make it your New Year’s resolution to promote the expertise of your team, and allow them to specialise, writes Hellen Ward

If you had a challenging 2015, don’t worry, you’re not alone. While the economic tide is finally beginning to turn, as 2016 gets started it’s still tough out there. And it’s not just the client numbers that are to blame. With experience of running my own hair and beauty salon, as well as lecturing up and down the country and speaking to a diverse selection of salon owners, I know that improving on your previous year’s figures requires total commitment and dedication. It really doesn’t happen by accident.

Even if we are lucky enough to be holding on to our customers, how and when they visit us is changing. Pre 2008, the average customer visited the salon every six weeks – eight times per year. By 2013, that had dropped to once every eight weeks on average. Bearing in mind the six-weekly statistic had been the industry norm since I started my career more than 30 years ago, that’s quite shocking. But get ready for the tougher news; research I’ve been privy to suggests that the frequency of visits has declined even more and is now at every 9.2 weeks. That’s three times a year less in the space of 10 years…and we’re not alone. That’s the norm for not just the UK but most of Europe and the US too.

Lead the way
So what can we do? Well, it’s key to create a call to action. It’s not a pushy “would you like to make your next appointment before you leave?” but an authoritative, specialist reason to come back: “I need to see you in six weeks’ time”, for example. We need to become more expert. Nobody questions their doctor, dentist or dermatologist when they tell them to book in for further treatment, because these specialists create a treatment plan so the patient knows exactly what needs to happen to get the agreed result.

Why should it be any different in the beauty salon? In order to have that pulling power we need to be expert at what we do, because people will pay good money for specialism. That’s why you don’t see a general surgeon but an orthopedic or brain surgeon. You become expert in your field and people will pay for it. And it’s not just in the operating theatre. Restaurants know they can’t be good at everything and that a specialised menu will attract more discerning customers. There are grill chefs, sous chefs and pastry chefs in the top restaurants, never just chefs. We’ve long practised it in the hairdressing industry.

In many salons people either colour or cut, and prices are tiered according to their experience. So the client for whom colour is vital can choose to see a technical director and get a blow dry with a graduate stylist, but the client who cares more about her cut than her regrowth can book an apprentice colour technician and a creative director for that all-important restyle.

Some clients go for less experience to pay less overall, while others will slash their gym membership and shop at Poundland in order to see the best stylist and colourist they can. It’s their call to make, but it’s up to us to offer the right options in the first place.

Expert touch
I’ve seen tangible results by letting my team specialise in their chosen areas. What I don’t want is vanilla – give me one scoop of mint-choc chip and another of pistachio any day. But woe betide the person on my reception who says, “they’re all good at everything”, because firstly it’s not true, and secondly it means I can’t maximise my price point and get the financial results each specialism brings.

People like doing what they’re good at. So is there any point in asking my spa director Gina to spend hours doing bridal make-up when laser hair removal and semi-permanent make-up is much more her thing? And ditto for Francesca, who loves all things creative but is terrified of some of the kit in Gina’s room!

I know that people will pay for expertise. I also know that some people are on a budget. And as consumer demand for personalised and customised experiences continues to grow, it’s the salons that are still trying to create a one-sizefits- all service that will suffer. There’s a little bit of Chanel in all of us, and a bit of Lidl too. The consumer will make the call, and if we let her we can all cash in.