The professional skin care marketplace has never been more competitive. To thrive or even survive, especially in today’s lean economic climate, Dermalogica district manager Aaron Sonnenschein offers this advice: “Train yourself to see through the eyes of the customer, especially a new customer you want to acquire, every day.”
The primary downfall of salon and spa owners everywhere, says Sonnenschein, is that they allow themselves to lapse into an automatic pilot mode. “This robotic mode may work when your appointment book is full for months ahead, and everyone in town knows every product on your shelf and every treatment on your menu,” says Sonnenschein, who is district manager for the central west sales territory of Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota/Fargo, Iowa, Nebraska/Omaha, Kansas, and Missouri. “But no business-owner really has that luxury these days. We are all hustling, and the key to hustling is to see the world through the person you want to reach most—your customer.”
What’s most essential to this consumer-based way of seeing is to create displays and floor-plans which are appealing, contain an immediate call to action, are flexible and are easy to revise, update and upgrade. While a static, permanent, formal style suits the architectural design of institutional buildings such as churches, schools and governmental offices, as well as traditional businesses which want to convey an image of stalwart stability, such as law offices and academic institutions, the key to successful retail is the opposite.
“Healthy retailing requires creating a fluid, personal space which moves and changes often enough to capture the attention of easily jaded shoppers. Consumers are all about the next shiny new thing,” says Naperville, IL-based Sonnenschein, who has received several District Manager of the Year awards and other honors from Dermalogica. “Retail product must be front and center, and the way the product is presented must be kept fresh, surprising and new. We are not an insurance company selling policies. We are selling an upbeat, fun, inspiring, and highly personal concept that needs to feel relevant, contemporary and absolutely necessary.”
Seasonal themes and holidays are an obvious marketing hook, and a great reason to get your team to pull together, stay late one evening and completely revamp your floor plan and traffic flow, signage, “hot spots” or “sweet spots” where key items are displayed, color palette, product arrangement and shelf-talkers in time for the next big holiday. Store “makeovers” for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, back to school, Halloween and the end of the calendar year should be mapped out two to three months in advance, and timed carefully with promotions and GWPs, as well as community events and advertising campaigns.
Sonnenschein adds: “Another key to seeing through the eyes of your customer is to step outside the gender stereotype. Valentine’s Day is a classic example. We think of this as a woman’s holiday, with rose-petals and bon-bons thrown everywhere. But don’t forget that the world is full of guys who are expected to not only remember Valentine’s Day, but also to present the alpha-female in his life with a great gift, not just some schlocky card from the convenience-store. Here’s an example of where spas and salons need to market to men, as gift-givers initially, offering the solution to a problem. This specific example is a great opportunity to attract new clients: at the end of January, start reaching out to men, not women, with reminders and offers for Feb. 14. Once you make the guy a hero on Valentine’s Day, then reach out again and offer him products and services for himself, like a smoother shave, sports massage, and more.”
Top 10 sales tips from Sonnenschein
- Rethink your real estate. A huge couch which dominates your space, and plush chairs which face into a vase of flowers, do not sell your product. Consider reducing the size of your waiting area. Use that space to display—and SELL—more retail, and train your team to work the floor.
- Make sure that retail is visible in a starring role. If your retail area is tucked away on the other side of a wall, behind the front desk, on the way to the treatment room, you are not doing your products justice. The shelves of retail products must be treated like catnip, like chocolate, like gold. Make them enticing by first making them visible and accessible.
- Seeing is desiring. We all get numbed by repetition. When we look at something long enough, it becomes invisible. This is true of products on your shelves. Re-arrange your inventory, and create sweet-spots with nesting tables and acrylic display cubes. People will see these highlighted products as they are seeing them for the first time. Change the layout, display and window once a month, minimum, to keep it seeming new.
- Get the big picture. Stand in every spot in your salon where a customer could possibly stand, including in the restroom, and take a digital photo. The good, the bad and the ugly. Put these photos into a PowerPoint slide show and review in detail with your team. Make two sets of notes: "Hall of Fame" and "Hall of Shame," i.e. what works, and what needs to be changed. This is similar to what coaches do to guide their players on to victory!
- Make it matter. Your team has to be fully invested. Rather than presenting the team with a finished plan and telling them what to do, involve them earlier rather than later in the planning process. Encourage brainstorming, where ideas are welcomed and received without criticism. Reward participation so that your people feel ownership and accountability.
- Start early. Develop a year-long calendar of promotional ideas, including new product launches, giveaways, events, speakers, contests, promotions and brand alliances with local community organizations, with the realization that it’s a moving target. Flexibility is always a sign of strength, not weakness. Each month, discuss the calendar with your team. Allow 4–6 weeks for major promotional/sale/holiday planning, and maintain your commitment to update your retail space, windows and floor space each month.
- Feel the love. Listen for passion from your team-members. If someone on the team really can’t get enough of a specific kind of holiday, or a specific aspect of planning, such as working with local charities, creating edgy window-displays, or coordinating merchant association participation, recognize this, acknowledge the interest, and give that individual a significant level of participation in that area.
- Know your numbers. Track your retail, service and gift certificate dollars to set goals for greater achievement. Review the numbers at the end of every week, and call a team meeting every two weeks to review in detail. Today’s technology allows the entire team to be present virtually if needed, through Skype, text and of course phone.
- Face the music. Identify with utmost clarity what worked and did not work, and make each meeting the time for proposing solutions. Make special note of products and services which under-perform, and analyze why this happens. In the best circumstances, sometimes products don’t move because they simply are not displayed properly, are not presented to the customer in an engaging way, or because key personnel cannot explain the product clearly and persuasively. Look into every possibility. When some aspect of your process fails consistently, it is time for a major strategic overhaul.
- Educate your people. It is essential that your team know the menu and the product assortment the way they know the alphabet. Sampling makes it possible for your employees to experience every product in an economical way. In terms of treatment, it is a critical part of your budget to allow your team-members to experience key services at least once. Require that they take written notes about their experience and report this experience to the group at the next meeting. This must be an ongoing process for your team, and ongoing education is absolutely the bedrock foundation for retail success. Brand-literacy, being able to speak effectively to customers on products, ingredients, treatments and services, is critical to your professional credibility. This applies to everyone on your team, including interns and reception-desk personnel who may not be licensed skin therapists. If they cannot speak effectively on your behalf, they cannot be permitted to come into contact with customers.