Salon Retail in Small Town America

As you can imagine, I love to follow beauty industry-related magazines on Facebook and Twitter. I love to see new ideas for hair color, follow what’s trending for cuts, and I also love the occasional controversial article or Q & A about my line of work. I recently read an article about selling retail that struck a nerve.  What do the big beauty industry leaders know about salon retail in small town America?


Behind The Chair, which I have mentioned before on this blog, is definitely one of my favorites beauty industry publications. Professionals, if you haven’t been following Behind the Chair, you should start now. There are usually some great editorials, how-to’s, and even first-hand reveals of what’s new! Behind The Chair is for hairdressers, by hairdressers. These folks aren’t afraid of offending hairstylists, either, and will publish articles that so many in this business need to read, myself included! One such article came to my attention yesterday, but I won’t share it in its entirety since not everyone who reads this blog is a beauty professional. I will, however, share with you my personal thoughts on parts of the article.

The article was entitled, “5 Things You Might Be Doing Wrong As A Stylist”. These 5 things, without need for elaboration, were: Giving a bad shampoo (amen), treating your clients like ‘regulars’ (giving them the same style/color over and over), telling the truth too much (you know, TMI?), giving bad blowouts, and then the last one. The last one was the kicker. This fifth point was titled ‘You’re not doing your job’, and went on to explain that if your clients are buying retail hair care from anyone else, you’ve failed. This was when I realized that salon retail in small town America is a whole other beast that BTC and other beauty industry publications just don’t get.

I loved the article, and needed to read it. The start of a new year is when we all tend to want to spruce up our game, make improvements. I know I’m guilty of a ‘quickie’ shampoo when I’m running behind, and I’ve definitely heard myself saying, ‘same as last time?’. But that fifth point was the one which seemed to stir up defensiveness in everyone. I didn’t take offense to it by any means, because I do manage to keep a lighthearted view when reading these types of articles. But, I definitely can relate to those who voiced their strong disagreement with this statement. Selling retail to clients is not why I got into this business, and selling retail to clients is not what it used to be, not by a long shot…especially in small towns where the economy is at rock-bottom, jobs are scarce, and everyone is looking to save a few bucks.

Remember when professional hair care products were only sold in salons? Yeah, so do I. Why do you think that was? I will venture to guess it was because the creators of these amazing products wanted the users to be educated on the products, and have a good working knowledge of the products. If the drugstore brands worked as wonderfully as they claim, don’t you think we’d have Pantene in the salon? We use professional products because they’ve been tested by only the best, and because the results are DEFINITELY different than anything you could buy in a store. We use professional products because the companies who make them also make sure that industry professionals are educated about them, know how much to use and how to apply their products. We as hairstylists use these products on a daily basis, and we learn what is good for whom, what these products are capable of if used properly, and what to avoid.

One thing that the professional hair product creators failed to do was to find a way to keep professional products exclusive to professionals, and the products are less and less affordable as the years fly by. I do believe that some of the products are worth the money, especially when you’ve invested in your hair and want to keep it looking its best. But, having gone through some tight times myself, I know that not everyone can afford to buy products in the salon. I have definitely had clients take all of my advice, all the knowledge I’ve armed them with about a product, and then walk out the door without making the purchase, only to go and purchase it elsewhere because it’s a few cents cheaper. I have had clients tell me they would ‘just order online.’ I’ve had clients come in with a bottle of something we carry, all excited-like, singing, “look what I found at Walmart!!” My OWN FAMILY even does it, calling me up, bragging about the liter-sized BedHead found at T.J. Maxx (Jimmie!).

But, in this economy, it’s hardly a huge surprise. Everyone I know has cut out something or rearranged something in their lives to create more room in the budget. More and more people are resorting to at-home hair care versus seeing a professional. Honestly, retail sales is probably the least of many of our worries in the small-town beauty industry.  I didn’t go to cosmetology school and work all these years building a clientele because I had a deep-seated passion for retail sales.  I wanted to create, design, style…not sell.  In a time when many have to choose between food and medicine, I don’t think hair products make a whole lot of difference one way or the other.  But what people don’t realize is, the ‘professional’ products being sold in regular old drugstores are not guaranteed to be the real deal, have often been tampered with or damaged, and  are not really any cheaper than we retail them for in the salon.  The price difference, when there is one, is just not worth the chance of ending up with a counterfeit or out-of-date product, especially if you have to drive 30 miles or more to get the ‘discounted’ price.

If nothing else, Behind The Chair has given me something to think about, and some things to strive for.  Something I have been doing in the past couple of years is saving any and all samples that I come across and giving them to clients who just splurged on a new color or cut, but couldn’t afford the products in the same visit.  If they try them, they’ll usually come back to buy.  I use nothing but the best of what we carry at the back bar, and I show my clients what I’m using when they’re in my chair and tell them what the products do for them.  If they buy, great!  If they don’t, I’m certainly not going to go home feeling like I didn’t do my job.

Thank you, Behind The Chair, for another great article!  And to my readers, I wish you happy hair days, and a Happy New Year!  If you haven’t tried professional hair products, do yourself a favor and splurge.  Go see your hairstylist, and ask him/her what you need and how to use it.  I’ll bet you they will show you things that you didn’t know your hair would do!  Go ahead, spoil yourself! I certainly don’t think that salon retail in small town America is dead…I just think it’s something that needs the life breathed back into it.  You won’t be sorry for giving up a few lattes a month to have the best products your salon has to offer.  As L’Oreal has always said, “you’re worth it”.


X,O,X,O,   Martie