If your dream is to open a hair salon, now might be one of the best times to do it. According to a report from the Professional Beauty Association, the salon industry is growing. Since the recession, the industry has rebounded and analysts expect continued growth for at least the next five years.
While the timing might be right, you’ll still face a lot of competition. As of last summer, there were 974,000 salons across the U.S. But don’t let that number detract you—those salons are also generating $40 billion a year in sales.
To help you open a salon and begin generating sales of your own, we asked two salon owners to offer some tips to get your shop up and running.
Dallas Alleman, the owner of Salon Du Beau Monde in New Orleans, and Avi Shenkar, the owner of Philadelphia-based BLO/OUT, have different backgrounds and different business models, but share similar strategies for success.
Alleman has a 40-year history in the salon business, as both a licensed cosmetologist and an instructor. He has opened three salons in New York, Santa Fe, and New Orleans, and his current endeavor is a high-end boutique salon that offers all the traditional services.
Shenkar, on the other hand, is an entrepreneur with business experience, but no salon background. However, he has opened two BLO/OUT locations in Philadelphia and is working on three other locations. BLO/OUT isn’t a traditional salon—customers can’t get a haircut or color, just a blow out.
While the two owners have different businesses, you’ll find that many of their tips for success are the same.
Planning your salon
If you’re committed to opening a salon, you’ll need more than an ounce of determination to get started. Here are a few things you’ll want to do before you open your shop:
Make a business plan
No business can function properly without a business plan. You need a roadmap, a document that will guide your business to success. It doesn’t have to be a long drawn out process. In fact, you’ve probably already put together a lot of the information mentally, or even scribbled a few notes on paper. The point of a solid business plan is to figure out what your business is, how it will be successful, and how you’ll troubleshoot problems.
If you need a little help getting started, we’ve got some great resources for you including free business plan templates and business planning software called LivePlan that can get you on the right track.
Figure out funding
Whether you’re borrowing money through a traditional bank loan or have teamed up with investors, you need to figure out how much money you need to get started, and where it will be coming from. (Here’s a handy startup calculator to help you crunch the numbers.)
Find a mentor
As you’re planning your business, it’s a great time to find a business mentor. It’s best to find someone in the salon industry that can answer questions for you as you start and grow your business.
Put an accounting and inventory program in place
To keep track of your money and project growth, you’ll want to implement an accounting and inventory program. On the accounting side, you’ll need a program to track your revenue and expenses.
You’ll also need to figure out how you’ll pay Uncle Sam. You should sit down and chat with an accountant to help you get started.
You’ll also need a way to track inventory. Salon Today has some great tips on this particular topic.
Hunt for the right location
The right location is the difference between success and failure, Shenkar says, who admits that if he could go back and pick a location for his first salon he probably wouldn’t pick the same spot. You want to select a spot with good traffic, high visibility, and is located where your target demographic shops or lives. Be fussy about your location, Shenkar says—it’s vital.
Aside from touring around various locations with a realtor, Alleman suggests driving through the areas that you want to be located in and look for vacant properties. Just because there isn’t a “for sale” sign in the window doesn’t meant it’s not available. In his experience, people hang on to property for sentimental reasons and are willing to rent it out if the right opportunity comes long. It never hurts to call and ask the owner if an arrangement can be made.
Know the area
You don’t just want the right storefront, you want the whole package, says Shenkar. Do your homework. Know the demographics, the local competitors, and think about how your customers will get to your salon. Is there ample parking? Is a construction project planned on your block? You want to know everything you can about the area before you select a place.
Opening your salon
With the planning stages complete, you’ll move on to the nitty-gritty details of actually opening your salon.
Design your salon around the clientele you want
Before you start painting the walls and picking out furniture, make sure that your design matches the kind of clientele you want to attract. According to Alleman, this is one of the most important lessons he has learned.
“You want your customers to feel comfortable in your salon, so make it a place they want to visit,” he says.
If your customer base is the younger generation, go with fun, bold colors and furniture. For a higher-end vibe, go for a modern and sophisticated look. In other words, tailor your look to your intended client base.
Provide excellent customer service
After you’ve created an environment that your clients will love, you have to follow through by offering excellent customer service.
“Provide an experience for your customers, not just a service,” Shenkar says. “The overall experience is what keeps customers coming back.”
Set aside money for marketing
To be successful, you need clients. To attract clients, you need a marketing plan. Alleman suggests setting aside some money to market your business. Without it, you’ll struggle.
Create a killer website: For starters, you need a good website. If you have the money, hire a professional to create your website, Alleman suggests. If you’re tight on cash, there are plenty of DIY website platforms out there. Your site should be attractive, easy to navigate, and ideally include helpful information for your customers, such as hours, location, contact info, and pricing. Setting up an online booking system is also a good thing to look into.
Before you dive into a design, take a look at the sites of your competitors and try to design something that sets your salon apart.
Find creative, low-cost marketing ideas: Consider hosting an event like a ribbon cutting or a small charity event to attract more customers. For example, sponsor a school play or have the staff volunteer at a local baseball game. You want to get the word out about your salon, and getting involved in your community is a great way to do that.
Set up and utilize social media accounts: Social media is an important component to your marketing plan, Shenkar says. You can use as many platforms as you’d like, but make sure you post regularly and engage with your customers.
Don’t expect to make big bucks from product lines
As an owner, you’ll need to select a product line. There are dozens of options to choose from, and while some shop owners sell a variety of product lines, Alleman advises against it.
“I find that choosing one brand to work with is less confusing for the client and the staff,” he says.
Some shops can make big bucks selling shampoo and conditioner, but Alleman says you shouldn’t look at it as a big revenue source. You’ll spend money up front to buy inventory and sell it at a price to make a few bucks, but that money usually goes right back into purchasing more product, which is all the more reason to stick with one product line.
Growing your salon
With your business in full gear, you’ll shift your thinking from opening your business to growing your business.
Hire staff based on personality
When you’re first starting out, you might be the only employee, but hopefully your shop will be so popular that you’ll need to hire additional help. When that happens, Alleman suggests hiring someone based more on personality than skill.
“I don’t hire for talent—I can teach a new hire the skills I want, but I can’t train someone to love and nurture my clients,” he says.
You want your clients to enjoy coming in. Of course, you want someone who knows their way around a head of hair, but you shouldn’t base your decision on skills alone. Personality matters.
Continue marketing efforts
When a customer finds a stylist he or she likes, they usually become repeat clients. However, this doesn’t mean you should let up on your marketing efforts. Even if you have a steady stream of customers, you should build on the marketing efforts that you’re already using.
“I don’t believe in depending on any kind of business,” Shenkar says. “New client acquisition should be a full time job and should never be overlooked. Contentment will kill a salon.”
Reevaluate your business plan
A business plan should always be viewed as a work in progress. With each passing month, you learn more about your business and your customer base. It’s a good idea to go back to your plan, read it over, and make sure you’re still on track. If you need to make any changes, which is likely, do so now.
Check for ways to save
When you first open your doors, you may have splurged on a few things that you thought you needed, but really don’t. With your business established, review your inventory and see if you can make any changes or cuts to save money. Take a look at your monthly expenses too—is there anything you can trim back or get rid of? Maybe you can downgrade your internet service, or cut back on the amount of product you’re buying each month.
Opening a salon is a bold endeavor. As with any new venture, it’s important to plan as much as you can and be willing to adapt as you learn what works best for your business. You’ll spend a lot of time and money to get your salon off the ground, but Alleman say there is nothing like running a sought-after, successful salon.
If you are a salon owner and would like to add an additional tip to help prospective entrepreneurs succeed, please feel free to share it in the comment section below.