“Upscaling” Your Salon

What’s the difference between a grand, luxurious salon and a small local shop? Nothing…if you learn the secrets to fashioning a truly sumptuous environment for yourself, your staff, and—most importantly—your clients. In fact, when it comes to salons, I don’t believe size matters; it’s taste and attention to detail that becomes the true barometer of excellence.

Over the course of many decades in this business, I’ve seen the world’s finest hair salons and also some of the tiniest, most charming boutique salons; and many were equally worthy. Why? Because each had the hallmarks of professionalism that branded their business a “high end.” To help you swank up your own space, I’ve compiled a few golden rules to follow…details that, I believe, truly matter.

The meet-and-greet: Your salon’s first contact with the outside world is on the phone, so make sure reception employees use clear, correct grammar and a friendly, approachable voice. When new clients arrive, instruct staff to greet them formally at first (by Mr. or Ms.)…and when you meet them yourself, try warm, casual language, like, “Hi! You must be Susan. So nice to see you. Let’s chat for a moment.” Followed by, “Come this way and we’ll get started.”

The cleanliness factor: Immaculate windows and countertops, a pristine floor, sparkling windows and doors that literally shine in the light, robes and towels that are fresh, unstained, and carefully laundered—in my book, housekeeping counts big-time. Not only will a shabby environment prevent you from attracting top talent in the hair industry, but it will also turn off clients the moment they walk in the door. So go through your salon with a fine-tooth comb and scrutinize every element, corner, and surface as though you were doing a hotel inspection. Trust me, it’s vital.

Music for the masses: The sound of your salon should be a mix of modern, interesting, pleasant music that appeals to clients young and old. Unless you’re targeting a very specific clientele, skip the heavy metal, the rap, and the eclectic tracks. Even country should be verboten—unless you’re in a market where it’s widely accepted.

Dress to impress: Bringing your individual taste and style to work is fine, as long as staff is always dressed in immaculately clean, tailored, well-fitting clothing. Avoid anything sleeveless (would you want a bare arm in your face over the shampoo bowl?), as well as worn down or scuffed/dirty shoes. Haircuts, color, and makeup should reflect success, as well as the image of the salon. Trust me on this. Ever walk up to a cosmetics counter and slink away because the salesperson had on garish makeup and you were afraid to rely her taste and judgment? Or join a gym and avoid the trainer who was pointedly overweight? You need to practice what you preach every single day.

Appetizing offerings: Upscale snacks send as much of a signal as anything else in your salon. Coffee (fresh brewed, never instant) and tea should always be served in China cups or mugs; beverages—I like water with fresh citrus slices or cucumber—belong in glass barware rather than plastic. As for snacks: Cookies, grapes, cheese, and energy bars trump chips and penny candy every time…and they are best displayed in glass-covered dishes, both for sanitation and appearance.

Upscale accessories: Forget the plastic/silk plants and flowers—only fresh and “alive” will do (not just in terms of appearance, but they create a healthy environment for your staff). Magazines should be from this decade only…preferably from this year…even better, from this month. And keep stations 100 percent clean/free of clutter and personal items, like photos of pets or family, which lend too much of a homespun spin to the atmosphere. A salon brochure or business card holder should be the only items in view.

Be in the know: Having the ability to converse intelligently and interestingly with your clients is important, so keep up on fashion, pop culture, current events, and be able to recommend great retail, doctor, restaurant, and style sources at the drop of a hat.

Here’s the thing about every piece of advice I’ve given you: The concepts can be implemented instantly, on the most minuscule budget, and in any environment, no matter how small or large. But I promise you, they’ll have an amazing impact on your business and image.

Got any fun secrets to creating a luxury brand? I’m always looking for new ideas, so please share!