Spa Marketing: Mature Client Care

A new class of salons and spas are popping up in senior communities.

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There’s one thing that doesn’t waver as we grow older, and that’s the desire to look our best. We’ve all known that put-together woman well into her 70s, who religiously maintains her weekly hair appointment and wouldn’t dream of being seen with unpolished nails. But what happens when that woman moves into an assisted living community or nursing home? Should she be forced to give up her coveted beauty routine and settle for a lackluster appearance? One Ohio-based company says, overwhelmingly, no!

It all started four years ago, when John Polatz, then CFO of a European-based industrial engineering company, teamed up with international cosmetologist Scott Fisher to help boost Fisher’s just-launched business providing cosmetology services to seniors in Cleveland. Once the business took flight, there was no stopping the duo. Polatz ultimately left his post and became full-time CEO of Salon PS, now a 200-location chain that gives seniors the opportunity to enjoy high-quality salon and spa services performed by a highly trained staff—in the comfort of their senior communities. The company is headquartered in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, where Fisher’s first salon still thrives and where he serves as Salon PS COO.

For Polatz, the career change has been a revelation. “It’s not work,” he says. “It’s incredibly enjoyable.” DAYSPA talked with Polatz about how the Salon PS concept works, and why it makes sense in today’s society. We also checked in with Kristin Hinkson, Salon PS regional manager for Arizona, California and Colorado, to discuss the challenges and rewards of running this unique type of salon and spa.

Delivering on a Concept

Polatz became aware of Fisher’s fledgling business when his wife, a client of Fisher’s, suggested that he use his background in finance to lend a hand. “At first I thought she was crazy,” recalls Polatz. “But then I learned that there were some 50,000 senior communities in the United States, and I could not find one company doing anything close to what Scott was suggesting should be done.”

Now, many senior communities already offer salon and spa services for residents. In fact, Polatz explains, licensing laws for skilled nursing communities (which number more than 15,000 nationwide) that receive state or federal funds are required to provide a salon as part of their hygiene commitment to residents, but Salon PS expands availability of services to a wider category of senior community and, in many locations, enhances the offerings beyond hair, nails and makeup to include massage and skin care.

“Most of what we do is take existing salon space inside communities and commercialize it through cosmetic renovation,” says Polatz. “We take square footage that has been underutilized and convert it into a valuable asset, thereby making a massive impact on residents’ quality of life—which percolates to the families and communities and then back to us. It’s a nice cycle of positivity and it just keeps going.”

It’s a lot of work, but Polatz and Fisher have the process down to a science. At the start of each participating senior community’s new project, equipment is drop-shipped to a salon, after which the Salon PS team comes in and secures local contractors to perform the renovation. This usually includes new flooring and/or paint and a cosmetic overhaul. “We do not move plumbing or electrical,” says Polatz. “But we make the area look as commercial and dignified as possible given the limits of the space.”

Once renovations are complete, professional Salon PS staff are brought in and professionally managed. Stellar staff is key to the operation. Kristin Hinkson, who oversees and manages 19 communities accommodating a total of 27 salons, brings a professional background in retail and sales management to the Salon PS team. Hinkson is in charge of opening and managing salons as well as business development, renovations and designs, throughout Arizona, California and Colorado. “I think the foundation of our company, and the concept of what we do and why, is what attracts all Salon PS employees, including me,” says Hinkson. “In many senior communities, the amenity of a salon and spa is overlooked, leaving residents with outdated spaces and operations. Our goal is to reinstate or create a level of dignity that seniors deserve. And because the salon typically plays a large role in the daily life of these residents, we have the opportunity to have a huge positive influence.”

Nurturing a Promise

Salon PS salons work hard at promoting their services. “We provide all communities with a start-up kit that includes up to 12 documents: letters informing residents and families of the salon change, menus of services, promotional gift certificates and more,” says Polatz. “Everything is geared toward helping the community communicate to residents and families from the outset and on an ongoing basis.” Specially designed templates allow managers to change text and create gift certificates, spa party invitations, holiday specials and more. All materials carry the same theme and bear the company’s butterfly logo (which symbolizes a metamorphosis).

An online gift certificate program (“Shop PS”) that allows for adding fun photos and personal messages enables family members to surprise their loved ones. Promotional flyers are sent out with billing statements before Mother’s Day, Christmas and Valentine’s Day to encourage purchases. “We see major spikes in our gift certificate sales when those flyers go out because families think, ‘This is great. I don’t have to buy mom socks or something else for Mother’s Day; I can buy her a manicure or five manicures, and then she can use them when she wants,’ ” says Polatz.

Introductory and periodic events help residents become comfortable with the PS Salon staff, especially for spa-related services. Even senior community employees receive a welcome. “We promote all of our services to the staff that works within the community,” says Hinkson. “The staff takes advantage of our services because it’s one less trip they have to make, and our prices for them are sometimes significantly lower than those of a commercial salon or spa.”

To Hinkson’s point, menu pricing in a senior community must be kept low or even adjusted down because seniors are on fixed incomes. “If we can take a set price down a dollar or two across 200 salons it really doesn’t matter to us from a financial standpoint,” reasons Polatz. “But it could mean that 10 or 15 more residents per salon will be interested in coming to the salon.”

Not only is PS Salon delivering on its promise to improve senior residents’ lives while maintaining a viable business model but it’s providing a solution to a long-overlooked problem. “We’ve hit the mark and defined something that I think people in health care have long understood needed improving,” says Polatz. “They never would have taken the time on their own to do it, but now that we’ve done it and can explain it, they see that we have the process, the strategy, the management and everything in place.”

Providing Unique Care

Haircare offerings at Salon PS salons include the usual cuts, color and perm services for men and women, as well as ethnic hair care. Nail care is provided selectively. “We offer spa manicures and pedicures—when possible—depending on the demographics of the community,” explains Polatz. “Pedicures can sometimes get tricky because of issues with diabetes.” In the spa category, chair massage is becoming increasingly more common, he reports, as are, in some cases, an esthetician’s services. “The massage and esthetics services really depend on the community,” says Polatz. “For instance, in some locations we offer paraffin waxing for hands when the dry season hits.”

Hinkson notes that, in her salons, the service menu varies based on the residents’ level of care. “Many of the salons in my region offer a full-service nail menu, a variety of full-body and chair massages, esthetic services and facials, makeup application, and some have even introduced brow threading,” she says. Depending on a resident’s level of comfort, a massage can take place in his or her own bed or wheelchair, or on a professional table. “It’s amazing how much comfort the caring and soothing touch of a massage or facial can bring; the personal attention in a comfortable space is very valuable,” Hinkson says.

Clearly this is a specialized clientele, and working with clients in their 80s and 90s takes specific skills. Fisher and Salon PS managers are currently creating training videos for staff, and they make use of the company’s enforced management structure. “Once we bring in a professional staff we manage it with our district manager, our regional managers and our corporate office,” says Polatz. “We just rolled out a partnership with the Alzheimer’s Association and the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America and we will distribute their educational materials to all of our stylists, giving them a frame of reference for dementia care, and adding an extra layer of quality to the service they provide.”

Salon PS staffs are recruited through every available avenue, among them beauty schools, online postings and word of mouth. “With so many people working in the salon industry, our job is to find the ones who specifically want to work within this environment, which is different from that of a commercial salon,” says Hinkson, who adds that the company seeks people with warm personalities and a passion for what Salon PS does—who also happen to be beauty professionals. “They’re out there, and we have amazing people who work for us, but we do a lot of interviewing,” she says. The advantage for practitioners is that there’s no book to build—there’s always a given number of residents ready to go. “You just have to show up [during hours that generally run from 9 a.m. to 3 or 4 p.m.], do a good job and your book is always full,” says Polatz. Salon PS employees can also participate in a 401k plan, access Aflac benefits and, soon, take part in a medical plan.

Salon PS prides itself on hiring tough and managing easy. “The respect we have for our staff is completely reciprocated by the attention they give to the company and the residents with whom we work,” says Polatz. “At the end of the day, all of the greatest marketing in the world would be meaningless if the 23,000 services we performed this past August were not provided with talent, a care-giving attitude and professionalism.”

And what the staff gives to its clients, it gets back threefold. “When community members say that they finally saw a smile from a typically grumpy resident after a visit to the salon, it’s a huge compliment,” she says. “Being able to see the impact of the work we do is the biggest reward.”

Family Connection

Families with loved ones in senior communities often find it difficult to maintain regular contact, so Salon PS has created new opportunities to connect. Whenever loved ones purchase a gift certificate for a resident, they then receive regular email updates alerting them as to when the service was redeemed and delivered.

Family members are also invited to participate in spa days, manicure parties and holiday events. “In the video section of our Facebook page there are video slideshows from the events we hold,” says Polatz. “We set them to music, publish them, and the communities send the links to family members. It reinforces our bond between residents, communities and families. Plus it’s fun and our stylists have a great time.”

Liz Barrett is an Oxford, Mississippi-based freelance writer and editor.

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