3) Work the freebies. “I’ll give a local hairstylist a 35-minute introductory facial and she might refer her clients to me over and over again,” says Cox. “Give freebies to people who are in contact with potential clients.” Understanding that her business was built one client at a time, Cox considers it a success if 10 people show up to an open house where she’ll offer refreshments and discounts on pre-paid bookings and retail. She even provides a free five-minute “zit zap” when an open-house guest’s blemish needs immediate attention. “That’s five minutes of my time, and it can lead to another booking or referral,” she points out.
4) Price it right. Cox hasn’t raised her prices since January, 2008. “We hear that we’re supposed to work less and make more, but that’s not the reality right now,” she says. With regulars already coming less frequently, she doesn’t want to push them out the door with higher prices. And she’s taken notice of how little business she now receives from third-party outlets like SpaFinder. But Cox does offer incentives, which, she says, “show clients that you want their business. Even 10% off makes a difference.” However, she also advises fellow spa professionals not to undervalue themselves by setting prices too low, as it’s hard to raise them later. “You don’t want to resent your own infrastructure,” she reasons.
5) Amp up the client experience. Cox built client loyalty with her signature treatment elements. “It’s the art of the detail,” she says. Some of her facials include unusual extras, like hot stone massages to arms and legs, even an eyebrow tweeze for a loyal client, or a paraffin hand dip. “No one is paying 20 bucks for a paraffin add-on these days, so if you believe in it, build it into your cost,” she says. “I’ll spend $5 on a dry brush to use on a client’s arms during the treatment. Five dollars, and I’ve stimulated her blood flow, sloughed off dead skin and relaxed her muscles. It’s something she’ll remember. And if she goes to get a facial somewhere else, she’ll miss it.”
From cold beauty globes to hot towels, Cox looks for small ways to make big impact. “Even think about your parking,” she says. “What are the first things clients see, hear, smell or feel when they arrive? Can you play some music outside or burn some incense in your entrance hallway?” Browsing at industry trade shows, Cox looks for new ways to excite clients—“There’s always an inexpensive new piece of equipment or idea to take home,” she says. She also doles out the product samples. “It works two ways: Clients love getting something for free, and I want them to try a product first so they don’t buy something and then return it.”
6) Accept and adjust. As with most small business owners, the instability of the last four years created a make-or-break situation for Cox. She finds herself booked solid one week and seeing just a few clients the next. “You have to learn not to panic,” she says. “Accept that your clients who are moms are busier in summer, accept that no one is booking treatments during tax time and so on.”
Cox’s survival tactic has been supplementation, which can be a bitter pill for an experienced spa professional to swallow. “You have to sit down and face it, that maybe to stay in business you’re going to have to make money doing something else for a while,” she says. “So dig deep to find what inspires you because that’s the only thing you’ll have energy for. Ask yourself, what in health or beauty or spa made you want to get into this business in the first place? Maybe you can teach a class. Maybe you make great handbags or bake muffins, so you start selling them. Maybe only three people buy them. But that’s how it starts. You begin by devoting a few hours a week. After all, you can’t just sit around wondering where everyone went.”
Pampered People Vitals
Location: Los Angeles
Size: 500 square feet (indoor space)
Facility: Two treatment rooms, bathroom with shower, retail/waiting area, outdoor space with garden and hammock
Founded: January 1999
Staff: Esthetician/owner-operated with two massage therapists brought in by appointment
Products used/retailed: Bioelements, Epicuren, GlyMed Plus, Vi Peel, Yon-Ka, gift items
Average service ticket: $150
Signature service: Ultimate European Facial (90 min./$115)
Philosophy: “You’re only as good as your last facial. Bring your ‘A’ game to each treatment that you undertake.”
Andrea Renskoff is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.
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