Ever since I’ve run a salon, I’ve been banging on to the team about selling retail… or rather not selling enough retail. Always aiming at 10% of turnover, never quite getting there. Always preaching the “make it part of your pre-and-post consultation; diagnose, advise, prescribe” mantra, sometimes with little effect. It’s an anathema to me why some of the most talented people I know working in our sector simply cannot retail products. It simply feels too “salesy” to some, even though they’d happily chat through the features and benefits if you asked them to. Of course, back in the day, there was no alternative – clients bought professional products from a salon. End of. You couldn’t get them anywhere else. Yet, retail was still challenging even then. Pushing water up a hill springs to mind. Pinning jelly to a wall…
Now, it’s different. As long as a company has one measly bricks-and-mortar outlet somewhere at some undisclosed location in our green and pleasant land to merely fulfil the box-ticking criteria set by manufacturers selling in the professional sector, they can develop an online retail business that can go on to become a global super-brand worth millions – and which has nothing to do with their “salon”.
The manufacturers know it, and so do we. It’s hard to blame them in a way. With lockdown resulting in huge revenue deficits how else could they recoup the lost turnover resulting from this catastrophic pandemic? Of course, it’s seen by many in the industry to be “selling out”, and it’s hard to argue with that.
But who really suffers? Only us, the salons faithfully stocking the brands they really believe in – the very belief that has led to the desirability and brand awareness in the first place. Without beauty therapists, stylists, nail techs and barbers championing a product and giving it their professional seal of approval, its worth and consumer kerb appeal is questionable. The product endorsement of a fully trained operator cannot be undervalued.
Striking a balance
As a brand that sells in the consumer arena (we have the Richard Ward London Salon Professional product line in Waitrose and our brush Tangle Angel is sold globally), I appreciate and understand what every mainstream retailer wants, whether a grocer, chemist, department store or home-shopping channel: to sell products that are used at a professional level.
Nobody can underestimate the value that a professional seal of approval gives; whether it’s from an industry name, social media influencer or celebrity pro. Consumers rightly believe if a product is used by a professional it must be good – better than something you can buy off the regular shelf. And they’re not wrong. It’s about higher concentrates, better active ingredients and more potent formulas for results-driven, quality skin, nail and haircare.
Can we compete?
So where does that leave us, the salon owners loyally stocking the products that they swear by, love and recommend on a daily basis? Too many times I’ve listened from my office desk to one of my team faithfully conducting the proper diagnosis and then prescribing the problem-solving product only for the customer to sit and order it online in front of them. It’s heart-breaking and quite soul-destroying when business is so challenging.
We’ve tried everything, before you ask. Loyalty points that are redeemable on professional products only, double points, incentives… you name it, we’ve tried it. But Covid-19 has taught all of us as consumers that buying online is the safe, easy option. Technology has advanced so much we no longer even have to be home to accept the delivery. Amazing, but not great for conventional retailers, whichever sector they’re in.
Don’t get me wrong, our retail sales are OK – not dismal, but not fantastic either. But there is a salutary lesson here to all those manufacturers looking to make a very fast, very tempting buck. Every action has a consequence. Remember to look after the people you met on the way up, because you’re sure to meet them on the way back down again, when your product falls out of favour because the salon owners have moved on to something which is true to its professional roots. Once you sell-out, you sell-out. The damage is done.
Our best-selling SKU is a haircare product which, at the time of writing, is not available online other than through professional salons’ websites. We sell loads of the stuff. We can’t order enough of it, and probably the reason that it sells so much is that the manufacturer controls its sale so tightly. Clients know we will do a bundle-deal and they won’t be able to get it anywhere else cheaper. They know it works because we tell them it does. If they buy it online from an unfamiliar site, they worry they’re buying a fake.
It’s tough out there, I get that. But going mainstream can sometimes only be achieved by getting professional accreditation. The realisation that salon owners will look for new exciting, exclusive alternatives instead doesn’t seem to dawn on some manufacturers, which is sad.
Because unless brands truly value their professional users, they may find themselves on a slippery slope where their product loses its appeal and star quality all too quickly. And there’s no way back from that.
Hellen Ward is managing director of Richard Ward Hair & Metrospa in London and a beauty ambassador for the National Hair & Beauty Federation (NHBF).