This is a phenomenon that we skin therapists have recognized for a long time. Chronically stressed clients often complain of periods of irritated sensitized skin, emotional red flushing in the boardroom or other high-pressure situations, and eczema flare-ups around exam-time (or, worst of all, right before the big interview, or even the wedding!). We knew there was a link but just did not have all the how’s and why’s.
Perhaps like the larger riddles of the cosmos itself, the human skin and its ability to adapt and evolve in our surroundings will continue to amaze and educate us. But the science of the skin is a small aspect of the phenomenon. As skin therapists, the real evolution is happening not in the lab, but in the lobby and reception area. How we identify, contact, interact with, and serve our clients – these areas are where the biggest changes and challenges in our industry await us.
The psyche of the skin care industry has traditionally been cloaked in mystique. In the early 20th century, the “facial” was treated nearly as a form of alchemy. Practitioners marketed themselves on the basis of their rigid rules, hush-hush beauty techniques, and imported exoticism, often French or Eastern European (and almost always French-speaking). Much of our industry’s classical terminology—effleurage, petrissage, tapotement, as strictly defined as a ballerina’s practice steps—remains steeped in this old-school Euro style.
And apart from the lingo, there was the attitude. The highly private treatment was given in a whispery, small, dimly-lit room, far from any other interaction. There might have even been a hidden entry and exit point, so the “lady” client and her secret to perfect hair and skin would never be discovered by a nosy neighbor. The four-story Victorian Maison Terry de Beauté in the United Kingdom, where I honed my skin care chops, was a perfect example. Today’s crystal-rubbing, dolphin-loving, “New Age” skin therapist has further replicated this aura of semi-mysticism, leading the client down a dim hallway to a cave-like room that is illuminated with flickering aromatherapy candles and has twinkly music playing in the background.
Those days are over. In order to make skin care relevant and profitable to today’s consumer, we must finally let the old business model go. Our clients do not want mystique or pampering, they want results and connection. And this is best conducted in the light of day.
FRONT AND CENTER
In the past year or two of economic free-fall, many of our clients say that they do not have time for skin care services. This is not quite the same statement as saying that they do not have the budget, although the two emotions and perceptions are related.
Today’s pressures truly make the languorous, rose-petal strewn “day of beauty” passé. Even the most prosperous of clients today feels time-pressured, has a more frugal mindset, and demands more quantifiable payoff for hours as well as dollars spent in the treatment bed.
This brings us to the first and perhaps most crucial part of the professional skin care evolution: the need to re-engineer and relocate the heart of your business, and offer some service in the front of the house to meet the needs of a changing consumer marketplace.
Bring service, and new aspects of the service, such as learning, testing, and “try-vertising” out onto the open floor. Think of the modern approach to upscale dining: the most happening restaurants place the chef and the prep-team close to the diners, since there is nothing to hide and everything to gain by bringing the customer close to the action. It is a liberating move for your clients, and for you.
Offer abbreviated, targeted services which do not require disrobing, so that they may be given just about anywhere in your work-space where there is access to running water and strong industrial lighting. A barber’s chair with neck support will do and takes up a lot less space. And before you jump in with “that won’t work”, consider this: who ever thought we would see massage chairs in upscale grocery stores and airports, or brow and threading kiosks in the mall? Also, remember that ISPA informs us that 46 percent of their member spas report an increase in shortened (30 minutes or less) treatment bookings, and 86 percent now offer shorter treatments.
Ideally, targeted services do not even require an appointment, creating a new spontaneity in your business model. Examples might include 20-minute treatments for blemish control, sunburn repair, puffy eyes or post-travel fatigue/hangover recovery. Now I am not suggesting that you take your regular, loyal, one-hour clients and convert them all over to 20 minute treatments – but surprisingly, when you offer these abbreviated “power hits” of skin care, you will find clients adding express treatments to their usual menu. This is great news for your bottom-line. Popping in for that Express Exfoliation Treatment before a big social event will soon become a favorite for them. More critically, the goal of the new breed of brief, targeted treatments is to attract all of those potential clients who have no history of skin care services, perfect for tweens, men, busy moms, and working professionals.
Here is a tip: Develop an active and current e-mail database as well as a social media following that you can e-mail, tweet, or post a same-day offer for specific services when business is slow. Offer a limited-edition product giveaway on the day of service to help get foot-traffic happening.
BELLY UP TO THE BAR
Another industry standard which deserves an update is the tester stand. Of course, this is a tried-and-true part of educating clients about product, and we cannot do without it. I am not suggesting that we get rid of it – I am suggesting that we expand it into more of a teaching and immersion experience.
If your skin care center, salon, or spa has one feature which needs upgrading, it may be your reception area. Is there a big sofa, a big coffee table, and stacks of old magazines out there? It is time to come clean and say hello to your new interactive space. The old reception desk and area is dead space, and it can be reinvented to energize sales by making the waiting option a seat at the bar. You will create a new relationship with a customer who may not be a service-client (yet…), but still has skin and needs a skin coach. Keep in mind that less than 10 percent of the population get treatments, but 100 percent are using some kind of products on their skin, whether it is professional grade or grocery store. So the potential for retailing and skin coaching is huge.
Ditch the couch and replace it with a bar with stools or even re-evaluate the reception desk – could part of it become a bar? This area can become an electrifying, energizing magnet for new business, mingling, and conversation as it lays the foundation for retail sales and future bookings. Walk-ins and waiting spouses will be drawn right to it, when offered a complimentary skin analysis, then served up the correct products for their skin, sushi-style on a tray, together with a headband, cotton and steamed towels. While looking in a mirror and using a mini-steamer, take them through a step-by-step, personalized regimen supported by your inside tips on the do’s and don’ts of good skin-keeping. Ever asked a client to show you how they use their products? It is truly enlightening, sometimes frightening, when you see them chug out gallons of cleanser and a rice-grain size of sun block. The coaching opportunity hits you like a spiritual calling to do more good. Regulars will gravitate toward it because they know they will be offered a free, refreshing beverage (hot herbal tea, chilled vitamin water), a relaxing steamed towel to freshen up, and a soothing hand cream application. It will undoubtedly become the epicenter for sharing, teaching, eventing, and selling.
TWEET TWEET, BUZZ BUZZ
There is talk these days about the demise of various social media venues, Twitter specifically. Some people say Twitter is “over,” but guess what? – it does not matter. Facebook and the universe of digital communication, which it has spawned, are with us forever. So, make it work for you! Begin by setting up your Facebook page and Twitter account, then add "Find Us" and "Follow Us" to every communication. Getting the e-mail address of everyone who is a client, has ever been a client, and whom you may someday want as a client is, however, the most critical “must do.” Social media is great for alerting in real time and staying connected, but the home mailing address and e-mail address are the core of your true database.
Next-post, tweet, and e-blast a simple greeting inviting everyone to your “Skin Bar Social,” offer complimentary beverages and snacks, capture all personal info by offering a raffle for a treatment, and do a skin analysis for every attendee. Get them buzzing around the bar as they try product, and if they are new potential clients, take them on a tour of your space. Before they leave, hand over a goodie bag containing your menu, any promotions, and a few trial-size product samples of your bestsellers. Now stand back. Your business is about to re-launch itself into overdrive.
More good news: Social media is not an alienating, dehumanizing force. Just the opposite is true, if you understand the psyche of users of the Blackberry, iPhone, Facebook, e-mail, and all the rest. People hunger for contact and communication. People who really do not understand social media say that Facebook and its various counterparts replace face-to-face interaction. The fast-moving information generation, which can include anyone who is receptive to the technology – regardless of the date on their birth certificate, uses social media as the means to make old-school style contact easier. I call them “connectors,” people who use hand-held personal electronics and the web to instantly share ideas, feelings, opinions, and more. Connectors reach out via digital media, then meet for cocktails, the theatre, runs on the beach, yoga, puppy-school, you name it. Connectors utilize technology to actually enhance intimacy, rather than deplete it.
The key to re-calibrating your skin care business to what is happening in the global market is making it easy for your customers to say “Yes” instead of “No,” thereby creating easy access to your service. Many skin therapists make the tactical error of thinking that this is best accomplished by offering discounts. In a word: Don’t. Discounting erodes your brand identity. And the true evolution of today’s skin care marketing lies in enhanced value, not reduced price. Although on the surface, the world may seem to be concerned with the price-tag, the deeper message is that people hunger for a feeling of connection, and enhanced contact. Instead of dropping your price to activate bookings, hold an event; offer samples and snacks. Raise the ante with a few gift-baskets which include certificates for a free service, which elevates value rather than downgrading it. Skin care is really the ideal medium and the perfect industry for this message of high-tech enhanced connectivity and contact. Because our profession relies upon human touch, we as skin therapists are the original “connectors.” Take a fresh look at your business, and you will see how technology and even a simple reorganization of your floor plan will bring clients back to your skin care center, ready to receive services, purchase products, and, most importantly, ready to spread the word to their social network about your business.
Annet King is the Director of Training and Development for the International Dermal Institute (IDI). Her responsibilities include overseeing the IDI teaching staff around the globe, as well as developing the curriculum taught in all 43 countries. Beginning her career as a skin therapist for a day spa in England, she was quickly promoted to Operations Manager. King then became a skin therapy and business lecturer at Plymouth College of Further Education, where she realized her true passion for teaching. Her next position was as a Spa Director for Steiner Leisure, managing luxury spas onboard cruise ships. She is a licensed skin care therapist, certified by CIDESCO and CIBTAC, an instructor, and industry author.