Every business needs to market itself, to get the word out about the availability, uniqueness, and quality of its goods and services. In the increasingly competitive day spa industry it’s important to make potential customers aware of a company’s distinctive qualities. As a result of all this competition, it’s also become more expensive to attract and expand on sales. Many spa owners have become disillusioned with the investment return of conventional advertising and promotion; particularly print ads in newspapers, circulars, and magazines. The few businesses that can afford television and radio spots have seen returns even more disappointing. Product and service discounting, while producing some new sales, often fails to expand either the customer base or profits, particularly profits since the cost of sales can rise in direct proportion to the depth of those discounts. Employees await new appointments like baby birds in a nest—mouths open and calling for the next parental feeding, often lacking confidence in the hunt for more business. What’s the anxious spa owner to do—litter windshields with day-glo flyers? It’s time for a little marketing lesson.
Begin by understanding that marketing is a complicated science, one almost requiring a master’s degree for those interested in mastering its methods. Most of us are novices at best, tossing precious advertising budget into a game we don’t understand, like first-time gamblers sitting at a table of card sharks. Unfortunately there are plenty of willing hands to help you lose money in this game. In this article I’ll offer you some insights and strategies for making the most from your marketing efforts, with a goal of gaining better results from fewer pounds spent or wasted. Before you commit to another advertising contract, print a new brochure, or stamp another mass mailing take the time to approach marketing from a different angle.
Marketing: What’s the Point?
In consulting with spa operators I’m yet to meet one that didn’t have questions about marketing at the top of their list. When I ask why marketing is so important they look at me as if they had made a horrible mistake by hiring me. Those operators exclaim that marketing is so important because we need to find more customers, to get the word out that we’re here! And here is precisely the problem with many business’s marketing efforts—it’s all about attracting MORE customers, not about making the most of the customers they do attract. Their trading bucket has a big unseen hole in it, and great time and money is spent in searching out enough inflow to keep the thing full. This is a losing game if ever there was one. The point I want to make is that it’s wasteful to buy “front-end” marketing when you don’t make the most of new or existing customers currently.
Maybe more marketing isn’t what you need, yet. Maybe what you do need is a more efficient means of maximising every client opportunity. How would you know this? Let’s find out.
“I Need More Customers…Don’t I?”
Once I saw my aunt brilliantly solve a problem with an unhappy child. She had given him a small chocolate bar as a treat but, rather than being pleased he immediately flew into a crying fit because he didn’t want one-but two pieces of candy. She took the bar from his hand, broke it in two, and then returned it to him saying, “There, now you have two pieces.” I couldn’t believe that it worked, but it did, and I learned something valuable from that example myself—that there are ways to make more of something without actually having more in quantity.
These are some valuable questions to ask yourself about the way you do business with your customers:
Do they buy all of the retail products from me that they could or would?
Do I or my my employees faithfully try to upgrade customers’ services?
Is everyone in the spa doing their best to reschedule and retain clients?
Do I have a reliable system of contacting clients we haven’t seen in a long time?
Do I or employees always ask their clients for referrals or is that left to chance?
Are my receptionists or myself properly trained in, and rewarded for, telephone service sales and upgrades?
Are receptionists properly trained to conduct post-treatment and walk-in product sales?
Do I know how to motivate employees in sales and self-promotion as well as I could?
Are employees taught to sell our most profitable services and products to clients
instead of what they’re most comfortable with or prefer themselves?
Do I spend as much time improving company performance in these areas as I do in other
Is our advertising investment really working for us?
What’s cheaper—to bring in new, but undersold, customers or to increase the value of those
that we already have?
See where I’m heading? A close look at your present marketing efforts may reveal a sleeping giant that’s barely been touched. You don’t want to spend more money on additional weakly performing promotions, not with all of this pre-paid potential lying dormant in your business. The last thing that you need is to increase your cost of sales through elevated advertising expenses, particularly when history shows that you may be wasting the fruit of those ads as it is.
Now you can really do something positive with your past marketing investment. Let me show you how.
Taking Responsibility: The Main Event
As hard as it may be, you’ll need to accept the fact that all things happen in your business because you, the manager, allow them to happen. You’re probably thinking, “hey, how can I help it if an employee fails to sell a product, is poor at rebooking clients, or runs late all of the time in his or her appointments?” It’s simple: if you train for the behaviour that your business demands, closely monitor employee performance, and then take appropriate action (including termination) upon the failure to meet your standards, you’ll eventually achieve an improved overall company performance. It’s your show—never expect employees to voluntarily perform like the caring professionals you trust they are. Some will deliver and others will fall behind, but your role as manager demands that you keep the front line tight. In other words, their failure is your failure. Are we together on this? Good! Read on.
Discovering the marketing gold in your business
You don’t need a bigger pan or a wider river—you already have everything right in front of you. You do need a keener eye for detail, however. Let’s run through this short list and see where there might be some overlooked nuggets in your spa.
Do you require your employees to achieve a certain level of retail sales per pay period? I don’t mean expect but require—the achievement of a set level of sales backed up by weekly tracking, retraining for those that fail or refuse to participate, and termination of those that won’t handle this professional responsibility as they should. How often do you train employees on retail sales? If you leave this item up to product vendors you’ll get very little in the way of uniform sales performance. Retail productivity is a “zero-option” job performance requirement in any spa business I consult for, perhaps one of the most critical revenue sources in this cost-heavy industry. If you have tried in the past, brought in sales training and that training didn’t seem to sustain results, you’ll need to ask yourself why that happened. Have you given up on it? You must keep looking for the answer, perhaps through some management training instead of more retail classes. Pass this one up and you can skip the rest of my list.
Do you have a requirement for this? A plan? Train on it? Script it? Measure it? How effective are your employees—all of them—at selling service upgrades? This is one of the simplest and most low-cost means of adding considerable daily business revenue. Most spa operators leave upgrading services to volunteerism or the famous, “Well, I expect them to do it.” Expect=reject. You must require the activity you want and need from employees.
Okay, it’s been a prolonged winter, so just about every facial client is experiencing a drier-than-usual skin condition. Your estheticians know this. They see it every day and saw it last year and every year of their professional life. Their clients don’t want dry skin, and there’s something the esthetician can do to help prevent it before the problem sets in—isn’t that what they’re supposed to do? Of course. So here’s what you do: have a meeting with estheticians and plan a end of winter conditioning treatment upgrade for facial clients. Teach them to suggest to every appropriate client that, “I have a special vitamin C and collagen serum treatment (make it up from existing products or find something that will suffice) that will help to deeply hydrate and protect your skin for the dryness of the prolonged winter months. It feels wonderful, leaves the skin amazingly soft, and will work to prevent the fine lines and rough skin texture that cold weather causes. And it’s only £28.00 in addition. How does that sound?” Easy sale. Then the esthetician should recommend a special hydrating mask for home use during the next 6 weeks to continue the protection and smoothing process. Plan it, teach it, measure it, reward on it, but require it!
What’s your per employee client retention percentage? What? Don’t have one? How do you track performance? Are employees trained on the fine art of initiating client re-bookings? How effective is the method? Who on your team is very good at this? What’s their method? You can dig all day into this question, and you should! A returning customer is the most valuable asset your company has—expensive to find and very expensive to lose! How big is the hole in your bucket? Nothing is more wasteful in terms of marketing than the willful loss of the customers that marketing brought you. If you have a problem here then this is one of the first places to reroute your advertising pounds to.
How many inactive clients do you have? I don’t mean the lady with the gift certificate from 2 years ago, but those formerly happy regular customers that, for some unknown reason, suddenly dropped from the appointment schedule. Where have they gone, and why? Not sure? Well, one this is for sure—they’re missing and so is the money that you once enjoyed every month. And you need these clients to come back if that’s at all possible! Today’s busy client is challenged to find time in their schedules to maintain even the more pleasurable pursuits in life. One little blip in their routine can result in an extended absence from your spa.
Many business owners I’ve talked with assume the worst about these missing customers: that they’ve moved away, lost interest, are unhappy with the spa, found somewhere else to go, are suffering under the bad economy, and a string of other imagined excuses. But when I ask how often they call these customers I’m usually told that they don’t. Some will send reminder cards, often in form format and impersonal but, while better than nothing at all, these rarely generate the desired revival of patronage. Worse, these reminder notices sometimes offer a discount on the next service—where the spa takes a financial hit over the assumption that money was the reason the client suspended their service habit. The truth is that we don’t know why this client has not been visiting us lately. A warm and friendly phone call will provide that answer. They’re cheaper than postage stamps (local calls, anyway), more personal than paper, and they allow you to engage the customer in a little promoting. Remember, the spa business is based on relationships not commodities, and if you’re afraid to call your customers then your service commitment is probably weak as well, and showing. You’ll find that you can probably revive at least 25% of all recently missing (last 12 months) clients via direct contact. And what you’ll discover are people who have long wanted to get back to the spa—a place they love to visit—but “just haven’t gotten around to it.” If you have 40 missing customers and can retrieve 10 of them you’ve likely out-performed some very expensive advertising. Better yet, these customers already like, trust, and have done business with you. Don’t you wish that you could attract more of those through conventional marketing? Only a customer newsletter can do that for you.
Is your referral machine running itself, too?
Ask any spa owner where their best new customers come from and you’ll hear the same thing: word-of-mouth. Referrals, the great client cloning engine that we all love and depend upon! It’s the least expensive source of the best customers you can ask for. But that’s exactly the problem: we don’t ask for them. Employees hand departing clients their business card, managers create referral reward certificates that offer special discounts for clients that recommend others to try the spa, and everyone is confident that clients will automatically encourage friends, coworkers and family to visit.
Why am I whipping this issue when you know that you’ve been winning referrals—lots of them? Because there are many more that you could’ve had IF you asked your clients to send them to you. It’s a mistake to believe that referrals are simply a natural happy client reflex. They aren’t. In fact, the busier your spa seems to be, the less likely your customer will want to increase their own difficulty in getting the appointment time they want. And some customers believe that if you’re as busy as you say you are the last thing you need is another customer to work on. Why…they’re actually doing you a favor by keeping potentially pesky customers away from your already overloaded schedule. See how expensive assumptions can be?
Here’s a simple and elegant script that works very well in prompting your clients to send you more: require (that critical word again) that technicians tell departing clients (new and first repeat clients), “Sara, I just want to say that it was wonderful working with you today! Many of my best clients come from the referrals of others I see and I’d be honoured to work with friends or family of yours whom you think would also enjoy my services, especially if they’re as delightful as you are. May I give you a few of my cards?” Works beautifully and customers are deeply flattered by it. Now the client knows that you want more customers and, after a request as personally thoughtful as this one was, will be more actively seeking them for you. Referrals are the product of generosity on the part of those who are loyal to someone that has treated them especially well. Save your discount and give more love!
Receptionists: the hired killers of spa business
They don’t mean to be—they were set up for the crime by management! Inadequate training, overwhelmed by tasks, unfamiliar with your services and products, under-rewarded—these are but a few of the many reasons front desk personnel are unwittingly bleeding many spas of their sales potential. Call one up sometime and see if the receptionist can sell you on the service you ask about. Do they ask your name before engaging in descriptions? No. Do they offer you a sense of what a visit to the spa is actually like? No. Do they describe services like they’re users of them, or more like they’re reading from a menu? And what service do they offer you if you ask them to select one: the least or most expensive that you have? Who is responsible for this performance? You guessed it…you!
There are so many effective ways to massively improve this department’s sales yield—both with first-time callers and retail—that it’s impossible to do it justice in this article. But this much I can say-that if you are going to spend either training time or your time anywhere in the spa, spend it here! No other point of operation is more impacting on service sales, rescheduling, and retail than this one. Most spas I have visited are appallingly inadequate in this key area of sales and service, and management is more negative about this department than any other. Plagued by high turnover and poor quality commitment, concierge and reception desks seem to be the bane of every spa business, and yet this is the very function you can least afford to set adrift. Work with these people! Get expert help! Force yourself to accept the reality of the situation and rebuild the pretty sand castle every high tide will flatten. In time you will get a return on your investment but you must invest wisely.
Now do you understand why marketing is one of the last subjects I want to address in my business coaching role? Sure, placing ads is far easier than tackling the internal problems I’ve described. Just know that advertising can never deliver a higher, sustainable sales yield for as low a cost. And if your business isn’t functioning well why spend money showcasing those flaws to the public? What you see before you is the great divide between those that will succeed in the spa world and those that will only contribute to a growing statistic of failed dreams. It’s a matter of choice and hard work but that’s true of any business anywhere—at least you get to do it in a spa!