Deal or No Deal?

Ever been tempted to discount your offerings to fill the quiet times in the salon?

You are not alone in such a competitive market. Let’s face it as the beauty industry booms and the competition builds, it’s often easy to look for ways to build business and I’m often asked whether salons should offer discounts when marketing.

The short answer is ‘sometimes’; I certainly don’t agree with the notion that you should never discount. The secret is in knowing when and how to give specials, discounts and deals.

I know. It’s tempting to panic when the salon is quiet and your competitors are discounting everything – including their granny. It can sometimes feel like discount promotions are the only marketing route left to you. But they are not.

In most cases discounts are merely a short-term fix. They create a reassuring spike in appointments but can damage your brand and rip a large hole in profits. However, there are times when they are a useful marketing tool.

The two audiences 

There are two distinct target audiences when using discounting as a marketing strategy – potential new clients and your loyal client base – and each benefits from a different approach. Let’s start with attracting new clients.

The New Client

The best 1st visit offer: If you want to persuade your hottest competitor’s clients to give you a try you probably need to incentivise them with either a percentage or money off discount. But which is best?

Money off discount: Potential clients know immediately what they are saving, but it can be awkward for salons with a wide range of treatments as it’s difficult to make the discount work across the price range. $20 off a $30 lash tint is giving it away, yet it’s hardly significant off a $230 anti-ageing treatment. You can, of course, avoid this by stipulating the precise treatment that the offer applies to, but then you alienate a large proportion of your potential market so I prefer the percentage based formula below.

Percentage discount: The big question is how much is best? Don’t play around with small incentive percentages. 5%, 10% or 15% off isn’t going to tempt anyone – I think 25% is the minimum discount.

Seal the deal: Whichever formula you adopt it’s important to have clear terms and conditions. Don’t get caught out as it’ll cost you money. Think about…

  • Adding urgency with an expiry date?
  • Which therapists are offering the deal?
  • Which days of the week?
  • Do you want to restrict it to certain times of day?

Raw deal: I often see salons restricting a first visit offer to their most junior team members. For me this is an expensive mistake; it’s more likely to attract quibbling coupon clippers rather than profitable clients who want to go to the best in town. Price is not especially important to them and is certainly not the deciding factor, so why would these super-fussy, well-heeled clients want an appointment with your most junior team? They wouldn’t. In fact, it will almost certainly put them off. So give them the choice.

Profitable offers for existing clients

Your existing client already loves what you do and how you do it, so don’t discount unless you really have to and always try to avoid competing on price alone. Why dramatically cut profit margins, potentially damage your brand, create a sale mentality amongst your clients and lower your average invoice? It just doesn’t make sense.

Instead give added value, not discounts, and you’ll find making a profit far easier. Offer an upgrade to a premium manicure from a file and polish, or ‘a buy two and get the third free’ with retail products.

Let’s look at some of the different types of salon discounts, deals and offers and the best time to use them…

Bag a bargain: I recently bought a lippy from a new beauty shop that I’d not seen before. I didn’t spend a fortune, yet the owner who served me popped a pretty gift box of perfume minis into the bag with her card. You’ve guessed! For the next week I tried a new perfume every day. Needless to say, I was hooked on one and went back to purchase. We all love freebies.

A gift with each purchase enhances the value of the service in a client’s mind. It’s a useful way of using a product that isn’t moving although it doesn’t have to be a retail product. Try offering a:

  • moisturiser with every facial
  • complimentary file and polish with a pedicure
  • salon gift card

Give your suppliers a call to ask how they can help you with samples, special prices and freebies. Again, the knack to making it profitable is tight terms and conditions and always including an expiry date to add that sense of urgency.

Seasonal promotions: Research shows consumers believe that discounted items/services do not function as well as those at full price. So always give a rationale for your offer otherwise it looks like you’re desperate for business. Valentine’s, Mother’s Day, Christmas and New Year are the big ones, but it could be your salon’s anniversary, a client’s birthday or an event happening locally that you want to celebrate.

Pre-launch specials: Just invested in the latest equipment, have a new team member on board or launching an innovative service? Use a pre-launch offer to get bookings. Again, rather than discount, market the launch to your existing clients with an added value offer, such as ‘buy 4 of our new skincare treatments and enjoy the 5th on us.’

Thanks a million: Reward loyal clients and show your appreciation by emailing or texting an added value offer to thank them for their loyalty. An impromptu ‘Just because…’ makes clients feel valued and is perfect for filling those gaps in the early part of the week or seasonal quiet times.

Last minute: Is there any time when it pays to offer a discount to existing clients? Yes, when it comes to filling those last-minute appointment gaps.

Make sure deal appointments are only available at the eleventh-hour as it’s not ‘a stand-by’ if it can be booked 24 hours in advance, and just prevents full paying clients being able to book.

I suggest you don’t advertise these discounted appointments as always being available otherwise they get taken for granted and seem the norm rather than a bargain. Late availability is the key here.

Exclusive channel offers: Your social channels and email marketing are great ways to offer exclusive added value offers, reward followers and build relationships. Why not email a value added promotion for Father’s Day to just your female database or post a salon social exclusive for Mother’s Day on Facebook and Instagram only?

Your best friend: Introduce a friend schemes are salon discounts which work well. You may think they are old-hat, but word-of-mouth is still very effective. Why? Because most of us feel bombarded with incessant advertising and overwhelmed by choice. A personal recommendation cuts through this sales’ noise and gives us the confidence to ‘give the salon a try.’ It’s simple, inexpensive marketing and absolutely the right time to use a discount. So dust down those cards from behind reception and start handing them out.

Never say never

Discounts and deals do have a place in growing your salon, but use them with caution and always think about how you can add value before reducing your prices.

A quick look at the pros and cons:

Salon discount BENEFITS

  • Simple and quick to implement
  • Get clients through your door – instantly
  • Increase client loyalty
  • Introduce clients to new services, treatments and products
  • Easy to track and measure
  • Bolster quiet days
  • Build a client following for a new therapist

But use them wrongly and you can

  • Reduce profitability long term
  • Damage your salon brand
  • Create a discount culture as clients wait for sales
  • Encourage price-driven coupon clippers
  • Dent customer confidence
  • Lower loyalty
  • Slash average services invoice value
  • Alice Kirby is the founder of Lockhart Meyer Salon Marketing a specialist hair & beauty marketing agency and the blogger behind #GrowYourSalon. Visit her blog


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