From affiliate marketing to e-commerce, salons and stylists are leveraging their social media platforms to maximize take-home product sales. We spoke with salon owners who utilized their time during the lockdown to invest and upgrade their retail offerings, and to find out how the pandemic has forever changed their approach to business.
While salon owners across Canada have had different experiences throughout the pandemic, something that they can all agree on is how retail has become an integral part of their business.As some salons have been challenged by retail for years, the lockdowns forced many to find new ways of marketing take-home products to generate revenue and stay in touch with clients during the salon closures.
“It’s always been on my mind, but the lockdowns definitely gave me that push and the time to get it going,” says Stephanie Karellas, owner of Kroma Salon in King City, Ont. “I figured we had inventory just sitting in the salon, so in order to get it moving we had to invest [in our e-commerce and social media], otherwise money was just sitting there during the closure. I wanted to get it up and running as soon as possible so there was a way to still connect with our clients. Within the first two weeks of first lockdown in March 2020, I really buckled up and got to work with my team.”
Like many salon owners, Karellas admits that she isn’t as savvy with technology so she worked with a marketing team to bring her vision to life. While she says it took a lot of time and hard work, it was well worth it.
“I’m glad I did it! It’s definitely been helpful, even now with us being reopened,” she says. “It’s nice to give clients the opportunity to purchase prior to their appointments, or shop on their phones while their colour is processing. Even if they’re unsure and want to do some research first, they’re able to purchase after I’ve recommended products for their hair and want to invest in their colour service to maintain it.”
PRO TIP: When adding products to your shop, less is more. Start with the things that people may need at that time of year. Consider building bundles products together to make it helpful and less overwhelming for your clients. Also, be prepared to remove items that aren’t as popular in exchange for newer products or ones that are used more at home than in the salon.
In addition to adding e-commerce to their salon’s website during the pandemic, Paulina and Samantha Truong, sisters and co-owners of Blue Gemini Hair Studio in Edmonton, Alta., wanted to explore additional retailing options.
Since carrying Kérastase in their salon for many years, they decided to join the brand’s affiliate program early on in the pandemic. The program allows them to earn a commission on sales (when clients purchase through their affiliate links), without having to carry additional inventory.
“During the lockdown, we figured some business was better than no business, so we were on board with it,” says Samantha Truong. “For salons who don’t want to carry the inventory, I think it’s a great idea.”
Since the lockdowns in Alberta were short-lived compared to other parts of Canada, they admit they’ve noticed a shift since their salon has reopened.
“Most of our clients are preferring to come into the salon to buy products, because we provide them with more advice and can recommend the right products for their hair. They can ask questions and we can address their needs and wants so it’s more hands-on,” says Samantha Truong. “A majority of our clients do prefer to come in and ask us for recommendations for their hair. They still like the in-person shopping experience. Plus, if we have clients coming in to buy the product, we’re receiving the full commission as opposed to just a percentage [with affiliate programs].”
“Before they purchase products, they always reach out to us in emails or on social media to ask us what the right products are for them,” adds Paulina Truong. “We usually ask them more questions about their hair so we can recommend accordingly. If they go online or somewhere else where they don’t [have professionals to ask for help], they will just choose something more general, for either dry, coloured or damaged hair. If we’re not there to ask them questions about their hair, they won’t know what they need.”
While the Truong sisters acknowledge that the affiliate program brought them business outside of their local area, it unfortunately hasn’t translated into new foot traffic for their salon just yet.
“We find that the people who are gravitating toward the affiliate program don’t live in the city as much or just want to support us by ordering through the program so we can get [a commission] for it,” says Samantha Truong. “The affiliate program hasn’t necessary brought new clients into the salon, but new business through the affiliate program from people who want to support our business, especially during the hard times [during the pandemic].”
“To be involved [with affiliate marketing programs], there really is no extra cost and we have a great partnership with Kérastase,” she adds. “Any additional increase to our salon’s traffic, whether it’s e-commerce or the affiliate program, is better than nothing.”
As salon owners and stylists used their time during the lockdown to invest in their websites, others were spending time on their social media platforms and finding ways of integrating e-commerce capabilities on Instagram.
For salons who want the best of both worlds when it comes to e-commerce and affiliate marketing, some have begun opening shops on their Instagram accounts. By doing so, their followers can shop directly on Instagram—including on photos.
“We like to have the inventory available for whenever clients need product,” says Samantha Truong. “For the most part, we’re always fully stocked on our products so if they walk in or call us, they can pick up the same day.”
While setting up your shop on social can be just as (or more!) time-consuming than setting up your e-commerce website.
“At first, it was a little bit difficult to navigate because I personally took on doing everything myself but I also had help with an IT person for some background stuff, but all the uploading of products and inputting information I did myself,” says Samantha Truong, who used Shopify for the salon’s e-commerce. “Since I’ve been so hands-on with it, I know the ins and outs of it better. If we have a new product coming in, I can easily put it in rather than rely on a third-party. It was a good learning opportunity and it’s nice to have a say on the experience I want our clients to have—the layout of it, how it should look and work.”
“In order to stay competitive and to help people be more aware and supportive of your e-commerce, you always have to keep evolving, updating and enhancing it.” — Samantha Truong, co-owner, Blue Gemini Hair Studio
“Going into it, I didn’t have too many high expectations,” adds Karellas. “I knew it would be great to showcase our brand and products on another level. It’s very professional-looking. I like that I can immerse the product lines into our page and have the professional images with the supporting information that people look for, especially now that self-care products are being paid more attention. Everyone wants the best of the best. Plus, staying connected with clients and reminding people of who we are was super important.”
For Nikki Sanderson, owner of Capelli Salon Studio in Saskatoon, she started her e-commerce website in July 2020. As a new salon owner, who purchased the salon right before the pandemic began, she knew it would be a costly and time-consuming endeavour.
“I took over the salon in February 2020 and I had all of these ideas, and then we closed in March,” she recalls. “It would have been a good idea to have our e-commerce already up and running during the pandemic, but money was tight, and I didn’t know how the funds would be, so I didn’t do it until after we reopened. But it’s been great! It definitely takes a lot to run it and doesn’t just sell itself, but it’s awesome.”
Earlier this year, she decided to launch an Instagram shop for her salon. “It launched a little bit later [than our e-commerce site] since it took me a while to figure out how it worked, since it runs through Facebook and Instagram,” she says. “With our e-commerce site, we used Shopify and I tried to do it myself, but I’m not tech-savvy at all so I ended up hiring somebody to do it.”
Now, Sanderson runs all of their social media and marketing. While she has yet to dabble in affiliate marketing, she says it’s something she’s open to, especially with the brands her salon carries (Virtue, Oribe and Balmain).
While Sanderson continues to refine her e-commerce and social media, the buck doesn’t stop there—literally!
“We do other marketing like Google ads for the salon, which seem to do ok, and social media marketing with Instagram ads,” she says. “It definitely doesn’t sell itself. I thought you would have it up and running and people would come and click on it, but it definitely takes a lot more work than that. I’m still learning more about the e-commerce business and how you can grow it to reach more people who you don’t service. It’s so important—30 per cent of the business is retail.”
“We try to feature different products every week in our emails,” says Karellas. “Facebook is another strong platform—we do a lot of Facebook ads and we get a lot of sales through those, since our Instagram shop connects through Facebook so they’ve been very effective. We also have QR codes in our salon so clients can shop on their phones while their colour is processing. The shop is useful, even while we’re open. It helps evolve your business.”
“In this day and age, you have to have an online shop—even if it’s not a traditional website, but on Instagram. It’s a no-brainer! It can be expensive to make one and a lot to run it, but it definitely takes your business to the next level.” — Nikki Sanderson, owner of Capelli Salon Studio, Saskatoon
Stephanie Karellas, owner of Kroma Salon in King City, Ont., shares her tips for getting into the e-commerce game.
Don’t Overthink It
“If you know someone who’s more inclined with online—a friend or family member—you can trust to help, it doesn’t have to break the bank. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
“It can come across as an intimidating process but we have so many tools to work with. A lot of imagery is online, plus our distributors are able to provide us with social assets to make the website look really great.”
Trust Your Team
“As a new business owner, it can be super overwhelming. Being able to pass on duties or tasks to other people is important because when it comes down to it, it does take a team to help build and grow your vision online, especially if you don’t have a lot of technical experience.”
Price is Right
“Making sure you’re aware of your competitors, including big-box stores. It can be frustrating, but make sure your prices are at par with them. At the end of the day, don’t fret about why people would choose to buy from you rather than a big-box store. Remember that people will want to buy from someone they can trust and who can give them good advice about what they need.”
PRO TIP: Consider sending a personalized thank-you note to clients with a special offer (eg. 10% off their next product purchase), or allow them to gift the card to a friend or family member to attract new people into the salon.
Loyal is Royal
“A loyalty system works well and helps bring clients back. Consider starting a point system. At our salon, we give back $1 for every $50 spent [on products]. A lot of our products are around $50, so the more they spend the more they receive and it accumulates in their account in the salon and online.”
“You don’t want to seem like you’re always selling [on your feed]. Just a tasteful amount that’s not bombarding people. Once people think you’re just trying to sell, it’s a reason for people to mute you [on Instagram] or stop following you. Keep it interesting by showcasing different things that people may not know about.”