Economy can’t trim beauty salon success

BY EMILY MELVOLD | JUNE 24, 2009 7:21 AM

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Salons have evolved from their single-sink, heavy hairspray, perming predecessors pictured in the likes of Steel Magnolias.

Today they are making changes to keep on top of their market and stay ahead of the economy.

And it’s working.

The category of personal-appearance workers is expected to grow by 14 percent from 2006 to 2016 — faster than the average for all occupations. This growth will primarily be a result of population growth and a growing demand for personal-appearance services, particularly skin-care services.

According to four Iowa City and Coralville salon owners, their businesses are growing despite the financial downturn.

“This is a service that people can’t do for themselves,” said Terra Hartley, the manager at Blaze in Coralville. “And no one wants to look like the economy is affecting her.”

That doesn’t mean that they are exempt from effects of the economy, though. Salons are having to adapt to changes in the industry because their clients have become more price-conscious.

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All four salons saw common trends from customers. People are looking for value — meaning high quality cuts and treatment for reasonable cost. Mike Manchester, a co-owner of Posh Salon & Nail Spa said, the first words out of people’s mouths are: “Do you have a price menu?”

Salons in the area are trying to adapt to other trends and create target markets in opposite ways.

Blaze opened only 18 months ago and has seen record income with around 250 new customers every month, said salon co-owner Bill Keck. It sports a fast-paced environment with a style-it-yourself area — including products, curling irons, and straighteners — to save money and quicken service.

“People are always going, going, going,” Hartley said. “We’ve had people try to schedule their appointments during their lunch break at work.”

Posh Salon & Nail Spa in Coralville features the opposite approach. Manchester revamped the salon, only 8 weeks old, to cater to more upscale clientele, he said.

“People need the time to shut down because they aren’t taking time for it in their hectic schedules,” he said.

Stylists in the Iowa City and Coralville area are seeing other changes: customers tipping their hairdressers more, payments with credit cards or cash instead of checks, more people have built salon services into their budgets, salons have featured more services — including nails, massage, and skincare — and businesses are redecorating and updating to a more sophisticated look and decor.

On top of keeping up a good image, the stylists from salons are increasingly working to expand their education. Blaze, for example, holds monthly workshops to work on skills and keep up on trends.

Fewer people consider the beauty industry a backup career than before, Hartley said. “Customers are requiring their stylists to continue learning and updating techniques,” she said. “Those people that stop after they receive their licenses get left behind.”

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