Eight Key Lessons I've Learned in Growing My Small Piercing and Aftercare Business into a Successful Full Personal Service Salon
I am the owner of a new premier personal service salon. Although we are new to this location, we are not new to the piercing and aftercare business. We operated for over nine years under a different name in a mall in a different location. During that time, we grew from a very small start-up situated in a kiosk in the center of the mall to, first, a store location in the mall, and now to our own two-story building. We now have a loyal customer base, many of whom have either returned to us for additional business and/or have recommended us to family and friends who have also become customers.
We recently moved to our new building in order to expand our customer offering in response to many input requests from them. I wanted to document some of the more important lessons I learned along the way that may be able to help others who may embark on the same exciting odyssey. Although many of these seem only like common sense and should come as no surprise, I can say it's not always that easy when you are under the pressure of making it all work. So here goes:
I started as a complete business novice in a kiosk in a medium-sized shopping mall offering modest services limited by our location and size. First thing I learned: Make your customers love you. I did this by delivering only the highest quality, keeping my prices competitive and my kiosk attractive and clean, and always being super friendly. I treated each customer as special and they always appreciated this. I always remember the old adage that there are two rules for succeeding in business; rule one, the customer is always right; rule two, if the customer is wrong, see rule one! It helped be build incredible customer loyalty, which has paid huge dividends over the years.
Next, listen to what your customers say and want. They will tell you what they like and don't like, and what they want. This was important, because it is not what you think of your company; it's what your customers think of it! In my case, since I was in a kiosk, I could not provide many of the additional services that most wanted because a kiosk could not support the health and safety requirements of this. So we bided our time until a mall store vacancy provided both the space and facilities to expand the business to do this.
After moving into a store environment and expanding the core business, it didn't take long before my customers were asking for more. However, it was too soon to expand again. We had to build our customer base, sales, and staff first. Because we maintained our quality and low prices, we were able to continue to grow, but the real challenge was growing staff with the same manner. This brings up the next lesson: Find the right employees to build the core of your capabilities. It is easy to find workers, but harder to find those with the qualities needed to keep delivering the combination of quality and friendliness needed in a company that sells to the public. Everyone on my staff has been trained, certified, and experienced, and work with the public in the same friendly manner that I always try to put forth.
Next on the list: Grow in a controlled manner. I would have been easy for use to expand too soon again, but first we had to learn how to be bigger. And it took time; several years in fact, but when we were ready, knew how we wanted to take the next step, we were able to do so successfully. We had learned how to better build and manage a larger staff, larger inventory, and larger business volume, how to find the best and most reliable suppliers. And we had decided, based on customer input, what services we wanted to add.
The next question was where do we do it? Although we have served customers from as far away as Hawaii and New York, most of our customers have come from nearby cities. It was clear we needed to stay local, but the city wasn't important because our customers have shown they are willing to travel a few miles to reach us. It boiled down to finding the right-sized shop with good visibility and lots of passing traffic, both on the road and on foot; i.e., something that all business know, finding the right location.
It took a while, but after a two year search, we found the building we needed and which fit our requirements. It is a small two-story building that is large enough to partition and perform the various services we offer, and yet not so big that we have any wasted space to pay for. We've even been able to incorporate a small children's area that is stocked with a TV/DVD and multiple toys, which allows their parents to be served without having to worry about them. The building is pretty ideally located on the corner of an intersection of two main arteries, and directly across the street from a major retailer. Because of its size and location, it is easily spotted by passing traffic and neighborhood shoppers. We pretty much satisfied the three basic retailer needs; location, location, location.
The final learning piece in our growth journey involved something we had pretty much overlooked while being situated in the mall environment; that is, the importance of marketing ourselves. While in the mall, we hadn't realized how much we depended on walk-by traffic, return business, and customer recommendations. When we moved, we were in a new location with a new name, and effectively became invisible to our most valued asset; our loyal customer base. The name was changed to better represent our expanded services, where our customers get the multiple services they desire a single store location. We had to accomplish two important things in a hurry. First was to let our old customers know what had become of us, because we knew from past experience that many would be back if they could find us. Second, we needed to attract new customers and didn't want to rely strictly on the location to accomplish this. We soon found that there are many ways to market, and many are pretty expensive and, with only modest resources at our disposal, way out of our league.
So here's the last big lesson. Don't necessarily believe what marketers tell you; get help from others who experience the same problem and what they recommend; in other words, don't try to reinvent the wheel. One of our best sources has been the local, or in our case, the local Chamber of Commerce. They are dedicated to helping make you a successful merchant in their territory. We joined the Chamber, and then were introduced to other members who could help us address our specific or similar needs. With their help, we were able to locate numerous business services that work best for small businesses like us and that can and did save us lots money.
Knowing the kind of customers we expect to attract helped significantly in focusing our marketing effort. Combining this with the sources we found directly and indirectly through the Chamber and its members has helped us reach out to over 100,000 potential new customers for less daily cost than the revenue form a single sale. Specifically we've used a combination of direct postcard mailings to over 3,000 past customers, student handouts at major local colleges and universities, door-to-door flyers and coupons in some of our highest customer-based cities, social networking with two Internet sites and Facebook, the Yellow Pages and their Internet search links, articles such as this on web-based magazines, and ads in booklets displayed in a variety of high traffic eating establishments like delis, coffee shops, cafes, and even nation-wide chain restaurants.
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