Marketing so much more than promotion: Story from a successful beauty salon.
When Mary Davis, co-owner of Davis Hairdressing  in Newton, Mass., called to inquire about my recent visit. I asked her if she had a few minutes to talk because I wanted to let her know how impressed I've been with my experiences at her salon.
As we spoke, I realized that she had an amazing story to tell and asked her whether I could take notes. Hers was a compelling vision of an integrated marketing and client-service approach that any business—not just other retailers—would do well to emulate.
Excellent service leads to word-of-mouth referrals
As a marketing-strategy consultant , I've been impressed by the salon's marketing savvy since my first visit. I originally discovered Davis Hairdressing on Yelp, a social-networking site.
I was searching for an emergency solution. The hair-salon owner who usually did my hair was running a half-hour late when I'd arrived for my appointment, and we'd had to reschedule for the following week—but my hair needed immediate attention.
I called Davis Hairdressing on a Sunday, planning to leave a message. To my surprise, someone answered the phone and asked whether I would like to come in that day or Monday—both days that beauty salons in the area are typically closed.
When I inquired about the price, the receptionist said different stylists charge different amounts, so I scheduled an appointment with one of the less-expensive hairdressers. To my delight, the stylist was the one whom the Yelp reviewer had praised.
Discounts motivate desirable buying behavior
After styling my hair, the stylist gave me a coupon that offered almost 50% off my second visit. As a marketer, I was impressed by the brilliance of that move.
Had the salon offered first-time clients discounted services, it may have attracted individuals unwilling to pay the normal prices. Offering a coupon after the first visit, however, would encourage clients who had already demonstrated their willingness to pay full price to come again.
When I commented on that observation, the stylist confirmed that the decision was strategic. She said most first-time clients come because their current stylist is unavailable. The owners, knowing it takes time to create a relationship, use the coupon to provide an incentive for satisfied clients to return for another visit.
It worked with me. I felt guilty about "cheating" on the hairdresser who usually did my hair, but the offer gave me pause. After all, my hair looked great, and my hairdresser could have called to let me know she was running late.
On subsequent visits, I learned about Davis Hairdressing's version of a frequent-flyer program. Clients who prepay for a certain number of visits get the next visit free. Unlike many businesses, such as many phone companies that reward new clients only for switching, Davis's incentive programs reward and encourage client loyalty.
Superior client service is no accident
Superior client service is no accident. So, how did Davis Hairdressing achieve its success?
Mary Davis joined the management-training program at Jordan Marsh (now Macy's) directly out of college. Through formal classes, role-playing, and on-the-job training, she learned the importance of tailoring every aspect of a business to customer needs and desires. "At Jordan Marsh," Mary told me, "everything was about attracting clients to the stores."
A few years later, Mary took what she learned at Jordan Marsh to her next job as a loan officer at BayBank. Responsible for loans in excess of $500,000 dollars, Davis quickly realized that her success was tied to developing strong relationships with her clientele.
By the time Mary met and married Ken Davis, customer service was in her DNA. He was a great hairdresser and she knew what it took to build a business. They combined forces and launched Davis Hairdressing in May 1990.
Mary observed that most hair salons center on the hairdressers' desires: the hours they want to work, the clients they prefer, and the services they enjoy doing. Having come from outside the industry, Mary wanted to do something different.
Packaging is key—give clients options
"From the beginning," Mary said, "Davis Hairdressing has been all about the customer." The Davises' goal is to give clients as many options as possible. To do so, the business encourages employees to work as a team.
The first point of contact is the salon coordinator. When prospective clients call, the salon coordinator asks what services they want, when they want to come in, and which hairdresser they prefer to see.
At other salons, a client's color formulation is the hairstylist's proprietary knowledge. At Davis Hairdressing, all color formulations are in the computer, so clients can request the hairstylist who best meets their needs—even if someone else did their hair on the previous visit.
If the hairdresser whom a client requests is not available when the client wants to come in, the salon coordinators will offer to schedule a time with another stylist, or they will check with the desired hairstylist to see whether that person can come a little early or stay a little late to accommodate the client's schedule. If neither option works, the salon coordinator offers to put the client on a waiting list and call as openings arise.
Davis Hairdressing is also easy to access. Located just west of Boston, clients can arrive by car or public transportation.
Actions—not taglines or logos—build brands
The Davis brand communicates hospitality. When clients enter the salon, they are greeted first by a salon coordinator and then by either their hairstylist or an assistant.
Each time I have gone, someone has offered me refreshments. On weekdays, the stylist usually offers to feed the meter if the appointment will run more than the allotted hour. A week or two after the appointment, some of the hairdressers call their clients to find out how well the cut or color is holding up.
The Davises created their brand from the ground up. One of the keys to their success has been hiring recent graduates from local beauty schools.
"We want to get people before they learn what a hairdresser should be like somewhere else." Mary explains, "When you hire employees from other salons, they haven't absorbed your values and your culture."
Brand consistency is a critical success factor
The Davises knew that if they wanted to provide appointments that accommodated the clients' schedules, then clients would have to be confident that they would get a great hairstyle regardless of which stylist did their hair.
To propagate their values and culture, and ensure consistency from stylist to stylist, the Davises instituted an in-house training program in 1992.
New employees start as apprentices, shampooing hair and learning client service firsthand. The apprenticeship helps the Davises determine early on which employees have the client-services skills to succeed at their salon.
At the same time, the apprentices attend weekly training classes. There, they learn the Davis Hairdressing system for how to cut and color hair, how to provide outstanding customer service, and how to style hair in the allotted time. They also learn about professional and retail hair products. Another goal of the class is to instill confidence in the hairdressers so that they can successfully handle any client who walks in the door.
When the apprentices graduate from the training program, they join the hairdressing team as junior members, and Davis Hairdressing offers their services at a lower rate. Once they begin cutting and coloring hair, they continue training on a more informal basis.
The Davises have learned that hairdressers need to keep learning so that they are continually motivated to improve. Moreover, the industry, as in any fashion industry, is continually evolving and changing.
Therefore, Davis requires continuing education for all stylists. There are seven training levels, each with its own criteria for advancement. Employees are reviewed semi-annually against those criteria.
No one is exempt. Ken travels the world to learn about new fashions and trends that the salon needs to incorporate to maintain its competitive edge. He then transfers his new knowledge to the stylists.
Great marketing pays off
Located in Newton, an upper-middleclass community just west of Boston, Davis Hairdressing has plenty of competition. In Newton alone there are more than 50 beauty salons; nevertheless, Davis repeatedly wins the local newspaper's "Readers' Choice" award. This year, the business was also voted Boston magazine's "Best of Boston" runner-up for Best Hair Salon.
The Davises' marketing efforts have also paid off financially—for both the couple and the local economy. Davis Hairdressing serves 500 clients a week, employs 33 people (including the owners), and is one of the two largest purchases of Goldwell hair products in the United States.
Several years ago, Ken packaged his training program. Today other salons purchase the program and his consulting services. Nevertheless, Ken continues to service Davis Hairdressing clients full-time, cutting and coloring hair every day.
What is the secret sauce?
Mary Davis would say that the secret sauce is focusing on the client. I would add that Davis Hairdressing excels at Marketing 101—strategies and tactics  that many know but few have the discipline to execute.
Until now, Davis Hairdressing has done relatively little promotion, beyond involvement in the community. Instead, the Davises have differentiated their salon from the competition by anticipating clients' needs, developing products and services to meet those needs, executing flawlessly, and monitoring performance against goals.
As a result, the word is out—and clients flock to their doors. Imagine what will happen as they add promotion to the marketing mix.