We live in an era of choices. From dozens of products to sweeten coffee to hundreds of brands of shampoo, consumers can customize any product or service to their own preferences.

As a salon owner, this can pose a problem, especially with fickle clients. How do you set yourself apart? How do you keep clients from leaving to try something new? How do you compete against a salon with a lower price point?

Fortunately, today’s clients are also invested in the experience. And for those salons and spas who’ve mastered delivering a valuable experience each and every time, prices no longer matter so much.

But is it possible to make your prices irrelevant? “Absolutely!” says John DiJulius, owner of the John Robert’s Spas in greater Cleveland, Ohio, area, a customer-service consultant, and author of Secret Service and What’s the Secret?

“Otherwise how have companies like StarbucksApple and Nordstrom dominated their markets when they charge premium prices? Most of us have a few businesses that we are loyal to because of something they repeatedly do for us, something they give us that we can’t get elsewhere or a certain way they make us feel. We have no idea what their competitors charge, nor do we care.”

According to DiJulius, being price irrelevant doesn’t mean you can raise your prices significantly and not lose some clients—it means that when you deliver an experience, fewer of your clients will be price shopping your services. “Where would you rather compete, in the price wars or in the experience wars?” he asks. “I’d rather compete in the experience wars where there is less competition. I’ve found that many times when customers complain about price, it doesn’t mean they aren’t willing to pay for something, it’s because the experience didn’t warrant the price.”

He says, “We had a client upset about a haircut she paid $45 for because she didn’t feel it was worth it. To make things right, I gave her money back plus a complimentary gift certificate to visit one of our senior level stylists who charges $85,” he says. “Three years later that client is still coming in to see the higher-level stylist who now is charging $100. At $45 she felt she was overpaying, but she has no problem shelling out $100 every six weeks. It wasn’t the price she was upset about, it was the total experience. In fact, 85 percent of consumers report they’d pay up to 25 percent more to ensure a superior experience.”


Van Council, who with his brother Michael, owns Van Michael Salon locations in Atlanta, Miami and Tokyo, says that transformational service begins when the guest walks in the front door and is greeted not by a massive front desk, but by a friendly greeter at a podium.

“We’ve always done this,” says Council, who thought it was important to separate his appointment booking in a separate phone room and his checkout area in a separate section of the salon.

“When a guest walks in, our focus is on them, and a new guest always gets a tour of the salon, with a history of why we’re departmentalized, why our training program takes two years, and how our New Talent program works. Every service comes with a sensory experience and every haircut ends with a complimentary makeup touchup. And, managers introduce themselves to new guests and give them a gift of travel-sized products.”

In his newest salon in Strongville, Ohio, DiJulius took the deskless-reception concept one step further. As a customer service consultant, DiJulius regularly trains top executives from companies, such as Starbucks, Dominos and Chik-Fil-A, and on the first day he’ll break the group into parties of four or five and have them visit top retailers and experience masters like Nordstrom’s, Lululemon, Teavana, and when in Atlanta, he’s even taken them to Van Michael. On the following day, he’ll ask the executives what all those businesses had in common—things like creating a memorable experience, educating instead of selling, and making it easy to do business.


“But I realized, I had never done this exercise with my own managerial team, so we did it before creating this new location and we decided, much like an Apple Store, we needed to take away the barrier of the front desk,” says DiJulius. “Instead, guests walk into an experience area with beauty products displayed on tables they can test. Another table features a touchscreen monitor where guests can look up the latest fashion style. The concierge comes to guests with an iPad and checks them in while they are experiencing the retail area.”

The floating receptionists also can visit guests during the service and check them out, schedule their next appointment, gather recommended retail and ring it up—saving the guest valuable time after the service is completed. “I didn’t tell our team about the deskless reception area until it was built because I knew they’d protest, but after a few months they want all our locations to go deskless,” says DiJulius, who also claims the design has had a measurable impact on business. “This particular location has the highest retail sales per client—almost $3 more per client than any of our other locations—and a higher rebooking rate.”

At Van Michael, the iPad factors heavily into the service as well. Stylists use it as a mobile portfolio, showing guests recommended styles and color choices and making sure that both stylist and client are on the same page. Throughout the service, Van Michael stylists engage the guest in the experience. “When styling a new guest or a new haircut, our stylists will blow-out half of the guest’s hair, then stop, place the dryer and brush in the client’s hands and talk them through how to style a few sections – so clients leave confident they can recreate their new look at home,” explains Council.


Of course, a strong customer service training program serves as the foundation of the guest-first culture. Council’s New Talent members, who go through two years of training before they are full-fledged stylists, receive almost as much instruction on the soft skills as they do technical skills.

But the hospitality training doesn’t stop once service providers have earned their place on the floor. Van Michael has established 21 customer service standards and each day one of the standards is reviewed with the entire team as part of the salon’s twice-daily lineups (their phrase for huddle). Council says drilling the service standards at this time keeps them at the forefront of each team member’s mind. The standards are:

  1. As a team member of Van Michael Salon, we will live the standards and values every day and use the portfolio consulting approach—no exceptions!

  2. No smoking during work shift—either in or out of the building.

  3. We will adhere to the dress code policy by always looking polished, sharp, proper hygiene, pressed clothes, neat nails, well-shaven, fresh breath, no chewing gum, no eating where our guests can see us, and our hairstyle will reflect the current trends we are trying to ‘sell.’

  4. clients1We will live $500 attitudes and leave our personal problems at the door.

  5. We will greet each and every guest by name at every point of contact and show the utmost in courtesy. We will always inform the guest of any wait time.

  6. Never let our guests see us sweat the small stuff.

  7. Always escort our guests to their service area and to their next service professional—never point.

  8. Everyone must focus on booking the next appointment for each of our guests, regardless if it is your guest or not.

  9. We will embrace S.M.A.R.T. feedback always!

  10. We will focus on the guest, always remembering that they are the foundation of the salon and that they are NEVER wrong.

  11. We will provide a sensory experience of a stress-relieving shampoo or massage (or the hand massage) and always offer the finishing touches—not once in a while.

  12. We will never talk negatively about Van Michael Salons—either in or out of the salon. No gossiping!

  13. We are empowered to find a solution to every problem. Own all problems you encounter—no excuses!

  14. Always thank the guest throughout their services.

  15. Create “Raving Fan” experiences by always being professional, giving world-class service and asking for referrals.

  16. We will be known as the salon that ‘teaches and educates’ our guests.

  17. Every employee of Van Michael Salons will treat the salons as if they owned the company.

  18. We will always practice teamwork and lateral service.

  19. Greeters will always be at the front desk and service providers at their stations at the time of the appointment. Everyone is responsible for our guests’ wellbeing.

  20. We will create a positive work environment by focusing on the senses—what the guest will see, hear, smell, taste and touch throughout their visit. Keep the salon clean always!

  21. YOU ARE ON STAGE: ACT THE PART! Smile as though you really care!


All companies try to teach their employees about customer service, says DiJulius, but salons have a distinct advantage, “You know who is coming in today. Your stylist knows her 2:00 appointment has two kids, like highlights around the face, just got back from a trip to Jamaica and likes to read People when she’s processing,” he notes. “It doesn’t cost any more or take any longer to record that information and use it to make a deeper emotional connection. But, too many salons miss the opportunity.”

That’s one of the strategies behind DiJulius’ book Secret Service. For John Robert’s, the Service Vision is ‘To be the best part of our guest’s day,’ and it’s a vision that Dijulius says is not only aspirational but achievable. “From the moment your client gets up, she could be making lunches, getting the kids off to school, dealing with traffic, bosses, curveballs—it should be easy to make a manicure and pedicure the best part of her day.”

But even the most talented stylists make mistakes, and the finest salons host unhappy clients from time to time. Which is why it’s key to empower your team to go above and beyond to make things right whether or not an owner or manager is in-house.

When a staff member does go above and beyond to help a guest, celebrate it at an upcoming team meeting, stresses DiJulius. “For example, Beth at our Chagrin Falls location had her last appointment no-show because of inclement weather, so she gathered the keys of all the guests in the salon, went out and warmed up their cars and brushes the snow off their windshields. Sharing that story at a team meeting will encourage the rest of the team to think out of the box on how to create a memorable guest experience.”