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The holidays are a time for rejoicing, but they can also present a whole host of unique challenges for salon owners and their employees. For some, it’s a matter of being overbooked and understaffed, while for others it’s about the uptick in illness or even falling victim to retail crime. The good news? As long as you take time to prepare for the possible pitfalls, these unfortunate downsides of the holidays don’t have to bog down your business. From hiring skilled and trustworthy techs to enacting specific illness- and theft-prevention tactics, the expert strategies that follow will help keep your salon from becoming another seasonal statistic.

Staff Up

As foot traffic increases during the holidays, your employees may become easily overwhelmed. That’s why some salons opt to hire seasonal staff. And while it may be tough to find temporary techs who are up to par, that should be your goal. “Hire them at the same quality level and with the same vision for your company’s core values as any other full-time staff member,” advises Candice Idehen, owner of Bed of Nails Nail Bar in New York City. “You don’t want to drain resources training people who are supposed to help you make money in a short period of time.” After all, Idehen adds, there’s always a chance that you’ll be able to keep them on even after the holidays subside. “Why not hire someone who could potentially be a full-time employee?” she notes.

To ensure seasonal hires have all of the necessary skills and fit in seamlessly with the rest of the staff, they’re brought on board well before the holidays hit at 20 Lounge in El Segundo, California, says owner Valerie Griggs. After they undergo a technical interview to assess skill level, “it’s all about adjusting scheduling or adding hours to make sure that they’re properly trained,” she explains. Adds Ryan McEnaney, owner of Frenchies Modern Nail Care in Woodbury, Minnesota, “Don’t be tempted to fast-track training because you’re busy; take your time and make sure the team member is ready to greet your guests with her best.”

If you don’t have the time to invest in training new holiday hires, there are still ways to help curb your existing staff’s stress levels. “I encourage them to take time off before the holidays and immedi- ately afterwards, so they can power through the season and work as much as possible to maximize their income,” says Carla Hatler, owner of Lacquer, with two locations in Austin, Texas.

Emphasize Holiday Spirit

Another way to manage employee angst? Encourage staffers to take care of the clients and each other. Kayla Bramlet, owner of Frenchies Modern Nail Care in Littleton, Colorado, trains her front desk staff to provide extra support to techs when books are slammed during the holidays. “They help clean up after services and set up for guests coming in immediately afterward to keep the studio running efficiently without showing our guests any level of stress,” she says.

As simple as it sounds, reminding your staff to take a deep breath and take pride in their work also goes a long way. “We have such amazing clients that I feel during the holidays—as crazy as it is— the most important thing to remember is to smile throughout the day,” says Griggs. After all, stress can be contagious. “Just because we’re operating at a higher capacity doesn’t mean the guests need to feel that,” says McEnaney. “They’re going through a stressful time of year as well. This is their time to kick back, and every guest deserves the best experience possible.” Of course, you can always go that extra mile, too: Idehen offers clients small perks, like chocolate, beverages or other treats, while they wait. Agrees Hatler, “It’s amazing what some snacks will do for morale and overall mood!” And while your clients will certainly appreciate this, consider stocking up on some additional snacks for the back room to treat your staff as well.

Stop That Thief

It’s an unfortunate reality: Retail crime rises during the holidays by 40 percent, according to the 2016 Holiday Season Global Forecast by nonprofit Checkpoint Systems. But there are ways to impede would-be thieves. “Use the 3-foot rule: Whenever you get within 3 feet of your customer, ask her, ‘What can I help you with?’” advises Bob Moraca, vice president of Loss Prevention for the National Retail Federation (NRF). “If a person has ill intent, she’s going to be in motion. By approaching her, your action tells her that you’re aware. She’ll be deterred and go somewhere else where people aren’t paying attention.”

You may not know it, but the way you design your shop’s foot traffic flow also helps sideline crime. “We call it Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED),” says Moraca. “You funnel customers to the front desk through the retail area, which is visible to your receptionist who can observe the area most of the time.” If receptionists are busy dealing with other clients, that’s when technology comes into play. “Every small business owner should employ a Closed Circuit TV (CCTV) surveillance system,” Moraca says. He recommends making the cameras highly visible; this discourages a would-be criminal from acting on impulse. Be strategic with their placement; set up a CCTV camera 7 feet from the front door and from behind the receptionist desk to prevent “sweet-hearting,” a common retail scheme where a friend of the receptionist receives three items, but only purchases one.

Preventing “sweet-hearting” is also a lot easier if you encourage a strong and positive work culture, according to Bramlet. “If everyone is working toward the same goals and the team knows that it’s not just the owner who will suffer because of theft, everyone will work together,” she reasons.

Monitor the Money

More business during the holidays means you’ll see increases in foot traffic and cash flow. To effectively deal with higher cash volume, be sure to thoroughly vet your front desk staff. “Do a background check to confirm that they have no history of theft,” says Devon Kirk, director of sales, marketing and public relations for GetPayroll.com. “If they’re new, verify their employment; confirming accuracy on their employment application works as a step toward validating their honesty and integrity.” To discourage sticky fingers (for cash and retail) with new or temporary employees, Moraca suggests using this tactic: “Tell them how people have stolen from you in the past—walk them through what happened and what you did to combat it. This shows them what could happen should they go down the same path.”

For all employees who’ll be handling cash, Kirk also suggests creating a written agreement that states employee responsibility for the accuracy of the cash in the drawer. “If you find a discrepancy of more than 5 percent, hold them responsible,” she says. When employees know they’re weighted with this responsibility, they’re more inclined toward honesty and accuracy.

Of course, not all staff will be handling payments—nor should they. Put a limit on the number of people who can be at the register; the fewer sets of hands involved, the better. Also, limit the amount of cash that’s in your drawer; according to Moraca, $200 is the maximum you should have up front because “criminals say it’s not worth stealing less than $200.” If your register’s contents reach over $200, he suggests installing a drop safe where employees can “drop” excess money (in an envelope marked with their initials) for safekeeping. “This deters snatch-and-grabs of bigger amounts,” Moraca says.

Making purchases with phony money is yet another common crime during the holidays. To protect your salon against counterfeit money transactions, always have a counterfeit detector pen (which you can purchase from an office supply store) at the front desk and teach staff how to use it. And, don’t forget to make friends with your local first responders—a move that Moraca says will benefit your business greatly. “Go to the police department and introduce yourself,” he advises. “Invite your beat police officer over for coffee or give him or her discounted services.” The reason: Your local police likely know about any regional counterfeiting, and they can provide you with this knowledge to keep your salon safe.

Do a Credit Check

If the bulk of your transactions are via credit card payments, you may want to invest in a chip card (EMV) reader, like Square’s $49 chip card and contactless reader (think: Apple Pay) that can be easily added to your point of sale (POS) machine. “First and foremost, chip card readers protect salon owners against fraud,” Kirk says. By design, EMV cards prevent fraudulent transactions that occur when someone physically swipes a counterfeit card at a payment terminal. And, unlike magnetic strip readers, which feature outdated unsecure technology that can’t be authenticated but can be easily cloned (or “skimmed”), chip card and contactless readers provide a more secure, encrypted transaction. “The transmittal of data is dynamic, meaning it reads and sends the data through differently each time, making it difficult to be copied,” says Kirk. Contactless transactions go a step further in security because the customer uses her unique thumbprint to authenticate payment.

By offering these types of payment methods, you aren’t just protecting yourself against fraudulent charges (for which you are liable), but also offering your clients peace of mind, reasons Kirk. “Not only does it make checkout more efficient and faster for the client, but it also gives the client a positive perception of your business knowing you keep up with technology to keep their data safe,” she says.

Weatherproof Your Property

We often rejoice when snow falls during the holidays, but that snow—and sleet, rain and ice—can greatly impact your business due to an increased risk of slips and falls. “I’ve always included [maintenance of] frozen sidewalks in my leases,” says Janet McCormick, co-owner of Nailcare Academy in Fort Myers, Florida, and an industry consultant to salons, spas and podiatry practices. Idehen, however, takes matters into her own hands, salting her sidewalks before and after she closes her salon doors to stay on top of ice formation.

For the salon’s interior, roll out large mats that customers can use to wipe their soles before settling in. “We have two large mats at the front entrance area and encourage clients to dry off their feet extremely well as they enter the salon,” Idehen says. Bramlet outfits her front desk staff with a Swiffer Wet Jet so they’re ready to mop up any tracked-in water that could cause others to slip. Speaking of salon floors, McCormick notes that if you’re thinking about redesigning your salon or replacing existing flooring, do your due diligence. “Those beautiful floors must be slip-resistant or even slip-proof,” she says. “These types of flooring are available and worth the purchase.”

Inhibit Illness

When busy holiday schedules butt up against sporadic temperature changes and flu season, falling sick becomes a sad reality. No. 1 on your list of staff health necessities: Everyone, including clients, must wash their hands before services. “I did an experiment—unknowingly—when I opened a nail salon,” says McCormick.
“I didn’t enforce hand-washing by techs and clients at first, but for no reason, I kept track of absenteeism from illness.” The next year, she enacted a hand-washing- before-services rule for everyone, and found that staff took one-quarter of the sick days they’d taken the year prior—what she believes to be a direct correlation with hand-washing.

Beyond clean hands, the salon’s surfaces—including nail tables, door handles, counters, basins and floors— need to be properly cleaned many times a day so that bacteria and viruses don’t linger. “Each is made of different materials, and they all must be cleaned according to surface safety protocol or the manufacturer instructions,” says McCormick. Gather your staff in advance of the holiday rush and explain why a sanitary salon is a safe one—especially with a high volume of customers. “I find that official training is effective: Real information that is statistics- and fact-driven convinces employees that ‘clean sells,’ ‘clean keeps clients’ and ‘clean keeps you and your clients safe,’” McCormick says.

To further preserve staff health, Hatler stocks a supply of Emergen-C and vitamins that employees can take at the first signs of sickness. McCormick is a big proponent of investing in prevention, as well: “Require flu shots, for one thing; pay for them if you have to.” Of course, your staff is only half of the equation. To cut to the chase with her customers, Sally Parks, owner of Plum Nail & Spa in Austin, Texas, puts up a notice—in a cute frame, of course—at the front desk. “It says something short and sweet like, ‘If you’re under the weather, we ask that you reschedule your appointment for the health and safety of our staff and other clients,’” she says. If a client books her appointment over the phone, Parks has trained her front desk to remind people of this policy during the colder months. If sick clients decline to reschedule? “We give them a mask, as well as outfit our techs with a mask and gloves,” Parks says. “We have other clients who witness this practice and thank us for it. I have no qualms about having people put on the mask when they need to. That’s something you can’t mess around with; you don’t want to get everybody sick!”

–by Karie L. Frost

[Image: Getty Images]

This article was first published in the December 2017 issue of NAILPRO

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