In a recent article on BeautyMatter entitled Is The End Of The High-End Salon Near?, the idea was proposed that the high-end salon is about to die, for the following reasons:
- Deal Chasing: Services like Gilt, Groupon, and LifeBooker are giving smaller salons offering steep discounts a competitive edge, taking business from higher-end salons.
- DIY: YouTube and Instagram how-to content are replacing the advice and guidance of high-end stylists.
- Beauty Bars: Hyper-focused boutiques specializing in facials, brows, waxing, blowouts, and lashes for a fraction of the cost.
- On Demand: Where-you-want-it, when-you-want-it services appeal to the Uber generation.
- Salon Culture: Approximately 60% of hairstylists are freelance, and salons have a reputation for being mismanaged and run poorly. On the other side of the equation, startups like Drybar and Glamsquad continually invest in stylist education and technology.
As I am married to a man whose family is a distributor for Aveda and owns high-end salons (Paris Parker, multiple locations in Southern Louisiana), no sooner had he read this article that a fierce conversation ensued. It helped that just a few days ago we had cocktails with Suelyn and Julien Farel, of Julien Farel Salon, in NYC, discussing the pros and cons of $1,000 haircuts. Indeed, Julien had just told us that “In a well-done, high-end salon there will always be an elite clientele who will go there, who will not settle for a Number Two, Three or Four level experience, or a quick-stop type of store.”
Before I could even start asking Suelyn specific questions about the BeautyMatter article, she had some thoughts and counter-arguments, suggesting that the high-end salon is alive and well, and here to stay.
“My first take on the article is that if you have a good business model and if you run your business in a way to meet the needs of a changing business environment and you are innovating, then your business will survive and thrive through anything because that is part of navigating the waters of business. This is true in any industry, and has been true in other times. The high-end salon model is unique and specific—and it does not cater to the entire market. You are catering to a very specific clientele who is a luxury-demanding client. You have to anticipate their needs and wants and be ahead of the curve.
“We launched our business in 2001. Before it was a must, we incorporated express checkout in our experience. We kept our clients’ credit card information on file, asked them if they automatically wanted to add a 20% tip, and merely emailed them an invoice so they could reconcile their statement. We saw the need because we are in NYC and everyone is busy and doesn’t have time to “check out the normal way.” We were meeting our clients’ needs from the beginning. Of course, today, digital has facilitated mobile booking and checkout even further. Our business model is, and has always been about keeping that super-high level of service while anticipating the needs of our guests. We know what they want and need before they do.”
I then asked her about the specific five points referenced in the BeautyMatter piece. Here are her responses:
“We don’t do deals. We are like Hermès, we don’t discount. It has always been part of our model. Once you start undercutting and discounting, it’s a slippery slope. We tried once at the early onset of Gilt around 2010 and our clients hated it and anyone who saw it was appalled that we were trying this and it just didn’t work. That was a live-and-learn, and a mistake we only made once. Why erode your margins? We are delivering quality at a specific price and once we discount it tarnishes our brand image.”
“We like to include some DIY in our digital strategy. It is great if you have the patience and can’t afford to go to the salon—but DIY is overall not customized enough for our guests. DIY does not address two key pieces. The first is that it’s all about relationships, about a touch-point at every visit. When you come in for a cut and/or color, we also address your scalp concerns, your hair concerns. DIY becomes like a medical self-analysis when what you really need is an expert. A quick braid is fine, but in terms of longer-term healthy beautiful hair, transforming your hair into something you want it to be, you need the expert. It is not an easy quick fix.”
Specifically, DryBar. “The blowout bar phenomenon has not cut into our services. We do know that some of our regular clients use DryBar, and I think Ali Webb is an incredible visionary. It is a great way to offer the in-and-out quick service—and it is in addition to what our clients come see us for, not instead of. That is an add-on. Maybe it’s on their block, maybe it’s their go-to while they are on the road—there is a convenience and consistency factor there. We have H&M and we also still have Hermès. I would suggest that at Julien Farel our blowout lasts longer, without fizziness in the roots, and our guests like to know the stylist they are getting in advance. We compete price-wise for blowouts—$50 on Park Avenue. Also, at the highest end of the market, people want one-stop shopping—that is their definition of convenience. That is one of the biggest differentiators: people want to be pampered and want to have everything done without having to go to 6 different places and have to book 6 different appointments. What if their schedule changes? They have 6 appointments to change, 6 places to call. Instead, we will move things around for them once. Mani and pedi while they’re in the chair, they are running to a wax while they have color in their hair.”
“One of the things we are well aware of in NYC, many people do not want you to see where or how they live, people don’t want to have someone come to their home to be let into that privacy. Also hair color is messy. Do you want to really do that at home? You have to be careful. So at-home services are not for our guests. On the contrary, our guests like the beehive and the buzz of the salon and the activity that is going on. Also, we are in a hotel, there is a bar downstairs, you can meet friends, have a breakfast or lunch or a cocktail. We don’t cater to a millennial crowd.”
“We are employee-only, and we don’t do booth rental. For us, it is about building our technicians up to become the best that they can be and to grow into a career with us. When you have freelancers, if they are making more with an outside booking, they will be quick to change their book at the salon—and that impacts your business negatively. The freelance model has never been ours, because at the high end it is about relationship, loyalty, and team building. We are building your personal brand for you, alongside our brand. Our stylists want to be part of something that is larger, more corporate, and more meaningful. I truly believe that a long-term salon business with freelancers is not going to work.”
Julien concludes, when speaking about his team: “When building my team, I have always had a philosophy about pricing. It is good when techs are very busy to increase their prices. The industry likes to think that this will cause clients to drop off, but it is the opposite. It confirms the excellent service and level of talent provided, and often makes them more desirable, more in demand. When you are good, you are good.”
I may just have to cheat on Paris Parker with Julien Farel when I am next in NYC …
Photo: by Manuela Rana