Retail Therapy

Taking over an existing salon can be challenging, but Sam Brocato and his wife, Holly, who purchased Oscar and Wendy Bond's Manhattan salon last summer, are off to a promising start with the new Sam Brocato Salon. They have worked hard to build a trusting relationship with the salon's existing stylists and clients and are putting a big emphasis on retail sales. The first thing they did was to replace the retail product mix with the Brocato haircare and styling line.

At Sam Brocato Salon in Manhattan, retail area design is key to making sales.
At Sam Brocato Salon in Manhattan, retail area design is key to making sales.

"It is a high-value fashion brand that is less expensive than what the salon was selling, which is appreciated by the clients in this economy," Brocato says. "It does mean, though, that we have to do twice as many sales to achieve the same profit."

While Brocato, who hails from Louisiana, is frank about the challenges of launching a new salon in the current economic climate, he comes to the table with a significant amount of experience. Brocato opened his first salon in 1976, and his product line, which he launched in 1988, is now sold in 3,800 salons in 16 countries. He is also a longtime member of the National Cosmetology Association and the author of Beautiful Business: Retailing for the Hairdresser (Whitehaven Pub, 1986).

To reach his retail sales goal of having 7 out of 10 clients buy products, Brocato uses several strategies. "I don't believe in measuring retail sales using the percentage of product sales to service sales," Brocato says. "I think the most important thing salon owners can do is to track how many people they're reaching. That tells you where the opportunities are."

One retail program Brocato uses periodically is sampling. During a sampling period, typically two days, stylists offer sample sizes of a specific product or product family to select clients, whose buying behavior is then tracked. Results are not immediate, but the programs are eventually successful, according to Brocato. "You have to have the patience to watch the numbers," Brocato says. "The bump or hit does not usually come until the next visit."

Brocato also drives retail sales with such promotions as offering a complimentary blow-out with certain retail purchases; a money-back guarantee that encourages clients to buy risk-free; and a customer referral program that rewards clients who refer new business to the salon with free products. He also plans to upgrade the salon's shampoo area with luxury chairs so that he can offer treatment specials, where clients can purchase the treatment alone or add on at-home products at a discounted price.

Brocato educates his employees about the active ingredients in each product so that they can explain the benefits to clients, and has just launched a staff retail bonus system. Design is important to Brocato, too. He says retail displays should be placed in several areas: near the entrance to encourage walk-in purchases, in the waiting area and between the back bar and styling stations, with appropriate products in each area.

While Brocato is still fine-tuning the new Sam Brocato Salon, he is very pleased with the progress so far. "We vote with our money, and today we vote with our money more than ever," Brocato says. "Fortunately, our customers have decided they will support us. It's not all wine and roses, but it's working." —L.A.

The National Cosmetology Association (NCA) has launched an aggressive campaign to help salons increase retail sales by $50 per day. That's a $600 million infusion of cash into salons in 2009 if just 25 percent of the 50,000 salons in the United States participate. Visit for more information.