Advertisement describing why retail wins

By Laurel Nelson, contributing writer with Salon Today


Attendees of Serious Business come to New Orleans every year for inspiration, motivation, and most of all—practical advice.

This year’s event in January did not disappoint, with speakers covering everything from in-salon education programs to front desk profitability, to developing a men’s business.

But perhaps the hottest topic of all was retail. Bob Phibbs, CEO of The Retail Doctor, a retail consultation firm, is a business strategist, customer service expert, sales coach, marketing mentor, motivational business speaker and the author of three books.

In an ever-changing retail landscape, Phibbs reassured owners and stylists that they still have the advantage over online retail outlets, and how to maximize it.


“Retail is a big part of being profitable,” Phibbs says. “It creates client loyalty and retention, and it helps clients recreate the look you just gave them.”

But with retail comes challenges. Phibbs outlines some common issues:

  • Lack of motivation

What’s driving your staff to be passionate about your retail line?

  • Confidence in selling

Are you spending enough time on product knowledge classes?

  • Education (for clients)

Are you educating clients on each and every product you use?

  • Online sales

A stylist invested in their client who can explain, educate and answer questions trumps a website.

  • First thing to go is the close

When busy, it’s easy to skip closing a sale. Don’t do it—it’s an integral part of your client’s service.

  • “I’m not a sales person”

You’re not there to sell, you’re there to educate.

  • Forget it’s mutually beneficial

Selling retail doesn’t just benefit the business, the customer benefits as well. The right products help them recreate their style at home and have healthier hair.

  • Don’t make assumptions based on your own wallet

“Your employees are selling from their own wallet,” Phibbs says. “They will tell people products are expensive.”

As a result, stylists often hesitate to recommend a product they wouldn’t buy themselves based on their own budget.

  • Fear of introducing new products to clients who always buy the same thing

Why bother showing them this new gloss when they always buy the styling cream? But what about a new hand lotion? Or hairspray? Don’t make assumptions. Instead, educate the client.

  • Working as a team

The front desk is there to help close the loop by recommending at home care and retail. Working together as a team is more effective.

  • Fear of being perceived as pushy

Educate and leave the decision up to the customer.

And remember:

You’re not just selling retail. You’re selling services and upgrades as well.

“Businesses don’t survive when you don’t sell,” Phibbs says. “Get every service in front of your clients in a compelling way so the customer wants to treat themselves,” he says.


Phibbs says a common complaint from those in retail is competing with Amazon. Here is what he tells the people who argue they can’t compete with online prices:

“Price doesn’t make something a good value. We don’t compete on price—online owns that. It’s fast and frictionless with no interaction.”

But customers do get overwhelmed in retail stores, especially if they are made to feel like idiots by employees.

“And if your receptionist stands behind the front desk like a fortress, you just become a slower, more expensive version of online,” he says.

“Products are just the souvenirs from the experience. We get in trouble when we think it’s all about the souvenirs. People buy people first,” he adds.

The exceptional experience in the salon starts at the front desk with calling the customer by first name either in person or over the phone.

“The attitude shouldn’t be ‘get out of my way,’” Phibbs says. “The spirit of hospitality starts on the phone.”

From there, the experience builds at the shampoo bowl where clients should be relaxed by scent and touch. The technician then has the opportunity to explain what they are doing in a quiet environment while they have the client’s undivided attention.

In the chair, trust is built and expectations should be set. “Do great work and then suggest a system for the client to take home,” Phibbs says. “Find some common ground. Compliment, share and continue.”

Show the client the system you are recommending, clearly explaining the what, why and how of each item. Then the front desk can close the loop by recommending at home care and retail and pre-book the next appointment.

Want to really wow the client? If they take home a new product they’re not as familiar with, have them pull out thier phone to take a quick video of you, the stylist.

“Give the client three quick benefits of the product, and don’t forget to mention your name and the name of the salon,” he says.

Later, the client can go back and reference the video if they’ve forgotten how to use the product or a friend asks about it.


Even the best and most reputable businesses are capable of delivering a bad experience. Phibbs recently recounted a less-than-stellar stay at the Ritz Carlton, a hotel renowned for its customer service.

So how does a bad experience happen in the salon? Phibbs says to watch for these red flags:

  • The front desk is the least important person
  • The shampoo bowl is a necessary evil
  • Stylists are not focused on clients
  • Retail is an afterthought
  • Stylists can’t or won’t sell products

“Clients need to feel they are being heard and seen,” Phibbs says.

A stylist distracted by their phone or a conversation with another stylist may still be able to execute a haircut, but they’re not doing their job. The client knows when a stylist’s attention is elsewhere.

A focused stylist starts the conversation about retail at the shampoo bowl and keeps it going through the service. They’re in tune with the client’s needs and knows how to talk to the client about their hair, educate them about products, and listen to their personal stories.

“The key to being relevant is to understand your client better,” Phibbs says.