Seeing opportunity and having the fortitude to do something about it is the hallmark of a successful entrepreneur. Couple that foresight with a deep desire to help a beloved industry, and you’ve described Derek Hull – a former multi-salon owner and current business coach, salon consultant CEO of Salon Ninja, who has a penchant for problem-solving.
How It All Started
Prior to becoming the consummate salon coach that he is, Derek served in the Marine Corps and then went on to head the Public Employees union for the state of New Jersey. When his retirement came up for the union, he decided to focus his efforts on the business side of his wife’s various salons. Derek confirmed that the businesses weren’t doing that great financially: typical story, dumping a lot of money into the salons, and not getting a very good return on investment.
The Hull duo needed to either invest in the businesses to make them better or pull the plug and invest their money elsewhere.
“That’s when I came up with the concept of memberships,” said Derek referring to the membership craze that swept the country back around 2014 and beyond.
“Our first salon had roughly 800 members in a nine-chair salon. We expanded from there, and with investors, it got pretty big. We were offered a position with a major manufacturer to leave what we were doing and teach people how to do the system we were doing. Unfortunately, the agreement with the manufacturer fell through at the last minute after we had already sold our salons, so it was time to recreate ourselves. We knew memberships, so we went out and did grassroots coaching on our own. We slowly built that into many other things.”
From Sounding Board to Marketing Solution
Derek went on to found Salon Ops – a salon coaching business soon realized as the one-stop resource for profitable salon operations. There were also forums set up on social media, including Salon Owners Only and Salon Owner Mastermind Private Facebook Groups because Derek found that there wasn’t a salon owner only group out there.
Although admittedly unsure if the groups would grow, they caught traction over the years. They became an excellent resource for owners looking for a place they could share information back and forth without their employees being involved. Today, there are over 12,000 salons in the owners’ group alone.
Looking at the industry as a whole (profit margins and all the typical things that coaches look at), Derek looked for fixes throughout the years. Derek identified the salon industry’s two big pain points: bringing people in the door to fill chairs and recruiting and retaining employees.
That’s when he came up with the idea for a marketing platform to help address both issues. Derek approached others in the industry to see if they would get involved but quickly realized that they’d need to hire developers to put their ideas into play.
Unveiling a Solution
Just before the COVID shutdowns, Salon Ninja was unveiled. Touted as the first marketing platform specifically designed for the salon industry, Salon Ninja was created based on salon owners’ input within their various salon owner groups.
Derek explains that the software offers tools that essentially act as a marketing agency on your desktop. He feels that a salon’s booking and management software is excellent at managing and keeping their existing clients and marketing to those clients. However, as he points out, what they don’t do is market to people that aren’t clients yet.
“Typically, a salon owner hires a digital marketing agency – somebody to do ads for Google, Facebook, etc. We wanted an automated platform that puts all of the power of all of that under one roof, to get leads, track the leads, and turn them into paying clients. One thing that our software does is prove how much money the salon is making off of their marketing. It’s kind of the Holy Grail of marketing. Most marketers can tell you how many clicks you have and all of those great things, but they can’t tell you how much money you’ve made off of it. Our system actually tracks it all the way down to the level of how many dollars you made off of that lead.”
When asked how their platform works, Derek chimed in, “We’re pulling customer data out of Facebook, Google, all sorts of places, websites, things like that. We’re getting those leads, and then we are dripping campaigns out to them. The campaigns are effective. Our typical salon has a close rate anywhere from 50 to 60% and up on leads coming through the door. Because not only do we send automated campaigns, but our system notifies the front desk, ‘Katie, you have a lead that just came in, pick up the phone and call them, here’s the number.’ It combines the digital world with that human touch.”
“Salon Ninja has every tool that you could imagine, and even some you couldn’t imagine that are built for marketing. We have landing page builders, form builders, website builders, two-way text marketing, two-way voice marketing where you can drop ringless voicemails, drip campaigns, and just about anything you can think of.”
According to Derek, some clients use Salon Ninja solely as a communications platform with their existing clients, while others use it mostly for marketing. He points out one salon averaging over 200 new customers a month just from their website. They’ve been on Salon Ninja since March 2020, and they have made $70,000 on the platform.
During the early days of COVID, Derek, Andrew Finkelstein, and James Alba did a spinoff of their social forums to something called Beauty Business Reset. The interview-style platform produced a webinar every night at first and now continues with sessions once a week. Beauty Business Reset was able to host unique guests to come on and talk about business education. Even some industry icons such as Nicholas French, Vivienne Mackinder, and others have graced the platform with their advice and hair skills.
“So, that’s kind of one of the new directions that we are going in, and we’re going to keep it going because, unless they are making a ton of money, everybody needs a business reset regardless. That’s kind of our give to the industry – it’s a free education platform,” Derek mentioned.
He continued, “Andrew and I have a real passion for trying to fix the industry. We’ve seen what it’s like as an owner to write checks in January and February when it snowed in the Northeast. That’s when you were still paying paychecks, but no money was coming through the door. Owners need to have the sense that a business is there to generate an income. It’s not a charity to give to stylists. I love stylists, but it’s not a charity. They are employees, so knowing how to run a business is very important. We are one of the few industries where most owners do not know how to run a business properly. They live paycheck to paycheck, Friday to Friday, wondering if their payrolls will not be balanced… Things like that. Education is the only way that we’re going to fix that in the industry.”
“It all starts with your website. Your website is your house, and if you don’t open all the doors and windows when you’re having a party, nobody is going to get in the house.”
Words of Wisdom
When asked what advice he could offer salon owners, this Friends of Rosy member responded, “It all starts with your website. Your website is your house, and if you don’t open all the doors and windows when you’re having a party, nobody is going to get in the house. Most people build a website for how pretty it looks – it’s almost just a picture on the internet we call a business card. We open all of those windows and doors, invite everybody in, and get their business cards when they are coming through the door. That’s just an analogy, but it’s important to get that customer data and use it at a very granular level. Versus just views and clicks, you need to get that person’s name, phone number, and email to market to them multiple ways, including a personal phone call. A personal phone call still beats at all.”
Here’s what else Derek recommends:
Have a Call to Action
Most people post on social media with nothing more than pretty pictures, but they don’t have a call to action links. However, without calls-to-action, nothing gets done. This action is basically a link that leads potential clients to a landing page – a mini website that clearly states, “here’s my offer, and here’s my thank you.” It can be a new client discount or anything of value to a potential salon client that you want to offer. Whether they take your offer or not, gather data at this landing page so that you can market to them. That’s the key!
Fun Fact: Microsoft was the first to develop landing pages because regular marketing was not working. It was soon discovered that the average business with at least nine landing pages outperforms other companies by over 50%.
Share Links Like Crazy
Having links on your website, in social media, and on your blogs, business cards, and all forms of advertising, is essential. You want to create a direct path to your landing page to get people to step up and offer you their information.
Create a Marketing Calendar
Plan your marketing around your gaps. Most salons know when you’re going to be busy: around Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Mother’s Day. On a calendar, mark out the dates you know you’re going to be very busy, then identify the spaces in between, which is when you’re going to market, starting at least a month in advance.
Identify Your Ideal Target
People throw marketing out there as if it’s a needle in a haystack versus pinpointing what they need to market to. Don’t just cast a wide net and go for every man, woman, and child ages 1 to 60 in your marketing efforts – that’s just not effective marketing—market to what you need. Develop your client avatar, which is basically identifying your ideal client. What do they look like? What is their age, gender, likes and dislikes, monetary status, etc.? Then think like that ideal person and decide what you would want to receive in marketing.