Meet Kati Whitledge – entrepreneur, salon owner, professional speaker, educator, author, and all-around beauty dynamo. She started three beauty businesses, wrote her first eBook, and launched it nationwide, all before the age of 35. She has since become an industry leader with expertise in salon marketing and recruitment and is a sought-after guest speaker for venues like Serious Business.
The Ultimate Salon Industry Expert
This high-energy industry die-hard is the owner of Be Inspired Salon in Madison, Wisconsin, an upscale salon boutique where she grew her two-person team into a staff of 20.
During the salon’s growth stages, Kati created a marketing tool, mya. This stylist-match-making software offers new clients the best possible salon experience by ensuring a good fit with a recommended stylist. The idea is to convert salon website visitors into long-term salon clients using a comprehensive survey.
Fulfilling a Need
“I came up with the idea (for mya) because we had the struggle when I was a new salon owner where our top stylists were booked solid. When someone called in for an immediate appointment, the only available people were fresh new talent, usually right out of school. From a buyer’s perspective, that sets the tone as ‘I’m not going to be with somebody who is maybe as competent,’ setting a negative connotation for somebody new. I knew that if I could remove the barriers of title and experience, I could find a way to match people with stylists based on an emotional connection and that we had a better chance of retaining guests for the long haul,” Kati explains.
Kati points out that people come into most commission salons looking for a great experience that combines the competency of the stylist with the custom pampering aspect. They want to find a stylist that they click with, someone they trust and can talk to, build a long-term relationship with, and even share aspects of their life.
“mya speaks to different personalities. The goal is to bridge that gap between not just what services guests are looking to get done but who is going to be the right person to deliver. The software eliminates not only the fear that guests have for their first salon visit but also relieves the pressure that stylists feel when meeting a new guest,” Kati adds.
To determine the best stylist matches for potential clients, Kati came up with a survey akin to eHarmony. Key questions helped to define the top three stylist matches in that salon for each specific client and provided the option to book with any of the three right there, assuming the salon offers online scheduling.
“I also knew that most people were landing on our website before they would come into the salon. I’ve found that 90 percent of consumers still go to a salon’s website before deciding to come in, and 80 percent of the people who land on a salon’s website have never been there before. It was cool to identify that this would be a sweet spot to engage with people. By offering the survey, the software can capture the person’s information, storing their name and email, and offering the salon the opportunity to communicate with and market to the potential client,” explains Kati.
mya was such a success for her own salon that Kati has since partnered with over 125 salons and counting across North America. She’s especially proud of the conversion rate, which averages between 35 and 55 percent. Those percentages translate to at least 4 people out of 10 who have taken the survey are actually now doing business with that salon.
Beyond the Technique
In addition to helping beauty businesses gain new clients, Kati wanted to address the missing component – assisting salons in retaining their clientele. Believing that the key to success in the salon lies beyond the technique, Kati tapped the name and created a custom education program. Beyond the Technique is a salon business podcast that empowers salon owners and professionals to better themselves, their team, and their salon. Kati aims to collaborate and equip beauty professionals with topics beyond their time behind the chair.
“Our goal is to change the way that salon owners are supported in their businesses,” says Kati. “I just wished that when I was growing my business, there was some real, transparent information and topics pertinent to business and marketing. So, we bring on guests – I would say the majority of them are industry professionals. The ones who are not are really big players in business in general. If they are not internationally best-selling authors, they are multi-millionaire business people. It has been pretty cool to learn and grow as a salon owner myself having these types of guests on.”
The Beyond the Technique salon podcast topics typically fall into one of several categories, including financial, leadership, sales and marketing, client experience, operations, recruiting, inspiration and motivation, and training and education. Guests are a compilation of businesspeople in the industry from different walks with some experts outside of the industry as well. The mostly salon-owner podcast also draws hairstylists to the platform, especially those who self-identify as owners or solopreneurs. To date, the Beyond the Technique series has around 260,000 downloads with an average of 382 downloads per day. Needless to say, it’s clearly quite popular and should be considered the best podcast for hairdressers and salon owners alike.
For 2020, Kati hosts the Beyond the Technique beauty biz podcast on BeyondTheTechnique.com, iTunes, or GooglePlay twice a week.
Business is Looking Rosy
Kati is also a member of Friends of Rosy – a community network or salon owners collective that helps support others in the industry. As a member of this group, Kati provides feedback that helps identify any potential gaps in the software, so the Rosy Salon Software team can improve functionality and develop new features.
“I have been with Rosy since 2009. Since then, it has grown and become more robust over the years, which is awesome. My number one favorite thing is how the marketing platform integrated with Rosy can help me filter and specifically, market to very niche audiences. Instead of the typical point of sale, where you can send an email to anyone who has been in within any certain amount of time or anybody who has seen a specific stylist within the year, Rosy takes it to the next level. You can specifically reach out to people who have come in for a specific service or market to people who have come in for these four different types of services, for example. That’s huge — to be able to really narrow it down.”
Kati and her Be Inspired Salon team find email to be a powerful form of communication. They feel that if people open their salon emails, it’s because they love the brand or find engagement with the content or messaging. Kati points out that a higher click rate on email shows greater returns based on whatever call-to-actions are included. She sends out regular emails sharing a few of the available times that their team has left for the week, which always generates impromptu visits.
“One of the other reasons we have stayed strong with Rosy is because we have memberships with our salon. We have a VIP membership, an annual program, and a color club membership that is a monthly program. Once we make the sale, we want those things to be automated and followed up on to ensure that everybody’s account is in good standing for those monthly fees. That has been huge for us, to be able to do more with sales, especially residual sales,” mentions Kati.
She continues, “Another is that we do require credit cards for all reservations, and that platform has been great. We use all of their merchant service products and platforms, which makes life easy on the financial side of managing things.”
Expert Advice for Salon Owners
When asked to suggest her best tips to grow salon success, especially with new or fledgling salon owners, Kati responded with some very sound words. She points out that many salon owners, including herself, want to start a salon to create a unique team environment. A place where people feel like they belong and are accepted. Where team members collaborate versus compete with each other.
“We have these big hearts, and we want to do everything to make it a better environment than anywhere else. Then we realize somewhere along the path that we are not running the kind of business that’s going to give us the kind of financial return to be sustainable. That’s when you have to pivot, to draw lines, and really look at your numbers. Luckily we have never gone so far in one direction that we have had to reel it back in, do any pay cuts of any sort, but we have learned lessons in other areas,” Kati states.
She continues, “I think if you’re going to start a salon business, and you are and it for reasons of the heart, which most of us are, you still have to find a business coach and mentor who can help you understand what it means to run a business. Your business should be an enterprise that works without you. If you weren’t providing financially for your salon in any capacity or even helping in any area, would it be able to run without you present? And if so, for how many days, weeks, months, or years? That’s a tough thing for any service industry to accomplish. Especially when it’s so personalized, like a hair salon. The closer you are to creating a stable business model, including the financial side, the more sustainable your company will be, and your ability to do more for your team.”
Kati’s top three tips for salon owners:
- Get a coach and a mentor to help you figure out your business and make sure what you’re doing is sustainable
- Know your numbers
- Marketing can solve almost any problem
Kati states that all of this comes with the assumption that you’re a great person as a salon owner. Nobody goes into salon ownership as a perfect person; everybody has flaws, and there’s always baggage with every relationship you have. This industry, as Kati passionately points out, is all about relationships, especially with your team.
“Think about what ways that you can grow yourself and become better every year, not just your business, but being the kind of leader that is going to attract great people and be deserving of such an awesome company. And that all takes time, lessons, experience, and your willingness to grow and be open to change yourself,” says Kati in closing.
Thank you, Kati Whitledge, for being such a generous salon industry expert!