Choosing The Right Salon Software for your Salon

16 May 2016

Buying software for your salon can be very stressful. It is a major investment and if you make the wrong decision it can cost you thousands of pounds and hours of frustration. Make the right decision and it can be one of the best investments you ever make for your salon. This guide covers all the main issues and considerations that need to be taken into account when looking at salon software, either for the first time or updating an existing system. Hopefully it will help you make the right decision for your salon. Technology has changed in the 20 years that I have been working in the industry. However the basic principles still apply.

Technology is Always Changing

20 years ago, the majority of salons were not computerised and were looking at a computer for the first time. There were only a handful of companies that supplied salon software. Now, it is different the majority of salons have been computerised but like other businesses they need to keep up to date with current technology changes. Also with the Internet there is now a huge choice of solutions available. In this guide as well as looking at salons that have not computerised yet, we will also look at the implications of upgrading or installing a new system. The main things driving businesses and technology currently broadly fall into the following:

  • Social Media and online marketing
  • e-commerce
  • Smart Phones and Mobile Internet
  • Cloud Based Computing

Let’s take a quick look at each section in more detail: Social Media and online Marketing – It used to be that opening your salon and relying on your shop window and recommendations from clients was enough. Not any more, your shop window is now not only on the high street but it is on the internet. Salons need to find cost effective ways of getting them noticed on the internet. Tools like facebook, email marketing and interactive websites are all means of attracting new clients. e-commerce Salons need to make it easy for clients to buy/book appointments, we are all strapped for time these days and the easier we make it for pour clients the more loyalty we will get. You may want to operate a retail haircare shop or a ‘reserve and collect’ system where clients can reserve their favourite shampoo. We are now all competing against some sophisticated salon groups, who can exploit this technology and have the big budgets. The smaller independent salons need to find clever ways of competing in this areana or the outlook does not look good. Smart Phones and Mobile Internet – from a consumer perspective mobile phones are the way forward for online booking and salon websites, already over 50% of website access is done via smartphones. Cloud based solutions vs disk based solution. This is probably a difficult concept to grasp, as most of the benefits seem to apply to the suppliers, eg. Cloud based solutions are more robust, always up-to-date, easily expandable, easier to support. But what does this mean to you the salon owner. In simple terms it means you will always be up to date and you will experience less system down time, and it will reduce your cost of ownership. Cloud based technologies is the big trend, you may not realise how much you already use this technology, Amazon, Tesco, Banking, Shopping, Sage all big cloud based applications. Salons need their software to do much more, then they did ten years ago, therefore simplicity has to be the no1 criteria, because if it isn’t easy and straightforward, it won’t get used.

Why Salon Software? What Salon software will do

Most people recognise the benefits software can bring, broadly speaking this breaks down into four categories; Save Time – Every business is swamped with paperwork; a good software system should drastically reduce time spent on laborious tasks such as commission reports, stock valuations, sales reports, cash reconciliation and client records. Increase Control – Software puts you in control. Implementing a software system can help streamline systems and procedures. Find out exactly how your business and team are doing on a daily, weekly, monthly basis as well as compared to previous years. Client counts, revenues, retail sales, technical sales plus much more. Know which clients are coming or more importantly, not coming back to the salon. Increase profits – Salon profits can soar with computerisation, having the right information to hand is essential to give proper staff appraisals to motivate your team, maximising your retail sales and reduce stock slippage through effective stock control and sales analysis and lastly but certainly by no means least, client marketing. For me this is probably the most exciting aspect of salon computerisation that there is. Suddenly you have access to a detailed client database that you can start to market to. Non-returning clients, colour promotions, birthday promotions etc. can all be targeted. Results can be outstanding. Your database will become your greatest asset and managed correctly will significantly boost your revenues. Salon Computer systems need to exploit the new social media trends. Customers are spending more time on-line and the salons of the future will have to have a sophisticated online marketing strategy., incorporating all areas from on-line booking, twitter, facebooks, websites, blogs, email marketing. The new generation of salon computers will be looking to address these needs More clients, more often, spending more! Nearly all the suppliers will boast and quote figures at you, the reality is unless you can automate your marketing and client communications, you are unlikely to see all the benefits. Ask most salon owners about their computer system – and time and time again you will hear it described as a ‘glorified till’. And this is because most systems are not fully automated and are complicated to work. Professionalism – Any professional business that you go into today is computerised. Having a computer as part of your salon experience tells your clients that you are a professional. Professional businesses can charge professional prices.

What salon software won’t do

It is important to remember the salon software is a tool, used to help you manage and grow your business; it does not and cannot be a substitute for good business leadership, motivation, excellent customer care and a good salon experience. Your salon software is like another employee except it works for a pittance, does not take lunch breaks, never complains, works as long as you want, does not take holidays and is rarely sick (if only the same could be said for the rest of the team!). However computers do go wrong, thanks to Bill Gates and the likes of IBM, technology moves so fast it rarely has time to mature (and become fully reliable) therefore you have to expect problems. In my opinion, they are the most unreliable electrical appliances you can buy. However; you will soon realise that you cannot run your business effectively without one. Desktop computers are vulnerable to virus attack and hardware failure, ‘cloud’ based solutions can drastically improve the reliability of your salon system and minimise any down time. Choosing the right technology partner and technology platform can make all the difference to your salon business. Another problem you can expect is the famous old adage “garbage in garbage out” or the information out is only as good as the information in. Thankfully most systems are easy enough to use that this should not be the case. Make sure you can see how a system would work in your salon. Would a post-code entry system help? Are all email addresses and mobile numbers being collected? Are procedures in place to make sure accurate information is being entered for maximum usefulness?

Choosing software that is right for you

What is best for your business? Often when salons look at computerisation they get scared off because of the cost. You have to think what is best for your business. A computer; I believe, is as fundamental as the telephone if you want to grow and have a successful business. How many salons can you name that take over £5,000 a week and have not got a computer? Five years ago the idea of going to PC World or Curry’s and buying a PC to use in the salon wasn’t a viable solution. There wasn’t “off the shelf” software won’t and you had to look at specific salon management software companies. And therefore it was expensive. The ‘cloud’ changes all this, and means you can buy an off the shelf PC and computerise your salon at a fraction of the cost of a few years ago. It is worth preparing a questionnaire to ask your short listed suppliers Most salon management systems are based on “till” systems and are supplied with cash drawer; receipt printer and touch screens. The advantage of these systems is that they become integrated into your business. Every time the cash drawer is opened the history and information is updated on the computer so nothing is left to chance and errors are minimised.

What should you be looking for from a salon software supplier? And what questions should you ask?

Choosing your business partner is probably as important than the software itself because hopefully you will be entering a long term relationship with them. So you should be asking questions like;

  • Who are their clients? – It is always good to model successful salons.
  • What experience do they have?
  • How many clients do they have?
  • How long have they been in business?
  • What happens if new software is developed?
  • What do I get in terms of manuals and help guides? Who installs and supports the hardware?
  • How is their support team structured?
  • What happens when I have a problem?
  • What can I expect from my training?
  • What if I need additional training?
  • Is your supplier independent?
  • What do they do to ensure a successful installation?
  • What else can they do to enhance your business?
  • How long is the contract for?
  • What if happens if I want to cancel the contract?

In the twenty years I have been in this industry I have seen many different companies come and go. If they have not been around in this industry for over four years, I would recommend letting someone else be the guinea pig.

So what is the cost of a Salon software System?

Implementing a salon management system used to be very expensive. If you had your own computer you would have been lucky to get started for under £2,000. For a complete solution including hardware, software and training you needed to be budgeting for between £3,000 to £5,000. Nowadays it is a fraction of this, if you have your own computer you can be up and running for just a few hundred pounds. You also need to look at ongoing support and software costs. These can vary hugely from FREE (if support is free you need to question how good will it be and whether your software gets updated etc) to several hundred pounds. Keep an eye out what happens if your business expands or you want more features, are there extra costs involved? Often suppliers may give you a low point of entry, but then charge you for any extras, such as online booking, extra licenses, remote access. Be careful all these often essential addons can often cost you as much as your initial outlay. Be careful about the terms of the agreement, signing a five year agreement is madness, suppliers will lock you in and you could be stuck with a system that just isn’t right for your business.

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