The other day on an out-of-town trip, I needed an emergency pedicure. Yes, there is such a thing as an emergency pedicure, especially if you're a woman going to a special event with a new pair of open-toed shoes. As a result, I spent an hour in a small salon. Since the salon didn't have any magazines, I spent the time thinking of ways that the salon's owners -- or any small retailer -- could increase business.

First, let me tell you what this shop was doing right:

  • Their business name clearly identified what they offered. When I looked in the Yellow Pages and saw a name like "Main Street Nails," I immediately knew they'd offer what I needed and were conveniently located. I focused on them rather than trying names such as "French Connection" or "Allure."
  • They enticed me to buy more by attractively pricing a package of two services. I came in for a pedicure; since a pedicure was $25, and a manicure and pedicure together were only $35, I decided to spring for both.
  • They had enough staff and flexibility to handle my business. Each of the other salons I tried had only one manicurist, and they were all booked solid. This store had three people working, so they could manage to squeeze me in.

Nevertheless, there seemed to me a number of simple things they could have done to significantly increase their income. If you're in a retail or service business, you might want to try some of these as well:

  • Court potential referral sources. Hotels are a perfect source of referrals for hair salons, spas, nail boutiques, and other personal care services. Yet, when I asked at the front desk of my hotel, they didn't know the names of any. Had the owner of the manicure store regularly dropped off business cards to the major hotels, perhaps even given some of the staff free manicures, they would have known the company's name. Figure out who could send business your way and keep in touch.
  • Be visible. Customers have to find you. Some of the most effective ways to be seen include having a well-trafficked location, good signage, an ad in the Yellow Pages, and a regular ad in the local newspaper.
  • Develop a mailing list. I suspect this shop had no way of getting in touch with their customers. They certainly didn't ask me if I wanted to be included on their mailing list. With a mailing list, they could have sent a reminder card to any customers they hadn't seen in a while, let customers know of special promotions, and if they ever changed locations, tell customers how to find them. One of the biggest mistakes most small companies make is failing to stay in touch with customers.
  • Give reminders of possible "second sales." Most of the nail salon's customers come in for over an hour a week for manicures. But they don't get reminded of other ways to spend their money. The owners could have easily prompted customers with small signs saying things like "Looking for a gift? We sell gift certificates." "Treat yourself right -- try a pedicure." "Take your color home -- we sell nail polish."
  • Make your space inviting. In most businesses, you want to keep your customers around as long as possible. The longer they linger, the more they'll usually spend. (Not always, of course; some companies want to get customers in and out quickly.) In any case, you want customer to enjoy coming to you. I wouldn't have been eager to return to this salon. While it was clean, the smell of acrylic nails was overpowering, and the owners had made no attempt to decorate. Look around at most small establishments; you'll be amazed at how few have bothered to provide a visually interesting or inviting space. But that's also part of merchandising.

The above steps would have cost very little, yet they might result in significant increases in sales. So take an hour, soak your toes in hot water, look around and think about a few ways you too might add to your bottom line.

Copyright © Rhonda Abrams, 2001

Rhonda Abrams writes the nation's most read small business column and is the author of The Successful Business Plan: Secrets and Strategies. Her newest book, The Successful Business Organizer has just been published. For free business tips, write her at or 555 Bryant St, number 180, Palo Alto, CA 94301.