Fine Dining vs. McHair Salons-What Are You?

fine dining restaurant interior

Photo credit: iStockphoto

A business school friend alerted me to the May 12 Wall Street Journal article, Much Ado About Straightening: Black Salons Face New Competition.  He wondered what was the fuss about hair salons.  The article brought national attention to the rise in popularity of salons owned by transplants from the Dominican Republic.  Circles of black women have been buzzing for years about the service differences between the “traditional black salon” vs. their Dominican counterparts, especially in cities like New York.

Although Dominican hair salons are not new (trend started in New York City in the 1980s, according to the Wall Street Journal article), the economic times have forced many women to re-think their options for professional hair salon services. For those unfamiliar with the Dominican hair salon model, I will attempt to describe how a typical one operates.  I acknowledge that I will need to make some gross generalizations to make make my point.

The Dominican salon experience can be best described by the term “McHair.” The McHair salon offers $15 wash and blow dry/roller set services in a factory-like fashion.  These salons attract clients that are most concerned with cost and are more than willing to sacrifice frills. Many women say that they bring their own products for their salon visits.

Quite frankly, it works.  I do not hate on the Dominican salons as a business approach.  If you can get the right volume of clients, you can make money.

The article contrasted the Dominican salon with the “traditional black salon.” The article characterized the latter by having long wait times, drama, and high prices. Some of the black stylists that commented on the trend focused on the fact that some of the Dominican styling techniques are harmful for most hair textures.  While this may be true, I thought “why aren’t you just as outraged that black salons have been dismissed as slow, un-professional, and not worth the time.”

If you want to call your business a “high quality” salon, it should clearly be seen as different from the McHair Salon. I want to continue the fast food analogy that I used in a prior post.  In order to qualify as a higher-end salon, patrons must be able to receive a “fine dining” experience.

Let me paint a picture of what a fine dining restaurant experience feels like. When you walk in the restaurant, the host greets you at the door, by name, and ushers you to your favorite table.  When the waiter arrives, he lets you know that your favorite wine is in stock. He consults with you on the specials for the evening and advises you about what options you may enjoy best. The waiter gently helps you place the crisp clean napkin in your lap.  Throughout your dinner, he checks on you often to ensure all your needs are met. You leave feeling like a VIP.  You have no regrets about indulging yourself with a fabulous evening.

Do your clients say anything remotely like this when they leave your salon?

This experience is clearly different from one at a fast food restaurant.  At the fast food chain, you order a #2 and you get your grease-stained bag before you can even put your wallet back in your purse.  You are satisfied but you know that “it is what it is.”

The gap in quality that I am talking about is wider than just Wendy’s vs. McDonald’s fries (I have a preference for Wendy’s, actually). In tight economic times, hair salon clients will just pick the cheapest combo meal if that is the only comparison.

If you want to run a profitable higher-end establishment, you have to clearly show that your service is on a different level.  And, you have deliver that experience every time−not just talk about it.  Like the fine dining experience, you have to make your client feel happy to pay you as an investment in their image. Remember, if you want to attract polished professional clients, you have to demonstrate your polish and professionalism the moment your client walks through your door.

The economy will pick up soon.  Are you ready to show you are different from a McHair Salon?

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