How to Beat Your Competition without Undercutting Them on Price


This is a tale of two beauty salons.

My family and I are lucky to live in a building adjacent to a mall that serves almost all our needs. When we moved to this new city, we specifically chose our apartment based on the convenience of the facilities around it. I can’t begin to tell you how nice it is to live right next door to a mall.

The Nail Spa (TNS) and N*Style, two prominent local beauty salons, have set up shop in this mall and actually face each other in the same corridor. As a mother of a young child, having grooming options so close to my home means I can ensure that I don’t end up looking like a homeless person with caterpillar eyebrows and peanut butter in my hair. Moms, you know exactly what I mean.

When I saw the two upscale salons in the mall directory I immediately thought that I would be able to use them interchangeably depending on availability. Based on the brand communication I’d seen and accolades I’d heard, I believed these two local salons were of the same quality. It didn’t take long for that theory to crumble.

I quickly realized that TNS outshines N*Style on every aspect of service except availability. The lack of appointments is of course reflective of this superiority. The most interesting point of all is that TNS’s services are more expensive than its competitor, and yet after experiencing both that no longer factored into my decision making.

I found myself only going to N*Style out of necessity when I could not find an appointment at TNS. Even then, I often avoided going altogether and scheduled a later appointment with the latter. As a marketer, situations like this intrigue me and I decided to take a deeper look at how TNS had won my loyalty while still commanding a higher price.

Customer Relationship Management
It’s lovely to call a business and immediately be greeted by name, but that is just a small part of what successful CRM looks like. Both salons actually do this quite well so it’s not a clear win for TNS, but it is still important to mention.

The salons have invested in setting up a centralized call center, which makes client relationship management much easier. Instead of calling a busy salon and not reaching anyone for ages, contacting a center means that you reach representatives that are trained to manage customer relationships. They have access to all branches’ calendars and can schedule you at any location you are interested in. They also have records of all your appointments, which helps them make recommendations on services and therapists based on your preferences.

TNS slightly beats N*Style in CRM in a few ways. The staff are extremely friendly, speak your language (English or Arabic) clearly, and always try to subtly cross or upsell. They also always call back when they say they will (a rarity in the UAE) and follow up on your appointments with an SMS to thank you for using their service. It always feels personal, even if it’s the first time you call.

If you don’t have a business with multiple locations, having a call center is not necessary, but having a well-trained person dedicated to answering the phone is. A phone call is usually the first point of contact for your business, so getting this interaction right is imperative.

It is also worthwhile to invest in CRM technology to manage your client relationships and keep track of their purchase history and preferences. Most industries have specialized technology, so you can check out what is popular in your category.

Friendly, Well-Trained Staff
The second point of contact is the staff on the ground. TNS’s team always greets you with a smile and usually by name. I found the latter point interesting, because they began to do this even before I became a regular. The receptionists are obviously trained to take note of any client who comes more than once.

The therapists are also always friendly, which is not the case at N*Style. The first time I encountered grumpy staff at their salon I brushed it off as a bad day for that therapist. When it happened multiple times I realized it wasn’t just a one-off. We’re all human, and sometimes we don’t enjoy our jobs, but when you’re in the service industry you don’t have the luxury of letting that show on your face.

Staff attitude and attention to detail can help you get an edge on your competition. The café I’m sitting at now has won me as a regular not only due to their great coffee, but also their fantastic staff who know exactly what coffee I like and where I prefer to sit.

Welcoming Reception Area
N*Style’s reception which has no seating area and the staff member responsible for welcoming guests is often doing work in other parts of the shop. The area feels much more like a bank teller than an upscale salon.

TNS, on the other hand, has a lovely seating area with stacks of new magazines, flavored water, and candy available for clients while they wait for their appointments. These three items are not expensive to buy, but make such a positive impression. Go the extra mile in your reception area. Invest in comfortable couches, arrange for complimentary magazines to be delivered to you from publishing houses (yes, they’re free!), and offer something a little bit indulgent for clients to consume while they wait.

Educating the Consumer
People like to buy from the experts. They want to trust that what they buy is coming from a credible source. An easy way to convey that is to make an effort to educate your client on the product or service they are receiving.

When I had my first wax done at TNS, the therapist made sure to take me through some key pointers to ensure my skin was properly cared for post wax. In all the years I’d been having this service done, no salon had ever advised me on that, so I found this small gesture so powerful in conveying TNS as an expert in its industry.

After Sale Service
A recent experience with N*Style actually spurred me to write this article, and it was over something so ridiculously minute. A chipped nail.


As most women know, a chipped nail is beyond irritating, especially when you just had your nails done the day before and don’t have the same color of polish at home to fix the issue yourself. This is exactly what happened to me the last time I had a manicure at N*Style.

Realizing it might be a bit presumptuous to ask that a therapist repaint my chipped nail, I headed to the salon only to ask to use the polish to fix it myself. I told the receptionist what had happened and politely asked to use the polish. Her response was: chipped nails are a result of the customer’s lifestyle.

I blinked in disbelief. She continued to tell me that my own actions must have caused the chipped nail. Not only was this an affront, but it was also completely uncalled for. I was not asking for any investment of their time or effort. I was merely asking to use the polish for less than one minute. Her decision to lecture me instead of simply allowing me to do so finalized my decision to never return to N*Style.

Your responsibility towards your clients does not end after they pay for their product or service. Providing after sales assistance does require extra time and effort, but it is a clear differentiator among competing brands.

Observe and Learn
I like intelligent companies. Companies that observe their consumer habits and try to make life easier for them. TNS’s tipping facility, one I have never seen in any other salon, is a perfect example of that. After a grooming service, a client does not always have the change to immediately tip therapists. She usually rushes to the cashier to pay and get change, but by that time the therapist may have begun work with another customer.

To help customers avoid this awkwardness, TNS has a simple set of drawers at the cashier’s desk that serve as tip boxes for each individual therapist. Pull out the relevant drawer, drop your tip, and happily leave. Easy and effective.

Observe your customers and how they naturally use your product or service. You can glean helpful information from this about how to amend your offering to suit them. Remember, it’s much easier to change your behaviour than ask clients to change theirs.

Loyalty programs that work
I am not a huge fan of loyalty programs. I’ve rarely ever seen them done well, and they usually seem like a passive after-thought by the company. However, they are standard in some industries, like the grooming industry, and cannot be avoided. That’s when execution becomes key.

TNS’s loyalty program is easy. The card is handed you the first time you arrive, is used from the first service, and the rewards are actually lucrative.

Alternatively, N*Style’s loyalty program requires a complicated form to be filled out on an iPad at the salon. The form asks for far too much unnecessary information and feels intrusive. After completing the form, the card has to then be mailed to your PO Box. Why? I’m not really sure.

Clients don’t need extra complication in their life, especially not when they’re going to relax at a salon. Loyalty programs should require little management from the client’s side and provide great reward. If you’re unable to streamline this process, you’re probably better off not offering it.

As you can see, none of the above points are rocket science and none are particularly expensive. However, the combination of all these points proves to customers that TNS has their best interest at heart and actually works to make them comfortable. Going the extra mile, especially when it’s not that difficult for you, can help you push past your competitors and become the favorite in your industry.


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