By Rebecca Rose
Killeen Daily Herald
As Tabatha Sports peeked out from a thick row of tinfoil wrapped bangs, she giggled at her reflection.
"I look like a headbanger," joked Sports with her hairdresser, Christa Fahey.
A student and aspiring social worker, Sports spent nearly $100 on the multi-step chemical treatment, but she sees the monthly expense as more than a simple exchange of service and money; it's an investment in a valuable six-month relationship.
"I love Christa," she said.
Many hairstylists across Killeen and surrounding areas can attest to the importance of client relationships as the key to growing and maintaining a prosperous beauty business.
At Gifted Hands Multi-Cultural Salon and Spa, owner Shanda Scott specializes in hair treatments for men and women. Opened in October 2010, the Copperas Cove salon caters to a variety of beauty trends as it creates a soothing atmosphere for clients who need a respite from their hectic lives.
"People know when they come in here, this is a calming place," said Scott, who offers a full-service salon menu with massages, facials, manicures and pedicures in addition to hair services.
Tammi Brown, one of Scott's regular clients, said she visits the salon at least every two weeks, spending upward of $75 on her hair.
For Brown, it's the connection she has with Scott that keeps her coming back. "When I come here, I feel welcome. I look forward to coming in here and laughing with (Scott)," she said. "She's funny and down to earth. I like to come here and feel relaxed, and feel comfortable. I feel welcomed, and we have a good time."
For repeat clients, such as Brown and Sports, hairstylists earn their loyalty with more than just technical skills. They also develop strong rapports with each other.
Returning customers account for the majority of the business for hairstylists, such as Fahey and Amanda Blackwell at the Salons of Elms Square.
Fahey, who charges about $95 for a cut with color highlights, said she relies on strong word-of-mouth from happy clients to grow her business.
Internet reviews, particularly those viewed via Google's search engine, are especially vital for her business. "New clients come in all the time, just based off the reviews they saw online," said Fahey. "It's been a big part of this."
In her fifth year of renting booth space at Elms Square, Fahey sees about 100 clients each month and roughly 80 percent of them are repeats or referrals.
Amanda Blackwell offers discounts or free product samples as rewards for customers who make referrals. But, she said, the secret to building a successful base lies in true customer happiness, not just customer satisfaction.
"First you have to please the person who is in your chair," said Blackwell, who added that 95 percent of her clients are repeats. "That seems to work the best. When they leave, if they're happy and they look good, they tell people who did their hair."
Fahey and Blackwell rent booth space from salon owner, Kelly Harris. Booth space at a successful salon can cost up to $150 a week, a charge hairstylists have to pay regardless of their client roster.
In addition to the booth rental, Blackwell said, hairstylists also must maintain their own supplies. Bleach, developer, toner and color can run upward of $200 a week, she said. But hair treatments, such as highlights and full-color dye services, are the most profitable, with margins of nearly 60 to 70 percent in some cases. "If you want to make money, you have to spend the money to do it," said Blackwell.
Investing in a dream
But earning enough money to cover the costs of providing elaborate chemical treatments or styles while building a clientele base is sometimes difficult for new hairdressers.
Last April, hairstylist Chessie Floyd started renting a booth at Elms Square, almost immediately after she graduated from beauty school.
The young stylist stayed in the red for much of the year, spending money on supplies and taking classes to become certified in high-end techniques, such as hair fusion, an extension process popular with celebrities, such as Jessica Simpson, Beyoncé and Britney Spears.
While the class and supplies for the popular hair extension technique set Floyd back nearly $1,000, it's an investment in what could prove to be a valuable skill. At Gifted Hands, Scott charges between $700 and $1,800 for the service.
Nowadays, Floyd has a mid-sized clientele of nearly 40 regular customers. "I started off with my own friends and family, and built off of that," she said.
Ultimately, the pay off was worth the wait. "Your first year is always going to be the hardest. (The other stylists) tell me to hang in there. I know it takes time to build," said Floyd, with a slight laugh. "But this is my dream."
Contact Rebecca Rose at email@example.com or (254) 501-7548.