Selling On Up. And Making It Up as You Go.

Here’s the secret to have a successful salon or spa in one word:


Our goal, as soon as you walk in the door, is to convince you that hey, actually, a more expensive facial would be more beneficial for your skin than the bog-standard European facial you signed up for, or that in fact, you’ll extend the benefits of the facial much longer if you buy a bunch of products for home use, too. And by the by, did you know we also do hair and nails here?

At Beauty U, we’re getting ready to work on real, live clients soon, and learning to fill out a form for every customer where we have to write which treatments we suggest as an upsale, whether they decided to go for it, and which home products we recommend. The part that creeps me out is that we’re then supposed to hand this form to the client at the end of the service. They bring up to the receptionist so she knows what to charge them — which means the client can idly flip it over and see the back where the word “upsell” is printed right there in black and white.

Now I don’t know about you, but if I were the customer and I saw that word on my receipt, it would pretty much make me want to down-sell and never buy anything from that salon ever again.

I first learned about upselling when I worked in retail during high school and college, so it’s not like the beauty industry invented this term. (I worked at a book store and we were encouraged to persuade customers to add on a cute bookmark at the cash register, or maybe consider grabbing a favorite author’s latest in paperback along with the hardcover.) But while I get the bottom-line-business of it, I still feel like it’s nice to protect the customer, just a little bit, from the dollar signs in our eyes. Especially because we’re taught over and over at Beauty U that selling products and services is our responsibility as estheticians — our moral imperative, in fact, because customers need our help. They’re presenting us with “problems” (frizzy hair, acne, age spots) and asking us for “solutions.” And that means giving “tips” on how to take better care of their skin and hair. Every good tip should include a piece of advice about “what to do,” and a piece of advice about “what to use.”

“I hate the idea of upselling because I feel like it makes customers uncomfortable,” says Meg, as we read aloud from tonight’s PowerPoint lecture on making sales. “What if they can’t afford to buy a bunch of products?”

The PowerPoint has an answer for that: “Customers thinking they can’t afford it is the number one reason they’ll give you to avoid buying something,” it explains confidently.

And then: “Customers who think that are delirious.”

This is because customers don’t understand that salon products really cost them less, because the ingredients are more concentrated, meaning you can use less and the bottle will last longer than the drugstore crap you usually buy. (Anyone who has ever bought a salon bottle of hair conditioner knows this is a tremendous lie.)

But whether that’s actually true is irrelevant, as we learn on the next slide, which explains that if we’re not sure what a product really does, we should feel free to follow the MSU rule.

MSU stands for “Make Stuff Up.”

As the PowerPoint explains, “If [the customer] wants softness, your product gives them softness.” Personal testimonies are also strong selling tools, so we’re encouraged to tell customers that any given product we’d like to sell is what we use ourselves. (Again, what we actually use being fully beside the point.)

Now, before you all get in a lather, let me state for the record that Miss Jenny is horrified as I read off this slide. It’s her first time teaching this Business Skills unit, and she wasn’t expecting this kind of advice. “Are they kidding me?” she asks, flipping back and forth through the PowerPoint lecture to see if the MSU rule is some kind of Beauty U practical joke. “You can try that tactic maybe once, but if you make a sale that way, it will be the last time you ever sell to that customer.”

But there it is, in black and white on the screen in front of us. So much for the customer cult I was worrying about last month. Apparently at Beauty U, the customer is always right — but also, as far as we’re concerned, kind of a moron.

[Photo: “Stylist Chair So Chic Salon Dream Dazzlers Play Set,” $74.98 via Amazon. Because “now you’re the stylist with your own stylist chair!”]



Filed under Beauty Schooled, Career Opportunities, Customer Cult, In Class, week 14

17 responses to “Selling On Up. And Making It Up as You Go.

  1. Marian

    I have been in sales all my life ( admittedly not with exotic beauty products) and have never seen such blatant selling rubbish. The usual motto is “sell a customer what they want and when they trust you, you may be able to steer them to what they need”. Admittedly that too suggests customers are too simple to know what they need but on the other hand I work with complex financial planning products. Good sales people actually want a long term relationship with the client and maybe potential referrals to new customers. Overselling (whoops upselling) or lying really doesn’t build trust or a longterm career. Miss Jenny is right.

  2. Amy

    I have two comments.
    1. The last time I went to Exhale in nyc for a facial I nearly left in tears because I was so berrated into purchasing two treatments on top of the standard. At the time, my skin was breaking out A Lot, so I was already emotional about it. So when I was told that the basic facial was essentially a waste of money, that to see results I needed more intense ($$) treatments, I felt both pissed off but also unsure of how to handle the situation since I suddenly felt like I was going to be preventing her from doing her job unless I said yes. Which meant that I dropped over a $100 more that day and I have never been back to Exhale since then. And it didn’t do a damn thing to help my skin. Be honest or you’ll lose clients!
    2. As far as salon products go, I might be on the other side of the fence. I have been a die heart Bumble and Bumble product user since the stuff works on my curly hair. I am out of holding spray, which is about $20, and they don’t sell it in Iowa so I bought a $4 Garnier bottle at Target. AND I am using at least twice as many pumps to get the results, which makes me think the savings won’t pay off in the long run.

    Sorry this got so long, but I felt compelled to share both of those!

  3. Once again, I have reason to be a fan of your blog.

  4. Mary Alice Suter

    I think it’s awful that they’re trying to get you to badger people into getting something they don’t want/need. At the same time, I find it helpful when my hair stylist tells me which products would work for my hair and others that won’t be as good. It seems fine to talk about a product you actually like and believe works, but this whole “upselling” deal sounds like all those department stores that try to push high-interest credit cards on you–a bad idea all around.

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  17. midnightsky

    I would be ever so furious if I found out this is what salespeople were doing. What is it about sales that turns normal people into greedy jerks who don’t care about the rest of humanity? I don’t have the money, in my newfound-job-after-college state, to pay for that ridiculousness.

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