Category Archives: Customer Cult

[Tip Jar] Client Nineteen is Ready for Her Beach Vacation (And I Really Need a Nap)

Client Nineteen comes in for a full leg and bikini wax. Because of the new rules, we never know who we’re getting or when, so when Miss Marci comes back with the clipboard and says, “Virginia, you’re up!” I am in the midst of having my own legs and bikini zone waxed by Brooke and Tammy. Irony, I know.

But this far along, we’re basically a well-oiled machine, so Brooke pats the now-hairless parts of me with the aloe oil we use to calm things down afterwards, and then she and Tammy clean up and cut me a pile of new waxing strips while I get dressed and go greet Nineteen.

I really like her at first. Continue reading


Filed under Beauty Labor, Beauty Schooled, Customer Cult, In Class, Tip Jar, Waxing, week 36

[Tip Jar] In Which You Discuss Amongst Yourselves

There are a lot of Tip Jar stories that I haven’t told you, either because they seem kind of run of the mill (yet another European facial on yet another middle-aged lady for yet another $5 tip) or because I’m just not quite sure how to explain the encounter or what conclusion we can draw. I’m solving all these problems by giving you this (not at all chronological) list of some of the latest, with the salient facts, but not much else. It’s like Choose Your Own Adventure day, only you can Draw Your Own Conclusions instead.

  • Client Twelve: Is a middle-aged woman with red hair, who comes in for a European facial. I leave her to change and step back in a few minutes later. “Don’t be alarmed — I took my hair off!” she says cheerfully, now wearing the kind of black nylon head wrap I usually associated with a more shall we say urban aesthetic? Tips me $6. Comes back three weeks later for a salt scrub where she tips me $10.
  • Client Thirteen: Tells me she has MS when I ask if she has any health conditions that might contraindicate an eyebrow wax. We agree that’s not really relevant here and proceed. She’s very sweet and gushes over what I do to her brows; “They’ve never looked this great!” I like her a lot. No tip.
  • Client Fourteen: Comes in for a cellulite wrap and spends the whole time telling me about how she volunteers with her church and was called to adopt two children from Ethiopia. Plus she needs to lose weight. Is a size zero. Tips $10.
  • Client Fifteen: Is a very old and deaf man who has come in while his daughter gets a haircut. She asks me to trim his brows. They are crazy old man brows. I do my best. She tips me $3.
  • Client Sixteen: Is an Italian man who has come in for a haircut and wants his brows trimmed. He is very nervous that I not “make him look like girl.” I do my best. He doesn’t tip.
  • Client Seventeen: Turns out to be the daughter of Client Seven, how about that? And here I learn a lesson about assumptions, because while Seven painstakingly tipped me $3 for a heck of a lot of work, Seventeen tips $10 for a European Facial and eyebrow wax, and spends the whole night telling me about her yacht club membership, her son’s fancy private school, and how, when she goes on cruises, she packs her own booze in Listerine bottles so she doesn’t have to pay cruise ship bar prices. The next night, Seventeen comes back with Seven, who tells me all about her latest diet while I give her a European. This time I get $4.
  • Client Eighteen: Comes in with her daughter for European Facials. Are perfectly lovely and enthusiastic and tip Meg and I each $5. After we wave them off, Meg says, “Why can’t they all be like that?” And we go for doughnuts.

Oh and on the subject of tipping: A lot of you have asked me what’s considered an appropriate tip, from the esthetician’s perspective. I’m sure it varies place to place, but at Beauty U, we hope for 20 percent, so $5 on a $25 European Facial. If we get more ($10 tips are not unheard of!), we are completely jazzed. If we get less, we complain.

And if you have a coupon, or the service itself is discounted in some way, it is classy to still tip based off the regular price, especially if you’re in a setting where workers are really tip-dependent. At Beauty U, we don’t get paid anything else and in fact are paying gobs of money for the privilege of working on you. At many “discount” salons, workers are paid a pretty low day rate on the assumption that they’ll make it up in tips. I don’t think that’s happening.

Tip Jar Total: $138-ish. Which keeps me in Diet Coke and Mac Snack Wraps during break. And that’s about all.


Filed under Beauty Labor, Beauty Schooled, Body Treatments, Customer Cult, Facials, In Class, Tip Jar, Waxing, week 33

What Your Waxer Is Not Thinking About You.

Photo from "Smallest Canvas" series by Molly Surno

Meg gives me a bikini wax tonight both because hey, it’s swimsuit season and because she has “1 Bikini Wax” written on her List and I like to help a sister out. Every week, the teachers write us out a grocery list of services to try to do that week — if you complete everything by the end of the week, you score a Jeans Pass. And you know how we all feel about jeans passes. Which means by Wednesday/Thursday, we’re all scrambling around in a “please-can-I-just-wax-your-arm-hair-for-my-jeans-pass” way.

Anyway, I’m just going to say it: You are never going to feel more unattractive than when you’re splayed out for a bikini wax. Forget the part about your waxer seeing your business. Tonight all I can think about are thighs and how you have to contort into all these angles that are extremely unflattering to them, under what just might be the brightest light ever. This is the first time I’ve been back on the client side of the table in awhile — so strange because just a few months ago, I was the client and had no idea what it was like on the waxer side of things — and I completely zero in on how very vulnerable you feel. And how much you have to trust your waxer to be cool with things.

But here’s a pet peeve I have about many spa clients/some people I tell about this project/probably a lot of privileged white people: When they say things like, “I wish I spoke Korean/Vietnamese/whatever so I could understand what those nail salon ladies are saying about me.”

Okay, let’s break this down.

1) You are not that interesting.

2) Spa services, especially manicures and pedicures, are increasingly performed by Asian people. 40 percent of nail technicians nationwide are Vietnamese, according to the latest Nails Magazine survey, and in some areas, like California, it’s closer to 80 percent. Nail tech training requires the least amount of hours (250 hours in my state to esthetics’ 600 and cosmetology’s 1000), which means you can get through school and start earning money more quickly, which is important when you have a family to support. And while wages are low, they tend to be better than many other jobs available to recent immigrants who aren’t yet fluent in English.

Now, being non-native English speakers, they quite naturally converse with each other in their non-English native language. So listen up, because I’m only going to say this once: When people talk to each other in a language you don’t understand, it does not mean they are talking about you.

3) You are not that interesting.

In fact, I’ve been interested by how rarely we talk about our clients at Beauty U. If a client tells a funny story, maybe we’ll reprise it. If a client is really mean or doesn’t tip, well, okay then. You gripe about your day too.

I’ll admit, earlier this week, Miss Marci came out from helping Brooke negotiate a particularly tricky leg and bikini wax and said, “That woman is so hairy! She even has hair on her stomach, like a man. This is going to take all night!” So yes, it does happen when we’re faced with something extreme.

The rest of the time, we talk about the funny thing someone’s kid said, or who has cramps, or what’s up with our skin. We bitch about the ongoing esthetics-cosmetology rivalry (which boils down to the fact that we give them facials and such all the time because we need people to work on, but they never give us haircuts or blow-outs because there’s a Beauty U rule against students getting free cosmetology services during class time — don’t get us started!). We talk about blind dates and fights with boyfriends and the merits of the various vending machine offerings.

And in between, clients come in and we go to work. And that’s the deal.

So back to the bikini wax: I think it’s probably impossible to be in that situation without wondering, “Oh God, what is she thinking about this?” I know all of the above, and I still have that moment. If you have a language barrier, I get how that adds to the confusion because it creates more uncertainty in what is already a highly uncertain situation. And the many vagaries of human nature mean that I can’t guarantee that your waxer/hair stylist/nail tech doesn’t talk about you behind your back (or within earshot in that Secret Code otherwise known as the language she can speak and you can’t — you know, like how spending every day in America surrounded by fluent English speakers probably feels to her). I absolutely can’t guarantee she doesn’t think something in the privacy of her own brain. In fact, you might as well assume that she does. Because she’s human and entitled to her thoughts.

But I think it’s worth noting that even though you’re naked (or barefoot), you still might not be the most vulnerable person in that room.

[Photo by the constantly brilliant Molly Surno, from her “Smallest Canvas” series that I just cannot get enough of.]


Filed under Beauty Labor, Beauty Schooled, Customer Cult, In Class, Waxing, Week 31

Estheticians Are Not Doctors.


Esthetician's Lab Coat from photo

Esthetician's Lab Coat from Wait, what does she remind me of?


At Beauty U, we’re told this all the time. Like, don’t think that you can diagnose a mole as skin cancer. Just suggest your client see her dermatologist for a check-up. And, don’t expect to learn lasers or Botox — those have to be administered by a doctor, or an esthetician working under a doctor with advanced training. (Read: Well beyond the scope of Beauty U.)

Some of the time, I find this reassuring. Anatomy, cosmetic chemistry, skin physiology and basic electricity each get a dedicated chapter in our Milady’s textbook. That adds up to maybe three weeks, tops, that we spent learning straight-up science and they are everybody’s least favorite chapters. Last week I was waiting for a client in the classroom while Miss Lisa and Miss Stacy led the current crop of freshmen through their chemistry chapter (this involves the students reading off a PowerPoint lecture while the teachers interject every now and then with their own knowledge and expertise). When it came time to figure out the difference between a solute and a solvent, everyone got so stumped that we turned to Wikipedia for a better explanation. I’m not saying these women are dumb. They are quite smart. I’m just saying: Med school, it ain’t.

But some of the time, I also find this whole “you’re not as smart as doctors” approach to be pretty patronizing. American Spa posted a story a few weeks ago about an esthetician who spotted a sketchy looking mole after the client’s dermatologist had refused to do anything about it for two years in a row. The mole came off and the verdict was: basal cell carcinoma. Score one, esthetics.

On the other hand, there are these times when we are taught to act like doctors. When we escort a client out after her spa service, for example, we’re supposed to say, “I’d like to see you for another facial in four weeks.”

“It’s like going to the dentist where they just automatically schedule you for your next cleaning in six months,” Miss Susannah explains. “This way, the client just thinks oh, I better rebook now, because she needs to see me again in four weeks.”

Miss Susannah also uses the “I’d like you to do X” phrasing when she retails products, as in “I’d like to see you using a moisturizer with an SPF” or “I’d like to try a night cream, to see if that helps the puffiness under your eyes.” Just like when the doctor says, “I’d like to try a course of antibiotics.”

Except we’re not like the dentist where getting your teeth cleaned every six months has been medically proven to prevent cavities and other oral health issues. And you’re not sick. Getting a facial every four weeks might make your skin look prettier, and be a really nice treat, but it isn’t medically necessary.

Because we’re not doctors. But we are kind of okay with you thinking that we are.

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Filed under Beauty Schooled, Career Opportunities, Customer Cult, In Class, week 30

Why It’s All About Skin. (Don’t Read This if You’re Squeamish, Part 2)

Salon’s David Marchese has an essay up today about our secret addiction to pimple popping which is worth reading, though I can also summarize it for you in one line: Squeezing your zits is gross, but everyone does it anyway — what’s that about?

So here’s a maybe not shocking answer: It’s because we don’t like our bodies. And more specifically, we don’t like our skin.

Because an awful lot of our body anxieties reside in the epidermis. After all, it’s not your kidneys, lungs, and other internal organs stacking up that make you feel fat, It’s how much skin you can see in the mirror. And whether it’s smooth, or lumpy, or skin you can lift using both hands because it’s got that kind of heft. Skin is also where all of our unwanted hair sprouts from. It’s where we agonize over wrinkles and other signs of aging.

And of course, it’s where our pimples brew. Here’s the best quote in Marchese’s piece:

“Pimple popping offers instant gratification,” seconds Laura Cooksey, who “pops pimples all day long” as an aesthetician* at the Face Reality acne clinic in San Leandro, Calif. “People find it pleasurable the way that having your legs waxed is pleasurable. It can be uncomfortable and sort of nasty — we’ve all been grossed out when the pus hits the mirror — but you’re doing something that can help you toward your goal of clearer skin.”

Yes. I’ve talked about the perverse pride we get from extracting before, but I had a bit of an epiphany when Cooksey compared it to waxing. Both of these skills are still so novel to us at Beauty U, that whenever someone comes in with a really big pimple, several of us will cluster round to watch Miss Stacy go to town on it. (We also watch the gross-out YouTube videos that Marchese references. Which I’m not linking to because, seriously? Don’t.) And when we’re waxing each other, there’s a lot of pausing to admire the evidence. I gave Brooke another Brazilian on Monday and every time she flinched, she’d say, “Wow that hurts! But did you get a lot of hair?” And I’d show her the pellon strip now coated with wrong-side-up hairs, freshly ripped from where the sun don’t shine, and we’d both be like, Damn, you can even see the root balls.

I’ve debated whether to view this as a weird kind of empowerment. We genuinely don’t get grossed out by the site of pimple pus or pubic hair anymore, and I’d like to think that’s a sign that we’re all becoming so sangfroid about the human body; sure, it’s hairy and sometimes oozes stuff, but that’s life.

Except. Our satisfaction is all about getting this stuff out. We want pimples and extraneous hair gone — annihilated!— so we can feel cleaner, smoother, and pretty. Which means our natural state isn’t pretty. It’s gross. And as estheticians, we’re the front line on fighting grossness. The only ones tough enough to face that pimple dead on and take it out in a surgical strike. It’s like the Jack Bauer school of skincare.

This is a pretty violent way of viewing the human body. Of course, that sounds extreme. And when we’re faced with the worst of it — the angry red scars of a recent face lift, for example — we might feel horrified and sad. But we don’t connect that extreme violence to the everyday abuse. Anyone who has ever agonized over acne in the mirror, extracting until you’re red and swollen, knows that violence is the answer. We love popping pimples because it’s a not totally crazy way to punish yourself for failing to meet your beauty criteria. For not loving the skin you’re in.

Now, when you choose to have these things dealt with professionally, you’re paying someone else to inflict that pain on the parts of yourself that you hate. I’m not sure what that says — about how you feel about yourself or how you look at them after. But Brooke did a Brazilian on a client last week who didn’t tip her and at first we were all shocked — who doesn’t tip the person willing to get elbow-deep in their junk? (You know, in a non-sexual/non-gynecological context.)

Then I remembered the shame.

That feeling of how fast can I get dressed and get out of here? that comes after a particularly rough bikini wax, or even a facial when the esthetician extracts so much you’re convinced your face is going to look like Swiss cheese. I understand not feeling entirely friendly towards the person who just beat up on you for an hour.

But you should tip. Because once you stop to think about it, the woman making $11 an hour to excavate your pores is not the person you’re mad at. It’s mostly you, what with all your skin.

*Yes she spells it aesthetician and I always spell it esthetician because that’s how the textbook spells it. I think the A is just for fanciness. We all do the same stuff.


Filed under Beauty Labor, Beauty Schooled, beauty standards, Customer Cult, Facials, In Class, Waxing, week 30

Back to Makeup: You’re Also a Client.

Max Factor cosmetics, Her Majesty's Arcade, Sydney (taken for M.G.M.), c. 1941, by Sam Hood

When I went to The Makeup Show a few weeks ago, I was struck by how expensive the “quality” professional products were — even though we were supposed to be paying professional prices, discounted even further because it was a big trade show.

Then last week, when I was sitting in detention Make-Up Time, and flipping through Milady’s as directed, I came across a few passages that helped me connect those dots. For your reading pleasure:

Page 479:

If you invest in high-quality makeup brushes, you will have them for years.

Page 471:

Quality is important when choosing products and supplies. There is a difference between high-quality makeup and less expensive generic brands. The quality of the products and brushes makes a big difference in how makeup application will go for you, the artist, or for your client — smoothly or not so smoothly.

Page 602:

To be successful selling products and services, you must first be motivated and committed to their value […] Looking the part and practicing your philosophies is a good way to advertise the benefits of healthy skin care.

Most of the estheticians I’ve met own at least a steamer trunk worth of makeup and have bathrooms overflowing with products. There’s a lot of talk about the different deals you can get by repping for companies, or hitting the sales at the local beauty supply stores and really digging through the trade shows. But when I consider the average salaries, I’m just not convinced the math checks out. So, will I sound naive if I now admit that I’m still a little surprised every time I realize that the whole point of beauty school is to teach us to sell products and services?

Duh, says Milady’s on page 602:

To frame the concept of sales positively, the esthetician must first accept that recommending and providing clients with quality skin care products and services is a professional responsibility.

I think a big part of me still wants the whole point to be to help people achieve healthy skin and hair and feel good about themselves. And sure, that’s part of it. All of our teachers say “making clients feel good” is what they like best about their jobs.

But we use products to do that. And we use products ourselves to “advertise the benefits of healthy skin care.” And then we try to sell our clients more products to use at home when we’re done.

To do that, we have to buy what we’re selling. First, by believing it all: The promised benefits of our services, the value of having healthy (read: younger-looking, smooth, blemish-free) skin, the self-esteem boost you’ll get from looking better.

And then by actually buying it all ourselves.

[Photo: “Max Factor cosmetics, Her Majesty’s Arcade, Sydney (Taken for M.G.M.), c. 1941, by Sam Hood” via Flickr.]

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Filed under Beauty Schooled, Career Opportunities, Customer Cult, In Class, milady's, Muddling Through Milady's, week 29

[Tip Jar] Client Nine Brings Her Parents

Client Nine is a tiny girl with big eyebrows.

When I go out to the reception area to get her, she jumps right up when I call her name. And the woman sitting next to her says to me, “Don’t worry, she’s been here tons of times.”

“Great,” I say. It honestly takes me a minute to put it all together. “Come on back, Nine.”

And then Nine turns to that woman. “Mom? You’re coming, right?”

And then to the man sitting on her other side. “Dad? Do you want to come too?”

Then I realize that Nine is very, very young. Thirteen, her mother tells me. And I am going to wax her eyebrows with both of her parents watching.

First stop, Miss Stacy. Because technically speaking, the minimum age for a waxing service is 16. (I’m not actually sure if that’s a Beauty U rule, or a state board rule, or a general industry standard, but I’ll dig into it and report back.) But Miss Stacy says as long as a parent or guardian is present, it’s okay.

At this point, I’m sort of assuming that Nine is the one wanting her eyebrows waxed, because she’s read about it in magazines or her older friends are doing it, or whatever. She is not one of those 13-year-olds who looks 20. In fact, she looks maybe 11. But I always looked young too, and I get that sometimes that means you desperately want to look older, when older equals cooler.

So Nine gets comfy in the waxing chair and I take a look. Yes, she has the kind of unibrow that happens when you also have lots of dark curly hair. It’s there, but not so thick you’d stop on the street or anything. Then again, it’s clear this isn’t her first waxing job. I explain that I’m just going to clean it up a teensy bit.

“We were also wondering,” says Nine’s mom. “Do you think it’s time for her to start waxing her lip?”

I blink. I know there’s a semi-annual media blitz about tweens getting crazy spa services (see here and also here) but this is my first up close and personal encounter with it. I’ve never heard the mother of a middle schooler suggest a lip waxing before.

Also, Nine doesn’t have any lip hair. I swear to God. This is not some hormones-out-of-whack or unfortunate-genetic-tendency super hairy kid. She’s got the same amount of lip hair as me, which is to say, basically none unless you look really hard in certain lights. Plus she has that perfectly soft, smooth skin of a child who has always worn sunscreen and has yet to experience her first pimple. The thought of putting hot wax on that makes me cringe.

“She really doesn’t have anything to wax,” I say. Which is hard, because what I want to say is, are you effing crazy? But, you know, customer service and what not. “Plus, with lip waxing, we’re learning that once you start it, you really have to keep on doing it and I’m not sure she wants to take that on right now.”

(By the way, this is true. I had a moment of “oh God, my lip hair” a few weeks back, and while everyone at Beauty U claims up, down and sideways that waxing makes the majority of your hair grow back finer, both Miss Stacy and Miss Marci were adamant that I shouldn’t wax what is really just some peach fuzz because with lips, the hair does become more noticeable when it grows back. How is this possible? I have no idea. Hair removal is so often more art than science.)

“She is only thirteen,” says Nine’s mom. “I guess we should wait a little longer.”

Yeah, or never do it.

And then Nine pipes up. “See, Dad? I told you I didn’t need my lip done.”

I’m sorry.


Nine’s Dad comes over to take a look. “Okay, okay, we’ll wait.”

Let’s be clear: This father seemed like a reasonable guy. He wears glasses and a crumpled button-down, and has been sort of hanging back, highly aware that he’s a stranger in a strange spa-land. He didn’t pound his fist and insist that I go ahead with the lip wax. He didn’t call his daughter ugly (while I was there).

I’m just saying: This father suggested his thirteen-year-old daughter get a lip wax. That she in no way needs.

Thankfully, no one pushes the issue any further, possibly because I’m putting out all the “I will not wax your child’s lip if you pay me in rubies” vibes that I can muster. We proceed with the brow wax after I call Miss Stacy over for reinforcement. She traces Nine’s eyebrows with her finger, which is just what we do to kind of feel how the hair goes, but today it’s somehow very sweet, like, it’s okay, we won’t let them hurt you.

“Just clean up the middle,” Miss Stacy tells me. “We don’t want to do anything more because we want her to look her age.”

Nine looks distinctly relieved.

“Last time, the girls did under her brows too,” urges Nine’s mom.

Miss Stacy repeats what is going to become our mantra: “We want her to look her age.”

So I clean up the middle. Nine is used to waxing and barely flinches, but every few minutes she says, “Mom?” Like to check that her mother is still here with her. Which tells me that she’s more nervous than she’s letting on. And makes me sad because um, yes, her mother is here. Her mother and father are the reason we’re all here.

I also do tweeze a very few hairs from underneath, because I realize, upon closer inspection, that whomever waxed the arch into Nine’s brows last time, did a crap job and they’re growing back unevenly. I try to even things out, not because I want her to have some kind of Anastasia Brow Studio arch, but because I’m hating that someone already screwed up her fine-before-we-got-our-hands-on-them brows and, in case you missed it, She’s. Only. Thirteen.

When I finish, the unibrow is gone, but Nine’s brows are still full and natural. Miss Susannah wanders over, confused. “Don’t you need to wax the underneath?” she says.

Miss Stacy and I both attempt to convey all of the above via a furious, whispered “Lookherage!” I’m not sure Miss Susannah gets it, but she stays quiet after that.

Mom and Dad peer in to check the results. “Ohhhh! SO much better!” says Mom to Nine. Dad is nodding. “Don’t you think it looks so much better that way? I just wish it didn’t grow back so fast!”

“Okay,” says Nine.

I can’t help myself. I turn to Nine and say all in a rush, “You’re gorgeous just the way you are, and having thick brows means amazing hair and amazing eyelashes and this is a very good thing.”

“Okay,” says Nine.

But then something great happens. Mom turns to Dad and says, “Honey, why don’t you let them clean up your eyebrows too?” Maybe the woman (whose own brows are completely tweezed and possibly dyed) is just super anti-brow hair. Or maybe she’s annoyed that he’s been pushing hair removal on their daughter and wants to give him a taste of his own medicine. I have no idea. What I do know is a minute later, the father who told his daughter to get rid of her non-existent lip hair is sitting in my waxing chair.

I promise, I’m a professional. I don’t make his brows look crazy or burn him with the wax or anything. If I maybe pull a little up instead of parallel to the skin, because maybe a sloppy ripping technique makes it sting a little bit more, well, you know, who can say? It all happens so fast.

After they leave, Miss Stacy tells me that Mom is “a peel junkie,” who comes in for spa services all the time. “I really don’t think Nine cares about her eyebrows,” she says. “I think they make her do it.” I tell her about the whole lip wax question and we’re in firm agreement: It’s one thing to clean up a kid’s unibrow because maybe she’s getting picked on at school. But giving her a super-styled arch, zeroing in on lip hair that nobody else can even see, and telling her that the way we make her look is “so much better” than the way she looked before — I mean, no. Obviously not.

But here’s the thing: Nine’s parents aren’t the type of Real Housewives folk that you’d expect to be spa servicing up their child. They look their very middle age, he in khakis, she coming straight from work in some kind of scrubs. And, obviously, they love their daughter. So once I step back from the experience, I’m not even mad at them.

What I’m mad about is just how normal they seem.

And also, how normal the whole experience seems to them.

Tip: $5 (for two $8 eyebrow waxes.)

Tip Jar Total: $60

[By the by: I feel compelled to report that these tallies are actually a bit off base. In real Beauty U time (16 hours a week, with 1-2 clients most nights) I’m now up to way more than nine clients, and thus, more than $60 in tips. But not every client story is all that post-worthy. So I’m going to do a round-up post soon, just to get us caught up on a more accurate tip jar total and such. In case you’ve been wondering about all of that.]


Filed under Beauty Schooled, beauty standards, Customer Cult, In Class, Tip Jar, week 28

The Beauty Enthusiasts.



Just found this interesting Come To Jesus post on Modern Salon about how salons and spas need to work to “bring back” the clients they are otherwise losing to Sephora, YouTube beauty gurus, CVS Beauty, and such. The numbers are daunting; 800,000 people click on YouTube beauty videos every week. But there is hope because the average beauty consumer may be flocking to online beauty gurus and those brand reps who hang out at Sephora airbrushes at the ready, but “she believed us first,” says Reuben Carranza, CEO of P&G Professional. It’s sort of like hair salons are a cross between your scorned-but-carrying-the-torch first boyfriend and those evangelical Christians who protest at Mormon churches because they think this new religion is total blasphemy.

I just mixed a lot of metaphors there. Anyway, Carranza says when it comes to restoring customer faith, the key market to focus on is The Beauty Enthusiasts:

What is ‘The Beauty Enthusiast?”

  • A consumer who thinks about spending her money, where to spend her money, and is pre-disposed to shopping and spending in the salon environment.
  • She views the salon and the hairdresser as the ‘key’ source of beauty
  • She is a thought-leader. This can include blogging or looking for new products and services.
  • She is an experience-seeker. It’s all about the total beauty experience for the Beauty Enthusiast. She likes all of her senses engaged.
  • She’s an informant. She responds to sophisticated information, trends and what’s happening in the beauty industry.
  • She wants to look the best at her age, and actively seeks out beauty news.

Beauty Enthusiast’s statistics:
45 percent purchase Salon and Retail products
44 percent purchase only Mass Retail products
11 percent purchase only Salon products.

What do these statistics mean? According to Carranza, Salon owners need to focus on the people IN THE MIDDLE who buy both salon and retail products. If business owners can
persuade this percentage to purchase only salon products, they have more customers right in their bag.

First of all, I’m enjoying the Freudian slip style grammar errors, like that “What,” which should be a “Who” but instead not-so-subtly reinforces the idea that this consumer is a credit card, not a real person.

And I guess I like this better than a lot of the sales tactics we’re learning at Beauty U, which involve figuring out a client’s insecurity in order to upsell them something they may or may not need. But there’s something about the word “enthusiast” that’s making me picture some fresh-faced girl next door type who just loves to dance is all. And so I worry that she’s really going to drink the Kool-Aid and what starts as an innocent deep conditioner habit will turn into a full-blown robe-wearing, chanting, handing out religious tracts situation. (Yes, I’ve abandoned the boyfriend metaphor and we’re doing the religion thing now.)

Of course, Carranza also talks about how she’s a thought-leader and plans ahead how to spend her beauty dollars, so I bet she’s really too smart to get sucked in. Especially the 44 percent who don’t bother to shell out for salon products in the first place. I am super fascinated that only 11 percent of this “beauty obsessed” market buys exclusively salon products — surely that number was so much higher back in a simpler, pre-Sephora time? I know I’ve talked before about the weird, warring factions of the beauty industry. Guess we have to add salon vs. retail to that cat fight.

But cults are powerfully tempting, especially when they’re selling even a suggestion of something you deeply want, like hair that doesn’t make you want to break mirrors with your face. So, listen up, Beauty Enthusiasts (if, indeed, you are a real group of people and not a market research firm’s wild imaginings): The hair salons want you back. But if you’re getting better deals at CVS, well then, no means no.

(And we went back to the boyfriend thing. Some days there just isn’t enough caffeine to keep me on message.)

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Filed under Beauty Schooled, Customer Cult, products, week 27

I’m Your Waxer, Not Your Mother.

The New York Post is reporting on how Brazilian devotees come to view their waxers as “mothers without the baggage.” Says one loyal client:

“Meeting her made me realize how two women, complete strangers, can be nice to each other without all the catty drama. Granted, you should never be rude to anyone ripping hair off your body.”

Hmmm, responds Jezebel’s Sadie:

I wonder, as much as the genuine phenomenon of bonding with a professional you like — and of course I believe that’s real — there’s also another phenomenon, that of casting in oddly close terms a relationship which is essentially a business one, which can make recipients, alive to the nuances of class and inequality, feel uneasy.

Tonight Sue’s leg wax client asks Sue to also do her underarms, which translates to Sue pulling wax strips for nearly two solid hours, through the time when normal Americans are sitting down to family dinners, while said client reads a magazine and checks her Blackberry. (How can one check a Blackberry and read a magazine while another person is pulling hot wax off your legs and armpits? I do not know, but this lady manages it.) I think it’s safe to say that nobody feels the mother-daughter bond developing there.

Meanwhile, the rest of us give Brooke her first Brazilian. Maybe it’s because Brooke is just 19, but I think a lot of us do feel maternal, or at least sisterly, vibes. Campbell, who sings in her church’s gospel choir and also frequently in regular conversation, holds Brooke’s hand while I paint on the wax, and when I rip and it hurts — and yes it hurts a lot — she starts to make up a song that goes “Brooke has a pretty vagina now/Because she let us put hot wax on it.” We circle around and because it’s now a group of women coaching another woman through spreading her legs and experiencing major pain, all the moms in the room start sharing their childbirth war stories. Campbell is singing and everyone is laughing and talking at once, even Brooke.

It’s like how Naomi Wolf (Ooh, second Wolf call-back in the same week, guess what I’m re-reading right now?) acknowledges that as much as it creates competition and animosity between women, the beauty myth can also bring women together, enabling us to bond over shoe shopping or failed diet attempts or even our frustration with the beauty myth. We’re all here to do this thing that feels so fundamentally anti-woman (rip out Brooke’s perfectly serviceable pubic hair so she can meet a standard of beauty brought to us by the porn industry). And yet, maybe just because we all like Brooke, who, I tell you, is a brave little toaster about the whole experience, but also maybe because this is the way women have always cared for one another, it ends up feeling really pro-woman. And she’s so happy with the end result (you know, once the redness goes down) and so we’re happy for her.

But Sue’s client gives her a $3 tip for two hours of serious waxing and leaves without saying thank you. So yes, money changes the game. With Brooke, we have a level playing field; next week, she’s waxing me. With a paying client, you’re there to perform a service. The girlfriend-bonding stuff gets stripped away. And I don’t blame the women in the New York Post article for wanting to put it back. Even if “I love my waxer, honest!” sounds a little like “but I have lots of black friends!”

I just hope they remember to tip well, so their new BFFs can make rent.


Filed under Beauty Labor, Beauty Schooled, beauty standards, Beauty U, Customer Cult, In Class, Waxing, week 23

[Tip Jar] Seven is Not About the Money.

Three Dollar Tip Photo

Seven is the first client that I have to worry I might kill.

She’s 70 and she’s never had a facial before. We ask every client to fill out a consultation form, letting us know any contraindications for their service, like blood pressure medication, asthma, diabetes, and so on. There are a whole slew of reasons why a spa service could be problematic with one of those things, but it usually boils down to either steam (makes them sick) or bleeding (more prone to it).

Seven checks practically every box. I lead her back to our curtained area and show her how the spa wrap works, and she starts undressing before I can even close the curtain. I don’t mind — old women in their bras don’t really faze me — but I feel instantly protective of her, because I’m worried she doesn’t realize the door is open and everyone out on the salon floor can peek in. When she gets the robe on, she looks at the bed doubtfully. “You want me to get in that?” she says.

I’m doing the Spa Voice, which is a kind of super smile-y, impersonal, hushed tone we all adopt when we’re talking to clients. “Absolutely, go on and get under the covers and I’ll be right in,” I call.

“This bed is kinda small,” she replies.

When I come in, she’s sitting on top of the covers. “Should I lie down?”

I decide it’s probably easier to just tuck her in, so I start to pull back the blanket and guide her legs underneath. They don’t move.

“Those are my second knees,” says Seven cheerfully. “They don’t work as well as the first pair.”

We get her settled and I dive in to the facial. Seven doesn’t quite understand the lie back and enjoy it part. “What’s this now?” she asks every time I touch her face. Then she tells me how, at her job, her boss brings his dog in even though she’s allergic. “So I’m always having trouble breathing,” she explains.

She sounds like she’s having trouble breathing now, but when I ask if the steam is too much, she says it feels good. Through the curtain we can hear Seven’s friend, who is receiving a body treatment from Meg, start to snore. That gives Seven more of the idea, and as I move into the massage, she falls asleep too. On the one hand, I’m relieved because it’s actually very hard to give a facial when somebody is talking — you can’t exactly “flow with your hands” as Miss Jenny would say, when their jaw is moving.

On the other hand, as she starts to snore, Seven also starts to wheeze. The kind of scary death rattle wheeze where the person sort of stops breathing, just for a second, just long enough for you to worry that something has gone very wrong.

But don’t you worry, she doesn’t die. Instead, she wakes up when I finish and begins laboriously pulling herself off the bed before I’ve even managed to slip out the curtain. Maybe once you’re 70 and have asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure and fake knees, privacy just isn’t so much of a concern. You’ve had to get used to doctors poking at you, so some esthetics student getting a peek is just more white noise.

As she leaves, Seven pulls open her big, black leather purse and painstakingly picks out three singles for me. I admit, I’m disappointed. She was a lot more work than the average facial, and tipped just a little over ten percent. It barely covers the McDonald’s Snack Wraps that Meg and I run to grab for our 8 pm dinner after we see them off.

On the other hand, I think price is the main draw for Beauty U’s clientele. And a senior citizen who still works part-time for a guy with a smelly dog probably needs affordable skin care. So I end up feeling good about this one. Very “it’s not about the money.” I make things up when I fill out her client form, claiming to have offered our fancy anti-aging facial even though I didn’t because I could tell this lady wouldn’t want to spend another $25 on a fancy facial and would have felt pressured if I pushed it. (This is quite contrary to Beauty U lore, by the way. “Never presuppose what your client can or can’t afford! If you make them want it, they will find a way!” screams the PowerPoint.)

So I’m feeling very Zen about the whole night, Snack Wrap notwithstanding. Except Meg’s client forgot to tip at all, so she pays for her dinner out of quarters she scrounged up from her couch.

Because it also is about the money. So there’s that.

[Photo via my iPhone.]


Filed under Beauty Schooled, Beauty U, Customer Cult, Facials, In Class, Tip Jar, week 22