Tag Archives: upselling

Beauty Schooled is on Marie Claire!

"The Price of Beauty," by Virginia Sole-Smith Marie Claire

Because I know you never get tired of reading about me performing bikini waxes. But this piece, which just got published on MarieClaire.com, is actually about the art of the upsell.

Which I’ve touched on before — like over here — but never in quite this much useful detail. It even includes a handy sidebar on how to get the spa service you really want. And people, it is big news for a women’s magazine to do a story like this, even online. So click, check it out, and pretty please, leave some comments, tweet it and Facebook Like It, if you do?

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Filed under Beauty Schooled, Beauty U, In Class, Press, Tip Jar

Hmmm… (A Little Behind-The-Scenes Peak on What Makes the BSP Cut.)

So, after I published yesterday’s post, I had a bit of blogger remorse.

This doesn’t happen often round these parts, but when it does it’s because I feel like I’ve crossed the very fine line I walk around here in terms of reporting from the Beauty U trenches. Because my goal is to bring back tales and observations that relate to the beauty industry as a whole, using Beauty U as a microcosm. When I tell you about say, upselling, it’s not because I think my teachers are oh so crazy, it’s because I think the Beauty U experience of upselling reflects what’s happening at beauty schools, salons and spas, industry-wide. And that’s important because the upselling phenomenon has quite an impact on the way beauty industry workers are perceived and feel about their work and the way female consumers are perceived, and feel about their appearance.

Meanwhile, as fascinating as I might think it is, I try really hard to keep gossipy things like rumors about people’s personal lives, or turf wars between students, or what have you, off the blog. Beauty U is like any school or workplace, so we have plenty of that kind of intrigue going on — but it’s not relevant to the big picture issues so it would be hugely unprofessional, unethical and just plain mean of me to blog about it.

But it’s a tricky balance. Being embedded can make it hard to see anything but the trees. I did a lot of big picture research before I started school and will continue to do so (there’s a little hint for you about what happens to this blog after August’s graduation) but right now, I’m focused on getting the ground level view. So sometimes I get all riled up about something, like this weird rule about how nobody can see the client schedule anymore, and think “Ahhh! This story must be told!”

And then I step back and think, oh wait, bosses are weird in every workplace. I once had a boss who would only write in pink pen (and wrote the meanest pink penned messages to you, too). Maybe this rule is like that, just a little Mr. G idiosyncrasy, and one that doesn’t have any bearing on the industry as a whole.

I do think lack of autonomy is a common issue for salon workers. You tend to work in close quarters with your salon’s owner, which creates opportunities for micromanagement. Milady’s often mentions what I call the McFacial; how you should expect to have to perform services exactly the way your spa tells you to, down to the number of massage strokes used. This is frustrating for estheticians who want to take creative pride in their work and hone their own style and techniques because it reduces the job to an assembly line gig.

And it troubles me how little confidence I see in the teachers at Beauty U. They enforce school policies largely out of fear, constantly saying, “we’ll get in trouble if you do that wrong.” It takes weeks of bolstering and pleading before we can get them to talk to the managers about a policy that frustrates us (like the problem of junior students working on clients and missing instruction). And no wonder; the one teacher who did push for changes was pushed right out of her job. I suspect this kind of workplace culture is also an industry-wide problem because this is a field with many part-time workers and very little job security.

So when I think about the new “hands off or you’re fired” policy about the appointment book in that context, it seems important. But I’m willing to concede this is some murky gray territory. And as always, I value your input on whether something is hitting you as an Important Revelation or more Virginia Should Get More Sleep Before She Blogs. The beauty of blogging all this primary reporting is that I get your real-time feedback. And you all can see the forest, while I scurry about in the trees.


Filed under Beauty Schooled, In Class, week 32

[Tip Jar] Just Saying No to Peels with Client Four

Tip Jar: Where you get the back story on every tip I make at Beauty U.

five dollars photo

Now that there’s only one senior student left in Beauty U’s night program, all bets are officially off on that whole “juniors can’t work on clients until they finish book work” business. Per this helpful commenter, I ask Miss Stacy if the spa will just book less clients until we’re done with Milady’s (about four more weeks, people!) and she rolls her eyes. “You would think, but don’t count on it,” she says.

Cut to tonight: We’re supposed to be reading the chapter on waxing, but Sue is rushed off her feet with facials and waxing appointments. To make it fair, Miss Stacy sets up a rotation of us four juniors (Stephanie, Blanche, me, Meg) so we step out of the classroom in order and nobody ends up feeling like they’re missing the most. Our names are written up on the white board, and whenever we take a client, we’re supposed to erase ourselves from the top of the list and rewrite our names at the bottom.

So. Four* is a middle-aged Indian woman who has been coming to Beauty U for haircuts by the cosmetology students and just got referred over to the spa (way to upsell, Cos Girls). I give her the second facial she’s ever received in her life. I’ll be honest, she’s got some troubled skin. Breakouts and redness on her cheeks, dry patches around her nose, and a few dark spots that she absolutely hates. “What can I do to fix these?” she asks. “Should I try a glycolic peel?”

I pause. I hate glycolic peels. I also hate telling people — especially women of color like Four — that they should try to lighten their brown spots. So, stalling for time, I ask, “What are you using on your skin now?”

“Nothing,” says Four. “Just water and sometimes Vaseline if I feel dry.”

Bullet. Dodged.

“Okay, let’s start with the basics,” I say. “You should be using a cleanser, toner and moisturizer at home every day. Otherwise, no matter what we do here in the spa, your skin won’t sustain the results. I’d rather get you started on a good home care regimen than dive into one of our most intense treatments. You might find you don’t need to do anything that drastic.”

I mean, if Miss Jenny were still with us, I think she might have cried. This is a word-perfect Esthetician Speech. And Four eats it right up. We do the facial, and as we walk out, she asks me to show her the products she should buy for home use. I sell her a cleanser and a toner on the spot, and she would have bought a moisturizer too, except we’re out of stock. As she checks out, she asks, “Are you sure I can’t do glycolic?”

“Very sure,” I say. “But if you want to upgrade your next service, you might consider our anti-aging facial. It brightens and lifts and everyone loves it.”

She does consider. And books the anti-aging facial, which costs twice as much as the standard European facial. And tips me $5 (20% of her $25 fee). And leaves with a huge smile on her face.

On the one hand, I’m severely glad it was me giving Four her facial, because somebody else might well have signed her on up for the Battery Acid Deluxe Treatment. And when you don’t even wash your face at home, that’s kind of like scheduling a gastric bypass without trying the whole “eat less, move more” approach first.

On the other hand, I have no idea if the home care products will work for Four, or if the fancier anti-aging facial will give her any results. I don’t even know if she needs results, or if she should just work on making peace with the fact that her skin has a lot more shades of brown in it than some people.

I don’t feel good about playing into her insecurities. And I notice even though she smiles, she never quite looks me in the eye.

Current Tip Total = $25

*I’ve decided to dispense with changing names for all the clients and am just going to number them. Let me know if you hate it and I’ll go get a baby name book or something.


[Photo from over here, thank you random interweb.]


Filed under Beauty Schooled, beauty standards, Chemical Peels, Facials, In Class, Tip Jar, week 19

[Tip Jar] Client #3 Likes Me; She Really Likes Me.

Photo of a ten dollar bill

I’ve decided to start a new blog category called “Tip Jar,” where we’ll track how much I make in tips working on clients at Beauty U. And because tips make up such a significant portion of the average salon worker’s income and because they are so entirely subjective and at the whim of the client, we’ll also spend some time exploring what went into each tip — or lack of tip, if/when that happens.

First, let’s get caught up to speed:

Client #1 = $5 on a $25 European Facial.

Client #2 = $5 on a $22 Hand & Foot Paraffin Dip. I actually performed this the same night that Miss Susan came in to tell us that the junior students aren’t allowed to work on real clients anymore. Samantha was waiting on a friend getting her hair styled by one of the cosmetology seniors and decided to pop into the spa for a little pampering in the meantime. The senior girls were already booked solid, so Miss Stacy drafted Meg and I to handle her. (Meg gave her a facial after I paraffined her up.)

So now, Client #3. Yes, the irony continues — despite the “crackdown,” us junior students have been called on to do services almost every night this week. Tonight it happens as I’m doing some last-minute cramming for our big Milady’s Chapter 4 anatomy test; Margo arrives with her friend Denise for a 7 PM facial. Denise has an appointment; Margo does not. But Beauty U has a “walk-ins welcome” policy, so the Powers That Be decide my test-taking can wait.

I like Margo right away because she compliments my shoes as we walk over from reception, which opens up a nice bit of girl bonding over spring flats. She’s a little chattier than Jody, though once we get going with the steam and massage, she drifts off to dreamland while I work. Which, I realize, I really don’t mind now. At first it felt strange to be responsible for someone else’s relaxation while you feel anything but relaxed yourself. But now that I’m getting into a better groove with my facials, I’ve started to enjoy the quiet rhythm of the thing. It creates a space for me to tune out my surroundings and think my own thoughts, just as the client is doing.

Maybe that sounds bad. There’s surely a school of thought that says I should be slavishly devoted to my client at all times, thinking about her every pore. But in this case, at least, it pays off. Margo slips me $10 as I walk her out — a 50 percent tip on her $20 facial! — and tells me that she feels “invigorated and relaxed at the same time.” And she books two more facials before she leaves.

I’m feeling so confident that I take a swing at upselling, telling Margo and Denise that they might consider trying a more expensive facial next time that everyone swears up down and sideways offers tremendous anti-aging benefits.

It’s a little awkward, because they’re chatting about where to go for dinner, and I have to sort of interject with a “I just wanted to mention, before you go…” And I wonder if they’re both thinking “Okay, here comes the sales pitch.” Which makes me feel bad. Margo and I have been bonding over shoes! Now I’m about to tell her to spend more than twice as much the next time she comes to Beauty U.

But we have to get a teacher to sign off on a form saying we tried to upsell something after every single client, so I persevere — and when I say “anti-aging,” they both perk right up.

“How much is that one?” Margo asks.

“Well, it’s $55 here,” I say. “Which is a lot more than the standard European, but I promise, once you get it, you won’t want to go back. The results are amazing. Also that’s still way cheaper than what you’d pay at a regular spa.”

I mean, I pretty much hate myself now.

“Okay, we’ll think about it!” says Denise. “Anti-aging. That’s just what we need!”

I can’t make myself push any harder. It’s just creepy. So I tell them to have a great night and head back to the classroom. There’s no time left for a break — it’s already almost 9 PM, and I have an hour-long anatomy test to take, plus laundry to finish and a facial station to clean.

But I’ve also got ten bucks in my apron pocket. So there’s that.

Current Tip Total: $20

[iPhone photo by me. Careful folding up on the Hamilton by Margo. By the way, all three of these tips came folded the exact same way; what is it about tipping that makes us want to make our money as little as possible?]


Filed under Beauty Schooled, Facials, In Class, Tip Jar, week 17

My First Real Client.

Last week, when I was finishing up my Three Months Down report, commenter Kate Ashford asked:

I have a question: How does the working-on-not-fellow-students clients thing work? Do people know you’re students? Do they get a discount? Does the beauty school have a spa that customers use, with the knowledge that they might be peeled and spackled by beauty students in training? And how are you feeling about working on real people? (Not that students aren’t real people, of course.) But it’ll be pretty different, no?

The answer: Pretty damn different, indeed.

First, the facts:

At Beauty U, we spend the first twenty-odd weeks dividing our time between book learnin’ (the beloved Milady’s Standard Fundamentals for Estheticians) and practicing what we’ve learned by working on each other. Once we finish every chapter in the textbook, we graduate to “senior student” status and are eligible to work on any client who walks in the door.

From the outside, Beauty U looks like any other strip mall salon. The main room has all the chairs, mirrors and sinks-with-chairs set up for the hair dressers and behind that is the spa, with all of our facial beds and the waxing station. Whenever we do book work, we shuttle off to a couple of small, windowless classrooms at the back. When we’re doing the hands-on stuff, we work on each other out in the spa, right alongside the senior students working on regular clients. So those folks know they’re coming to a beauty school and will have their facials, hair cuts and other treatments performed by “senior students under the supervision of an instructor.” That’s actually the draw because our services are much cheaper than average salon or spa prices. Think $25 for a facial that would run you $60-80 anywhere else. And we’re always running specials; right now I’ve got a stack of coupons that will entitle you to a free European facial and 25 percent off our retail products.

Now, I’ve still got about two months to go before my class finishes our Milady’s time and is deemed real-client-ready.

But tonight, three of the four senior students are out with the flu.

Only Becky made it in and here we are, with two real people clients, a body treatment and a microdermabrasion facial, scheduled for the same time. Miss Jenny and Miss Stacy look at each other in horror. They can’t work on clients at Beauty U because, as Miss Jenny says, “we don’t perform services for these kinds of prices anymore.” (Plus, she has to teach the class, which she can’t do if she’s behind a curtain giving a facial.) Becky obviously can’t perform a body treatment and a microdermabrasion facial simultaneously.

And so, before I know what is happening, I find myself up and off the bench.

“Is she ready?” says Miss Stacy. “She hasn’t even learned micro yet.”

“She’ll be ready.” Miss Jenny is sure. She squares off with me, and it’s like Coach Taylor bringing in the rookie for the final touchdown. (Everyone here watches Friday Night Lights, right? Okay then.) “You’re ready to do a facial, aren’t you? You’re not afraid to work on a real client, right? Well okay, get in there.”

I scrub up and plug in the steamer while Miss Jenny heads out to explain to the client in question that she can’t have microdermabrasion tonight because nobody qualified to do it is available, but I can give her the best damn European facial she’s ever had and it’s $15 cheaper anyway. My client, Jody, is apparently happy with that, so a minute later, Becky and I are walking across the salon floor to pick up Jody and her friend Betty from reception.

They’re Beauty U regulars, middle-aged soccer moms out for a girlfriends facial & body treatment night, on a budget.

I’m nervous, obviously, though it’s not the facial itself that’s freaking me out. It’s all the logistics around it that suddenly seem so awkward, even though we’ve been running drills for weeks and, after all, I’ve been on the other side of the spa chair plenty of times myself. I lead Jody into my curtained-off area in the spa and tell her to go ahead and change into the spa robe and then get into bed. And when I say “get into bed,” I have to try very hard not to giggle, because dude, I just told this strange lady to take her clothes off and get into bed.

I mean, of course I did, and she obviously knows that’s what she’s going to do, but still.

So I go hover outside while Jody changes, and Miss Jenny rushes over for a little coaching. “Her skin looks pretty sensitive; micro wouldn’t have been good for her anyway,” she whispers. “You can try upselling her to a Vita-Cure facial, maybe — oh wait, you haven’t done that yet — or how about a paraffin hand dip?”

I peer through the crack between the curtains and see Jody standing in her striped Hanes underwear, still folding up her clothes. I bolt back like I’ve been shot and return to pacing nervously around the spa door — I swear, I did not mean to spy on her, but how else am I supposed to tell if she’s ready for me?

Of course after that, I wait too long and by the time I poke my head back in, Jody has tucked herself in the facial bed and is clearly wondering if I’ve died. So I overcompensate with chatter as I give her face a quick cleanse and examine it under the creaky magnifying lamp. Does she have any concerns with her skin? What products does she use at home?

Jody keeps her responses short (“no” and the name of a skin care line I’ve never heard of) and that “I’m here to relax, please don’t talk to me” cue is one I can read right, so I shut up, forgetting that I’m supposed to use that info, however flimsy, to plot what products to try to sell her later.

Once I’ve got the steam going, we both start to relax — Milady’s claims steam is good for your skin because it hydrates and melts sebum clogging your pores. But I’m just as convinced we use steam during professional facials to make them seem more professional. Even as I’m painting exfoliator under Jody’s nose and massaging her shoulders, the thick cloud of steam between us feels like an important barrier, giving her permission to stop thinking about me sitting at her head.

I get in my groove after that, so when she speaks suddenly as I’m applying her mask (to say “that smells good”), I jump. And check the time — facials are supposed to take an hour, but I realize I’m not clear on whether that’s an hour plus time for them to change before and after, or an hour total, and anyway, I can no longer remember what time I started, or how many minutes the mask is supposed to stay on.

Meanwhile, Miss Jenny pops her head in every so often, to check my technique. Since Jody has sensitive skin, she’s anxious that I not let her steam too long or extract with too much vigor. But I can tell she’s also proud — the first of her students, working on her first client! It’s sort of stage mom-ish, but sweet.

And then I’ve got Jody toned and moisturized, and it’s over almost before it began. I slip out so she can dressed (pulling the curtain more tightly behind me this time) and collapse into a chair next to Miss Stacy to ponder the client consultation form. I don’t have anything to write next to “What did you upsell?” and “Products recommended,” so I leave everything blank and just scribble my name at the bottom.”Eh, worry about that stuff next time,” says Miss Stacy, as she signs off for me.

Every Monday at roll call, Miss Susan announces the prior week’s top upseller and top product mover. I won’t be getting any such gold stars, but I don’t care. I wave Jody out and ten minutes later, Miss Stacy wanders back from reception with five folded singles for me. A 20 percent tip and Jody’s  face didn’t fall off or turn red.

I’m calling this one a win.

[Photo: I already spent my actual five dollars, so this is “Five Dollar Note [macro]” by thefixer via Flickr.]


Filed under Beauty Schooled, Customer Cult, Facials, In Class, week 15

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