Branded: How to Handle Clients With Product Preferences

Professionals and salon owners alike often unabashedly disclose and promote their chosen brands. Many of them feel that because a lot of popular lines have established very loyal consumer followings, it makes sense to capitalize on the product company’s marketing efforts. Some are also fiercely loyal to these product lines, particularly those professionals who work in brand-exclusive salons. For them, the product isn’t just a product—it’s a lifestyle. (Aveda people, I’m looking at you.)

However, this practice of putting a focus on the products you offer instead of your professional ability and your brand’s value is a poor strategy, and here’s why:

  •  The brand isn’t your brand. Our businesses are service businesses. Products are the tools and mediums we use to facilitate the execution of those services. Our advertising should revolve around our product, not the tools we purchase from brands that we have no stake in or control over.
  • You are more than the product you apply. Marketing the product line instead of yourself misplaces the focus and undercuts your professional ability. Don’t undervalue your expertise and education by placing your value on a product line’s label. Generate loyalty through expert service execution, otherwise clients may falsely believe you can be easily replaced by anyone utilizing that product line.

The product doesn’t “make” you, you “make” the product.

  • Brand recognition is a double-edged sword. Another reason putting the focus on the product is a bad strategy has to do with public perception of that brand. Sure, Dermalogica has earned a substantial following of loyal clients—but what about those clients who have had bad experiences with bad estheticians and wrongfully place the blame for that poor experience on Dermalogica?

The same concept applies to lines in all professional arenas. It doesn’t matter how much they love your portfolio, clients who falsely believe “Redken color melted my hair,” aren’t going to be patronizing a Redken-exclusive salon because they attached their negative experience with a piss-poor stylist to the product line that she used to jack their hair up instead of placing that blame where it rightfully belongs—square on the shoulders of the professional who made the mistake to begin with.

  • You are the professional. This may sound harsh, but as a professional, I don’t believe it’s the client’s business (nor do they have a right) to dispute the quality of the professional products we use or demand that we accommodate their requests for a particular product unless they have an allergic reaction or other medical sensitivity to justify that demand. We’re the professionals. We invest a substantial amount of time and money into our education. We train with these products, we research them, and we keep ourselves informed about reformulations and other developments in product technology.Unless the client is an informed, licensed, currently-practicing professional themselves, they don’t have the right to pass judgment on a professional product’s capabilities.

Clients who question or debate your product decisions are clients who likely don’t trust your professional abilities.

For this, you can blame other professionals who attached their value to their chosen product lines instead of putting the client’s focus on their skills and knowledge.

“What products do you use?”

When new clients show more interest in your products than in your portfolio, have a response ready that places the focus back on your professional skills.

“I use a variety of high-quality professional lines, choosing which are best for you based on your lifestyle and individual needs.”

Explaining to your clients what you’re using and why as you’re performing their service so they are better educated on your methods is a fantastic practice, but those products are your selections to make as the professional, and they should be taking a major backseat to your capabilities.

Any explanations you provide should be delivered to enforce your value and expertise; not to distract from it.

“I want you to use my preferred product line. Nothing else works.”

It’s one thing for a client to request a cool new product or technique to try it out, but if theyre going to sit in my chair and try to tell me that the tools or products I use are “damaging” based on an experience they had with some license-carrying butcher who didn’t know her ass from her e-file, we’re going to have some words.

Do not invest in new products to satisfy demanding clients.

Instead, ask them why they feel they prefer that product line. What qualities did they like about it? Clients tend not to know about the wide variety of professional products available, nor do they keep informed about advancements in product technology or professional techniques. Use their request to aid in your consultation. Explain to them how you can give them exactly what they’re asking for–without catering to their hilariously unreasonable demand that you invest in a new range of products just for them.

Should they still insist you buy into a new line, be firm in your refusal. (Typically, this kind of stubborn behavior is indicative of a problematic client.) My recommendation is to tell the client that they are welcome to find another professional willing to cater to their demands. I won’t be told how to do my job and neither should you.

When Loyalty Isn’t a Virtue

In the past, professionals and brands alike tended to honor a mutual loyalty, with professionals only utilizing professional-only brands, and brands only providing their products to professional salons. However, that changed, and in my opinion, professional-exclusive lines are going to become a thing of the past.

Now, brand loyalty tends to be one-sided, with professionals pledging devotion that isn’t returned.

This disloyalty on behalf of our product lines may not turn out to be a bad thing, mostly because professionals will have no choice but to return the client’s attention to their actual value, instead of standing on a pedestal slapped with brand names.

Why wait to separate? After all, hasn’t the day when it stopped making sense already arrived? Clients can now purchase virtually any professional product they like from their smartphones, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s completely fine. The square footage salon owners used to devote to failing retail sections can now be devoted to an additional station–after all, those services are the products of our brands. In the age of e-commerce, retail has become nothing more than window dressing and yet another chore. How many of you actually want to compete with Walmart, Target, or Amazon?

To expect a brand to be loyal to you is unreasonable and unrealistic, especially when you are not likely to be a faithful partner yourself.

What about you? Are you using your brands as a crutch? Do you think it’s beneficial to promote the products you use instead of placing a hard focus on your professional abilities? Tell us in the comments!


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10 Responses

  1. There are so many good points in this article. I just switched from an exclusively Aveda salon to one that uses a various brands, and I’ve definitely seen some resistance from clients. Part of why I left was the retail heavy approach to the salon. I am a stylist, not a salesman. At my previous salon, everything from education to staff meetings had a product focus. Our work was secondary and that just wasn’t for me anymore.

    1. Yeah, that’s another thing I addressed recently in the latest issue of Stylist, which hasn’t run yet. Retail quotas are bad practice. The focus needs to be on service first, common-sense product recommendations (only when necessary) second.

      1. You’re kidding right? As a small business owner retail is huge. It should be used as an educational tool. You don’t have to be a salesmen when your recommendations are genuine. Clients are going to buy products from someone why shouldn’t it be you? Retail goals are great incentives and keep the salon functioning smoothly financially with great bonuses for stylists. The type of person who would be against “retail quota” is someone who is not effective at it. We as an industry need to get our head out of our asses, realize our job doesn’t end behind the chair and start running it like a business.

        1. Lol, you’re kidding, right? I never said retail isn’t important or necessary. I said our approach to retail needs to be less focused on “retailing” and more focused on recommending products that are necessary and beneficial. The nature of “quotas” isn’t in line with that. Arbitrary sales requirements (particularly those that are accompanied by disciplinary action when the employee fails to meet that quota) pressures staff to sell things for the sake of selling them, which is a.) irritating to consumers and b.) undercuts the validity of that professional’s recommendation.

          And no, the type of person who is against a quota (at least in my case) isn’t bad at retailing. I prefer a more effective, ethical approach to it that encourages client loyalty and promotes trust between the client and the professional. Period. (The genuine recommendations you’ve mentioned are exactly what I’m talking about. Not selling for the sake of meeting a quota, but recommending because the client will legitimately benefit from the product being suggested.)

          I should also mention that you’re using the terms “goals” and “quotas” interchangeably as if they’re the same thing. They aren’t. Goals are goals. Falling short doesn’t come with a penalty. Quotas are requirements–and do.

  2. This topic is a double edged sword. For example our salon just completed a “beauty product donation event” where any client or anyone for that matter could donate unwanted or gently used beauty products and we donate it to the YWCA and our local women’s shelter. In return we would recommend a product that worked for their hair type and offer a discount. Anyway we had over 80% of our new clients buy something from us and 3 large tables OVERFLOWING with beauty products. I guess my point is. The beauty product industry is a billion dollar business and there is a demand. IMO demand is not a bad thing and having a loyalty to a brand is also not a bad thing as long as they contribute to your education. I believe behind the chair it should be a 50/50 partnership between stylist and product. You can not have one without the other. Nothing is perfect there are terrible product lines and terrible cosmetologist. We have to be Better in this industry if we want change.

    1. That’s awesome!

      Obviously, there’s a demand for product, but there’s also an overabundance of suppliers (most capable of pricing more competitively than we can justify), so it’s important to be really wise about what you’re carrying (hyper-exclusive lines are best), how much you’re carrying (the smaller the quantity, the better), and how flexible you’re willing to be. Should your line go retail, having less quantity allows you to pivot faster because you can sell out the old and introduce the new with little difficulty. You might like this post I wrote about how the fragmentation of the industry caused retail distribution problems that are pretty much destroying our relationships with the brands we use.

      It’s one thing to be loyal to a line you love simply because you love it, but these brands tend not to be very loyal to us. I consider these “retail betrayals” totally understandable. Most of our product companies are major corporations with shareholders and expenses to meet–businesses have to do what they have to do and if that means going retail, that’s what it means. However, I’m not going to invest heavily in any brand that isn’t investing in mine. You’re right–it should be 50/50, but if we’re a customer of a company and a distributor of that company’s products with no say in the direction of that company or the decisions they make regarding formulation, marketing, or distribution, it will never be a partnership. That company definitely is not our partner (or anything resembling it) and they do not deserve our unconditional loyalty.

      The beauty product industry is a billion dollar business, but where are consumers spending those dollars?

      I repeatedly hear so-called business “educators” and “consultants” who market to salons pushing this retail strategy using the same “billion dollar business” line, but in my own experience as an educator, consultant, and salon owner myself, reality doesn’t align with those inflated performance promises. It’s just not a wise investment of an owner’s time or money, and does nothing more than distract from the growth of their own brands and the skill of their professionals. (I do a lot of turnaround work for ex-clients of retail-focused salon consulting firms who learn after-the-fact that their huge product orders and the square footage they dedicated to retail was a big mistake, lol.)

      With companies increasingly supplying directly to consumers and the e-commerce market, it’s become downright silly to use the service to push product sales instead of securing client loyalty through service quality and showcasing professional expertise. Heavy traffic salons in retail outlets (Regis, JCP, etc.) turn decent retail, but an average salon owner or independent professional is unlikely to see the same performance.

  3. I love my private label products for many of the reasons mentioned. It performs well, so our stylists and clients like it and they won’t see it at another retailer, so they are happy to buy it in the salon. And because I am not buying through a distributor, there’s more profit for the salon. We were a product exclusive salon for years but we decided our brand was more important to us (and our customers) than a giant corporation that wanted us to be an anonymous extension of their brand.

  4. Thank you for this very well expressed post. Because of this post, some years ago, I took your advise and no longer advertise what I use in my business. It’s been a game changer, because you’re 100% correct, promoting my services is My Brand, rather than elevating a company for which I use their products, why do I need to rely on them for my advertising content? It’s a very bad business decision. You’re spot on!
    Another reason I chose not- to continue advertising products I use is because the market has become so saturated, what then would make me stand out from the masses of other professionals in my field who use the same products? So now, I keep my ship tight and don’t expose all- I do or use. It’s unfortunate it’s come to that, it never used to be so cut throat. Times have changed.
    Thank you for sharing all you do, I’ve learned a lot from your posts, you’re posts have been 100% more valuable than any (mentor) who charges an arm and a leg and whom flaunts a million dollar income in return for their help. It’s pathetic.

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