When you interact with as many successful small businesses as we do, common themes begin to surface. One of those is the importance of hard work and perseverance, particularly in the early days. Maria Francesco Salon & Spa is no exception. Started in 2010 in Peabody, MA by sisters Josephine Rossi Giordano and Cinsia Rossi Ciolino, the salon remained a two-person operation for the first 18 months before hiring their first employee – a receptionist. “It was live or die for the first year-and-a-half,” Ciolino recalls. “From Tuesday to Saturday we worked nine in the morning to nine at night. We knew it was either this or nothing.” Eight years and a new location later and Maria Francesco has established itself as one of greater Boston’s most reputable salon, with a thriving culture and a continually growing client list thanks to a wildly successful client referral program. We’ll get to that, but first, let’s start with…
It’s another common theme. Bumps in the road. Challenges rising up to meet you, slowing or stopping your progress. It’s not the adversity that shutters many a small business within the first two years: It’s the reaction to adversity. In the sisters’ case, their response was to dig their heels in and re-commit. “We had two of our best employees up and leave without notice one Saturday,” says Ciolino, “and 6 months later another stylist left. It was a huge learning experience, a real wake up call.” Despite the loss in staff (and the clients they took with them), the sisters kept at it, undeterred. “You have to push through,” says Ciolino. “You can’t quit. If you fall down, you get back up and do it again.”
Be different, not better
This mantra used in the world of creatives has bled over into that of small business. It certainly made it’s way into Maria Francesca, whether intentionally or not. Like many salons, Maria Francesca prides itself on employee education. But what sets them apart is the extra mile they go on client education. Ciolino explains: “During our initial consultation we explain our process to every client. If they’re going from one extreme to another (hair-wise, for example), we explain everything that we’re doing, what they need to do at home to keep it healthy, and teach them the ‘whys’ for each of the products we use.”
Ciolino also credits their new location in Danvers for the overall client-first feel of the salon. “It’s a lighter, brighter environment with a nice walk-in and waiting area,” she describes. “It feels very person-to-person, where everyone is welcome no matter what.” She goes on to describe a salon where the majority of clients know one another, which creates a great family environment. “The conversation flows through everyone, no matter what service you came in for,” Ciolino continues.
With such an inviting environment, it’s not hard to see why first-time clients decide to stick around for the long haul. But how are they attracting so many first-time clients? One word: client referral.
Client referral programs themselves are nothing new, but the success of Maria Francesco’s is worthy of a blog post all to its own. In setup it’s quite straight forward: Refer a client, get 50 percent off your next service. Get referred, get 50% off your first service. They toyed with the idea of doing 20 percent off for a first-time client, but in the end felt it didn’t fit philosophically. “You need to come in and get the full experience,” says Ciolino, “Understand why we charge what we charge. Then, when you send me a new client, you get 50 percent off. If you’re getting a cut, color, some other services – that 50% off is huge. Clients love it.”
The client referral program is always on the tip of the stylists’ tongues, too. “If someone says ‘My sister loved my hair,’ we’ll mention the program,” says Ciolino. Once a client refers four new clients, their next service is free. Talk about incentivizing word-of-mouth marketing!
The salon also offers a 20% discount when you write a review on Facebook, Yelp, or the website. Additionally, clients get a free blowdry on their birthday. It all adds up to an overall strategy that generates new clients – and keeps the existing ones around for the long haul.
Tech talk – favorite features
“Confirmation system,” Ciolino answers immediately, when asked which SalonTarget feature is her favorite. “Being behind the chair, confirmation calls take a lot of time. Now the software gives automatic confirmation and reminders. Clients LOVE it.” Ciolino also believes the automatic confirmation system prevents revenue loss due to no-shows. “Nowadays the services get more expensive, especially when you add medical-type services into the mix,” says Ciolino. “The confirmation and reminder texts make it so you can’t forget your appointment and help reduce costly no-shows.”
The salon’s referral and incentive strategy also benefits from SalonTarget, which allows clients to make referrals using the software AND sends out reminders to leave a review to claim their 20 percent off deal. “I also love that reports are right there at a touch of a button,” adds Ciolino, who admits being less than tech-savvy.
So what’s next for Ciolino and Maria Francesco? “We’d love to open another one down the line,” is her answer. “We could just run the business and create a more teaching atmosphere, offer more education.” The way they’re growing, it’s hard to imagine that future is anything but inevitable.
Want to learn more about Maria Francesco? Read up on their Vital Stats below and check them out online at www.mariafrancescosalonspa.com