“We would get more than 95 per cent of our customers from our online marketing strategy,” says Amajjika Kumara of Lily Jackson Hair & Makeup, who reveals exactly how they achieved this feat.
Amajjika and business partner Jules Peacocke return to the studio to reveal the clever marketing strategies they’ve employed to win the war online and drive new business.
Tune in to hear how Amajjika and Jules:
- Adapted their business to deliver new customers during an economic downturn
- Drive higher conversions from the time and money invested in digital marketing
- Tailor their marketing strategy to their core demographic
- Deal with bad online reviews, and turn them into wins
Plus loads more!
In case you missed it, check out Jules and Amajjika’s first guest appearance on the My Business Podcast where they’ve discussed pricing strategies that reflect your value, the real-world impacts of the 457 visa changes and more.
Adam: Welcome to this week's episode of My Business Podcast. It's Adam Zuchetti, the editor here. I'm joined by Andy Scott. How are you going Andy?
Andy: I'm well but I'm nervous, Adam.
Adam: Why are you nervous?
Andy: Because I feel I'm being judged because the last guest that we ... Last time we had these two guests in and we had a fascinating conversation and I had a terrible haircut then. I've got a terrible haircut today. I feel I'm being judged. Other than that, I'm all good. Enough of my yakking now. Introduce today's guests.
Adam: Regular listeners would probably know by Andy's tone here and the mention of haircuts that we've got Amajjika and Jules from Lily Jackson Hair and Makeup back in the studio. Thanks for coming back again.
Jules: Thanks so much.
Amajjika: Thanks for having us and not judging.
Adam: Not judging? Good to know.
Adam: We wanted to bring you back because last time we were kind of talking more broadly about the industry and a lot of things like that and your foundations to the business. We want to get you to discuss more the day to day operational sort of things and also how you establish a point of difference. I think when you were in last time one of you mentioned particularly during the GFC that a lot of people were spanning the time between haircuts and things a lot longer to just make the dollar spread. Because of that, you were looking for ways to differentiate the business to try and keep things ticking over. Can you talk us through that period and what you actually did to try and stand out and keep the money coming in?
Amajjika: Once we recognised that people were tightening their belts and hairdressing is a discretionary service, it's not that they won't spend the money, it's how do we get them to spend the money. That's a distinction because research shows is that in recession times, women still spend on designer chocolates and lipsticks. It's not just Cadbury's chocolate. They are really willing to spend more on chocolate as well. That told me and we're going, "Well, OK, we're not out of the game. What do we do? What do we want our customer to do? We want them to come back and we want them to come back regularly."
During the GFC, we did two things. We wanted to find a way to introduce ourselves to more customers. We did what was back known as a daily deals offer. There were companies like Spreets and Groupon who had a large customer base. What they did was offer services at ridiculously discounted prices.
The problem with that is that most hair salons who did that actually didn't understand their operating costs and conversion rates and things like that. They would sell thousands of cheap haircuts or haircuts and colours and actually go out of business or they would sell thousands of them and close up shop and disappear.
What we did was we actually mapped up the prices. We understood that we would be ahead if we had I think it was a 10 per cent conversion, right? That meant that 10 per cent of people who attended our salon actually signed up for a cut and colour club that we created. That cut and colour club was strictly limited. It was fixed price hairdressing with fixed priced add-ons depending what they wanted done. The only requirement was that they had a forward booking within 12 weeks.
That meant if you could want it, you can't always get your discount price, but you loved what you had from us and we're confident in our quality of product, we would basically say, well you can have that at an achievable price. We are always sure that they would come back within a 12-week timeframe because that was the rules of the club. As soon as they left once, they weren't allowed back in.
It was truly an exclusive club. That kept us through for our first six months afterwards. And then I just said, "OK, we're going to win the war online." We looked at our statistics. Word of mouth was down. Traditional techniques didn't work. We did some newspaper advertising. We even did Shop A Docket advertising – like, oh my god, that's not one of my proudest moments. Jules had done Letterbox Drops. We're an off the street salon. We're in Darlinghurst and the demographic of the area isn't necessarily key.
The thing was is that our new people would travel for great hairdressing experiences because they've had so many bad ones in the past. Then we set ourselves a strategy of redeveloping our website regularly and investing in internet marketing technologies or strategies. The cornerstone of our work is search engine optimization, Adwords and content marketing.
Andy: This is stuff that ... You opened this business 20 years ago, wasn't it Jules?
Jules: Yeah, that's right.
Adam: There would have been none of this as whole back then in hairdressing.
Jules: No. Completely new. To be honest, I'm an old school hairdresser, it did take me a little while to get my head around what we were about to do. I had no understanding about digital marketing and what it was going to mean for my business. In fact, it took Amajjika 12 months to get me to have a Facebook account. I'm a little bit of late -
Amajjika: She's on Facebook all the time now.
Jules: I think one of the key strategies that has really worked for us is content. We don't invest much in social media which is where most of the investment happens now in our industry. Everyone is all about social media. Anyone who's talking about our industry is talking about social media. Yes, it is definite resounding community building and effect from social media but if you want bums on seats in my opinion, it's content. Wasted about ... Had an incredible amount of expertise in our business, years and years of industry experience and client experience and being able to talk to the client that was asking the question was where we really started to say that our business was going to have this massive leap. That's what happened.
Andy: Sorry – is that a challenge for you to I suppose make the change from knowing what your business looked like from a bricks and mortar sense to how to represent that online effectively?
Amajjika: Actually the challenge came in reengineering our business because we got so busy. We had to redefine job roles and we had to change all of our expectations and stuff, so basically the person at front desk who used to support me at marketing had no capacity. We had to get a switchboard. We have multiple lines and basically the job role which was quite broad and varied really narrowed down because they only had capacity to take on new business, deal with customer inquiries.
In relation to the challenge, the challenge really came from for me it was to actually cajole Jules into taking more of an active role and a front person role for the business. You'll note that the business isn't called after Jules. That's basically a good business principle. You don't name it after yourself because when you want to move on 20 years, we're still here.
It was gently pushing Jules to basically say, "You are unique. You're amazing. Let's tell the world about it." But then also deep-diving into all of this stuff that we try all the stylist took for granted in terms of the customer service excellence, you know, just their technical expertise, I would tease that out and turn that into everyday content.
The other thing is that thinking about the customer buying experience or buying behaviour or what their psychology was. When they come to us they actually want to know, matching our demographic to the type of marketing we did, we're in the top one per cent.
We charge a lot for our services. That's because they're worth every penny, so who am I competing with? Actually, I'm competing with other salons for the position of best hairdresser of Sydney. Great. That's what we're going after. That's the key. That's the key to what we're after. That's where we're positioning ourselves.
We also have micro-sites that deal with specific services. We actually offer a brand of hair extensions. You can get really cheap hair extensions and we've got the most expensive you can get because they're the best quality and they're synonymous with our level of quality and expertise.
I don't just optimise this website for hair extensions. I optimise it for the specific brand name. I'm not wasting marketing effort competing on the mess. I'm actually only interested in this really narrow group of people looking for that hair extension. I can spend more people on fewer people and get higher conversions. Does that make sense?
Adam: I think it was Jules who was saying that you have a very active YouTube channel.
Amajjika: Yep. You've got to understand that you're dealing with an intelligent robot though and a robot that likes to tick off things. Oh, look, they've got this key word. Yes, I like that. That keyword appears so many different times. I'm boiling it down. I don't mean to denigrate any specialist work that an SEO specialist does because we hire one. We have a specialist that helps us, but it's a robot. You keep the robot happy.
One piece of content can be extrapolated into 23 or 25 different types of content experiences. You might write a blog post about going blond. Then you create a video. Then you actually post that on Facebook. You might post it on Pinterest.
Basically you've got this 360 degree view of trying to get your content out there in any way, shape or form, 90 per cent of these platforms are free. It's just you got to be persistent and get it out there. I drive the guys pretty hard and I listen to them talk say, "What's the angle on this one? What's the angle on that one?" They hate me even to the point that they were complaining that they had too many of one type of customer coming in because we've done so much of that marketing in that particular area. I know it works. We would get more than 95 per cent of our customers from our online marketing strategy.
Adam: What does your content actually cover? Are you sort of doing a behind the scenes of how the business operates? Are you doing, this is how a full colour works?
Adam: Product education perhaps?
Amajjika: Sometimes it's product education but it's really more about solving problems for customers. We have an article that is about organic hair colour. Organic hair colour doesn't exist but that's what the vernacular is in any individual who might compromised in their health. I still want to get my hair coloured but I'm looking for organic hair colour. Basically I optimise articles about organic hair colour and I educate them about the reality of it. Of course I've got a service that matches that. Basically that's your customer funnel. That's one of your channels.
Another thing has to do with maybe our customer demographics, women over 40 or Asian hair tips. As I mentioned, there's one particular piece of content that was written six years ago. It's being updated. Google likes you to update content and it gets a lot of hits and it drives a specific demographic to us. Then we might do video content about going blond and colour correction. Everyone talks, the industry talks about colour correction but people don't actually understand. The customers don't actually understand what that is. It's taking the technical and reshaping it for customer speak.
Adam: And cutting through the jargon.
Andy: Do you find that helps as a drive to keep your prices high rather than getting into, as we've spoken about before, some of the cheaper ends. You know what I mean, but they charge less. It becomes a haircut and it becomes a commodity. Does that focus what you do? Is that a conscious part to make sure you can maintain that level or just evolve organically?
Amajjika: No, we’re great. We're really good at what we do. We'd invite you to the salon to come and experience it. We stand behind the quality because we've had those other hairdressing experiences. We don't have to worry about that. Customers have already had those shitty experiences and they're tired of it. They just say, "That's it. I'm over it. I'm going to look for the best hairdresser in Sydney." They find us and they come in.
The first thing you notice, when I walk at the door, we've had to coach our receptions is that people will be overwhelmed. They see this open beautiful warehouse space. I can remember the feeling when I first walked in, I just went, "Whoa. Everything's beautiful. Everything's neat. Everyone's happy, smiling, outgoing." They're going like, "I'm already uncomfortable." Then you coach your staff to say this person's going to feel uncomfortable. You take them. You guide them to the reception area. You are mindful of their behaviour and their feelings all the way throughout. It's never about maintaining our process. We know we're great. We know we deserve to be charged those prices and that's what those prices should be.
Jules: I think as well though the content is an education platform which is what great hairdressers do, say, educate their clients. People don't know what they don't know. When they don't know what they don't know, they get what they don't want. When you educate someone, they always have that no matter where they go, they don't know what it is they're looking for. That is where the value of great hairdressing comes in because it's an intangible that that client wouldn't even know what that means to him and how to say it or how to express it.
We've used that element of our consultation in our content development. We're talking to client online and the client already knows us before they come in. In my business if you remember 20 years ago, it was me, my chair. I knew everyone in my business. I come to work now and I don't know the clients that are coming in the door. I'll introduce myself but they're already looking at me because I've watched in videos and it's really a strange experience for me. I'll be like, "Oh, you know who I am." They'll be like, "I've seen your video." I'm like, that's really embarrassing for me.
Amajjika: There's even clients you just say, they might be with another stylist and say, "Is that Jules? Would you like to go ever meet her?"
Andy: Could be possible even starstruck.
Jules: It was a strange, it's a very strange thing.
Amajjika: There was one case where parents had a nine year-old daughter who wanted an undercut. That's where you have long hair on top and shaved at the side underneath. They just didn't want to go to any cheap shop. They had researched us for months and month. They were so excited to come to us. We couldn't have been happier to be the salon to do that haircut on that child. That's extremely rewarding. We've got some clients that have been with Jules for 20 years. She met them before they even had kids. Their kids are at uni now. There's an incredibly rewarding thing about building and enduring business and having long standing customer relationships.
Adam: That brings me to this question that I wanted to ask. You've mentioned bad experience is quite a few times. What's actually the cause of those bad experiences? Is it service? Was is just the skills were lacking? Was it, I don't know, something else? What actually counts as a bad experience for someone going to a hairdresser?
Amajjika: As a human being, we feel our environment as we walk in. I always say to my team, we've got three seconds. What's this client experience going to be? The thing about and I know guys are built a bit differently or I like to think that they are. In my experience, men and women are the same in terms of how they experience an environment. Men just don't share that as much. I think women in particularly and I think men as well, they'll sit in the chair and they don't know if they've never met you, how they can trust you.
Suddenly, you were in the hands of someone you've never met before. They're standing in your intimate space which perhaps if you have a partner or a child, they would be the only people that would stand in that space. Suddenly you've got someone in your intimate space. You don't know them. Anything that that person does is going to have this massive effect on the human being that's sitting in the chair. "Do I trust this person? Oh my god, what are they going to do to me. Are they going to make me look terrible? Is this going to be an absolute disaster? Am I going to hate myself for the next six weeks?”
Those are all the thoughts that someone has as on as they get into an environment. It doesn't matter if it's a cheap environment or an expensive environment. I think if it's an expensive environment, it's probably heightened even more because they're like where am I going to get value out of this? Even in the cheap environment, you're going to walk in and someone is going to do something to you that is going to be permanent for at least for the next six weeks.
If that environment doesn't create a moment of trust from the beginning, they're already behind. If the trust is broken at different points again and again, that human being's experience is remembered as just horrific. It's like being chased by a dinosaur if you're a caveman. It's frightening. It's frightening or flies or stuff. You can't wait to get out of there. "Oh my god, I have to pay for this? I don't want to make that person feel bad but I feel terrible." There's so many different emotions that is going on for the human being.
The thing is that it's about educating an environment, the people that are running that environment in that space and helping them understand that they create that space for the person entering it, be a retail space, be it a restaurant, anything. It's small intimate gestures that are absolutely massive when it comes to that client experience.
Adam: I wanted to ask you that question because it leads into my next one which is more for the benefit of other business owners and listeners and so forth of new customers that come to you guys. And they say, "Oh, I had a really bad experience." Have they actually gone back to that previous hairdresser and told them what the bad experience was and why they don't want to go there or are they basically, these are, the hairdresser is now ... "Haven't seen someone again, I don't know why," and they're left in limbo because they don't know, they then can't actually improve.
Amajjika: I think it depends on the level of bad experience. In an instance and it depends on the human being who's had the experience and the instance where something really bad has happened in terms of the consultation for the customer and a client sat there and they've wanted blond hair and they got brown hair. That business is going to know someone has gone terribly wrong. The client won't pay for the service or they're insisting that they're not going to pay. They might call that business the next time and say, "I'm really unhappy". I would say in an extreme end, the business is always going to know. What I know is if it's the smaller indiscretions where the client will leave without saying. It's the consistent lack of enthusiasm about the client being in the business when they're taken for granted.
As soon as a customer is taken for granted, they will walk away from that business. They won't really know why. They'll just say it's not as good as it used to be. It's not the experience I used to have. Generally that's when you know when you've lost a client in that situation is because you've let go of your standards in some way in their appointment and they've walked out.
Jules: The other thing that's really visible was Google and Facebook reviews. We're just reviewing another salon recently and they had a one star review. The person said, "I wish I could give them zero stars. They kept me waiting for half an hour." Our standards are, the client does not wait more than 15 minutes. If we're 15 minutes more than 15 minutes behind, they get a phone call and they give them the courtesy of choosing another appointment time or reshuffling and things like that. Why would I take my client's time for granted? There's little things like that.
There's customer service, the actually technical excellence. That doesn't mean to say we always get it right either. But then also being gracious in a moment that we actually have an unhappy customer, it doesn't matter the customer is right because we didn't meet their expectations in some way. That doesn't mean to say we haven't dealt with customers with mental health issues. We haven't dealt with people trying to sabotage five star reviews. They create a fake Google account. They say, "This business is really shit." And all that kind of stuff.
We look up on their record and say, "Actually you don't actually exist in our customer records." If you had a paper diary, you would never be able to do that. We've got an electronic management system, a CRM data base, so hey, look. You'd be gracious about it. “We're really sorry we weren't able to meet your expectations but we can't locate your customer record. What day and time did you come in for the service because we don't have your details online?” All of a sudden this openness in the public forum and they say, “I got a one star review but that was so undone there because actually it's a fake review.” Then the reality of it, the realness that people can say, “I can trust this business because they're open and transparent."
Adam: Does that happen often?
Amajjika: Stuffing up?
Adam: No, that you get a bad review and it turns out to be that it's from a competitor or someone.
Jules: I think we've got two currently.
Amajjika: That's big for us.
Jules: The only one star reviews we have are not clients. That's okay – that's the environment. We know that SEO operators are watching us what we do because we've seen them copy our strategy online. We can see them trying to connect into our blog content. We can see them trying to backlink. It's flattering. You just go -
Amajjika: What they do with the content like you've got a blog and you can write comments, they say, "Yeah. When I go and see my hairdresser next," and then they put their salon's URL in the blog comment. I'm like, hello, I'm not stupid. They're looking for a backlink. That's an SEO strategy. We are a site with authority and some kind of notoriety as ranked by the intelligent robot links back to another site. They say, "Oh, Lily Jackson Hair and Makeup is linked to this other hair salon so they must be good." It's all about strategies and cloak and dagger stuff.
Adam: We're kind of running out of time. Supposed to just sum up, is there a key piece of advise that you would give to other business owners who are trying to improve their customer retention?
Jules: Try new stuff. Really make the commitment to the team. Go and look at where your weakest link is and then try in from there. Whether it be someone doesn't know how to make or look someone in the eye. If they don't know how to talk to people or they don't realise that their communications style is reflecting a negative attitude.
There are so many different ways in which we communicate. As soon as you go to work on your communication, the culture changes. It enables the team to feel like they can talk to you and share with you which often there's a lot of gold in there.
It can be hard to hear sometimes. Sometimes you don't want to hear because you're doing it all right. There are a lot of times there's stuff in it and they're experiencing it. When they feel that you're listening to them, the culture changes. When the culture changes, then the clients are happy and you're making money. That's been my biggest -
Adam: Do you find it difficult though to speak with employees? The hustle and bustle of the working day and something goes wrong or could have been done better but it's kind of during a busy period or it's early in the morning. By the end of the day everyone's forgotten to -
Jules: We meet every morning before work. I pay my staff to come in 15 minutes earlier for a meeting. We discuss the wins and the losses of the day before. If there's a problem, we address it. Everyone gets to say how they feel, where they're at. We do that standing. It's an energetic experience. Everyone stands in the group. Sports coaches have used it for years. It brings the team together. It grounds them in the workplace for the day. It gives them opportunity to really discuss where the problems are, be it some stock missing or they've got this client in today who's particularly difficult, can I get some help with that. We do that every morning. That's absolutely non-negotiable for me.
Amajjika: We also have a staff meeting once a month. If something's unresolved, don't you worry – we've got such an open communication someone said at the other staff meeting. We're not addressing the elephant in the room and I need closure on this particular issue. They're going like, "What?" But it was her need. She needed to talk about it. I don't think we necessarily resolved it to the level that she wanted to but we just have to be open and listen on that kind of stuff.
Jules: The rhythms of the businesses are important. Every human being loves rhythms. It creates a trusting environment. When you have a rhythm, people know what to expect. "Okay. I've got to be here. I've got a chance to talk about stuff. I can share I'm stressed about this client coming in or I've got a problem that's been ongoing with something else." It's just allowing those moments outside of what people or actually what they should do, create so much bit of balance and flow especially in a creative environment where you know, hairdressers are emotional. It can be really crazy in there. They do all sorts of crazy things. You think, "Oh my god, where am I?" If you're checking in, then the opportunity for problems to become in-escalated, is listened.
Adam: The devil is definitely in the data but for customers facing an employee side.
Jules: You just got to deal with it. Just deal with it, deal with it. That's my answer. Honestly, you don't let anything slide. Even if it sank going up to someone and saying, "Is everything okay?" If you notice something, don't just notice something and walk away, go up and say what's going on. Find out. It's so easy just to think keep busy and ignore stuff. Half the time you won't see it anyway but if you do see it, just acknowledge it.
Adam: We have to leave it there. Thanks so much for coming back to us. It was lovely to have you back in the studio again.
Amajjika: Thanks guys. Thanks for listening to us.
Jules: Thank you so much. We've enjoyed it very much. Thank you.
Amajjika: Yeah, that's right.
Adam: I know you mentioned it last time, but what's your website if anyone wants to come to you or has any questions?
Jules: I think Amajjika has got the biz whiz for this. I'm going to pass the bucket.
Amajjika: It's www.lilyjackson.com.au. That's L-I-L-Y. J-A-C-K-S-O-N. Lily Jackson.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.