Who are you? BRANDING your Salon Company!
by Misa Chappell
Featuring, Frank Gambuzza
What is branding and why does it matter? The American Marketing Association defines a brand as a “name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers.” Branding is an integral part of a marketing strategy in any business, but especially important in the salon industry due to the fierce competition in the current economy. A strong brand creates customer loyalty, credibility, and buyer motivation. So how can salons send a clear and consistent message to the marketplace about who they are?
Salon owners Frank and Belinda Gambuzza are a masters of branding. “If you want to be a market leader,” he declares, “you can’t waffle about who you are.” Gambuzza and his wife Belinda own several locations – the Visage Group – that reach out to completely different client groups in Knoxvillle, TN. Yet Gambuzza believes a clear branding strategy is crucial for every salon owner, no matter the size or number of locations.
Knoxville is a smaller city of about 180 thousand inhabitants. Gambuzza knew this called for caution when choosing a message. “We don’t want to muddy the waters by trying to be too many things to too many people,” he says. “Even if we start with a narrow window we need to grow without losing sight of the initial belief system.”
Salon Visage and Studio Visage
Gambuzza targets his core clientele with two brands: Salon Visage and Studio Visage. He began with Salon Visage, which targets the 20-55 age group. Gambuzza stays cognizant of his geographical location. “This is middle America,” he comments, “we don’t want to be intimidating, but we want people to be pleasantly surprised.”
Gambuzza warns that if you keep doing the “same old” at your salon, you’ll become dated, but at the same time you don’t want to get so progressive that you marginalize your clientele. After 12-15 years at Salon Visage, Frank noticed that they had elegant, sophisticated staff but due to their aggressive training and education program, they were acquiring a new set of younger employees, which created inconsistency. As Salon Visage matured and the team grew, Gambuzza saw the opportunity to create a second and distinct entity.
With this in mind, Gambuzza started Studio Visage with fresh branding aimed at the 13-21 age group. Studio Visage kept the logo and initials of Salon Visage for brand continuity while embracing a younger, edgier feel. Everything from the design colors, the furniture, the style of music and even the volume of the music were specifically chosen for the new demographic. The two salons complement each other without competing with one another.
“There are bleeds,” admits Gambuzza. “Thirty-somethings come to the studio because the price point is different. And sometimes the inked and the pierced come into Salon Visage with their mothers.”
With the birth of Studio Visage, Gambuzza reconsidered the vision for his spa. Some of the questions he asked himself: Can we be a market leader in the spa arena and provide world-class service under the same roof as our salon? Or should we branch out to a separate location?
Gambuzza decided to move the spa to a location across the parking lot from the flagship salon. Spa Visage offered a distinct ambience separate from the bright and noisy salon vibe. He strove for a “destination spa” environment within a day spa. In keeping with the core brand, the “SV” logo continued to serve the three entities – salon, spa, studio.
As the company continued to grow, Gambuzza realized that there was an oportunity to approach another market. His background as a barber prompted him to look toward a male clientele. “At Salon Visage, guys always felt like they were in their wife’s beauty parlor,” observed Gambuzza, “so we opened Frank’s Barbershop, which has turned out to be our fastest-growing, most profitable brand yet.”
Gambuzza targeted the “average Joe” who unlike the “cool Joe” felt uncomfortable in a salon environment. He went for a neighborhood barbershop feeling leaving the door open for multiple future locations throughout Knoxville. He found that “drycleaners tend to say neighborhood more than anything, so we always try to move where there is a busy drycleaner.” The Frank’s locations are small, family-oriented and geared toward the father-son relationship. Even Moms feel safe bringing in their boys. Instead of cleavage, there are pool tables, dart boards, and frozen mugs of root beer. According to Gambuzza, “it’s a place where “boys can act like men and men can act like boys.”
Gambuzza attributes the rapid growth of Frank’s Barbershop to a very focused marketing plan. One facet of this plan is Frank’s sponsorship of local baseball and soccer teams. Gambuzza contributes “Frank’s Barbershop” game balls to every local little league game: one for each the winning team, the losing team and the MVP. The person who gets the ball can bring it in for a free haircut. “There’s an emotional dimension to winning the Frank’s ball,” Gambuzza asserts, “and that ties the experience to a brand that’s connected to a great memory for the kid.” After just one year, Frank’s Barbershop was nominated as the number one barbershop in America.
It pays off to invest time researching, defining, and building your salon’s brand. Frank Gambuzza sums up his general branding philosophy with one word: Over-deliver. This means deliberately choosing everything from the type of staff, the target age group, the colors and furniture, the music, the lighting, even the smells. When the consumer is more focused on the totality of the visit than any single service in the salon, you know that you’ve established your salon’s brand. The sum of the total salon experience should be always greater than its parts. As Gambuzza says, “Accolades and awards aside, our goal as a company is to improve every day. We continually ask ourselves: What can we do tomorrow that will make us better than we are today?”
It’s YOUR turn to share! What are your BRANDING tips?
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