The economics of a high-maintenance woman

Listen up New Zealand retailers, beauty shop owners and aestheticians, you’re losing out on my business.

I’m an American, who has recently lived in China and Australia, and I’ve never encountered the conundrums I’ve found since moving to Auckland. Living and working in the central business district of this booming metropolis, I’ve searched high and low for tanning beds, nail shops and hair salons.

One could argue these establishments are on every corner but I’m hunting for specific products and adequate service.

High-maintenance women like me spend millions each year botoxing their frown lines and painting their toenails. Between September 2012 and August 2013 sales of lip products grew 11% in the US to reach $US665 million and grew 8% in the UK to reach £70 million, according to market researcher NPD Group.

And that’s just our lips.

The economic impact of the beauty industry in New Zealand has never been measured, says Garth Wyllie, executive director of the Cosmetic Toiletry and Fragrance Association. However, he says, retail sales for cosmetics in New Zealand are now close to a billion dollars and exports around $200 million.

“If we were to run an economic impact study, I am sure we would find the value to the economy in the billions and fulltime equivalent employees around 4000-plus,” Mr Wyllie says.

He’s only referring to products; that doesn’t account for services such as hair dressers and aestheticians.

I’m going to take the liberty of speaking on behalf of high-maintenance women everywhere. If we’re going to spend more money on our appearance than our diets of organic vegetables, lattes and low-calorie white wine, then we want products and services to match the expenditure.

Take last Sunday for example. At about 3:30 pm, I wandered the alleys of the central business district searching for a nail shop that would take my business. The first two told me to “come back tomorrow” because they wanted to close by 5 pm.

I have never encountered this in my life.

By 4:15 pm a third one took me and charged $10 extra for trimming back my cuticles, which should have been included in the standard service. I didn’t have the will to fight it. Fighting it would only cause frown lines and I have yet to find an aesthetician but I’ll get to that later.

Winning repeat customers
When a vain consumer finds a good beauty vendor, she sticks with it, even in the absence of a loyalty programme. All it takes is good, consistent service.

I’ve been known to make my next three appointments months in advance, pay cash if required, and even leave a deposit to hold a future appointment, all for the right vendor.

I’ve noticed that New Zealand loves  loyalty cards. My wallet has never been so thick: Coffee Club, Starbucks, Flybys, Wayne’s Massage, Team Seven, Anne’s Massage Centre, Benefit Browbar and another Coffee Club card just because I couldn’t find the first one in my mess of cards so I started a new one.

All these, and I recently cleaned out my animal-print purse. There used to be more.

But the loyalty cards only go so far. What really wins a repeat customer is fantastic, consistent service. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes for a moment.

For example, there is one loyalty card I haven’t put in my purse, and it’s my tanning salon.

I found some tanning beds a few blocks from our NBR office. Sometimes we work late, so I was ecstatic when I saw the sign that says it’s open until 7 pm. That is, until one evening.

I stood outside, in the rain, with another customer. It was 6:45 pm and the sign on the door said Closed. We agreed to knock on the door together. An irritated shop assistant told us the last appointment is always at 6:40 pm, and that 7pm is when employees leave. Besides, she says, she already shut down the computer so she couldn't check us in.

Basically, the hours on the door are employee rosters, not customers’ hours.

The week before, I had paid for 100 minutes in advance. Once these minutes are done, so is my business with this company.

Boosting sales using the internet
There is a simple way the internet can boost your sales: helping the customer find you.

If the words “search engine optimisation” aren’t in your vocabulary, please look them up. This is a strategy to increase the number of hits your website gets from search engines. It’s particularly helpful if you have products unique to your industry or region.

Since moving to New Zealand in March, it’s been difficult to locate shops that use specific brands. And I’ve found at least one reason why.

A recent Nielson survey found that just 17% of New Zealanders are willing to pay more for designer goods compared to unbranded products with the same function. Compare that with 26% of consumers in Australia and 74% of Chinese consumers.

In short, Kiwis want value. Okay, I get it. Still, retailers and service providers can’t ignore the influx of immigrants flocking to urban areas like Auckland who value brand names and seek them out.

I walked into four hair salons in the CBD asking for Redken hair colour. All of them used L'Oreal, which actually owns Redken.

But I don’t want L'Oreal. I want Redken, semi-permanent, mocha-java hair colour. I know it exists because I found it in Hamilton using Google.

Google “Auckland Redken salon” and you will find that only two of the first page of results actually leads to salons. The rest are media reports about hairdressers and the products.

Now, if I could just find an aesthetician in Auckland’s CBD who provides microdermabrasion with a diamond-tipped wand, these frown lines would turn to smile lines.

But then, I’d need to find another aesthetician who administers botox.

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