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Brand Ambassadors: Your Salon’s Secret Weapon for Growth

Kate Cottrill, Marketing Director and Location Manager at Ihloff Salon and Day Spas (three locations) in Tulsa, Oklahoma, also plays another role—she helps target brand ambassadors for the salon.

While not an official title, brand ambassadors help keep the salon’s vision and purpose going in the right direction. 

We have three or four that really drive each location,” she says. “They’re the power players in the salon, and have a large group of peers who listen to them.”

She adds, “They also have a leadership quality in a specialized area, they’ve bought into our company and culture, and we can work well with them.

“We’ve been doing this for five or six years and diving deeper into it the past two or three years, Cottrill says. “We know who the key players are, and it’s not always the old guard. The younger generation can have what we’re looking for.”

Low-Key Leadership

Kate Cottrill, marketing director and location manager at Ihloff Salon and Day Spas

Kate Cottrill, Marketing Director and Location Manager at Ihloff Salon and Day Spas

So what makes a brand ambassador? And how do you bring one on board?

“The big personalities in our salons that new hires gravitate to are our brand ambassadors,” Cottrill says. “For example, we have one stylist who is very numbers-driven. On her own, she partners with people who are just getting on the floor and talks to them about what their paycheck looks like and how much they want to make.

“Then she translates that number into service dollars, tips, etc.”

Of course, the management team also meets formally with stylists on a regular basis to coach and educate, but Cottrill says that the same message often resonates stronger when it comes from a peer.

“They listen to her differently than they listen to managers,” she says.

And her advice has led to the growth of other stylists.

“We have quite a few people who have been promoted several levels because of her influence,” Cottrill says. “When she’s really engaged, she watches their numbers and holds them accountable.”

Brand ambassadors have popped up in other areas, too.

“We have one who wants to build events in the salon and engages everyone to support the fundraisers,” Cottrill says. “And another person came to us wanting to make changes to the intern program. They were big changes, and we ended up implementing them. As a result, we’ve seen a positive shift in the program and are keeping more interns.”

Another notable brand ambassador is the “social media queen” of the salon. She built a good following, and gets a new customer once or twice a week from her Instagram account.

“Becky’s a forerunner in social media,” Cottrill says. “Others in the salon follow her for inspiration, and she shares success stories in meetings.”

Recently, Becky hired a photographer to take lifestyle photos to make her Instagram account even more sleek and professional.

“Becky has been a big driver in social media,” Cottrill says. “She’s getting new requests—in color particularly—and shifted her energy around to that.”

Her success sparked an idea in the management team to get other stylists motivated to improve their social media branding.

“We’re going to do a contest in the salon to see who can get the most new guests via social media,” she says “It’ll be within a season (six weeks), and whoever has the highest number of new guests will win an hour with Becky’s photographer.”

Cottrill says they will encourage the winner to bring in several models with outfit changes so the photographer can capture many looks.

“They should have 30 days worth of quality content to filter into Instagram,” she says. “After Becky did her photoshoot, I realized everyone wanted it and it would make a great prize.”

Kindling a Culture

Each Ihloff location has three or four brand ambassadors, and the management team uses them as a sounding board for the rest of the staff.

“If we are doing a policy or procedure change, we talk to them first to get input and let them know what’s happening.”

The open communication creates an opportunity for the ambassadors to give honest feedback, knowing management won’t get defensive.

“Recently, we sat down with them to talk about services we wanted to add, and they helped me build a new service menu,” Cottrill says. “The meetings are informal, but keep them in the know and allow them to go back and have informal conversations with the team.”

Even though big decisions are formally communicated by management, sometimes team members need that informal chat from a peer.

“If someone didn’t understand a decision—like changing commission structure or adding new services—the brand ambassadors are able to clarify the changes being made, which combats bad gossip,” Cottrill says. “Brand ambassadors have clear information to respond with when breakroom chatter/speculation starts—especially if something leaks out that we don’t feel like sharing yet. It changes the conversation when they’re hearing from a trusted peer.”

The brand ambassadors also feature heavily in recruitment. While they are often too busy to join management on visits to schools, their successes are highlighted via slides in a presentation.

Andrea Burton, numbers-driven ambassador

Andrea Burton, numbers-driven ambassador

“We’ve discovered traditional benefits don’t get millennials excited, so we often highlight the achievements of our brand ambassadors,” she says. “For example, one of them has a local celebrity client, and another travels all over.”

Cottrill adds, “And we have one brand ambassador who has gone up a couple levels, and is now on Neill Corporation’s Style Squad. She came up through our ambassador who is numbers driven.”

Whether an ambassador is creatively driven or loves numbers, Cottrill says the Ihloff culture is benefiting from their presence.

“We truly see a difference, but it’s not based solely on the brand ambassador—it’s based on our connectivity with them,” she says. “We’ve learned we cannot step away from it or there’s a different energy, so we connect with them every couple weeks to see how we can support them in social media or at an event—whatever they are focused on.”

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