Case Study: Portland Salon Uses Scoutmob to Increase Exposure, Not Financial Risk

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As a new business owner in Portland, Ore., Robin Carlisle has relied heavily on local press and word-of-mouth to promote her salon, Holiday Hair Studio. She initially shied away from daily deal promotions for fear of her tiny business being overwhelmed by customers. She ultimately decided to give Scoutmob a try this past July, in part because the company was new to Portland. Carlisle felt confident that she would be able to use the promotion for exposure without taking on more financial risk than she could handle.

How do you advertise your hair salon?
Mostly I’ve done free press. I haven’t done any paid advertising. Holiday Hair Studio is a private one-chair salon, and it is in a pink vintage trailer. I was the first to do that [in Portland], so I have relied on that to get the word out.

How did you go about getting so much free press?
Pretty much through press releases, which I did on my own and sent them out to pretty much everyone.

How did your deal with Scoutmob come about this summer?
They contacted me. I didn’t respond right away to the email, so they called. I’m not sure where they saw me first. They were saying that the [customer] return rate is higher for Scoutmob [than competitors], and as a spa owner my concern was that I didn’t want people who were just looking for a deal. I am looking to build a clientele. They said this would be good because it gets [customers] in on a deal and if your services are up to their standards,  if you perform a good service, then they will be back–because that is how people are with their hair.

They asked me to do it without any sort of fee, as a trial run. They had only done a couple other businesses in Portland, so they were seeing how a salon would benefit and how it would fare. They sent one of their independent freelance writers out to do the write-up. She came in and asked me about the place and had a look around; it was probably 30 minutes. She didn’t get any services done. [I could] review [the ad copy], approve it, and tweak it if there was anything incorrect.

Can you tell me more about how your Scoutmob deal worked?
The deal was available to download for one week and people could use it for three months. My specific deal was 50 percent off, for up to $30 [of services]. We took my lowest priced service–my children’s cut is $30–and based it off of that. Mostly, people were coming in and getting $15 off of their regular haircuts, which did not equal 50 percent off. The [deal was] kind of wonkily worded, I think.

Scoutmob works a little differently than other daily deal companies because instead of purchasing a deal, subscribers just click to send the deal codes to their phones, right?
Right. And [the transaction] happens right then and there. They don’t purchase [the deal], so I think they are actually less likely to use it because they didn’t put any money down upfront. Maybe 30 people downloaded my deal, and I’ve seen probably four. Out of the four, I have seen two again. And those people have sent me their friends. Word of mouth is probably the best advertising for any business.

How do you validate their deal or track it when they came in?
You’re supposed to look at their phone and they [click] “accept deal” and then it spends it. With me, [it was fine if] sometimes if they didn’t have it. It’s not like they could use it again with me, because I spend an hour with everyone and I know who they are.

Did you have any goals going into your promotion with Scoutmob? I assume you thought there would be more than four people redeeming the deal?
Well, you know I’m kind of turned off by the coupon-iness of Groupon, or whatever it is. It wouldn’t be my typical approach. I was kind of glad that only four people came in, because I’d rather sell my services at full price to people who want to pay full price and not just a deal-getter. [The Scoutmob customers] did seem slightly different than my typical clientele. I kind of did [the Scoutmob deal] for exposure. I’m actually pretty happy with the outcome. I think the repetitiveness of people seeing me on Scoutmob and then they see me on blogs or in publications—the repetition of my business coming up was my goal. It is just another avenue for exposure.

As a business owner who’s turned off by daily deals in general, what made you want to explore a promotion with Scoutmob?
It was almost like a test run. Since it was so new in Portland, it hadn’t built the momentum and I just had a feeling that it wasn’t going to overwhelm my ability to produce. I feel like sometimes that’s what happens with Groupon is that it’s not as beneficial to the business. I mean, if you’re not getting any exposure [elsewhere], I think it can work. But if I feel like I have the ability to get a little bit more [exposure elsewhere], then I’m not into it. [The salesperson] did say that their demographic was a lot more localized. They believe that their demographic is into supporting local, community businesses. I don’t know where they get that from, but that is their target.

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.