A Cut Above Hair Design

In November 1990, Carolyn Kimball, owner of the "A Cut Above Hair Design" beauty salon in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, was undertaking an extensive review of her firm's marketing strategy. The industry data before her indicated that small, privately-owned beauty salons like hers were progressively losing ground to a growing number of national franchises. Furthermore, according to the most recent figures provided by the Nova Scotia Association of Hairdressers, there were almost twice as many beauty salons per thousand residents in Wolfville as compared to the Halifax-Dartmouth area. In other words, Wolfville had become a very competitive market. In order to deal with these new challenges, "A Cut Above Hair Design" needed to capitalize on its strength and develop a strong positioning strategy.


Born in Windsor, Nova Scotia, Carolyn went to Hants Regional Vocational School where she graduated as a master hairdresser in June 1982. She started her career working for Girl Power, a small beauty parlour in Wolfville, NS.

This case was prepared by Professor Helen Mallette of Mount Saint Vincent University for the Atlantic Entrepreneurial Institute as a basis for classroom discussion, and is not meant to illustrate either effective or ineffective management.

Copyright 0 1993, the Atlantic Entrepreneurial Institute. Reproduction of this case is allowed without permission for educational purposes, but all such reproduction must acknowledge the copyright. This permission does not include publication.

With experience came the desire to start and operate her own business. After many discussions with friends, workmates, and acquaintances, she finally decided to open her own beauty salon. Three of her workmates decided to follow her in this new venture. Having worked with Carolyn for almost six years, they knew that they would get along very well. As far as risk was concerned, they trusted that their regular clients would follow them as long as they stayed in Wolfville.

"A Cut Above Hair Design" opened in November 1987. The new venture was profitable from the start. Most of the regular clients followed their hairdressers. The salon managed quite well and reached profitability within three months. Business grew steadily with another full-time hair stylist being hired.

The Customers

"A Cut Above Hair Design" catered mainly to clients from Wolfville, with a few also coming from Grand Pre (10km away) and Greenwich (3km away). In the summer, the salon drew from tourists and during the school year, it attracted students and professors from Acadia University, located in the town. It was a family beauty parlour servicing a clientele made up of 70% females and 30% males. Students represented about 10% of the total clientele. Exhibit 1 summarizes the average client return by age group.

The Service

"A Cut Above Hair Design" offered a full range of services - colouring, perms, etc - but its major drawing card was customer service. Each customer was warmly greeted and offered a cup of coffee while waiting. Special attention was provided to seniors. Every effort was made to make them feel as comfortable as possible. Children were offered candies and were provided with toys while waiting. Appointments were scheduled to minimize customer waiting time. For more convenience, the salon was open six days a week as well as Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday evenings until 8.30. The salon also serviced one nursing home in town: The Wolfville Nursing Home. One day a week either Carolyn or Linda (an experienced hairdresser who had seniority over other employees) went over to the nursing home to provide services to those senior citizens unable to come to the salon. Since all the appointments were made for the same day, all hair care services were provided on site at no extra charge. On request, Carolyn also provided services at home. However, in this case an extra fee was charged to cover travelling expenses.

According to Carolyn, three things were needed to guarantee quality of hairdressing services:

  • quality products,
  • professional and well-trained hair stylists, and
  • dedicated employees.

Quality Products

In her salon, Carolyn always used top-quality, brand-name beauty products. She made sure that she and her staff knew the products well before using them. Suppliers introducing new products were required to provide on-site training sessions. Whenever possible, employees were encouraged to try the beauty products themselves before using them on their clients. To that effect, all employees were provided with free samples of new products, and all products were available at cost for their own personal use. Although many beauty salons operated in the Wolfville area, only a few salons actually used these high-quality products in providing hair-care services.

Professional, Well-Trained Hair Stylists

Carolyn encouraged her hairstylists to attend special training sessions when they were available. She was very selective when hiring new employees. For example, when she decided to hire a new hairdresser six months ago, she considered only those candidates who had the required qualification of "master hairdresser" and at least one year of experience in a beauty salon.

Committed Employees

Realizing that to have satisfied customers one needs first of all to have satisfied employees, Carolyn made it a point to maintain and develop a good working climate. She always tried to listen to her employees, encouraged them to make suggestions and to participate in decision making. When hiring a new employee, she was particularly attentive to the personality of the candidates as well as to their customer orientation. She wanted a hairstylist that would take care of her clients and also get along well with the other employees.

The Employee Compensation Program

Creating a pleasant working atmosphere was important to get committed employees but so was employee compensation. Carolyn's policy was to pay competitive wages. In the hairdressing industry, as in any other sector of service retailing, three types of compensation schemes were generally recognized: straight salary, straight commission, and a combination of salary and commission.

Carolyn adopted a combination of salary and commission. Employees were guaranteed a minimum wage until they brought in a minimum of $11.50 of sales per hour during any given week. When they reached that level, they were paid strictly on a commission basis. The commission rate increased with sales per hour. On average, it took a new hairstylist one year to reach the minimum level of sales per hour on a regular basis.

Carolyn felt that a compensation scheme based on a combination of salary and commission had two major benefits. The guaranteed basic hourly rate tempered overly-aggressive selling, while the commission rate made pay contingent on performance. However, since 1987 she had not revised the sales per hour rates, although she had increased retail prices regularly by approximately 5% per year. Consequently, it had become progressively easier for employees to earn the higher commission rates.

Sometimes Carolyn felt that it might be worthwhile changing to a profit-sharing program involving straight commission with a guaranteed minimum wage per hour. She worked out the basic structure of the plan she had in mind (see Exhibit 2). Under this approach, she would deduct from the employee's sales per hour an average variable cost to account for supplies used in delivering the services, an average fixed cost per hour to take into account the use of the premises (rent, insurance, taxes, etc) and a guaranteed minimum wage of $5.00 per hour. The difference would then be shared proportionately by the employee and herself. This would provide compensation for the capital she invested in the business as well as her time spent doing administrative work (bookkeeping, ordering supplies, recruiting, etc).

By providing for a shared contribution to the salon's fixed and variable costs, this new compensation scheme would not only stimulate employees to increase sales but also motivate them to keep tight control over costs. She wondered if it would be worth hiring an accountant to develop it further. However, whatever the program, she was determined to ensure that none of her employees would suffer any decrease in wages.

Advertising and Promotion

The advertising budget had always been very small at less than 1% of sales. Advertisements were placed in the local newspaper at special times during the year, such as St Valentine's Day, Easter, and during Wolfville's annual festivals. Twice a year, she advertised special discounts in the University Newspaper to attract the students. (See Exhibit 5 for examples of ads.)

The Location

The location was good, but it was not the best. When Carolyn had decided to open her salon two years ago, no space was available with an entrance directly on Main Street. She was able to get a site in the back of a commercial building with a side entrance. To get to her salon, clients had to walk down from Main Street about fifty feet into a side lane adjacent to the IGA. This lane was well-frequented because it lead to a major parking lot where most shoppers left their cars to shop in downtown Wolfville. Although her entrance was not directly on Main Street, her sign was visible from Main Street.

She was able to get this site because the dentist who occupied it decided to relocate. It was just the right size for five chairs. It had a separate waiting room, a little office for the receptionist, and another closed room used as an employee rest area. The premises were clean and tidy and decorated with taste.


Carolyn felt that her prices were about the same as other beauty salons in town but generally higher than those of the national franchisors like Fantastic Sam's. (Compare Exhibits 3 and 4.) "A Cut Above Hair Design" was at a disadvantage in competing on price against national franchises. These national chains had successfully capitalized on a fast-food approach to hair dressing. They had introduced systems that featured no frills, low price, and speedy service. As a result, a small beauty salon like "A Cut Above Hair Design" faced with rising operation costs was unable to match these low prices. Although there were no national franchised beauty salons in Wolfville, there were two in New Minas just 10km away.

Apart from putting small beauty salons at a disadvantage on pricing, these national franchisors may have had other harmful effects. Because they did not emphasize quality of service, they had a negative impact on consumers' growing interest for hair care services. Carolyn felt that the discount franchises had taken the professionalism out of the hairdressing trade by encouraging customers to shop around. As a result, small beauty salons were not only facing a competitive disadvantage on price but also needed to deal with a progressively more unstable customer base.

Market Conditions

Unlike other types; of businesses, beauty salons were inexpensive to operate and were generally considered to be recession proof An article in the Winnipeg Free Press (November 1987) made the following observation: "It's a small-ticket service that deals in cash, requires little inventory and attracts repeat customers"

According to Statistics Canada (catalogue 63-233 & 63-231) the total number of hair care establishments in Canada increased by 26% from 1982 to 1986, while sales increased by 58%. In Nova Scotia during the same period, sales increased at a higher rate than the national average, with a global increase of 76%. However, the bigger firms seemed to be increasing their market share. Their 20% market share in 1982 rose to 24% in 1986.

According to Carolyn, the small beauty salons had lost ground because of the growing number of national franchises such as First Choice Haircutters, Fantastic Sam's, and Topcuts.

Trading Area

Wolfville is located in Kings County about an hour's drive from Halifax on Highway 101. Wolfville is approximately 5km from Grand Pre, 10km from New Minas, and 15km from Kentville (see Exhibit 6 for map of area). Demographic and income data on Kentville/New Minas, Wolfville, and Grand Pre are presented in Table 1. (Separate data for Kentville and New Minas were not available.)

Kings County

Kings County had been one of the fastest growing regions of Nova Scotia in the past ten years. Traditionally, it was recognized as an agricultural area, but recently it had progressively developed its commercial and industrial base. Table 2 indicates that in 1988 Kings County accounted for 0.21% of Canada's population and 0.19% of the nation's buying power. As indicated by the Sales Activity Index, Kings County had a slightly higher share of the nation's retail sales than expected based on its share of the population. However, effective buying income per capita was slightly lower than the provincial average (Table 3).

According to the most recent figures provided by the Nova Scotia Association of Hairdressers, there were approximately 1,082 hair and beauty shops in Nova Scotia and 74 in Kings County. Most Kings County beauty shops were located in the Kentville, New Minas, and Wolfville areas (Exhibit 7). Wolfville was rated as a highly-competitive market, with an average number of 2.2 beauty salons per thousand residents as compared to 0.6 for the Halifax-Dartmouth area and a provincial average of 1.2.

Kings County had four regional weekly newspapers and three local radio stations (see Exhibit 8). Television in the area, without cable hookup, included ATV and CBC. Cable television was available in all major towns in the area. Kings Cable Ltd New Minas, offered complete cable viewing to 5,730 subscribers in 1988.


Wolfville had become the academic and cultural heart of the Annapolis Valley. It was the home of Acadia University, the town's chief employer. This relatively small University offered a full range of specialized programs to over 3,200 students. Wolfville had two nursing homes and a 30-bed hospital, the "Eastern Kings Memorial Hospital" which, according to Carolyn, included an excellent maternity ward.

During the summer months, Wolfville welcomed a considerable number of tourists. Sunken Lake and Lumsden Dam became favoured spots for swimming, wind surfing, and picnics. The Hill's Gate area attracted hikers, and Evangeline Beach, just a short drive away, invited salt water enthusiasts. The Wolfville area hosted two major festivals every year. The first festival was the Apple Blossom Festival in late May. This week-long festival was to promote the apple industry in the Annapolis Valley and to celebrate the scenic beauty of the apple blossoms in late May and early June. It also served to develop local talent through the participation of soloists, quartets, orchestras, and choirs. The second festival was Mud Creek Days. This festival commemorated the early settlers of the region. Originally, the town of Wolfville was called Mud Creek. This festival was held in early August. It comprised many community entertainment events, including parties and fireworks.

New Minas

In the past 12 years, New Minas had experienced high growth and had become the regional shopping and commercial centre of Kings County. This recent growth had put a strain on the existing road system. Traffic no longer flowed through the town as easily as it once did, especially during busy shopping times on Thursday and Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons.

Two major shopping malls operated in New Minas: County Fair Mall and Towers Man. County Fair Mall, with 176,000 square feet of Gross Leasable Area (GLA), had three anchor stores: Zellers, Save Easy, and Sears Canada. County Fair Mall had one beauty salon, 'Salon One." Towers Mall. with 240,000 square feet of GLA, had two anchor stores: IGA and Towers. Located adjacent to Towers Mall was a large Canadian Tire outlet. There were two beauty salons in Towers Mall: Topcuts and Men's Hair Shop. New Minas also had four minor malls, i.e. Minas Court Mall, King's Place, Classic Park Mall, and Lawton's Plaza. Sobey's, a regional supermarket chain, was located adjacent to Lawton's Plaza. Fantastic Sam's was in Classic Park Mall just across from Sobey's.

In the summer of 1990, the New Minas Economic/Downtown Development Corporation, in cooperation with retailers, conducted a trading area survey in New Minas. Shoppers were asked to fill out a ballot and answer a few brief questions on their shopping trip. In return, they earned a chance to win $500 of merchandise from any participating retailer. The "Shopping Spree," as it was called, was held from August 6th to August 15th. Results from completed ballots returned to any of the participating Beauty Salons are presented in Exhibit 9.


Kentville was the medical, legal, professional, and financial centre of the area. Its downtown business district flourished with specialty shops. With a population of 4,978, it was the largest community in the Annapolis Valley. There were two hospitals in Kentville (the Miller Hospital and the Blanchard-Fraser Memorial Hospital) and a Senior Citizens' Residence Complex, which was rated as one of Eastern Canada's finest.

The Advertiser, the regional newspaper, had its headquarters in Kentville. Among the regional papers printed by the Advertiser were the Maritime Baptist, Acadia University's Athenaeum and Bulletin, 4-H News, Health Rays published by the Miller Hospital, Berwick Register, The Valley Mirror and also Teleguide-Homestead.

Kings Transit, a municipality-operated bus service with its headquarters in Kentville, provided hourly round-trip service between Wolfville and Kentville, stopping at various points along the way. Two buses were in operation. Downtown Wolfville was approximately 30 minutes from County Fair Mall by bus, 45 minutes from Towers Mall, 55 minutes from Classic Park Mall, and 60 minutes from Kentville. By comparison, travelling the same distances by car took less than one-third of the time.

The Problem

As Carolyn Kimball sat back and pondered her successes since the opening of her beauty salon in November 1987, she wondered what the future had in store for her small beauty salon. She was faced with spiralling operating costs, fierce competition, and a more unstable customer base. She felt that an effective positioning strategy would enable her to compete on the basis of image, which would be harder to imitate than competing on price. She knew that identifying a position involved examining various market segments and then addressing the question: Which segment is more available? She also knew that in order for "A Cut Above Hair Design" to achieve a strong identity in the prospective customer's mind, she needed to coordinate all marketing variables: pricing, service, personnel, advertising, and promotion. She also needed to reinforce what her firm stood for in the minds of her employees.

She felt that there were interesting opportunities in the market, but that she needed a clear line of action. She was looking at the data that she had gathered and was wondering how she could use it, first to identify profitable market segments and second to establish her beauty salon as a "first choice outlet".


  1. What is the salon's present positioning strategy?
  2. How vulnerable is it to competition?
  3. What is the potential of the area for beauty salons? What market segments are most attractive?
  4. What positioning strategy do you suggest? Discuss.

Table 1




% by Age

No 1983- Female
1988 % <25 25-45 45-64 >64
Grand Pre 200 14 50 x 50 25 x

New Minas

10,025 16 50 17 47 23 13
Wolfville 4,625 11 48 17 45 24 15
Percentage Income Greater than
No $15,












Grand Pre 200 50 38 25 x x x
New Minas 10,025 49 25 12 4 1 1
Wolfville 4,625 -48 26 15 5 1 1
Median Total Income
Both Indices %Chg
Male Female Sexes Can Prov 1983-


Grand Pre 25,800 8,800 15,600 91 104 71

New Minas

20,600 10,100 14,800 86 99 21
Wolfville 19,100 9,800 14,300 83 95 30
x = confidential to meet secrecy requirements of the Statistics Acts

Source: Statistics Canada

t2.jpg (89246 bytes)

Sales Activity Index:

It is obtained by dividing an area's percentage of national retail sales by its percentage of national population. Because the numerator includes all sales made in the market, a high index may indicate a strong influx of nonresident shoppers.

Buying Power Index:

A weighted index that converts three basic elements - population, effective buying income, and retail sales - into a measurement of a market's ability to buy, and expresses it as a percentage of Canada's potential. It is calculated by giving a weight of 5 to the market's percent of Canada Effective Buying Income, 3 to its percent of retal sales and 2 to its percent of population. The total of those weighted percents is then divided by 10 to arrive at the BPI.

Quality Index:

If a market's percent of the national population, which can be taken to represent par, is divided into the Buying Power Index, it yields the Quality Index. A high index could reflect either above-average resident buying power or a strong influx of shoppers from outside the area or both.

Table 3











% of


1988 575,344 .17 10,442 29,966
1980 395,573 .20 7,820 24,576
Nova Scotia
1988 9,722,830 2.81 10,986 31,743
1980 5,946,381 2.99 6,943 21,950


Under $5,000 $8,000 $10,000 $15,000
$5,000 7,999 9,999 14,999 & Over
1988 6.2 8.9 13A 42.0 29.5
1980 7.1 15.0 15.1 36A 26A
Nova Scotia
1988 4.9 5.9 7.9 35.1 46.2
1980 5.9 10.2 9.2 31A 433
Source: Canadian Survey of Buying Power 1981 and 1988

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Exhibit 2


For the sake of illustration the following assumptions are made:

- total revenue of the Beauty Salon $100,000

- total fixed costs represent 28% of the revenue

$100,000 X 0.28 = $28,000

- total variable costs excluding salaries and wages

represent 14% of the revenue

$100,000 x 0.14 = 14,000

- 5 full time hair stylists working 37 hours a week.

- each stylists works 48 weeks during the year

52 weeks

(2) weeks vacation

(2) weeks other (sick days, mortality leaves etc)



- total number of hours worked per week in the Beauty Salon

37 hours x 5 employees - 185 hours

- variable cost per week worked $14,000 - 48 $291.67

- variable cost per hour worked $291.67 - 185 $1.58

- fixed costs per week worked $28,000 - 48 - 583.33

- fixed costs per hour worked $583.33 + 185 - $ 3.15

Total Revenue/per week - $100,000 -- 48 weeks = $2,083

Assume that the amount of sales brought by each stylist varies from $11.50 to $13.15

Revenue/hour $11.50 12.50 13.15
Variable cost/hour (1.58) (1.58) (1.58)
contribution $9.92 $10.92 $11.57


minimum wage (5.00) (5.00) (5.00)
fixed cost/hour   (3.15)   (3.15)   (3.15)
amount to be shared $1.77 $2.77 $ 3.42


basis for sharing (45/55) (50/50) (55/45)
to employee $0.79 $139 $1.88
to employer $0.98 $139 $1.54
employee total pay $214.23 $236.43 $254.56


NB: the variable costs can be allocated to take into consideration the fact that a new hair stylist may use less products because she may have fewer clients then the others.

Further assume that if one hair stylist has less than one year experience while the other four have more than one year then the variable costs could be allocated accordingly- if the stylist that has less than one year contributes $1.00/hour to the variable costs then the other four must contribute $1.72 in order to cover the total weekly variable costs of $291.67

$291.67 - $37.00 = $254.67 / 4 = $63.68 / 37 = $1.72

Exhibit 3


Shampoo cut and blowdry

Men & Teens:
Children(5-12 yrs)
Under 5

Perms: $40, $45, $50, $55, $60, $65
Permanent & semi-permanent: $24.00
Temporary rinse: $1.75
Toners: $10.00
Neutralizing & cut: $48.00
Neutralizing: $38.00
Shampoo & Set




Shampoo, cut & set




Shampoo & blowdry $6.50
Shampoo Blowdry & Curling Iron: $8.50


Exhibit 4


Regular Special
Color only $25.00 $19.95
Color shampoo & Cut $35.00 $29.95
Hi-lites $40.00 $34.95
Shampoo & Set $10.00
Shampoo Cut & Set $16.00 $12.95
Perm Plus
(includes cut & set)
$45.00 $34.95
Quick & Easy Perm
(perm only wear hair curly)
The works perm
(cut & set plus 1 bottle of
Shampoo and 1 bottle of conditioner)
Men's Style & Finish $10.00


Exhibit 5


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t50201.jpg (106208 bytes)

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Source: Company Records

Exhibit 6


t601.jpg (50117 bytes)

Source: Company Records

Exhibit 7


Auburn 1
Aylesford 5
Berwick 10
Canning 3
Centrevifle I
Coldbrook 2
Greenwood 6
Kentville 12
Kingston 4
New Minas 11
Port Williams 4
Waterville 5




Total Kings County




Total Nova Scotia




Source: Association of Nova Scotia Hairdressers (1989)


Exhibit 8


Circulation Frequency
Berwick Register, Berwick 3,200 Weekly
Friday Advertiser, Kentville 6,365 Weekly
Greenwood Aurora, Greenwood 5,573 Weekly
Kentville Advertiser, Kentville 10,414 Weekly


AM CKEN Annapolis Valley Radio Ltd, Kentville Source Station

FM CKWM Annapolis Valley Radio Ltd, Kentville Source Station

CKAC Acadia Students Broadcasting Association, Wolfville

Source: Local media outlets

Exhibit 9


Number of Shoppers Who Visited a Beauty Salon

In a major shopping centre 120
In a minor shopping centre 26
Adjacent to a minor shopping centre 73


Day Shopped Number of Time Shopped Numbers of
Shoppers Shoppers
Monday 10 Morning 39
Tuesday 14 Noon 65
Wednesday 20 Evening 80
Thursday 46 Noon & Evening 1
Friday 79 Morning and Noon 4
Saturday 22 No Answer 30
Total 219 Total 219


Number of
Home Telephone Town Shoppers
434 Dartmouth 1
455 Halifax 1
532 Annapolis Royal 1
538 Berwick 1
542 Wolfville 17
547 Springfield 1
582 Canning 35
587 L'Ardoise 1
678 Kentville 114
679 Kentville 38
684 Hantsport 1
689 New Ross 4
757 Brooklyn 1
883 Elmsdale 1
999 No Answer 2
Total 219


Number of shoppers
1 km to 10 km 158
11 km to 20 km 39
21 km to 30 km 9
31 km to 40 km 9
No Answer 4




Average Travelling
In a Shopping
Adjacent to
a Shopping
1 Km to 10 Km 120 38 -
11 Km to 20 Km 17 22 -
21 Km to 30 Km 2 7 -
31 Km to 40 Km 4 5 -
No Answer - - -
Source: "Shopping Spree" survey


Exhibit 10



Address Opening hours
(when available)
Connie's Place RR #1
Ht's Unisex Hairstyling Main Street
Acadia Unisex Hairstyling Main Street
Creative Beauty Salon Front Street closed on Monday
Do It With Style RR #2
Girl Power Main Street Monday - Saturday
Hair Care Gaspereau Street closed on Monday
Razor's Edge Main Street Monday - Saturday
Thurs & Fri evenings
Salon 1
for Men & Women Main Street Monday - Wednesday 9-5
Thurs - Fri 9-8
Saturday 9-3
A Cut Above Hair Design 25 A Main Street Monday - Saturday
Tues - Thurs - Fri
until 8:30
Source: Beauty salon survey

Exhibit 11


 All Families and Unattached Individuals
Atlantic Provinces, Canada 1986

Avg per family
All Classes $201
Under $20,000 $110
Under $10,000 $58
$10,000 - 19,999 $134
$20,000 - 29,999 $167
$30,000 - 39,999 $227
$40,000 - 49,999 $283
Over $50,000 $401
Source: Statistics Canada