Affordable luxury: Spotting spending trends

by October 5, 2011
hair salon

By Flickr user Bradleypjohnson

It’s another one of those notions that seemingly popped up out of nowhere and suddenly is a part of the zeitgeist:  Blow-dry bars, the newest trend in personal services and a great jumping-off point for a story about consumer spending, “small indulgences” and how small business owners are jumping on new ideas.

In the past few days, two separate blog items in the Wall Street Journal have noted the burgeoning blow-dry business in which salaons or chains open early and stay open late to offer quick styling for women who lack prowess with the hand dryer and round hairbrush.  The salons don’t cut, color or otherwise make permanent changes to hair; they simply give women polished locks for that important morning business meeting or late date.

The going rate seems to be about $35, which the Journal characterizes as an “affordable luxury” – a hot idea in down economic times; more on that later.  Meanwhile, according to the Puget Sound Business Journal, the idea is catching on in Seattle, and the Daily Glow says Drybars are opening up in Atlanta and Dallas.  Scottsdale has Primp and Blow while hair-challenged  La Jollans enjoy  Naturale Hair Blows.

Why not comb the strip mall realtors, salon owners, community banks, salon-equipment supplier and hair stylist trade groups in your area to nose out the first (or at least second) wave of blow-dry bars in your area?  It’s a great feature, a great premise for a start-up business chronicle and a good example of how smart entreprenuers  select trends to jump on.

I’ve also read about braid bars, and perhaps it’s a good time to revisit the array of personal services consumers may have shrunk from in tough times.  Like the retro custom of “getting one’s hair done’ that the dry bars are reviving, how are shoe shine concessions faring?  What about dry cleaners and laundry services, and valet parking services, and housekeeping chains and other trappings of economic boom times and good employment markets?  In my area, massage studios are popping up in strip malls; some are franchised, all are advertising via billboards and direct mail and their prices are about half of what traditional massage therapists offer.  Out of curiosity I toured the premises of a nearby start-up; the rooms were clean and serene despite sharing a parking lot with a supermarket, a bar and gas station.  Clearly, these business owners are banking that consumers are ready to spend on themselves again.

In addition to profiling small companies, how about an overview of the personal service scene in your neck of the woods — prevalence of services, pricing relative to pre-recession, new services or a more a la carte version of old services, etc. — and what that all says about your local economy?  If you’ve been covering business for any length of time, you’ve probably heard of the “lipstick index” that supposedly measures individuals’ willingness to spend on “small indulgences” to tide them over until they can afford the biggies like home improvements, swank vacation and new cars.  Maybe you can come up with a local version, like the Massage Monitor or the Blow-Dry Barometer or the Shoeshine Survey for a colorful, lively look at  your area’s economy.