I don't know about where you live, but my small hometown in Bergen County, New Jersey, is home to four nail salons, at least four hair stylists and a handful of specialists who deal with other routine facial services, such as brow shaping. Most of them are, in fact, on the same street, and most of them still rely very seriously on paper and pencil to keep the appointment books up to date.
Not so Seva Beauty, a small business dedicated to eyebrow threading, shaping and other services. Founded in the 2007 timeframe, the Highland Park, Ill., company went the franchise route in mid-2010 and now has more than 20 locations in nine different states. Vas Maniatis, founder and CEO of Seva Beauty, said a thoughtfully planned customer database and check-in system along with the Apple iPad with its easy-to-use touchscreen were instrumental in positioning Seva Beauty for expansion. When customers enter the salon, they sign in via the iPads. The system, which originally used iMacs until it was upgraded, is the same one that sends appointment reminders and other information via email or text message. The technology was key to attracting the attention of business partners, such as mega-retailer Walmart, Maniatis said.
"I am very big on systems and databases and I need we would want to capture customer information. They were very impressed by what we brought to the table," Maniatis said.
Mind you, not every small-business owner is as technical as serial entrepreneur Maniatis, who has been fiddling with database design since he graduated from college. But that doesn't really matter, actually. What does matter is the knowledge and insight that an owner or manager can bring to the table when a database or customer relationship management system is being planned.
As I chatted with Maniatis about that knowledge, he suggested that small-business owners focus on these four considerations when developing a system such a the one that Seva Beauty uses:
- Understand how the system would work in multiple locations. When designing the application, think about how it could be updated or accessed from more than one store or office location. You need to design with expansion in the back of your mind.
- Remember all the constituents. Do you want customers to input information? Business partners? The answers to those questions will affect the interface design and security parameters you will need to include.
- Think modular. If there is an off-the-shelf application that suits your needs, then use it. For example, Seva Beauty uses the Facetime videoconferencing application that is built into the iPad to support interaction between franchise locations.
- When hiring an outside technology partner or developer, "protocolize everything." That way, your team will know if certain milestones and benchmarks are being met. "Anyone who really understands their business will be able to communicate their needs," Maniatis said.