Expert Advice: The Price is Right…Or is it?

Maria Dowling shares her views on pricing strategy


MARIA DOWLING, is the creative director of mariadowling Salon, which she founded 16 years ago. Known as the ‘Queen of Colour’, her services are in such high demand that clients are advised to book six weeks in advance.

Pricing has always been a difficult subject for discussion.  In an uber-competitive industry which is overrun with good quality salons and spas, getting your pricing right can often mean the difference between success and failure in your first year of trading. 

So how do we determine our prices?  Of course, there’s always an element of watching what the competition are doing.  If you’re a premium salon you need to charge a price that is competitive with other premium salons in your area.

Equally as important is knowing you’re worth and setting your prices to reflect this.  If you’re under-charging just to stay competitive, your enthusiasm for your job and your clients will be challenged to say the least, when, at the end of the month, you’re scraping through on a break even.

Charging what we are worth while still remaining competitive is impossible, right? Maria Dowling, founder and creative director of mariadowling Salon disagrees.  She has spent the past 17 years growing her client list and establishing her award-winning salon as the ‘best in what they do’, and here she shares her five tips for getting your pricing right, first time.

1. Check out the competition Prices will vary depending on location, clientele and services but it’s important to look at what your direct competitors are doing. Look at your baseline prices. Are they similar or way off the mark?  You don’t have to charge the same as everyone else but it is essential to stay competitive in order to build your client list. In addition to understanding how much your competitors are charging you also want to do some in-depth research into what they are providing. Similar businesses may seem a lot cheaper but perhaps the service is poor quality or they don’t offer those extras such as unlimited cappuccinos or a complimentary head massage. It’s essential that you compare like for like.

2. If you’re a ‘specialist’, charge more At mariadowling Salon we are a colouring salon, specialising in hair colour. We haven’t professed to being anything else, and that is quite unique in this market. By specialising in one particular field, a client is more likely to trust your knowledge, experience and techniques in your field of work, and therefore this gives you the opportunity to charge ‘expert’ prices.

3. Stop giving discounts In a society full of discounts and offers, this is a really difficult one to commit to, but hear me out.  By offering discounts you are creating a client base who in general won’t remain loyal and will be moving along to the next salon as soon as a new discount is on offer. Differentiate yourself, not by slashing your prices, but through your amazing customer service, outstanding results and happy clients.  By not discounting your time you are sending out a strong message that you’re here to stay. Entice customers by offering value added services such as a complimentary treatment or blow-dry with every colour. By staying strong on your pricing, and delivering incredible results backed up by exceptional customer service, clients will be willing to pay for your services time and time again.

4. Work smarter, not harder At mariadowling Salon, everything we do is done with the client in mind. Our salon philosophy is to exceed the expectations of the client and we work hard to ensure that procedures and systems are in place in order to do this. By being organized in the structure and routine of our systems it helps us maximise our efforts, time and money, allowing us to work smarter, not harder. Similarly, don’t undercharge to try and drum up business. It’s a slippery slope and can prove detrimental to your organisation, meaning you will end up working harder but definitely not smarter!

5. Don’t be afraid to lose clients This may seem like a flippant comment and this is not to say that we don’t completely value our clients, but when it comes down to pricing wars, you shouldn’t be afraid to stand up and believe in your worth. As the saying goes, “There’s one thing much worse than no business, and that is bad business.” Feel confident in what you can offer, and most importantly come up with strategies that work for both you and your clients.


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