Commentary by Tom Columbia

Authenticity Is Not Objectionable


Traditionally the Primary Distributors (PDs) marketed a compelling narrative about their product that validated their claim of excellence. Then they developed and supported a vendor network that carried that message to the stylist. Many of these distinctive brands with robust business models have tried to remain diligent at preserving the rigid guidelines that made them successful. However, when the opposition imitates their proprietary scissor designs and then pass them off as being identical, only cheaper, it confused the buyer. Regardless, the practice is blatantly rampant, and it shifted the attitude of the buyer to be averse to any claims of a scissor’s credibility, dismissing even the valid benefits as bogus. These selling tactics lack a substantive plan, undermine future sales, and it has laid the path for the launch of an even greater disruption.

More often than not, with the incalculable number of “cloned” scissors there’s no persuasive story that clarifies the questions of their products credibility. With the exception of just a couple brands the sole differentiating benefit is the selling price, color, or the insignia. Could this influx of indiscernible merchandise distort the buyer’s ability to distinguish a quality scissor? I believe it was sufficient enough to ignite the opportunity for outside influencers to explore what the industry was lacking, and then they devised a business model to fill those voids. In the meantime, the vast majority of dealers continue to focus on selling the deal of the month. This not only limits the array of potential buyers, but it’s also a narrow view of what haircutters actually imagine for themselves.

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So, it was not perplexing that groups with deep pockets invested in the scissors business and they quickly established a foothold. It was a revelation when they repudiated a long-held belief that haircutters were not willing to invest serious money in their tools. This influencer took full advantage of all the vulnerabilities that the complacent players ignored and had left exposed. Their persuasive story, truthful or fictional, convinced a huge segment of stylist that a common “indistinguishable” scissor brand was worthy of celebrity status.

By engaging peers from within the industry as scissors educators they created the appearance of an expert endorsement. It was easy to entice stylist to small get-togethers which encouraged an atmosphere where they could watch demonstrations and talk about scissors. With the addition of an enticing offer of financing they were able to sell tens of millions of dollars’ worth of scissors each year. By the time everybody had scrutinized this perceptive rival’s achievements they had already altered the normal buying habits of the stylist. Every brand was affected by this strategy, and it impacted sales. However, in spite of its landmark appearances this selling process has colossal underlying weaknesses waiting to be exploited.

Has the stylist actually changed? No. They enthusiastically responded to overtures from a scissors brand that unraveled routine issues that existed and were previously ignored as inconsequential. Having learned numerous lessons from the abovementioned encounters, haircutters have a revised insight to their spending power and have spoken vociferously on what they expect for their money. It would be pointless to imitate this rival’s clever concept, instead focus on their actions as a useful starting point, then improve them, or continue being the spectator. Being original is invigorating, resorting to duplicating someone else’s plan, or cloning their scissors is emblematic and the same uninspiring mindset that brought us to today's selling climate.

The first take away is that a rousing cover story accompanied by an extremely high price will not cloak an underperforming product over the long term. Every scissor brand has customers who are adamantly convinced that they are satisfied, believing they are receiving mindful service and support. If you recall in my prior articles, beliefs can be fully formed, partially formed, or based on misinformation. Those stylists that are contented with their scissors are still curious listeners, their contentment does not mean that the scissor or services are free of underlying issues.

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However, when a frustrated stylist speaks out the hesitant spectators will often fess up with an agreeable “me too.” It is common for a buyer to project any dissatisfaction onto the next salesperson they encounter, if you listen carefully, it will provide valuable information. The buyers who have had negative experiences are going to be understandably wary, yet they are still seeking a solution. Anticipate meaningful objections, these are probes from the buyer to determine your credibility and to confirm their expectation that the price reflects the scissors quality. They will be searching for a co-operative partner, assuming that a lower price as opposed to authenticity being the solution is a serious oversight. Ask questions that explore their expectations, allow them to provide a personal concept of a solution. Offering that solution is how the value of the product becomes priceless and it can place you as the preferred vendor, ousting the competition.

When a cumbersome company is experiencing an abysmal record of servicing their own scissors, it is an Achilles heel that can devastate brand loyalty. Use this volatility as the opportunity to position yourself as the new preferred vendor. However, viewing it as a servicing dream fulfilled is the shortsighted prospective. Let me explain. If the brand is a nemesis like this one, servicing their scissors relieves the company of a responsibility that they are failing to fulfill. When you unwittingly become the service provider in place of an archrival, you are bolstering a deteriorating brand. Covering up this weakness by servicing their product enables them to continue selling without the expectation of solving their own difficulties. Restoring mediocre scissors to a better than new state is a remarkable accomplishment, yet it is still mediocre at best. What would the stylist response be if you actually charged the additional $100 plus cost to pay for the expert skills and actual time it takes to refurbish a substandard scissor? It leads to the conclusion that buying an unexceptional scissor is a good decision, and it is the rationale for the stylist to continue buying that brand. Are you thinking that maybe it’s all they can afford? After paying $400 for a $99 scissor, they are seeking a way to sort out a regrettable buying decision at your expense. Take a second to think about it. This topic is worth discussing, something is amiss, there is a humongous fracture in that business model.

When you find a competitor that exhibits an ineptitude at solving scissor malfunctions there is a full spectrum of responses to consider. Certainly, sharpening every scissor and then moving on to the next salon is one option; however, my analogy would be incompatible for that specific business model. For everyone else I am offering an approach that can develop customers willing to purchase scissors in conjunction with their sharpening service. It is the first step toward introducing the benefits of a Full-Service Scissors Business that is also part of the local community. It is worth taking into consideration if you want to maximize your value to the stylist.

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Before deciding to provide service on a competitors product consider marketing your most desirable resource; you, as the preferred vendor for all their scissors needs. Why settle being the convenient maintenance option while they continue to buy scissors elsewhere. Waiting is not a choice. This is the moment that sets the benchmark for all future business with this customer, being the alternative is unacceptable. As a Full-Service Scissors Business with the intent of creating new clients, it is expected that you will initiate the conditions for doing business.

Your expertise, products, services, and confidence are aligned, asking to be the preferred vendor is reasonable and the timing for them to agree is ideal. Your ideology is clearly opposite from that of a surrogate that makes your competitors’ job easier. This will disrupt this rival’s objective of selling an abundance of scissors and letting everyone else service them. It’s a trap with the effectiveness of a spider’s web, once you touch it it’s probably too late, don't be trapped as the custodian of the opposition’s shortcomings. It’s your business, you set the guidelines and the customer will follow your lead.

Finally, amazing things can be accomplished once you observe a competitor’s weaknesses and then utilize them in order to benefit your sales presentation; without needing to even mention the brand by name. Routine salesmanship works every time, discover the buyers need, explore the viable resolutions, and allow them to choose the best solution.

A sequel to this theme is warranted. For whatever reason, if any sales network shows signs of collapsing, the dealers, and PDs will seek out supplementary ways to stay profitable. It is evident that some scissor brands have begun to exclusively sell directly to the stylist, abandoning what remains of their faltering dealer network. The equally frustrated vendors explore their alternatives by frequently shifting brands or experimenting with private label scissors. In the event of a breakdown, the guidelines are blurred, and the anxiety to remain profitable leads to reactionary business decisions. It’s a revolving quest for a substitute to salesmanship. The solution is finding cooperative business partners and that takes a commitment from both parties, and I will assess some of the self-perpetrated obstacles.