Why an eyebrow salon might just be the right idea

By Mark Barden, 31/10/2011

At lunch with Gareth Kay a few months back we got into a conversation about the benefits of thinking and acting small for a change, obsessed as we all have become about the Big Idea.

I was inspired to go write about it, but it turns out he already had been, here and here and here and here — the bugger! Does he have nothing better to do?

Anyhow, I was walking up The Bowery and I came across this place, which, had I read about it rather than seen it with my own eyes I might have thought was a spoof.

It took me back to my lunch with Gareth and a few builds and twists on the strong argument already laid out.

Sometimes for small to work it needs ‘big’ to have laid some groundwork:

Zappos core idea of ‘Happiness’ is a Big Idea, but it is delivered in a lot of small ways like this one below — a small moment of humanity created for thousands of customers each week by any one of the hundreds of people at Zappos. Small inspired by big.

This works for Zappos because of a big commitment to culture first — 50% of your performance evaluation is about acting in accordance with Zappos core values, the first of which is “deliver wow through service” — and that’s the only way they   police people. No marketers looking over your shoulder, and god forbid, no lawyers either to sanitize the personal.

Takeaway: If you’re in the service business it’s worth asking, “Do our policies allow for small moments of personal connection?” Or are scripts and legal approval processes squeezing all the humanity out.

The word small can often be replaced by the word human

Another similar case of the power of small gestures was the story about 42 Below vodka’s efforts to get into schwanky New York clubs. No amount of conventional sales calling worked, but when a 42 Below crew showed up, repeatedly, to clear snow from the pavements outside on a bleak winters night, the banter created with the folks in charge of door policy — those who’d normally get stuck with the job —helped greases the skids.

Takeaway: It pays to stop being all professional and strategic once in a while. Just ask, ‘how can I help these people? What do they need?’ Your motives may sometime be self-serving, but it will feel good to those on the receiving end and that’s how relationships work sometimes.

Laddering down

Lark, a new company that we helped to launch, is a very clever little device that will help track sleep patterns over time and recommend better practices to help you get more, or better sleep. It’s like a Nike+ of the sleep world. It is tempting to go straight at the big idea of the power of sleep — which incidentally is immense and will be world-changing if we can succeed with it — but one of its most appealing benefits is a small feature – it silent alarm. It wakes you up by vibrating, so no annoying alarms for whomever if lying in bed next to you. Not a bad idea for those with the early morning flight. And still the best conversational soundbite I have found to sell Lark’s to friends.

Takeaway: Maybe just for once we don’t need to ‘ladder up’ (I think it was David Rabjohns who I first heard talk about this at an APG a millennium ago). A small, but useful feature is all the wedge you need.

Small requires sacrifice. Sacrifice makes things distinctive

Hue is a stunning example of small, too. Or at least ultra focused. It’s a hair salon chain that only does color. They have sacrificed all other aspects of the salon experience — you’re invited to blow dry your own hair at the dryer bar, or go home to do it. I think this kind of ruthless sacrificing makes a story easier to pass along — “they only do color!” and implies a whole lot of expertise in that one thing that practically demands you go “well, I suppose they must be really good at it”

The Dry Bar in LA does a similar thing but with blow-drying only.

Takeaway: Beware featuritis. Three years into a product lifecycle and all kinds of crap has been layered onto the offer. Take a pair of shears to it and prune heavily. Works gangbusters on my geraniums.

Wait, there’s more:

Daisy Rock guitars, anyone. Help Remedies, covered splendidly here. Such a great example on not laddering up

Finally, couldn’t let this opportunity pass to name check a book that really changed the way I thought about the economy forever from E.F. Schumacher, surely the godfather of small things:


2 Responses to “Why an eyebrow salon might just be the right idea”

  1. Steve Wax says:

    Wow, like this, Mark. Six months later, right? I’ve started a creative consultancy with a gaggle of smart (young) people, out of my house. We’re considering taking on the bodega across the street as a client.

  2. Mark Barden says:

    Ha! Mr. Wax. How lovely to see your name. what’s it called this new out of your home experience? Make the bodega famous!