Business owner Kristin Near knows that patience is a virtue. At Botanica Skin and Brow Studio in Albuquerque, New Mexico, new staff members are trained throughout an internship that can last months. Kristin also focuses on building brand awareness through intentional, incremental growth. Her successful strategy has sparked stellar customer referrals and online reviews, keeping Botanica in business for eight years and counting.
On the Yelp Blog: Read more about how Kristin has grown a healthy client base from word-of-mouth and referrals.
EMILY: I’m Emily Washcovick, Yelp’s Small Business Expert. Every episode I pick one review on Yelp and talk to the entrepreneur and the reviewer about the story and business lessons behind their interactions. Let’s hear what’s behind this week’s review.
BETH: I found Botanica because my friend gave me a gift certificate in exchange for a lot of hand-me-downs that I gave her children. She said that Kristin, the owner, was the best at brows. So she sent me over there because she goes to her regularly.
I just feel like they kept it very simple, straightforward, and everything felt just very natural. I didn’t feel forced to buy any products after. They just showed me what I could potentially buy if I wanted to. And I went ahead and bought a new lotion to try for my face.
EMILY: Putting your physical appearance in a business’s hands requires a lot of trust, so it’s so helpful to get a referral from a friend. That’s how Beth C. discovered Botanica Skin and Brow Studio located in Albuquerque, New Mexico. After a positive first visit, she left this review:
BETH: I wish I could add more stars because the facial I received from Larissa today was excellent. My sixty-minute facial was an incredibly relaxing experience. All of the products she used not only felt amazing but smelled amazing.
My senses were so delighted, and I enjoyed the massage as well. We talked about my skin and went over the products afterwards that I could use daily. I did purchase a lotion and left glowing from the inside out. I was also able to speak with the owner, Kristin, before I left about a future brow and lash appointment. Everyone seemed very friendly and genuine.
Thank you Botanica for making my first experience a great one. I’ll be back.
EMILY: A very helpful review. Beth describes her personal experience with Larissa, her facialist, but she also uncovers the overall positive atmosphere at Botanica. Because the studio provides many different services, that information will be useful to readers who are interested in other parts of the Botanica experience. Kristin, who owns the studio, has spent years cultivating the skills required to run a business like Botanica.
KRISTIN: I started out twenty years ago as an esthetician and worked my way up with Aveda and Estee Lauder and loved it. And then eventually outgrew that environment. And I was looking for something more effective—just treatments and products that would work for myself.
Also I didn’t want my clients to leave me. I felt like they were looking for a little bit more. But I also wasn’t quite ready for the medi spa jump either. Explored that a little bit. It was not for me. So I just had to find my own space and met a couple people who were very like-minded. You know, holistic, but also a little more in the scientific side. And we hooked up. And we opened up Botanica Skin and Brow Studio. And now it’s been eight years, so we’re rocking and rolling and it’s going well.
EMILY: Kristin has decades of experience in the beauty industry, which means she knows what she’s doing and she knows exactly what she wants her staff to do. She pours plenty of energy into building and molding the right team at Botanica. It’s a lot of investment, but a competent staff is crucial to growing a solid customer base.
KRISTIN: We require an internship. That’s one of the awesome things about the beauty business. There’s usually an internship or some kind of process where you are in training. And a lot of gals, I meet them when they’re in school.
And they haven’t even finished beauty school yet, but they’re already learning the Botanica way and what we do. And we can both decide whether it’s a good fit because sometimes it’s not a good fit for them. And they come in and they’re like, “Oh, this is not what I thought it was gonna be.”
So it’s mutual. But we do require an internship regardless of experience, at least three weeks to three months, where I can really see whether it’s gonna work out. And sometimes it doesn’t and that’s okay. I still feel like I want to give people a chance and give them a referral, even if it isn’t the best fit for us.
I’m connected and I can connect them with other places because I can’t hire everybody. I wish I could. But even some great estheticians have come and gone and they’re doing their own thing now or something completely different. So the internship is part of it. And then also letting go of the control of it because there’s only one Kristen. And a lot of my clients, we go way back—we go way, way, way back. And so sometimes I do have to remind them, you know, she is not me. All my estheticians are really good at what they do. If not, then we work on it. We go back and we retrain.
EMILY: Kristin is very serious about having a skilled team—from initial internships, to retraining when needed, to saying goodbye when it’s not a good fit. Sometimes it takes a few trial runs to find the right employee. All that time, energy, and flexibility will be reflected where it counts: the customer experience.
BETH: Larissa, who I had as my technician, is also a Reiki healer. So I’m pretty sure that’s why I left feeling amazing as well. Her presence was so natural and inviting. And she just knew exactly what she was doing and made me feel super comfortable.
As it was happening, she would describe what she was using or what she was going to use. And I was able to choose one scent. And everything she used either smelled like fruit or flowers. So it really was so amazing.
EMILY: Such a positive experience. And if it weren’t for her friend, Beth probably never would have experienced it! Without that gift certificate as a thank you gift, plus the glowing recommendation from her friend, Beth probably wouldn’t have stepped foot in the Botanica. And then she paid that recommendation forward by sharing her own positive review on Yelp. Referrals can start as small word-of-mouth exchanges and then snowball into larger internet conversations. Online reviews are, of course, word of mouth amplified.
KRISTIN: I think referrals are absolutely one of the most important things when it comes to business. And I want people like my clients, right? So I want other clients that are like my clients who are already coming. So the best way to do that is referrals.
It used to be old school. You know, I was walking through the mall, handing out my card 20 years ago. And now, you’re posting it on Next Door or somebody mentions you on Yelp or Facebook. There’s so many ways that people can refer local people. Because for us, for our business, we’re local. But it just happens. People talk and they talk online.
I hear that a lot where I’ll go, “Oh, how’d you find us? How’d you hear about Botanica?” And they’re like, “Oh, well, you know, I posted something online. And then somebody else mentioned you, and then I had seen you at another place at some event. And so I put two and two together and now I’m here.”
So it’s a little bit from everywhere. It’s not just always, “I found you on Yelp,” or “My sister comes here.” It can be two or three of those little connections equals a customer. Because if they hear about you more than once, then they come in. Cause they go, “Oh yeah, my sister went there. I heard about Botanica. I’m gonna go there.”
EMILY: Most entrepreneurs strive to provide excellent experiences for their customers, who then may go on to spread the word to family and friends, which is important. And so is casting a wide net. If your brand is ingrained in your local community and gets continually mentioned in multiple places—like on social media, or in grassroots marketing efforts, that will reinforce your brand and offerings to potential customers in various aspects of their lives. And once the name recognition hits a tipping point, you have another customer who wants to spend money with your business. Just like with training employees, Kristin knows that when you treat business growth as a marathon not a sprint, it can lead to business longevity.
KRISTIN: Just planting all those little seeds wherever you are. If you’re getting a pedicure or you’re online, or you are at work, every little thing you do can grow your business. And it’s not all gonna be instantaneous or tomorrow. But little by little, all those little efforts that you make and the buzz and the word of mouth and the website, social media. It all works together and eventually it just starts happening. But it just takes time, takes money, takes a lot of work.
EMILY: Beth knew her friend loved Botanica, then she had a positive experience of her own. She took the opportunity to learn more about how she could change her beauty routine by talking to owner Kristin before leaving her first appointment.
BETH: My friend had said that she gets her brows done there. I wanted to talk to Kristen about mine because I have, like, non-existent brows as a blonde. And I live somewhere where everyone has really awesome eyebrows, I feel like, here in New Mexico.
So I did discuss with her. And she said, “Well, first you’re going to have to use this special serum to grow hair. And then once the hair comes in, we’ll be able to shape your brow.” But she was so nice about it. You know? I mean, I know I don’t have much eyebrow hair.
EMILY: While Beth did buy a lotion at Botanica and got a serum recommendation, the sales side of the business wasn’t her major takeaway. Some businesses overly emphasize selling products and customers can be wary of that. But when the product comes with education instead of pushiness, a customer understands how that product might enhance their life or get them the results they’re looking for. How to approach sales can be dependent on the individual customer, but sometimes a rule of thumb can be useful, too.
KRISTIN: So we definitely focus on the person. And we don’t just jump right into products and selling and educating because it’s just like any relationship. It takes a little time. And you can read people and learn. Or ask, you know, “Why are you here? What can I help you with?” Some folks will say: “I want a product…I read about this product. I wanna learn, I wanna take home a system.” And so we’ll get right to it. But then there are others that it’s more about the experience and the trust and building the trust with people.
I don’t recommend selling more than two products to a client the first time they come in. I think that when you overwhelm people…it’s just like with a new esthetician. We take a little bit at a time and we focus on one product each week that we use over and over and over again. And so when you’re just selling someone too much, it can be a turn off, even at the time if they’re into it.
But they’re still learning. And they’re wanting to come back and be agreeable. And we don’t want that. We want people to really be interested in maintaining their results at home. That’s what we’re doing. We want them to keep coming in and we want things to be progressively looking better.
Like especially with lashes and eyebrows and all these crazy chemical processes that we’re doing. They can damage your lashes and your brows and then their skincare. But that’s what it’s about. It’s about maintaining the results and seeing a benefit.
EMILY: It can be a process. Education plus time leads to the best possible results for customers. But sometimes a customer is looking for a result that a business just can’t provide. The best way to protect them from disappointment is by setting the correct expectations.
KRISTIN: That is all about the consultation, asking questions, and communicating. Our website is a really good place for people to start. I am very clear on the website about what a brow tint is and what it isn’t. You know, lash lifts, things like that.
It can be disappointing because there’s just so much online now. And sometimes people come in and they have an expectation that is not realistic. And we’re okay talking about that. We don’t want to just do the service and charge the client and have them leave not happy or surprised that they didn’t get what they thought they were gonna get. And that is a very slippery slope with these types of beauty enhancing services.
It isn’t a filter, you know. We have to work with what you have going on. My eyebrows are different from someone else’s. And so we just have to talk about what we’re working with. Why are you here? What are your expectations? And that way, if something happens and they’re not happy or they’re disappointed, it’s a lot easier to deal with than if you’re over promising and under delivering. That can be just a disaster. Or you’re just rushing through it and you think, “Oh, well, this person isn’t gonna probably come back.” You know, you’ll hear about it. We all know that.
And so, again, it’s a process, it’s a system where we have learned how to communicate, how to set expectations and saying, “No.” You know, there’s been a couple times where I’ve just said, “This is not what you’re looking for. I would recommend permanent makeup,” or “I would recommend Botox.” There are other things that we don’t do that I’m happy to refer people to go to do.
EMILY: Honest interactions with customers show that you run a reliable business. Kristin takes multiple opportunities to be that educator: There’s information on the Botanica website and conversations with clients at the studio. People have busy lives and a lot on their minds, so when you need to communicate information to existing and potential customers, it’s useful to reinforce it. Botanica has a system in place for new customers, who will likely need the most education.
KRISTIN: We love new clients. That is still something that’s just so exciting to me is when somebody has never had a facial or they’ve never had their brows done. And it’s kind of just that baby step. It’s really cool to be part of that. It’s really cool to be the person and the place that they found that they’re coming to. And it matters a lot to us.
So we see that in our system. There’s a little note there that says, “This person is new.” And we have a system. We bring ’em through, they go to the back. They don’t sit in the front. They’re not seeing the whole salon because it’s deeper than it looks. So we wanna bring them back. So that they can see, oh wow, you guys do all this other stuff back here.
You know, they may be just there for a brow tint, but then they’re gonna be interested in all the other things that we do. And not to mention also my colleagues who I share my office with. So we do a lot of cross-selling and cross-referrals. And we just want people to feel comfortable and not intimidated because beauty is intimidating. And you know, get to know them, really get to know them.
EMILY: Kristin works in the beauty industry and she understands that comes with baggage for customers. The world of appearance upkeep is going to mean something different to each person who enters Botanica. When you work in a field in which customers have a wide range of past experiences, it’s important to understand their preconceived notions before jumping into potentially intimidating services. And Kristin’s empathy for her customers extends to the responses she writes to her reviews.
BETH: She did respond right away. She definitely has a lot of positive reviews, so she just seems very on top of her business.
It makes you feel important in a way, like your words are significant and that you are helping other people find their business. And I love that she didn’t say… Some business owners say stuff like, “Can I get one more star?” No. I gave her five stars and actually said that I would’ve left more because the facial was so amazing.
EMILY: Customers notice when you respond to reviews. They also notice the tone of the response. They want to be acknowledged and respected for their opinions. Pleading for another star is not only off-putting, it’s against Yelp’s policies, which prohibit asking for reviews. And if responding to reviews feels daunting and out of your comfort zone, there are ways to make it easier on yourself.
KRISTIN: Well, I have a real good friend who’s in PR. So I always refer to her. And when I first got [sarcastic] my only bad review…you need support with that situation. And I’ve never been a person who’s been real personal online anyway. Even with Facebook and other things like that, I’m just kind of a private person and I don’t have a million friends and all that.
So, part of it is, you know, advice. But a lot of it too is I just am that type of person where I don’t get real personal with people I don’t know. So I just keep it short and sweet. And it’s worked out pretty well. For sure. I mean, I think it’s important to acknowledge that this person took time out of their day. And people can say all day long, “Oh, I’m gonna write you a review. Oh, I promise.” But for somebody to actually do it and do it well, we’ll acknowledge that because it took their time and their effort and it means a lot.
EMILY: Being open online doesn’t come naturally to Kristin. So she opts for brief responses and when things get tricky, she talks to her friend, who works in public relations. Use the tools at your disposal to lighten the emotional load of responding to reviews. And being consistent in your responses—that’s totally fine. It’s also important to maintain perspective. You can trust that most readers of reviews will be able to separate valuable information from less relevant gripings.
KRISTIN: I think reviews are key. I think they’re important for growth and feedback. There are situations where, like I said before, somebody may be caught off guard or they’re in a rush. They gotta go back to work and then they get home and they go, “Huh. I’m not happy with this.” You know?
Or they’ll just want to give us the feedback and give us the review. And I just think it’s part of business. I mean, obviously times have changed and the pros outweigh the cons in my opinion. But you can’t be personal and take things personal.
And when it gets personal…you know, it can, because these reviews are unfiltered and people can say what they want. But you just gotta know that going in and everybody knows that. If you read a review and you go, “Oh, this chick is…something’s going on with her and it’s not about her brows.”
So you just gotta kinda take it for what it is. Learn from it and move on. I don’t get into tit for tat and I’m gonna sit there at midnight and respond to this review 15 times. Nobody cares because they’re looking for the meat of it, which is like the experience and the results. When you’re getting into all of this personal stuff, or some weird situation, they’re gonna move on to the next review. I think that’s true. But God bless ’em.