Client Gifts: To Give or Not To Give?

Exchanging gifts with clients for the holidays? Is it better to give, receive, or neither? Should beauty pros spend money on client gifts, or can we find a better way to express our appreciation? We discuss the challenges of client gifting in salons just in time to do something about it.

Show Notes

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Edited for length and clarity.

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JAIME: Welcome to  Outgrowth: A Slice of Pro Beauty with your hosts Jaime Schrabeck.

ASHLEY: And Ashley Gregory Hackett. We can’t help but notice that many beauty pros want to give their clients holiday gifts, or maybe they just feel obligated.

JAIME: Before investing our hard-earned money, we should talk about our expectations and whether we should encourage exchanging gifts at all. Let’s grow together.

ASHLEY: Well, Jaime, this is a topic that comes up again and again. We have offline conversations about this, but I think it’s high time we have an entire episode devoted to client gifts.

JAIME: And it was so tempting to discuss this in earlier episodes when we talk about what can we do for our clients to make them feel special. I don’t know how many little mini bottles of whatever you can source and give to your clients before you realize that at this time of year, what is it that we’re really expecting to gain from giving and what is it our clients are expecting to get?

ASHLEY: It’s a slippery slope. I think we are of the same mind on this, but I think it’s worth having a discussion where maybe one of us plays devil’s advocate because otherwise it might be a boring episode. But this is a topic that comes up again and again and again, and we see it in the Facebook groups, and the private groups, and the beauty industry as a whole, wanting to talk about client gifts, and what they should give, what people are expecting, and it kind of tends to be the same song every year. So let’s get into it. I’m really excited to chat about this with you because I feel like client gifting is one of those topics that we just, it never dies. It continues on and on.

JAIME: Early in the holiday season, like we are now, the conversation is around what do I give clients? Afterwards, it will be whining about what we received from clients.

ASHLEY: Yeah. That’s entirely true, and then it starts to beg, like every time you bring up this topic, it starts to generate the same questions too, over and over again. Like do you give all of your clients something? Do they all get the same thing? What if they compare notes? Does a client then, are you expecting them to have a gift for you?

Like we could get into each of those individually, but I think what might start out as a genuine gesture of thanks starts opening up a can of worms and you know, how much I love that phrase, but it might open up a can of worms and cause issues that we would never anticipate.

JAIME: I don’t think either of us has to play devil’s advocate. All I have to do is remember what I did years ago, now that I’ll be coming up on my 30th anniversary in the industry. And most recently, when I was giving gifts, I would gift my top 50 or so clients, the ones who had the standing appointments and who were most committed to my business and by committed, I mean, come regularly and spend the most money.

ASHLEY: And did that cause issues with your bottom 50 clients?

JAIME: Well, because you have clients coming and going and with employees, that means you have other clients, some I didn’t even see myself personally, you could have that gifting happening and being witnessed by someone else and that’s what makes it really awkward. If you were alone in your own suite and just interacting with your clients one-on-one, and one at a time you could have a more private exchange of gifts, but in an open salon setting, it’s much different.

ASHLEY: Yeah, and oh man, it could really create some feels bad moments, especially if everyone’s walking out of the salon with a little gift bag, and then it comes time for this client to cash out with you and schedule their next appointment, and there’s no little gift bag for them. So where do you draw the line? Is it a client that’s been with you since last year? Is it a client that consistently books with you? Is it every client you see in November and December? Because that can really start to add up.

JAIME: I know we’re talking specifically about the holidays, but I can’t help but make the connection to gifting for birthdays because there’s also expectation around that. At some salons, it’s a big deal that a client will get some sort of discount, or special treatment, or free retail, or whatever around their birthday. But even then we could even extend that to a relationship. If you get into a relationship with someone right before a birthday, what does that mean? What happens in the relationship and what’s an appropriate gift, if any? And I think what I’ve come to realize is in order to avoid the awkwardness, it’s easier for me to take a step back and not gift, nor expect gifts in return.

ASHLEY: I agree. I think client gifting is kind of an archaic practice. You know if you’re a fan of The Office, and you’ve seen the episode where Michael takes the gift baskets to try to win back old clients who’ve left them, and how it ends up with a rental car in a lake. It just doesn’t go well. I think we all think about how we want to thank our clients and we want to show our appreciation for them, and then it starts to blur this line of like, are they, well, are they clients or are they friends? Because I don’t really give anybody any type of gift other than family members and friends. And even then, you know, it’s something that’s very personal to them. I don’t give them all the same thing. And the other part of that equation is I’m exchanging my services and my time for money. This is my job when it comes to my clients. So why would I give them a gift for that? It just seems like I can’t make that connection in my head, nor should I feel like they should give me a gift because they’ve given me the gift of their business all year long. And I know that a lot of people want to give gifts as a thank you for their patronage, but then I think about what are other businesses doing? And most of them are giving out branded swag like magnets, or chip clips, or another little tchotchke. What actually happens to the gifts that we’re giving to our clients? Is this something that they’re going to use, and treasure, and appreciate because we’ve given of our hard-earned money to give it to them, or does it end up in the bottom of a purse or get thrown away and then never thought of it?

JAIME: Ashley, there is not one beauty pro listening to this podcast who hasn’t regifted something given to them by a client. There’s not one.

ASHLEY: The candle that travels around the world.

JAIME: There is, all chocolate stops with me. I will say that if, if I’m gifted chocolate, it usually doesn’t make it beyond my desk. But do we really need anything and do our clients really need anything from us other than this loyal, mutually beneficial relationship we have as client and service provider?

ASHLEY: You know, and I feel like it’s going to dilute your retail, especially if you’re giving them something that you retail like a cuticle oil, or a treatment, or a hand cream, or a discount on a service in January or February. Like if you’re giving gifts that mean that your retail sales are dead for the first quarter of the next year, why would you do that to yourself? To me, an enhanced experience would be a great gift, but I don’t think a tangible item is really going to demonstrate how thankful I am to my clients for their business. Like a little, you know, taffeta drawstring bag with a cuticle oil mini in it doesn’t say like you are super valued to me.

JAIME: Do we need to throw a holiday party?

ASHLEY: What? Okay. Look, we’ve been through it the past 18 months, okay? As an industry, as people, the stress level. I see that pushback over, I’m not going to raise my prices because. Of COVID, but it costs me on average 20% more because of all the PPE and the reduced capacity to see clients. And on top of that, I’m going to spend, you know, 500, a thousand dollars to give everybody a mini piece of retail? Where does it stop? Like really, where does it stop? Do you want my blood?

JAIME: I had to poke you with the holiday party suggestion because you know in other businesses that would be something that would happen. There would be the holiday party, and you bring your spouse, and you bring your favorite, whatever who knows. I cannot imagine a salon that’s able to do that and talk about cutting some people off or not being able to accommodate everyone. I think it’s the same problem, but now it’s wrapped up in an event as opposed to a tangible gift.

ASHLEY: I just really, I feel like it puts it in perspective to say if during the holiday season, your car broke down and you needed to have some repairs made, would you expect a gift from your mechanic?

JAIME: I’d be lucky to get into my mechanic.

ASHLEY: Yeah. But, you know, I don’t want to discount the personal relationship we have with our clients and the nature of our work being all up in their grill, but it is at the end of the day, a transaction. You are, these people are not your friends. You are collecting money from them. Do you collect money from your friends? Hopefully not. And so, it kind of hearkens back to our previous discussion about tipping and the power imbalance that happens there. And I honestly just I don’t want gifts from my clients. I feel like that just creates this awkward situation where they hand me a gift and I turn and grab like a, a little bundle off of a, out of a bin and go, this is for you. It just feels weird. And I think if we can just eliminate the entire practice altogether and make the experience the quote unquote gift, everybody’s happy. What does Starbucks do for the holidays? They serve you a peppermint flavored drink. They don’t say here’s your peppermint flavored drink you’ve paid for and this foot cream that I would love for you to have.

JAIME: So how do we redirect that generosity? Because we know we have clients that 

they themselves may feel obligated to gift all of their service providers.

ASHLEY: Yeah, that’s, that’s the question, isn’t it? It’s like, do you hang a little sign that says, we love you and appreciate your generosity, but we don’t want any gifts? You know, don’t feel obligated or we’re implementing a no gifting policy this holiday season. If you’d like to support a cause that’s close to our hearts, here it is. I think a great thing to do to redirect some of that generosity is like collect toys for the less fortunate, do a toys for tots drive, or coats for kids, whatever that looks like for your salon space and what’s relevant to your community. Do that. I think that would be amazing. And then you can email your clientele, and say we’re doing this and in lieu of giving any gifts to you or expecting any gifts from you, let’s all come together around this cause.

JAIME: I particularly like that idea because then it doesn’t put pressure on individual clients to do something and it’s very likely you can pick one thing that everyone can get behind. And I say that knowing that not everyone celebrates Christmas or Hanukkah, or any holiday, and people’s traditions are different and people’s priorities are different. So if you can find a cause that’s local that would unite your clientele and make them feel good about participating, you could just be the point at which all that flows through, and then you can build a connection with that charity. I think it’s a wonderful idea.

ASHLEY: I love it. I think it’d be great. But yeah, just a great way to move the generosity of the season towards something that helps everybody. You know, when your community is served, it just helps everyone. Then, you know, there’s also the question of if a client wants to give you money, do you have to declare that as income? Like it opens up another can of worms.

JAIME: I may be the only one who claims that money.

ASHLEY: You are absolutely the only one who claims that money, Jaime. 

JAIME: But I do, I do claim it. And here’s the other part, when you have employees and a client is generously tipping beyond what they normally would as part of that transaction, then I’m paying, as we well know, the taxes on that generosity, in addition to the credit card fees. So it does really get out of hand, but it’s not just one person’s generosity if it impacts your business also.

ASHLEY: Totally agree. I mean, a lot of us want to do the, you know, the David Rose write-off. It’s a write-off. Well, who pays for it? The government. I mean, that’s not factually correct, but if you do give client gifts, you are able to deduct and right off up to $25 per person. So if you really need a write off, then go for it, but you still have to pay for those gifts. So I know we’re going to get some pushback about, well, how dare you tell us not to give our clients gifts. We love them so much. Look, if you want to give your client a gift, do it, okay. Just know that there could potentially be some fishy things happening on the other end that you might not even have anticipated.

JAIME: If you want to avoid the awkwardness of exchanging gifts, then make it clear from the beginning, the sooner, the better that you’re not expecting anything. And instead you’d rather have them do, and then come up with something that will make people happy.

ASHLEY: And this doesn’t mean decline the gift in the moment, because that would be really bad and awkward if you were to say, oh, no, I don’t want gifts, push it back at them. Um, you know, still be gracious and have some good etiquette there. But I agree. I would tell my clientele, like, look, I appreciate you. We’ve had some great times.

We’ve had some, you know, crummy COVID times, but please do not give any gift.Let’s come together around this cause to me, that would impact me more as a client to see that you acknowledge the situation. You’re trying to make a positive out of it. And we can all get together around giving to people who are underserved in our communities.

JAIME: And if you can’t pick one cause because I know I have among my clientele, you have the animal people, you have the environment people, you have the unhoused people, you have all the people who have different ideas of what’s worthy of being supported. And instead it’s easier for me because there is a local newspaper that runs an entire campaign throughout the holiday season, whereby they choose approximately a hundred plus organizations that have been vetted, and they run this campaign where they promote all of those charities, and then there’s matching gifts. And the charity that generates the most donations and the most dollars, they all are eligible for additional funds. So even if I just channeled everyone to that, then they could make their own decisions.

ASHLEY: Yeah, that’s a great way to find something that you know is going to be legit as well. Well, this is an ongoing conversation. I know we’re going to hear about it on our Instagram and I highly encourage that. If you want to connect with us, you can follow along and comment on recent episodes. Let us know how you feel about client gifting over on our Instagram at @outgrowthpodcast.

JAIME: And as always, you can let us know how much you’re enjoying Outgrowth by leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts. You can do that with one click. Visit Ashley, setting expectations, I am not sending you a holiday gift, but I look forward to the next time we can share a meal.

ASHLEY: My presence is my present to you. Oh, awkward. All right. Well, everybody until next week, be smart.

JAIME: Be safe.



Described as the best beauty podcast in 2021, Outgrowth Podcast is for hairstylists, nail techs, estheticians, massage therapists and lash technicians. Hosted by beauty industry experts Ashley Gregory Hackett and Jaime Schrabeck, PhD, this salon industry podcast has helpful  interviews with guests that teach topics from increasing salon clientele, salon marketing, covid guidelines, beauty industry insights, starting a salon, renting a salon suite, salon Instagram tips, and how to run a successful salon. Join us for weekly episodes of hair podcasts, nail podcasts, esty podcast, and more.

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