Salon business achieves new revenue stream

Salon owner Paola Girotti still finds it emotional to talk about the early days of the pandemic. Specifically, the point when she knew everything had changed and her business faced a long road of lockdowns.

Girotti has operated the Toronto-based SugarMoon Salon for more than 20 years. With three locations, the business offers their clientele body sugaring, skin care and spray tanning. The business model was successful and by January 2020, Girotti’s company – a living wage employer with dedicated staff – had big plans in the works for franchising the business within Canada and the United States.

That all changed in the spring of 2020 when it gradually became clear to Girotti that her business would likely never be the same.

“We had to unwind our mindset because we went from building an entire franchise model to, ‘How can we support ourselves?'”
– Paola Girotti, SugarMoon Salon

“We went from preparing for a franchise expansion to me writing records of employment for my staff,” Girotti explains, visibly choked up. “We had to unwind our mindset because we went from building an entire franchise model to, ‘How can we support ourselves?’”

While it was a difficult time, Girotti says that things started to turn the corner when she decided to make a drastic pivot. In the face of continued lockdowns, in which her salon could not accept in-person clientele, Girotti decided to bring her sugaring products and skin care line directly to people’s homes.

Ultimately, the one thing that offered optimism for the future, she says, was working on a plan for this new revenue stream with Niagara College’s Business & Commercialization Solutions (BCS) team, part of the Research & Innovation division.



“Working with the research team kept us hopeful,” says Girotti. “And it kept us committed because we knew we could learn how to take this product to a new level.”

The Sugaring Take Home Kit includes everything used by professionals but is made easy to use at home. Sugaring is different than hair waxing in that it is made with all-natural sugar, water and lemon juice and is much gentler on the skin for hair removal.

Even though the business already had developed at-home kits, they needed a better understanding of this new market and who and how to target this market. They also needed in-depth knowledge of navigating the world of social media and online sales, says Cailey Ward, the salon’s marketing manager.

“We went to school to learn how to take care of people, not about social media; that’s really a specialized skill and it’s prohibitively expensive to pay for that expertise.”

The research team at BCS conducted an environmental scan to uncover key trends of the hair removal industry, looking at consumer perceptions and hesitations. They then did a comprehensive competitive analysis, target market identification and outlined potential markets in both business-to-business and business-to-consumer channels and their behaviours.

“We learned an exceptional amount from the Niagara College team. The research was invaluable to a small business like ours.”
– Cailey Ward, SugarMoon Salon

In a final report, researchers presented the company with a range of promotion strategies on how to best reach the identified target markets. A detailed understanding of social media strategies and how to successfully execute these campaigns were shared, along with branding and distribution ideas.

As part of the recommendation, SugarMoon has since implemented a separate e-commerce-based website to sell the at-home boxed kits, along with skin and body care products.

“We learned a lot about how people behave online,” explains Ward. “The team strongly suggested we have a stand-alone Instagram account, to complement our website, and we are so glad we followed that advice.

“We learned an exceptional amount from the Niagara College team. The research was invaluable to a small business like ours.”

Today, SugarMoon Salon is in the process of opening a fourth location, in Girotti’s hometown of Thorold. As more revenue from this new location streams in, the goal is to expand their online store and incorporate more key strategies outlined in the BCS report.

“We are so grateful for Niagara College’s help… we would work with them again in a heartbeat,” adds Girotti.

Alongside providing essential assistance to a small business, the research project also provided practical, real-world experience for the business research assistants with BCS, whose hours were funded through the RBC Future Launch program –a $500-million Canadian initiative aimed at helping young people access meaningful employment through practical work experience, skills development, networking and access to mental well-being supports and services. 

Through the BCS at Niagara College, the RBC Future Launch program is being used to connect students with businesses who require support for market research, go-to-market strategies and steer or creatively pivot their business model.

Kaitlyn Jonker, a former research assistant with BCS, credits working on research projects like these with helping her become career ready. The 2021 graduate of NC’s Business – Sales & Marketing program was recently hired locally as a sales & marketing representative at Martek Supply.

“It was working on projects like SugarMoon that provided me with the knowledge and experience that I take with me into my new career,” says Jonker, who was on the research team providing market research and promotions strategies for the business.

“For me, the Research & Innovation centre at Niagara College was a foundational part of my college career,” adds Jonker. “It helped me gain personal confidence in my abilities, while learning new skillsets that will benefit me in my future endeavours.”

To discover if your business could be a candidate to receive assistance from the research students at Business & Commercialization Solutions through the RBC Future Launch program, contact project manager Paula Reile at [email protected]

To learn more about the capabilities offered by the Business & Commercialization Solutions team or discover how initial feasibility research is helpful before engaging with Research & Innovation for applied research projects, visit the website.