I recently counted over 130 apps installed on my iPhone. 130 different programs that I have installed in the past year, since I last upgraded my contract.

I have them grouped according to what they do, for example, there is a folder for apps that relate to reading like Kindle, and other apps for magazines or bibles. I have social apps like Facebook and Twitter in a folder. I have news apps like News 24, BBC, CNN, Aljazeera and EWN grouped together. Now, I’m not sharing this with you to indicate how anal I am about apps, Im sharing it with you to indicate that I have over 130 apps that actually serve a purpose installed on my phone and I tend to get rid of apps that I havent in a while.

There are over 1 million apps on the iStore and many more for Android and Windows Phone. That’s a lot of apps! There are apps for just about every idea you can think of; a werewolf locator app that helps you locate Werewolves around the world, an app that tells you what nearby ghosts are thinking and even an app that claims it can detect a watermelons ripeness using the phones microphone. Really useful apps, I know …

But are all apps simply gimmicks that don’t add any real value to our daily lives? Well at this stage in the mobile revolution we can confidently say that apps are more than just gimmicks and have rooted themselves in our daily routines in good ways and bad.

Communication has been revolutionized with apps like Whatsapp, which allows you to not only send messages to individuals but also to set up groups for work, family, clubs or any other reason. News is now instant through social media like Twitter and news apps. Banking can now happen in your car (while you are stopped at a red light of course). Navigation no longer requires a map book or even a dedicated GPS. Reading no longer requires books and you can purchase just about any book and have it on your phone within a few minutes.

Apps for the salon owners

So, with this wave of mobile applications having taken the world by storm what does it mean for the salon owner. Should you be using apps? Should you have your own app?

In looking at the first question “Should you be using apps?”

Utility apps

I think the answer is a definite yes. However, my answer relates initially to the generic use of apps, ie utility apps that may solve a certain problem for you that is not necessarily directly related to managing your core business functions.

Whether it’s a notepad app for writing down ideas or meeting notes with staff or using Whatsapp for group communication within your business there are many small utility apps that you will find useful.

Third party apps

Then there are apps that third party companies develop with a specific problem they are solving or unique service that they are offering and provide you with an opportunity to take part in. For example, GoBeauty that enables you to upload last minute bookings at a special price. Then any member of the public that has downloaded the app will see your appointment become available and can book the service through the app. This solves the problem of any open slots at the salon that you cannot fill and also reaches an audience that may never had visited your salon before thus sending new business your way.

Core business related apps

Then there are apps specifically for your own salon. These apps can be anything from glorified web sites to interactive purchasing and booking engines.

They will be apps that have your own branding and do not list any other salons that may compete with you.

There are a number of ways to get your own app including having one custom built from scratch according to your own requirements. Alternatively you could take what is known as a white label app and have it branded according to your own brand needs. There are certain sites that let you actually build your own app using wizard driven tools on their web sites.

The choice you make in how to get your own app will depend largely on what you wish to achieve through the app. If you have very specific and unique requirements then you may need to go the route of a custom built app.

Custom built apps

The upside of a custom built app is that you won’t have hundreds of other competitors that have apps doing exactly what yours does but just branded differently. However, on the down side a custom built app can be very expensive. Remember that you have to have your app built for the different mobile platforms (ie for Iphone, Android, Windows Phone etc) and you can end up spending over R100k on each of these platforms if you have it developed locally. For most salons this prohibitive cost makes a custom built app a non-starter.

White label apps

A white label app may be the next best thing in that you will have an app that is most likely custom built for the salon industry requirements, has a company behind it that is maintaining it and does not have large upfront costs like a custom app. The pricing model will most likely be a few hundred Rand a month and you will be able to include your salon details, price lists, specials and news and bookings requests (amongst other things). On the down side any other competitor can make use of the same app and therefore offer the same to their clients.

D.I.Y apps

D.I.Y apps are similar to white label apps in that you are using the same engine as anyone else who builds their apps on the same site as you, except that you are putting it together yourself using the options provided to you. The app is published in the app stores by the company whose site you build it on and they charge you a monthly service for providing all these facilities.

Answer this question first

The big question is “What do you wish to achieve through an app?” If, for example, you wish to allow your clients to log in to your app and view their live loyalty points balance or buy a gift vocher in their app then a custom built app will most likely be the requirement as the app will need to communicate with your loyalty scheme and gift voucher server.

If you wish to advertise your salon and allow clients to request bookings then a white label app would most likely suffice. However, you may wish to first ensure that your web site is mobile friendly as this may cover much of this for you already. A mobile friendly web site also deals with the problem of the different mobile operating systems as it will work across platforms.

Apps can be used as a talking point as they have the initial hype factor but in order for them to be more than just a gimmick they should be offering your clients some real value else the clients will not open them and eventually delete them. Therefore, if you are going to go the app route think about it very carefully and come up with a very good reason for your clients to open the app.