PORTAGE, Mich. (WOOD) - Marketing experts say the social media fallout over a salon owner's reaction to a crying boy with autism should be a lesson to all small business owners about damage control.
"Who would have thought a haircut, what started out as a haircut at a salon, would have escalated into something of this matter?" said Adrienne Wallace, a Grand Valley State University visiting professor of marketing.
Since the story about M Spa and the little boy Grayson Bays went wild on the web, some damage has already been done, the spa's attorney, George Perrett, told 24 Hour News 8 on Wednesday.
He said some employees have quit over the uproar and "that affects the bottom line." Owner Michelle Mott and workers have received angry emails and phone calls, he said.
"This has had a detrimental effect on their well-being and happiness in the workplace," Perrett said.
The incident happened on Saturday -- 2-year-old Grayson Bays cried in the spa while sitting on his mom's lap for a haircut.
A witness who posted on Facebook wrote that the owner yelled at the mom. That post has been shared 35,000 times. The story made CNN.
A Facebook boycott has gotten more than 9,000 "likes" -- more than recent boycotts of Applebee's restaurants and Abercrombie & Fitch, combined, for their perceived missteps.
"They'll probably by OK," Wallace said of Applebee's and Abercrombie & Fitch. "But this is certainly a do-or-die for a small business and any small business for that matter."
The salon owner's attorney said autism had nothing to do with this, that the child was crying for at least 15 minutes, and that they feared for his safety because the boy's mom had to restrain him.
He also questioned why the mother returned to the salon a short time after the incident to get her hair cut and colored.
"She paid for it in full and walked out without comment," the attorney said.
Mom Ashley Bays said she returned to the spa that day because she didn't want her stylist to lose money.
Either way, according to marketing experts, thanks to social media, the truth now is almost irrelevant.
"Whoever is right, it doesn't matter because the perception and everything that's actually happened forces everybody who's heard of this to make their own decision and that affects, of course, dollars," Wallace said.
The marketing experts said they would have expected an apology from the owner to the mother and other customers.
"The customer is always right is still the general philosophy," said Kristie Burns, of Lambert, Edwards & Associates in Grand Rapids. "It is surprising this spa didn't offer free services for everyone who had to witness that, or certainly an apology would have gone a long way."
"Crisis communication is terrible," said Wallace, the GVSU visiting professor. "This is a terrible, terrible example of fixing or solving a crisis."
Burns said the spa could take steps to control some of the damage.
"I think they could commit to some anger management classes, look into autism awareness and support, have maybe the month of June a percentage of the profits could go to the Autism Awareness Foundation."
The marketing experts say all small businesses should prepare for viral emergencies.
"I think there's always a lesson to be learned, but certainly it's better to be proactive than reactive," Wallace said.
"This goes to show you, this will have devastating affects to a business if they don't handle their social media and themselves correctly," Burns said.
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