Management / Staff / Training / Salon Owner’s Summit / Leadership

Verna Wall & Rich Cullen: How the Best Salons Create and Maintain a High-Performance Team

25 min

Verna Wall & Rich Cullen: How the Best Salons Create and Maintain a High-Performance Team

Following on from the success of last year’s “Success Stories from the Salon Floor,” Phorest’s Head of Research, Verna Wall, and Lead Product Designer, Rich Cullen, took to the 2024 Salon Owners Summit stage once again to present more incredible stories from some of Phorest’s top salons. Over a year in the making, 2024’s “More Success Stories from the Salon Floor” saw Verna and Rich conduct a range of interviews with salon and spa owners worldwide to help them answer the burning question; “How do the best salons create and maintain a high-performance team?” 

With so many incredible insights packed into their talk, we’ve decided to share the entire thing. It’s available in video format at the start of this blog or transcribed (edited for clarity) below. Enjoy! 

Introduction: A Keynote Inspired By Hundreds of Salon Interviews 

Rich: Last year, for the first time ever, myself and Verna shared “Success Stories from The Salon Floor.” We shared some ideas and anecdotes from some of the best salons around the world in the hopes of inspiring you guys. The reason we do this is because anytime we have the opportunity to talk to you, on Zoom or in person, we always get asked similar questions like; “what do the best sounds do to solve this problem that we’re having here?” Or “what does good look like when it comes to service and retail ratio from my region?”

No one has all the answers. So it makes sense to look at other salons and spas around the world, in different continents, countries, and regions, and learn from each other. Because we all share the same problems!

With that in mind, we have a whole host of stories about success today from some of the best talents in the world. And with that, I’d like to introduce to you Verna Wall, Research Manager at Phorest.

Connecting with Salon Owners All Over The World

Verna: So, to start, I think it’s safe to say that neither Rich nor I are salon owners, nor are we experts in how to run a salon. However, through Phorest, we’re in a really lucky position of being able to connect with many of the best salons around the world. We’ve connected with many of you already through Zoom calls and surveys, salon visits, and events just like this. In the last year, we’ve connected with hair and beauty salons, spas, barbers, and medspas from all over the world. From Australia to North America, Ireland to Germany, and even the UK to Finland.

Asking the Question; “How Do The Best Salons Create & Maintain a High-Performing Team?” 

We reached out to all the salons attending the Summit back in September, and we asked what one question you would like us to ask the best salons around the world. And most of you ask questions centering around your team. 

Things like:
“How do I find and retain good staff?”
“How do I engage and motivate my team?”

“How do I trust my staff when I’m away from the salon?” 

“How do I create a balance so that all of us win?”

Rich: So, we have decided to base this entire talk on the idea of creating and maintaining a high-performance team. That is the area that you guys have the most issues with and the area we want to focus on. So that’s what we’re going to do. Thankfully, at Phorest, we have over ten thousand salons using our software and our platform. That gives us access to a load of data and insights. So we looked through all the data and found the salons that are performing really, really well, especially in the area of staff performance.

Uncovering the Secrets to a High-Performance Team

Rich: We looked in particular at the idea of staff retention. We found there are salons out there that have an average of staff staying 5-20 years. How is this possible? What are they doing that’s so special? So we decided to reach out to those. We also looked at retail percentage, what salons are selling retail really, really well. What are the keys there? We looked at staff goals and a host of other features.

And, spoiler, when we did this, we found and contacted and interviewed as many of these salons across every region as we possibly could to bring back these insights.

And all the top-performing teams have a well-founded and well-disciplined culture. In a nutshell, that is the secret

Verna: To understand this a little bit better, we’ve broken it down into three main parts for today: 

  • Nailing your culture, looking at things like your values and your honor code and really understanding what drives your team
  • Building your dream team through different hiring and retention strategies
  • Growing your own timber. This is all about in-house growth, keeping your team happy and hungry through education, and creating that habit of learning. 

So let’s dive right into some stories of success about how the best salons are nailing their culture. 

1. Company Culture

Rich: So, what is culture? It can be described as the collective thinking and behaviour of an organization. What does that mean? The best way we can describe it is that it’s hundreds of different behaviors and things that happen in your salons and spas. So to give you some examples of these things… Greeting clients [for example], we have some salons out there that have quite a young clientele base. Therefore, they like to self-check in. It’s really fast. It’s kinda cool and takes the frustration out. Other salons we’ve seen, like to greet guests at the door, say their names, take their coat, and have a full conversation.

That’s just one example. There are hundreds more. Another one is dress code. Some spas have a specific dress code. It might be one particular colour. You might have to have your hair tied a certain way. We have a nail bar in Dublin where everyone on the team wears leopard print. We also have salons out there that say “wear what you want, wear what makes you comfortable.”

Loads of little, small things collectively make up your culture. It’s not just everybody getting along. It’s a clear understanding of how things are done in each business having everyone on the same page from the team.

When we spoke to some of the best salons out there, they all said that they understand that, with or without leadership, a culture will always emerge. Every single business has a type of culture, but you must focus on it. The best salons spend time shaping and owning their culture.

What Defines a Positive Company Culture? Insights from Brian Chesky, Airbnb

Verna: The first example we’re sharing with you is outside our industry. And it’s Brian Chesky, who’s the CEO and co-founder of Airbnb. As Airbnb grew, Chesky couldn’t actually sit in on every meeting, with every team on every project. That’s very similar for you as business owners. You can’t sit with every client at every station at every location. Chesky knew that culture starts from the top and permeates down. It’s from those lessons learned, those hard conversations, those difficult times.

Chesky says that your culture is the behaviour of your leaders that gets mimicked all the way down to every single person in the team. It’s leading by example. It’s designed and moulded. It’s “the moment I cannot be in the room, and the same action happens as if I was in the room.”

That’s when it goes from management to culture. It’s these shared instincts. Many salon owners we speak to are pretty confident when you’re in the salon, whether that’s on the floor or in the office. You know, you can help your team stay focused if they need any help. You’re on hand.

But what happens when you’re away from your business? Is it running the way you want it to?

A strong culture protects us. A strong culture means that your salon runs the same when you’re not there.

Rich: Okay. So solutions, let’s look at what some of the top salons are doing. So the first thing, which will be familiar to most of you, is an honour code. A code of honour, sometimes called a code of ethics.

Honour Code

For those of you who may not know, it’s a simple list of five to ten items. These are some real examples:

  • We talk to each other, not about each other
  • No team member left behind
  • We compliment people
  • We learn from our mistakes
  • Doing the right thing, even when no one is watching

Basically, it’s a list of agreed-upon things that everyone who works in the salon agrees to keep.

The key to a successful honour code:

  • It’s created by the team 
  • For the team, and 
  • Governed by the team. 

It can not just be a leadership team writing these down and printing them off. It has to be alive and self-governed by the staff. 

We spoke to Greg Clark, and he said something similar. He said in the beginning when he was implementing change with his team, he would tell the team what he wanted to change. And he said, at times, that felt like dragging an elephant around the room.

Over time, he learned that if he got his team on board, for example, when he went fully sustainable a few years ago, they loved the change. And the changes become way more successful. Now they even keep him in check sometimes.

Creating Your Honour Code with Luke from Annastasia Salon

Rich: We a clip from  Luke,  who runs a salon called Annastasia in Oregon, and he talks about the importance of culture in his salon. So let’s hear from Luke now.

Luke: “I do think culture’s hard to define! What does that mean? And what’s our culture?

I think probably the best way to describe ours is our honour code. The staff and I work together to create an honour code. An honour code is simply a series of statements on how we treat one another. We leave no teammate left behind. We compliment people. We learn from our mistakes. We talk to people, not about people. Those are just four examples. And that all is cool when something’s written on a piece of paper.

What matters is; what’s the traction? What’s your willingness to fight for those things? So if somebody comes to me and says; “this person sucks because they leave their water bottle on my station every day, and it’s so disrespectful, and who do they think they are anyway? I can’t believe that even anyone would wanna be their boyfriend because their house must be such a disaster and-” you get it. And so if somebody’s coming to me with something like that, I say, “Wow, that sucks. What are you gonna do about it”? And so, you know, that’s my mission.

My mission is that all the leaders are trained not to take other people’s problems as their own, but instead ask that person how they’re going to solve that, and how we can help them in that process. And when the leadership does that, the honour code is very alive because we can go back to the honour code. Right? And be like, “it sounds like they’re not living up to our commitments to each other.” And they’re like; “yeah. They aren’t.” Okay, great. But you have a commitment in the honuor code too, which is that we talk to people and not about people, and that we learn from our mistakes. So what do you wanna do? And that, to me, is culture in action.”

The Difference Between Fun and Culture

[Luke continues] “We do this thing called treat week, which I didn’t make up, the staff did. We pick a week every year, in all the locations, and everybody just brings massive amounts of treats and makes each other sick. Those are fun. Right? But they aren’t culture. Those are symptoms of great culture. But you can’t party your way into culture, unfortunately. We’ve said what we believe in and how we want to treat each other, and then we’re going to fight for that. Even if it’s uncomfortable. And that, for me, is what defines our culture.”

Revisiting an Honour Code When It’s Not Working

Rich: We heard from Jason Everett last year, and he has a really good suggestion of a revisit meeting. It’s nothing drastic, or it’s not a rewrite. It’s getting your team together in a room, and each person in your team reads one item from the honour code and they explain it in their own words.

This is actually really useful sometimes because there can be a misunderstanding of exactly what you mean. So it’s really good at aligning things. It’s also a very good time of the year to do that. And if you have new staff members, it’s also useful to do it because they may not have heard this before, and it might be good for aligning the team.

Nailing Salon Culture With Trish & Melissa from Cole’s Salon

Verna: So we’re sticking on the topic of nailing your culture. We had a chat with Melissa and Trish from Cole’s Salon, a top hair and beauty salon in North America. They’re known for their exceptional customer service.  A lot of this is due to their culture. They fully trust and encourage their team to solve their own problems. They use their culture to overcome these problems.

So, for example, they are currently raising their service prices, and they need to think of new ways to elevate their guest experience, particularly around that front desk experience. We have another short clip for you of Melissa and Trish walking us through how they’re encouraging their first impressions manager to overachieve on their guest experience.

Leaning Into “Unreasonable Hospitality” and Wowing Every Guest

Melissa: We’re having a price increase in January of this year. We’re really working with all of our team members on how to dial up that guest service. And… what was the education that we listened to? Unreasonable hospitality. So we’re really taking cues from that education right now, and sharing stories. 

We just walked away from a first impressions team manager meeting with everybody to go back to the salon and encourage; “if there wasn’t a budget, what would you do to make that guest stay?” And most of it is just taking an umbrella and walking them out to their car if it’s raining. It’s a no-cost transaction, but some of it is; “I heard when I was talking to him on the phone, they said I’m coming in and it’s my birthday!” This manager’s gonna have a little cupcake ready for them when they come in and check-in for their service. It’s just listening for those opportunities to give that unreasonable hospitality, and we’re really adding fuel to the fire. 

That’s what they say over the next three to six months we’re going to focus on that area. Because when you charge what we’re going to be charging, and what we are charging, we need to really show the guests how much we appreciate them choosing us.”

Verna: Melissa and Trish shared with us how impactful this is to their business. Because if their team is empowered to carry out these actions, they will happen when the leaders aren’t actually present in the business. 

Will Guidara, Michelin-Star Restaurateur, on Exceeding Guest Expectations with ‘Unreasonable Hospitality’

Rich: In that clip, Melissa and Trish from Cole’s mentioned a book called ‘Unreasonable Hospitality’. This is brilliant. It’s written by a man called Will Guidara. Will Guidara used to run Eleven Madison Park, which is a three Michelin-star restaurant in New York City, which is the highest amount of Michelin Stars you can get. It was ranked number one in the world’s fifty best restaurants and will focus on exceeding expectations when it comes to guest experience. So, we have a short clip from Will talking on Chicago News, about what he did to help inspire the team. This is what Coles are listening to, to tap into their first impressions team. So let’s hear from Will.

Will: We used to give granola away at the end of every night, to every guest, as something to take home with them. One time we found an Instagram account for someone who was dining with us, and the Instagram account was based solely on his love for bacon. So we made a granola for him, one that had bacon. And, listen, the moment someone receives something where the gesture shows you not only cared enough to learn something about them, but then to do something with what you heard, the reaction is priceless.

And listen, I don’t believe there’s anything more energizing than seeing the look of complete joy on someone else’s face when they receive a gift that you’re responsible for giving them. Unreasonable hospitality is a win-win in the sense that, yes, obviously, the guests are happier, but the team is too. Everyone’s struggling with staffing right now, and people are paying their team more or giving them more balance, both of which are good, but they’re treating the symptoms, not the underlying condition. 

What we need to do to get people fired up and wanting to work, in any environment, is making the work more meaningful, and giving your team the ability to bestow graciousness upon others is one of the best ways to find meaning.”

The TV host asks Will what could a business on the lower end of the luxury scale do to elevate their hospitality. 

Will: “I’ve spent time working with people on every single level, in restaurants and outside of restaurants. And, listen, it’s not the cost of the gesture that counts. It’s the thoughtfulness that it represents. One of the stories that was most impactful that we executed was a time when guests were dining with us and talking about all the amazing meals they had. The only thing they never had was a New York City hot dog.

And so, I just ran outside bought a two-dollar hot dog, and we cut it up and made it look all fancy. Before their final savory course, which was a honey lavender glazed Muscovy duck, we gave them what we in New York call a “dirty water dog”. Saying “we want to make sure you don’t go home with any culinary regrets!”

And, listen, I’d served Wagyu beef and lobster and caviar throughout my career. I’d never seen anyone react to anything I served them like he did to that hot dog. It’s creating a culture where people are inclined to listen, to not take themselves too seriously, and to do things that make their guests feel seen.”

The Impact of Going The Extra Mile for Your Clients

Rich: So I think we all took the same thing from that., It’s about getting your teams fired up and motivated. Make the work meaningful. That’s the big thing that Cole’s are trying to tap into here. And again, it’s not the cost, it’s the gesture that counts. It’s the thoughtfulness it represents, is what he has really shown.

So could you do this within your business, in your salon or spa?

We gave some examples there that Cole’s suggested; like walking again a guest to the car with an umbrella. Birthday cupcakes. Two other examples I want to share, one is one from my mother. She was in before Christmas, getting her haircut in Gorey, in Ireland. And, the appointment is running longer because it was so busy. So she mentioned this and she was kinda getting panicky. Her salon [stylist] grabbed her car keys, ran outside, and topped up her parking meter, so she didn’t have to panic about it. It cost them, maybe a euro, and they came back in, and it made such an impact on her that, well, she’s told me several times over Christmas! Also, she was much more relaxed checking out. She’s able to rebook. She’s able to actually buy a few products, too. So it kinda helped them that way too.

And the other example is my barbers in Dublin. I was there last year, and they have these old retro TVs up on the walls when you’re getting your hair cut. And they have these WrestleMania full matches playing. And the guy next to me was like, “oh, man, I love seeing these matches! I find it really hard to see this particular wrestler on YouTube. They’re all real short clips. I never get to see the full thing.” The barber walked away and a minute later, came back with the DVD and said, “take it, bring it home. We’ve loads of these. Next time you’re passing, or next time you’re in, just drop it back to us.” Cost nothing, but had such a big impact on him, and me! 

Takeaways on Nailing Your Salon Culture

2. Building Your Dream Team

The second thing is building a dream team. Getting people in your salon who are a good cultural fit. Hiring has been one of the biggest hurdles for everyone in the last twelve months in the salon industry. We ran a survey across all salons, and 76% said it was either difficult or very difficult to recruit new staff.

We also noticed that now, online advertising is number one when it comes to the form in which you recruit staff. So, if you are recruiting, what should you do, and what are the best salons doing in terms of getting the right people into your business?

Mark from Salon Pop! on Hiring The Right People with Peer-Reviewed Interviews

Verna: Mark is the owner of Salon Pop! They’re based in Winnipeg, Canada, and they have ten stylists, He has a really, really good staff retention rate. Some of his staff have been with him since day one and with him for the last twenty years.

Mark shared with us a few examples of how he involves the team in the hiring process. So a very easy one is just, when there is a new job in the salon, his team are the first to know about it. Secondly, they actually sit on the interview panel, and he feels that to scale his wonderful salon culture, his team should have a say on who joins the family.

Rich: Similar to this, but slightly different, we’ve also heard some salons having peer interviews. What these are is; once the candidate who’s applying for the job passes the initial screening with the salon manager or owner, the owner then chooses someone who’s available from the floor at random, just another staff member with no pre-planning. And the idea is the candidate would talk to them and kind of double check; is the salon manager saying the same things and answering the same questions as the person on the floor? This is a litmus test to prove that the culture is alive If those things are different, there’s a problem, and you’re not all singing off the same hymn sheet. 

Verna: And then lastly, on the hiring side, we spoke with salons that actually go through their honour code with potential candidates. Taking a very basic example, but if your honor code says to be on time, they ask the candidate what does being on time mean to them. They wait for their answer, and then share the answer that the salon operates from.

Tips for Boosting Staff Retention

Rich: Sometimes it’s unavoidable to lose staff members. They want to raise a family, or they relocate… However, we have seen that some of the top salons have found clever ways to reduce staff leaving.

They said you need to focus on everything here – it can’t just be pay and benefits, you actually need to focus on all of these: 

  • Pay, benefits, and incentives
  • Training and education
  • Work/life balance (flexibility)
  • Culture
  • Environment/atmosphere
  • Growth opportunities

Luke from Annastastia Salon On Retaining with Relationships

Rich: We have a clip from Luke in Annastasia’s again, who mentions how, at the start, how he found it really hard to build this huge team he has today and how he focuses on building that relationship.

Luke: I was twenty-three when I bought the salon. At the time, I bought a booth rental salon, and there were eighteen renters there. And in the first year, 12 of them left. So my initial staff retention wasn’t very good. And it was a very humbling experience, and, in the end, taught me a lot. I learned in my humbling and humbled experience that this is a relationship business. It’s a relationship between the service provider and the guest, and it’s a relationship between the salon and the staff that work there. If you don’t focus on that relationship, then people don’t stay.

I sat down with the renters that were left and let them know. “You can be a renter. You can stay a renter. You’re totally safe in that regard. But if you’re interested in working for me, Let’s talk about it because I’m going to build a commissioned salon.” And three of them said yes. And all three of them are still with me. Two of them are shareholders.

And it was that was the moment where I decided to start building relationships with people. And the reason that I chose a commission structure is because, inherently, you’re tied together more than an independent contractor model. I don’t think that model is bad, but for me, I needed the model to fit what I learned, which is this is about relationships, and I need to be as involved in your business as you are in mind. We do hair for fun, and we grow people for a living.”

Understanding Long-Term and Short-Term Motivation

Verna: Luke runs a really successful salon. He has over one hundred employees across multiple locations. He has twelve team leaders whose job is to coach and mentor a smaller group of stylists, and he has found that this is the success of his staff retention. Regular one-to-ones and a clear career path. We have found that all the best salons are focusing on both short and long-term motivation.

Short-term motivation is very important; they are things like our wages and our commission. But if your staff are only motivated in the short term, they’ll see their career in your salon as short-lived. 

Long-term motivation looks at things like a clear career path with defined levels for progressing, increased flexibility, more responsibility, maybe linking in with the owners and leadership team. But everyone is motivated by different things. 

PhorestGo Survey Results; “What Motivates You To Do Your Job?”

Rich: We wanted to understand motivation a little bit better. So we put a survey out on PhorestGo last year, asking salon professionals; “what motivates you to do your job?”

These are some of the responses we got back, from asking the question; “what motivates you?”, and the answers varied. 

We things like the “pride in my work”, “the smile on my client’s face” cases, but we also got things like,,”my family legacy is the real thing that motivates because the salon has been in our family for a hundred years”. We also heard people saying “at this point of my life, it’s money money money! because I need to make money. I’m trying to save her mortgage or raise a family.” These things vary. 

The best salons find the time to understand each individual’s motivations and sometimes, these motivations change and adapt over time. Then, you build towards that long-term career path.

Verna: Something we’re hearing more and more of in the post-COVID world and with Gen Z is increased flexibility, particularly around rosters. So, for any of you who were here last year, you may remember that we shared a clip from Liam, an Irish salon owner who gave his staff two to three Saturdays off each month, and Monday was his new busiest day. In the last twelve months, we spoke to more and more salon owners who were adapting their rosters and even changing their salon opening hours to suit their staff.

Annastasia Salon’s Triple Win: Promote Your People-First Practices to your Clients

Verna: Being this flexible does require balance. And the best way that we’ve heard this articulated is through the “triple win”. Now, the triple win is where there’s a compromise between the stylist, the business, and the guest. An example that we have is from Annastasia’s, who offer their stylists health insurance as a benefit.

So that’s a win for the stylists. But with rising costs year-on-year, it’s slowly becoming unmanageable for the business. They’ve made the decision recently to slightly increase their prices. Now, they’ve had to communicate this very clearly, and they’ve promoted it publicly with their guests and received a flurry of positive feedback. They’re really proud to be part of a forward-thinking, people company.

It’s a win for the stylists receiving health insurance, but it’s also a win for the business being able to slightly increase their prices, but not to their detriment. Really good example of finding that balance that works for everyone. 

Cole’s Salon Retain Staff by Standing Out From The Crowd

Rich: Another thing that the top salons are doing to retain staff is standing out. Melissa and Trish from Cole’s talk about how they focus on standing out and giving their staff something different. This works really well as well if you’ve got some staff members interested in booth rental. 

An Atmosphere of Trust

Melissa: “It all starts with the relationship, having that relationship of trust, I think trusting your team from the very beginning. For example, we give them access to everything. They have access to the employee client numbers, and they have access to make appointments. The only thing they can’t do is check out because that would be a mess, but just trusting them to take their business to where they want it to be, because otherwise, they’re going to go across the street and work on their own. So, trust them to be in your business and managing it how they want. Work with them instead of pulling against them and holding on to so much. We really, truly let them run their business, and then we coach them to envision more of what’s possible.” 

Unique Benefits

“Finding ways that you can be different… you could add a 401k, or health insurance, and that’s something that’s unique in our industry.  That’s been a huge point of difference for us because it’s harder to go across the street and get a group health insurance plan. So, finding those little things that really add value.”

Setting Unique Goals for Each Individual

Trish: When people start with us, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve got five people or fifty. We feel one-on-one coaching, obviously, is the answer, and we’ve been doing that for years. But we also want everyone to feel a part of something, and we, as coaches, figure out what that is. Maybe you want to be an educator. Maybe you want to be an in-salon trainer. Maybe you want to train in our learning centre. Maybe you want to be a mentor and star thrower. Maybe you want to be a “Climb Achiever” and just do huge numbers behind your chair. We have an incentive for that, too.

We bonus them based on their volume. So there are multiple career paths that set people up for success, and all make them feel a part of the salon. And it doesn’t matter. Like I said, if you have five doing that, or if you have fifty.

Maybe the owner is the one that does all the education, but maybe the person next to the owner is going to be the one that’s going to help the newest stylists come in. So, having a career path and making them feel a part of something bigger is important, and I think it’s just the value of that and how it makes them feel, especially today.

Everyone wants to be a part of something bigger. And if they’re working in a commission-based salon, they want the team. They want the autonomy to make decisions. They want to be able to have flexibility, and so on. And like I said, that’s why we’ve completely changed our business model in the last four years. From what we used to be, a little more corporate, to being more about making sure that the leaders are there for their team. The team has the autonomy to do what they want to do, to charge what they want to charge, and definitely flexible schedules. And there’s just so many things. It’s different, and it’s been the biggest, most successful change we’ve made.”

How to Handle Staff Leaving your Salon

Verna: Coming full circle on building your dream team, we’ve heard from salons when staff leave and then come back, they’ve left the door open. They’ve left on good terms. And it’ll come as no surprise, I’m sure, to any of you here, but 100% of salons that we serve said they’ve lost at least one staff member in the last three years. And there are many reasons for that. But all the top salons have told us that when someone has expressed an interest in setting up by themselves in particular, they’re sitting down with them, and having a conversation. Being very honest and transparent about their books, and about the pros and cons of running a business. What it actually takes, the different people you need to contact, the different bills you need to pay. Staff members may still leave anyway, but they’re doing so on good terms.

In fact, the Harvard Business Review estimates 15-26% of all workers will return to their previous employer, and they’re known as Boomerang employees. We’ve heard salons say that it’s one of the best things that happens to their salon culture when someone leaves and comes back. That it says more about the business than they ever could. The grass isn’t always greener. And this is particularly true if you’ve got staff who’ve been hired straight out of beauty school, They always think maybe that the grass is greener. They have nothing to compare it to.

Takeaways on Building Your Dream Team

3. Growing Your Own Timber

Rich: All the best salons creating really motivated and high-performing teams grow their own timber. This is actually a phrase that we use in Phorest, about education and growth. The best salons know that sometimes, the difference between just surviving and thriving, is actually education. There’s a lot of research and insights proving that education can increase productivity and decrease staff turnover. But we want to talk about the different types of education that we have seen across some of the best salons.

The first one is the most fundamental, shall we say, “sharpening your shears”, we call it. It’s about having an always-on approach to training and staying on top of your game. We know you guys are already focused on that. So we’re going to look and focus really on some of the other types of training that we saw.

Regular Customer Service Training

Rich: A lot of the top salons, every six to twelve months, get the whole teams together, and they would maybe do a role-play scenario. Sometimes, if something happened in the business maybe a month or two previous, like, for example, there’s a difficult client, they would actually role-play that out again, and they would get staff to act as that client and see could they do anything better if it ever happens again.

Also, we’ve seen scripting. So If you’re new staff members, and there are really important points in that guest journey, like checking in and checking out, we have seen some of the top salons write a script. Something to lean into and learn before they kind of find their own way of doing something. It’s also really good for consistency if you’re on the larger side of things, and you want consistency across guest experience as well.

Training Staff in Non-Verbal Communication

Rich: So on the point of communicating with clients, we did a study and research on this. So when you’re talking to anyone, a guest, for example, the words you’re saying make up only 7% of what they’re taking in.

38% is the tone of how you say it, and the speed. And the volume of what you’re saying. And then the rest, 55%, is facial expressions and body language. This is proven. It’s called the “seven, thirty-eight, fifty-five rule,” and it proves that when you’re talking to guests, very often, 93% of it is non-verbal.

We didn’t know this till we spoke to some of the top salons. For example, Verna’s going to chat about Tognini’s, who focus on this. They know this, and they’ve actually trained their staff with this in mind.

Kristian from Tognini’s is Passionate About Non-Verbal Communication Training

Verna: Tognini’s include NLP; neurolinguistics programming, with all their staff, which sounds kind of complicated. So, neuro refers to our senses, and linguistics to the words we use. What it simply means is: seeing the salon experience from another perspective.

Kristian understands that all of us are different types of learners. Some of us are visual learners. Some of us are auditory, and others are kinesthetic. And so, he employs this to elevate his guests’ experience and ensure that they feel comfortable in the salon environment. This is Kristian walking us through that NLP, neurolinguistic programming, that he employs in his salon.

Kristian: “The way that I teach the staff on how someone sees the salon when they come in is that of a blind person. Blindfold the existing staff and then get the new staff to show them around the salon. So, the way a new client sees a salon is: that they have no idea. They’ve never been there before. They don’t know where things are. So your hand gestures, because if someone’s visual, is: “come and take a seat on the couch”.

So you’re basically directing them around the salon to make them feel comfortable. And I think that gets missed a lot. Someone will just go, “just take a seat” or “come through with me.” So it’s using all your visual cues and all your verbal cues too. Making sure they use the client’s name, making sure you’re using your name, making sure you’re explaining things along the way, visually and verbally throughout the whole salon. Because at that point, you don’t know if they’re visual, if they’re kinesthetic…

You’re still sussing out the clients. Any products that get recommended, we put in front of them as well. So, if you’re talking to a visual person, they can see the product, a kinesthetic person can obviously feel the product. An auditory person? That’s absolutely on the stylist to know their product inside out and to give them the features and benefits of the product. They’re really little things.

It’s looking at those businesses that do it well. So you’re looking at five-star hotels or in a first-class cabin, or walking into a high-end fashion boutique. For us, as a hairdressing salon, we don’t have that extensive training. At the end of the day, we’re still a small business looking at these big multinational companies and how they train their staff. They leave no stone unturned. Like, it’s just taking their best practices How do we transform it into ours? We know that we’re not going to do it every time. It’s impossible, but we can do our best. It’s just giving our staff members the tools to understand why we’re doing it.

And I think that’s a big thing for any team member. No matter how you do something within your business, it is to understand the why. But there’s some good stuff out there. There’s lots of stuff out there for free as well. Any of the NLP training is great for that. All of our team do that. Same with any of the personality traits training. It’s so good for upselling services or retail. Once you get to know the personality of your client or why they’re doing or behaving a certain way, it becomes a lot easier to build rapport with someone. So I think all that is super, super important too.”

Investing in Subject-Matter Experts Training

Rich: Another type of training is “subject-matter experts”. This is a great type of education. There are loads of different versions of this. We won’t go through them all, but just the best salons that we spoke to, what they do is, they talk to the team and say, “look, we have a small budget, or we’re going to get someone in this year. Maybe once a year, maybe twice a year, to talk to you. What would you like to learn about?” One of the things we heard was personal finance training. So, you know, “I’m crap with money.”

So can you get someone in to help our team maybe with savings, with putting money towards a mortgage, or maybe retirement? “How do we start to plan for that?” This is the kind of thing salons are focusing on. There’s obviously health and mindfulness, inclusivity, and fitness motivational speakers are a good one. We’ve heard all about sustainability, as well.

We’ve also heard things like charity runs, events, and even cooking and recipe classes, which is a great idea to bond a team. A particular shoutout to Wildflower in Dublin, who found out they weren’t really eating very healthily. So they actually carve out half an hour every day for as many of the team as possible to sit together and cook a meal in their salon, which is brilliant. That’s the kind of thing that will really help “fill their bucket” for the year.

Education as Motivation: How Salon Pop! Achieves a 25% Retail Profit

Verna: So, we’re going back to Mark in Winnipeg, Canada. Salon Pop! has a retail percentage of 25%, which is pretty amazing. They have ten stylists. So, from the most junior to the most senior, their average is 25% across the business. Rich and I were very excited to jump on a call to learn about maybe some big retail goals or some lucrative commission bonuses that they had for retail sales.

And very surprisingly, there are no goals and no retail commission in Mark’s salon. Instead, staff are incentivised by the money from their retail sales going towards an education fund. This fund allows them to travel the world. They can attend multi-day conferences, all of which are full-board. We heard something similar from Caroline in Yellow Strawberry, who mentioned that they use retail revenue for travel and attending conferences. Don’t forget the power of education as a motivator.

Rich: You know, there are loads of ways to motivate staff and sometimes this can get forgotten. Find out what works for your team. Usually, financial rewards help a lot, but sometimes education can be just as powerful. And then lastly, to help with all this education, because it can be costly sometimes, is get some experts in! There are often funding and government grants available, depending on the region you’re in.

Definitely look into those and help reduce your costs. 

Takeaways on Growing Your Own Timber

Hopefully you got something from these three ideas of highly motivated teams and how to build them and keep them and grow your staff.

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