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Thinking Differently: Your 2020 Blueprint For Salon Growth

8 min

Falling into the Millennial generation myself, I was quite surprised to hear Stefanie Fox Jackson, speaker at the Salon Owners Summit 2020, mention the Internet saw the light of day in 1991. Quick maths that was nearly three decades ago — pram days for me. Then there was Google in the year of 1998. It’s all I’ve ever known really, just like many of today’s workforce. Technology advancements have shaped the way I show up in the world, just like it has for many of the staff you employ.

If you were to Google “rethinking business and growth,” one of the first set of results you’d get would identify five steps to help you on your way. Knowing yourself, being proactive, considering external growth, getting input from your team and “using criteria for objective decision making.”

Coincidentally, this year’s lineup of main stage speakers at the Salon Owners Summit flagship all pointed out the importance of breaking and reframing mental models, ways to think about salon business. And whether they spoke about staffing, profitability, leadership, turning the ship around or connecting with customers, one message resonated loud and clear. Marcus Allen, salon management professional and educator, said it best on the day: “Think differently. All the cool kids are doing it.”

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Table of contents

  • There’s nothing easy about building, owning, growing a salon
  • Human resources: rethinking recruitment and the workforce
  • Admin and systems: thinking like a startup
  • Sales and marketing: what does great service mean to you?
  • External factors: facing the unpredictable
  • Time management: rethink your calendar

There’s nothing easy about building, owning, growing a salon

Results from a survey we ran globally in late 2019 found that 45% of salon owners had seriously considered giving up at some stage throughout the process of setting up, running and growing their business. Shockingly, the majority of those who nearly put the key in the door did so when their salon was already well-established, with three or more years in business. Think of it on a small scale, and it’s terrifying. If we ran the ratio against the Summit attendance numbers, that would be the equivalent of 225 out of 500 attendees ready to give up their dream.

The research then dug into the challenges faced when running and growing a salon and little did we expect; the results were mainly spread across three core areas.

The top challenges were identified as such:

  • 29% HR (hiring staff, training, rosters, payroll, commission, etc.)
  • 28 % admin (cash flow, inventory, permits, etc.)
  • 28% sales & marketing (loyalty programs, getting new customers, upselling, etc.)
  • 19% external factors (economy, rent, inflation, etc.)
  • 5% time management

While it would be impossible to come up with the one-fits-all solution to every challenge cited above — every business and situation is different — the number one step should always be to step back, think and ask the hard questions. Doing this allows space for change and growth. Challenges and failures are often what help us shift (or pivot).

Human resources: rethinking recruitment and the workforce

Millie Kendall MBE, CEO of British Beauty Council, Retail maven, brand creator and speaker at this year’s Salon Owners Summit event, had an interesting point on the beauty industry and recruitment in the UK. She talked about the value of beauty and the importance of understanding your contribution as an individual, business and industry to the country’s economy: “If we’re going to recruit people into our industry, we need to promote the value of it. We need to promote the value of the contribution to the economy of the country.”

Millie Kendall MBE, Salon Owners Summit 2020
Millie Kendall MBE
CEO Of British Beauty Council, Retail Maven, Brand creator
Karl Hussey Photography 2020

She’s not wrong; raising the reputation of the industry you dedicate so much of your time and effort to, can only make it easier to find great talent.

If it was common knowledge that for instance, the beauty industry brought £7 billion in UK tax revenues (in the UK, 2018), the equivalent of 250 000 nurses and midwives’ salaries, would a career in beauty not be taken much more seriously? The same applies to hair, nails, spas — a reality in dire need of being addressed.

Generational conflicts?

In another main stage session, Stefanie Fox Jackson, founder of Canvas Salon and Skin Bar & Salon Colab™ challenged the “generation gap” with her research on the topic. She believes salon business owners need a strategy around people; that job descriptions need to be rethought.

Stefanie Fox Jackson, Salon Owners Summit 2020 - salon growth insights
Stefanie Fox Jackson
Founder of Canvas Salon and Skin Bar & Salon Colab™
Karl Hussey Photography 2020

“What if it wasn’t a generation thing? Generations are labelled by birth years. What if this was a people thing, about what happens in their life and how they show up because of those things [tech advancements, smart everything]. We’re most impressionable in our youth. Tech creates speed, convenience and access. In their [millennials, generation Z] eyes, what’s normal is fast, comparison-filled, flexible and short-term.”

We’re living in an epidemic of mass comparison. What if we rethought hiring and retaining staff? What would that look like?

Could we then perhaps understand the psychology behind the current workforce, and craft a brand that speaks to them, that makes them want to take part and stay? In her opinion, if we look at the finding and keeping team buckets today, “it is easily 50% of how you’re going to grow. The future of growth in a salon is going to require that you get invested in a new way as a leader and that you build a team in a new way. […] It’s not such a great leap to imagine that if life longevity can be rooted in our level of connection, then career longevity just might start to have its roots in connection too.”

Sure, the reality of team building is that it’s time-consuming, expensive and emotional. We feel deflated just to think about it. As a leader, though, you take an oath to say you care and therefore must look in the mirror, not blame the generations, be responsible for the business — the good and bad — and ask yourself:

  • Am I caring enough?
  • Am I trying to understand?
  • Do I have a strategy?

Admin and systems: thinking like a startup

In what was the first keynote of the day, Marcus Allen shared actionable tips on looking at your salon business from a startup perspective. The secret? Self-awareness and a good playbook.

For self-awareness, he recommended challenging yourself and asking 5 of the closest people to you the toughest questions.

Some of those included:

  • What one word or phrase describes me best?
  • How do I handle stress?
  • Am I present enough?
  • Do I follow through?
  • Do I work fairly?
  • What do you believe to be my strongest strength?
  • What would be the three things that I could do to help better support you?
  • What do you value most about me?
Marcus Allen, Salon Owners Summit 2020 - salon growth insights
Marcus Allen
Salon Management Professional & Educator
Karl Hussey Photography 2020

Then, humbly compare the answers you’re given to the ones you gave yourself, and do the work. As for the playbook, it was arranged in 4 categories and 9 steps, and looked like this (discussed further in the “External factors” section):

Plan: Get started (think about all the stuff you need to get done), assemble the team, examine your current approach, identify potential solutions and develop an improvement theory.

Do: Test the theory for improvements.

Study: Use data to study the result.

Act: Standardise the improvement or develop a new theory and establish future plans.

A lot of this also starts with developing reports that allow you to make the best possible decisions; knowing your salon’s ten core business numbers and owning them. As he stressed, someone in your business should be focused on the numbers — whether that’s you as the owner, or not.

A few more of his actionable recommendations included to:

  • Book out time with your manager and accountant.
  • Print out all your reports from your software system.
  • Identify the ten categories that make the most impact for your business.
  • Develop a report that allows you to see how well you’re doing.
  • Make a plan to cut or increase expenses/earnings to get everything in line.

Sales and marketing: what does great service mean to you?

In our survey, 28% of salon owners identified sales & marketing — loyalty programs, getting new customers, upselling, etc. — as a struggle. At this year’s Salon Owners Summit, Jamie Dana and Ken Picton opened the conversation on curating your brand to set expectations, attracting and delighting your customers, both of which feed into the idea of loyalty and getting new customers.

Jamie Dana, Salon Owners Summit 2020 - salon growth insights
Jamie Dana
Salon Owner, Speaker, Educator
Karl Hussey Photography 2020.

If you know of hairstylist and educator Jamie Dana, then you won’t be surprised that she talked about how to create a cohesive Instagram page and brand. One of the main takeaways from her time on stage was that as the salon owner, you must become the curator of your brand. You have to create the story, pick how you want to show off your salon and staff. People make buying decisions with their emotions, and making them feel like you’re talking to them individually and that they’re in turn talking to a person helps them connect — and eventually, buy. Practice cultivating your voice and intentionally put time in to do this.

However, attracting new clients from Instagram might not be your number one goal. Maybe you’d rather sell more retail or build out the salon’s membership program… What are your goals for using Instagram? Once you figure that out, you can base your photos and content around how you want to achieve those goals.

Fail to prepare, prepare for failure

Ken Picton, President of the Fellowship for British Hairdressing, then followed up nicely and addressed customer satisfaction and great service: “A satisfied customer isn’t going to tell everyone what a great experience they had with your company. A satisfied customer may not complain about payment, but they will try to get a better deal at a better price somewhere else next time. Forget about satisfying customers because satisfying them won’t help you make it in the increasingly competitive business world. 

To do that, you need to create ‘Raving Fan Customers;’ customers who are so devoted to your products and services that they wouldn’t dream of taking their business elsewhere and will sing from the rooftops about just how good you are.”

Ken Picton, Salon Owners Summit 2020
Ken Picton
President of the Fellowship for British Hairdressing
Karl Hussey Photography 2020.

And if you look at his experience in delivering 5-star service at Ken Picton Salon, it’s not actually as complex as it seems.

He boils down turning customers into raving fans in 5 points:

  • Fantastic presentation
  • Employee engagement (through training, feedback, problem-solving, communication and acknowledgement)
  • Rapport building (the hard sell will make you lose customer trust)
  • Professional selling (provide solutions to problems)
  • Creating special experiences

External factors: facing the unpredictable

Dealing with the unknown or situations that slowly creep up on you without you noticing can take a toll on any business owner. From a cartesian point of view, Marcus Allen suggests facing your challenge with a business case (thinking like a startup, here again).

Essentially, to create a 2-3 pages document to help you identify the root of the issue at a glance and work out a solution to turn things around.

These were the questions you should be asking yourself in such a scenario:

  • What are the business reasons behind the potential redundancies/business change?
  • What evidence do you have which supports the proposal?
  • What alternatives have been considered?
  • What do you propose to do? What changes do you wish to make to the current workforce structure?
  • Who will be dealing with the redundancies, i.e. who will chair the meetings?
  • Is this an unionised environment?
  • Have there been any previous redundancies within the company?
  • Who is affected? Which particular jobs are at risk?
  • How many employees occupy these jobs?
  • What are their names?
  • Within which department do they sit?

Look at pros and cons for current and proposed structures and most importantly, talk facts rather than opinions.

Pamela Laird, Salon Owners Summit 2020
Pamela Laird
Entrepreneur & Star of “The Apprentice”
Karl Hussey Photography 2020

And for a more stoic approach, turn your obstacles into opportunities. Take for instance Pamela Laird, who found her opportunity after the loss of her number one selling product (the plastic cotton bud) due to environmental concerns. After digging into the fine print of the EU plans for 2025, she developed the sustainable and travel-friendly Moxi Loves makeup removal pads and dry shampoo sheets. Best-selling author Ryan Holiday, who also spoke at the Salon Owners Summit in 2019, is all about cultivating stoicism in business affairs — you can read more that here.

Time management: rethink your calendar

Finally, when it came to time management, what came through with Marcus Allen’s presentation was that most people don’t use the full extent of a calendar’s power nor do they identify their top 3 outcomes for the day or even use powerful questions to encourage deep thinking.

It’s always valuable to book a space to sit, discuss your challenges, solve big problems, think of new ideas and more generally, work on the business rather than in it. He recommends scheduling your whole day, and having your calendar reflect that. For more in-depth time management information, we’re happy to suggest this read.

Additionally, make sure you listen to Phorest FM Episode 146, recorded from the Salon Owners Summit 2020 and featuring exclusive interviews with some of the main stage speakers!

Final thoughts

If you were to remember one thing from this article, it should be that your success in both 2020 and the coming years comes down to your willingness to change the way you think. In the words of George Bernard Shaw: “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

Got feedback? Let us know either in the comments below or tweet us @ThePhorestWord! (Pssst! We’re on Instagram too!)

Thanks for reading! #LetsGrow

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