Two Kinds of Salons


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If you have young children, or if you know someone who has, you are probably familiar with this experience. Let’s say mom and dad need to drive a couple hours to help an old friend who is moving from her apartment into her new home. Mom and dad tell the kids, “We’re going in the car to visit Lauren. Grab your toys and let’s go.”

Unless you are blessed in a special way, not long after you get in the car the kids start to fidget. They get easily bored and you immediately begin entertaining them, playing with them, distracting them, bribing them, and eventually sometimes we get mad at them. If we step back, it’s easy to diagnose the situation. Young children are not ready for confined spaces for long periods—especially when the endeavor has nothing to do with them or their interests.

Now, let’s think about a time when you and your friends decided to do something together. Insert your own example, but let’s say you and three of your besties decide to go to the beach for the weekend. Someone says, “You wanna go to the shore this weekend?” and those who make the choice say, “Oh heck yeah!” That’s kind of it. In an instant everyone realizes where they are (inland), they know who’s going (people who they have something in common with), and they know where they’re going (to get sand between their toes). Everyone makes a choice. Everyone wants to switch it up. Everyone understands the beach is fun on weekends. Everyone is onboard. No one needs to be convinced to go and no one needs to be taught how to have fun.

  • 90% of the salons I have known operate in what I call, “The kids in the car seat” world.
  • 100% of us should strive to make the “Weekend at the beach” our reality.

So, how do we do that? It starts with your True Brand Story.

When you strap the kids in a car seat they have little understanding of why you’re taking away their personal freedom for two hours. When you invite your friends to the shore, everyone already knows the “story” and if they want to go they buy in naturally.

Your True Brand Story has several chapters but here is the bottom line: You need to be able to describe to your team, and your job applicants, Who you are (your purpose), What you stand for (your values), and where you’re going (your vision). Children won’t be able to understand what you’re saying but young adults with a true passion for our business and their potential careers will.

Your job is to develop your story into a compelling tale that captures the imaginations of the professionally-minded and attracts them to come with you on the journey of a lifetime. As the saying goes, “Your mom doesn’t work here,” let’s just make sure she leaves the car seats at home too.

Measure Up!


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If we worked together to take a snapshot of your salon’s culture, what would we find? If we examined the series of people, events, and decisions that led to your current situation, would we discover something planned and cultivated or something that, “just happened”? If you had it to do over—or better yet—if you were to be more proactive in the future, where would you start?

Lead by setting standards of performance.

I continue to find four key areas that we must proactively manage in order to drive a very large piece of our salon culture to ensure our long-term viability as an organization. Each of these areas must be a priority, they must be constantly explained, examined, and shared by every employee and manager, and they must be executed to a certain level of excellence. In other words, there must be standards of performance against which we all must measure up.

Revenue. Many, if not most, salons are not generating basic income-expense=profit/loss reports. Even fewer pay attention to them as fundamental decision making tools for planning their viable futures. I am not exaggerating: it would be better to redirect any/all money that you spend on coaching, consulting, and seminars each year and spend it on a bookkeeper every month. The two standards of performance we should work toward regarding revenue are:

  • Leadership: To understand and communicate the amount of revenue required to be profitable—down to a daily basis.
  • Team: To understand the share of revenue each person is directly (or indirectly) responsible to generate—down to a daily basis.

Technical Skills. This is the first thing it takes to make revenue. Our stylists, and other practitioners, must perform services if we expect our guests to pay us. All our schooling, apprenticing, and ongoing technical education must be in service to our technical skills. If you think about an assistant, recently graduated and licensed and newly hired, she wouldn’t claim to be a “stylist” just because she learned our shampoo bowl ritual. Similarly, we wouldn’t consider her a stylist if the only service she could perform were a blow out. Two standards of performance we should work toward are:

  • Breadth. To satisfy the broadest range of potential guests, in the most convenient way for them, every stylist should receive education to enable her to create a minimum set of cuts, colors, and styles. Then, with practice and eventual mastery, each of our stylists must be able to handle women’s short hair, women’s long hair, up-do’s, single process color, highlights, men’s short hair, and so on. The idea is to set a minimum performance standard around how many different types of looks each of our stylists can create.
  • Depth. This is about developing true mastery. Hearing about how to do a chin-length bob is different than attending a hands-on class. Attending the class is different than practicing on a mannequin, and that’s different than doing it for a model or a paying guest. Set a performance standard around the number and types of education, practice, and live performance each stylist must complete—and then measure his results on a consistent basis.

Guest Experience. This is the second thing it takes to generate revenue. In my opinion it is also the area that is talked about the most—with the least to back it up. Most salons I’ve worked with have a technical training calendar which they refer to as education. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a guest experience or people skills training calendar. We need to set these standards of performance.

  • Leadership. Since it’s likely to be a new activity for us, the first thing we need to do is set a standard for how many guest experience and people skills classes we will conduct each and every month. The idea would be to start with one and then grow it to two, then three, etc. until we find an optimum number of “soft skills” training to balance and enrich our technical training.
  • Team. With virtually the same intent as our technical training, we set standards around how many types of classes each team member must complete in order to measure up to our people skills and guest experience expectations. The basics could be chosen from a list like: Intro to People Skills, Active Listening, Building Rapport, Making Conversation, and then move into experience stages such as Phones, Greeting and Check In, Shampoo Bowl, Consultations, and so on.

Personal Strengths and Development. Just because I’m writing doesn’t mean you’re reading. The same goes for setting performance standards—just because we set them doesn’t mean our team will take them seriously. This is hard work for everyone involved and it requires long-term commitment. The best way to start is by listening and communication not by dictating. I’ve always found that people are naturally motivated when they get to spend a great deal of time in areas where they feel strong. Let’s find out what those strengths are.

  • 1:1. One-on-one meetings are a must. They need to happen 3-4 times a month, last at least 30 minutes, and be guided by an agenda. Among other things, the agenda must include time for us to listen to, and get to know, each of our team members. Find out where they believe they are strong and compare that to your observations—and to the standards of performance you have set for the organization.
  • Development Plans. Listening and learning allows us as leaders to choose the best path for improving our team members’ performance from where it is to where it needs to be. Whether that’s revenue generation, technical skills, soft skills, or organizational behavior, try to avoid “fixing” everyone’s weaknesses, rather, start from a position of strength and build them up until their comfort zone expands and their improving confidence inspires them to take on new challenges.


Multiply Your Impact


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Who gets promoted at your company? Who are your managers and what kind of performance did they demonstrate to earn their positions? Who deserves to have people “under them”?

People who are exceptional at getting things done, through their own direct effort, are often the first to earn promotions. As they begin to supervise, manage, and ultimately lead people in their organizations they soon learn:

What got you here won’t get you there.

In other words, the skills an excellent individual possesses are just the beginning of what it takes to be even an adequate manager and leader. Instead of promoting our best “doers” we need to ask:

Are you interested in learning how to achieve results indirectly—through other people?

The answer to this question must be a resounding, “yes.” Effective managers and leaders must first possess the desire to multiply their impact beyond what they were able to accomplish on their own. If they don’t want to make a greater impact, they will never acquire the necessary skills to lead and manage. They will simply set about doing their new job just like they did their old one, which often creates a confusing mash up of power and influence instead of entire groups of people working to create something greater than themselves.

As owners, leaders, and executives we also have to ask ourselves a question:

Are we ready to present the newly promoted with the knowledge and training to help them build the skills they’ll need to make the transition from super achiever to supervisor, manager, and future leader?

If our answer is yes, then here is what I believe is the underpinning of everything to do with mobilizing a group who wants to multiply its impact beyond what any one individual could achieve alone.

Inspire. As leaders our job is to inspire our team with a desirable future outcome. A vivid description that inspires our team to pool our individual efforts for the benefit of our customers, ourselves, our company—and even society—is our first task.

Buy-in. Once we paint a vision of the destination, our next objective is to earn the buy-in of each team member. Admittedly, this can be a detailed and, perhaps, messy step but it’s critical to get everyone “on board.” Sometimes that means some give-and-take or for some members to suspend their disbelief for a while.

Share. At this point average leaders will emphasize “how” they suggest “what” the team should do to get started. Some, falling back on their old skills as an individual doer, will even try to detail every step of the way. To be sure, we leaders have good ideas, but if we did our jobs correctly in hiring the people on our teams, what we need to share with our people is “why” we are setting about a task and then let them take on the “how’s” and the “what’s.” After all, that’s why we hired them, yes?

Own. The holy grail of mobilizing a group is when our teams move beyond buy-in and take an ownership position in our vision. That doesn’t mean mutiny or coopting our vision. It means their commitment to our vision is as strong as our own. It can be scary when someone else owns “your idea” with you but it’s well worth the emotional risk. Rest assured that’s what it takes to multiply your impact.

Communication Plan


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In an earlier post we explored the definitions of Leadership, Management, and People Skills. Among all the people skills, e.g., self-control, social awareness, and problem solving; communication is by far the most important. After all, what good is a leader, manager, or employee if s/he can’t convey basic information? As much as we may try we can’t read each other’s minds. That’s why communication is #1.

Information is the lifeblood of your organization. If information isn’t flowing in a regular, efficient, and predictable way you are starving your team of the very thing they need to adopt your values, purpose, and vision as their professional cause.

Here is a simple and effective way to set up communication within your organization.

Yearly. Once a year host a celebration for the entire team. Make it all about the goals you’ve achieved together, the goals and priorities for the new year, and a time to strengthen your emotional bonds. Whether your celebration feels like a business function or a flat-out party is up to you.

Quarterly. Every three months bring the team together in a business or semi-business atmosphere to discuss this year’s progress toward your goals and priorities—including financials. Spend 2-5 hours together sharing information, improving your plans, and figuring out how to do things better. Document your take-aways.

Monthly. This is the classic rhythm to conduct one-on-ones. It’s also the best time to share financial, operational, personnel, and educational details. Celebrate outstanding performance. Think: client champion of the month and major projects completed, as well as upcoming promotional events, etc.

Weekly. Start every week with 45-60 minutes of group discussion about your book, employee schedules, promotions/events beginning or ending, and news that affects everyone. It’s hard to get the whole crew together once a week so consider doing a conference call using a free call-in service.

Daily. Start everyday with a team huddle. Talk about your book, who’s working, and share any last-minute reminders. Use the daily huddle to help the whole team get into their client service mindsets. Feedback on performance should happen daily—as close to the example as possible. All good, of course.

Constantly. It used to be the only way to post timely information was on a white board. Use technology to communicate in real time, make documents available to anyone day or night, or start a new discussion. Dropbox and Google Drive are great for storing and sharing documents. Consider how social media like Facebook Groups and messaging apps can help with real time communication.

Active Listening


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Leaders and managers want to be heard, understood, and to be part of our communities just like anyone else. We appreciate it when people listen to our ideas and try to connect with us because it makes us feel good. That alone should be enough to motivate us to listen and try to understand others. As leaders and managers we often give ourselves too much permission to talk when we should be reminding ourselves to listen.

We always need to model the behavior we expect to see in our organizations. Given that, we have a special obligation to listen and to listen well. Here is a quick summary of the key “active listening” skills we should demonstrate in our personal and professional lives.

  • Attention/Focus. Devote your attention to the other person. Find a place that allows you to do that.
  • Interest. Take a true interest in the person and what s/he is saying. This isn’t a good time to go through the motions.
  • Take Time. Set aside time to listen instead of trying to multi-task. Schedule private appointments when necessary to ensure you have enough time.
  • Body Language. Listen to words, posture, gestures, and tone of voice. Provide plenty of eye contact and use all your senses to understand the other person.
  • Validate. Reassure the speaker that you see their point of view. Even if you don’t yet agree, it’s important you validate his or her point of view.
  • Repeat/Clarify. Repeat what you heard in your own words. “So what I hear you saying is….” is not just a cliché. It allows you to explain what you heard and allows the speaker to verify s/he got her message across.
  • Ask clarifying questions. Rather than interrogating your partner, ask her or him some clarifying questions to solidify your understanding. For example: “When you said (blank) could you clarify what you meant?” “Could you say that a different way so I make sure I understand?” “I’m not sure I understand. Could you go over (blank) again with me?”
  • Feelings. When it’s appropriate, probe for feelings. Communication is not only about what a person thinks. It’s also about how s/he feels about what s/he thinks.
  • Counter Argument. Do not waste your listening time planning what to say. Sit tight. Let the speaker finish and then interact with him or her. Save your counter arguments—if any—until you’re certain you understand the other party.

Thanks for listening. Now, what did you hear and how will you put it into action?

Leadership is a Verb


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I searched for “books on leadership” and it returned 21,000+ hits. I googled “leadership seminars” and received 76 million+ results.

Apparently, people buy products and services with the word “leadership” in them. It’s a lot like how the word “natural” or the word “organic” helps companies sell food (and haircare products). We know that we want those things even if we’re not precisely sure what they are.

Many of my clients struggle to develop a shared understanding of what leaders are supposed to do versus what managers are supposed to do. Here is how I define these terms simply and usefully. Please give this some consideration—it may save you a lot of reading!


The manager’s job is to create results. When J. B. Say defined management in 1767 he said, “The manager is responsible for directing vision and resources toward greater results.” Of course, he’s talking about one person’s impact (a manager) on more than one other person (employees) in an organization.


The leader’s job is to create priorities and then stimulate individuals and groups to take action. This definition tells us that “leader” is not a noun it’s a verb. In other words, a leader is not a special type of person. She or he engages in a special type of action, that is, pointing others in the right direction and stimulating them to pursue a certain end.


The ability to communicate, interact, and connect with individuals and groups. We all need people skills regardless if we are managers, a leaders, or followers.


Leaders and Managers can do their jobs, using different styles, and almost any style can be successful. Prevalent misconceptions are that successful leaders have a particular style (e.g., they are charismatic) and that managers have a particular style (e.g., they are boring). The truth is that any style can work—as long as the person has the people skills to get others to work toward the organization’s vision, mission, and goals.

The Customer Relationship







The job of any business is to create a customer. In other words, we need to select a group of people, learn about them, figure out what they want, and deliver it better than anyone else. That is business and the basis for all branding and management.


The first step is to use whatever experience, research, hypothesis, and intuition, we have in order to approximate an understanding of our target customer. Armed with imperfect knowledge we introduce our product or service and start observing and validating her reaction.


Rarely will our first offering be perfect—or even good enough. The first misstep many companies make is to look inward to understand why customers aren’t completely satisfied with their products or services. It is tempting. After all, “Who knows more about our offering than us?” The answer is obvious but often overlooked: “Our customers.”


Once someone buys our product or service we have the potential to develop a relationship with her. Any relationship persists when the needs of both parties are satisfied. Our job is twofold:

  • Continually clarify our needs, values, purpose, and vision
  • Find ways to establish direct communication with our customer to verify what she values.

In other words, in step one we make very educated guesses about what she wants. In step two, we ask her what she really wants, why she wants it, and how she wants it delivered.


Every business is different but, with persistence, every business can establish a direct line of communication with their customers. Once communication exists a relationship is possible. The trick is to establish an actual relationship and not a transaction. A relationship feels like a conversation and mutual experiences. A transaction feels like a questionnaire, a form, and customers conforming to our process.


Like any relationship, a certain level of trust has to exist before we share certain things. Think about your own experience. Are you comfortable in these situations?

  • Telling a door-to-door sales person your first and last name.
  • Listening to a blind date tell you about his ex.
  • Explaining to a bank teller why you’re withdrawing $2,000 from your account.

Customer knowledge is something we cultivate over time. Not only do we have to stay focused on it, we also have to earn the right to ask certain questions based on a level of trust. We can’t try to make everything happen all at once and ask our customers for information they aren’t ready to share.


I believe customer research plans should be reimagined as customer relationship plans. Just like we strive to make customers for life, and to calculate their lifetime value, so too must we subject customer knowledge to a lifetime of learning.

The Definition of Management


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The manager is responsible for directing vision and resources toward greatest results.” J. B. Say 1767-1832

Peter F. Drucker quotes J. B. Say’s definition of the entrepreneur in his book Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. My copy of Drucker’s  1974 seminal title comes in at 811 pages. Those pages contain endlessly fascinating lessons on management as a practice–so many that even the most diligent reader can get lost in the rich detail. That’s why I always come back to Say’s definition of the entrepreneur (which Drucker equates with management) as the fastest way to get perspective on what management is and what managers do. We direct our vision and resources toward the greatest results.

Management is not knowledge but performance. Furthermore, it is not the application of common sense, or leadership, let alone financial manipulation. Its practice is based on knowledge and on responsibility.” Peter F. Drucker 1909-2005

In an earlier post I mentioned that management is not about winging it. It bears repeating. Management, according to Drucker, “Is a practice comparable to medicine, law, and engineering.” As such, it is something that can be learned.

The first and last of those learnings should be that management creates results.

JB Say portrait

Jean-Baptiste Say

One Delightful Thing


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Around 500 BC a Greek philosopher named Heraclitus said, “Everything changes and nothing stands still.” Today, we are more likely to hear, “The only constant is change,” and feel like it’s a new idea. The truth is that change has always been, and always will be, regardless when we discover it.

When Henry Ford introduced the automobile he was amused by the idea that people really only wanted faster horses. When your grandmother drank coffee she was, at most, looking for cream and sugar not Butterbeer Frappuccinos from the Starbucks Secret Menu. When the Wright Brothers invented flight they didn’t quite imagine the International Space Station.

Recently, I attended Raylon’s 14th annual Art of Business symposium where I caught Josh Hafetz’ talk. Josh is the 3rd generation President of Raylon Corporation and he made a compelling argument. Like hair that is always growing, salon owners and managers must constantly grow, adapt, and remain relevant. Josh cited several very real examples of changes that are happening—right now—and why many of these changes cause salon professional product sales to remain flat, put pressure on salon service pricing, result in fewer appointments per year, and impact the loyalty of our clients to our salons.

After following Josh on a visual tour of the new ways our clients obtain information on beauty and style (social media, YouTube beauty tutorials, and mass-customization of consumer beauty products) another time-tested truism came to mind.

Consumer expectations are always growing.

The Kano Model (Google it) is a trendy way to understand changing consumer expectations but it too is based on an age-old truth. In a nutshell, what Kano says is this. There are three kinds of things consumers want at all times from any business:

  • Basic things: For example, A salon that is open, furnished, clean, with plenty of parking.
  • Expected things: Great haircuts, artistic hair color, and nice blowouts.
  • Delightful things: Complimentary finishing touches, outrageously good consultations, luxurious washbowl experiences, etc.

Kano also points out that, over time, things that were once “delightful” eventually become “expected,” and ultimately “basic.” This creates one of two situations for every salon owner and manager A) tomorrow we invent something new and delightful, or B) we stop inventing and start going stale.

This presents each of us with a bold and never-ending challenge: Change or go stale. Innovate or die!

I encourage you to sit down tonight, with at least one other person on your team, and list out all the products, services, and experiences your salon provides. Sort your list into Basic, Expected, and Delightful. Then look at your list and push one thing from Expected into Basic. Push one Delightful into Expected.

And then invent one new Delightful thing

Instant MBA


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Printing Money
Every new salon is created with a “License to print money,” because the money making potential in our industry is virtually unlimited. To use your “license,” you need an activation key but only 5-10% of all salons know how to obtain it. What is this secret activation key? It is:

Knowing the difference between running your salon and managing your salon.

Here is how you can start managing your salon today.

Create a Customer

Every institution must create certain benefits. The role of business—your business—is to create a customer. No matter if you’re a creative, a geek, a hipster, or just a regular person, your only concern at work is delivering what your customers value. Everything else is either secondary or an outright distraction.

Communicate Your Vision

Your first priority as a leader is to constantly communicate and reinforce the values, purpose, and vision of your salon. The time you currently spend on everything else must come after you describe what you stand for, why you’re here, and the future you are creating.

Develop a Shared Understanding

If there is a trick between Running Your Salon and Managing Your Salon it is to create a shift in thinking from “I” to “We.” No one is exempt from this rule of management. If effort in your salon is individual, energies will be scattered. When effort is concentrated you will make a powerful impact together.

Understand Your Guests

Recognizing is not understanding. Know specifics for every guest. Name, age, significant other, children, visit frequency, likes/dislikes, recent issues or triumphs, satisfaction/trust level, income, job, upbringing, etc. To create a customer you must know who they are and why they want what they want.

Write Job Descriptions

Describe every job in writing and include at least: Job Title, Results, Measures, and Behaviors. Provide performance feedback on these topics during every one-on-one before addressing anything else.

Hire Good People

In addition to skill, talent, and artistic ability you need to identify, select, and retain good people. “Good” people have solid values, a strong work ethic, and good intentions. Remember, it is far easier to teach a good person how to be a better hairdresser than to teach a better hairdresser how to be a good person.

Train as Well as Educate

Continuing education is proven for success in our industry. What 90% of salon owners overlook is training employees to succeed in living out their values, sharing a common purpose, and creating a better future together through service to their guests. Model this behavior and communicate it too.