Narrowing the field even further, the handful of owners that have actually grown their salons into mega-sized businesses over the past 20 years can be counted on one hand with fingers to spare. One such amazing story features Micki and David Stirsman of Salon 01 in Carmel, Indiana.
It all began in 1996, when the Stirsmans opened their first six-chair salon. What has happened since that early time is nothing short of a legendary success. We recently had an in-depth chat with Micki, who's a beauty pro, educator and consummate businessperson.
How did they grow their business beyond even their own expectations? Here's what she had to say.
Stirsman worked for the Glemby Corporation as a stylist and educator for several years before leaving the fold to open Salon 01. Focusing on their strengths, the salon quickly gained traction through its reputation for amazing education.
"We attracted stylists who wanted to raise their skill levels, work in a positive, happy environment and be part of a strong team," says Micki. "Clients were drawn to us because we used our educationdriven culture as a marketing tool.
"When our original location was filled to capacity, we purchased a second existing salon and opened an offsite call center. In 2007, we relocated both of our salons to our current facility, which has 15,000 square feet of space on two levels and a fabulous location."
While Micki's retelling of their success modestly lacks dramatic adjectives, her description of Salon 01's steady rise to the top is still nothing short of amazing: Couple opens a small salon, expands to a second location and then, shortly after their 10th anniversary as salon owners, quintuples their size by opening a mansion-sized salon, spa and wellness center.
How did the Stirsmans manage to stay on such a sure and steady path to the top? Why have they enjoyed such resounding success?
The belief in earned success has not only been a guiding mantra for the Stirsmans, but also for their staff.
"We have an apprenticeship program and graduated levels once our team members are on the fl oor," says Stirsman. "Each level takes about one year to complete. Stylists earn their promotions (and pay raises) based on technical skills, commitment to continuing education, specific goal achievements and satisfying customer service expectations. One-on-one performance reviews are done on a regular basis to chart each staff member's progress, while pay reviews are normally done on an annual basis."
During the one-year apprenticeship program, licensed stylists earn what Micki says is the equivalent of a master's degree in hair.
Apprentices are taught how to interact with clients; be proficient in haircutting; do basic hair color and more advanced techniques; and a variety of other guest service skills.
They're expected to attend classes that range from technical to marketing and product knowledge. Trainees also do models on a frequent basis to both master and test their skills. After approximately six months, they're allowed to do specific services on clients.
"We incorporated the latter into our program because we found that during the last half of their training, most are ready to test the waters by working on clients and charging appropriate fees," says Micki. "This change has resulted in more apprentices completing our program. It has also allowed them to gradually build their clienteles. Apprentices who are half-way through our program start out by working one day a week on the floor. After they've proven themselves by satisfying clients and meeting our pre-booking and retail goals, they earn another day on the floor. This goes on until they have three full days. At that point, most are ready to work full time behind the chair."
Be Open To Change
The Stirsmans carefully think through any change that they're contemplating for their business to the point that the pros and cons are weighed and then weighed again. But sometimes, even their great notions need fine-tuning or, in the worst-case scenario, be abandoned. Micki's advice: Own your ideas but never marry them for better or for worse."
Blow Dry Bar: "We completely remodeled the downstairs and, among other things, opened the first blow-dry bar in Indiana with a 19-square-foot, custom-made bar, crystal chandelier and the whole nine yards," says Micki. "The room was stunning and functional. We developed a blow-dry boot camp for our newest stylists that taught six different styles and promoted bridal services, parties and frequent styling services. We based our fees on what was usual and customary for this business model: $1.00 per minute. Despite having a detailed plan, the bar failed to generate enough incomes to make it worth our while and didn't attract enough new clients to our salon. In September, after giving the blow-dry bar enough time to generate interest and income, we converted the space into a male-friendly salon that offers all men's grooming services, including shaves. To date, it has been a great success!"
About Salon 01Located in Carmel, Indiana—a posh suburban city directly north of Indianapolis—Salon 01 is situated in the heart of the downtown area, directly across from the world-class Center for the Performing Arts and right next to the popular Monon Trail, a pedestrian and bicycling path that’s used by an average of 4,000 people each day. Salon 01 is also within walking distance of the Arts and Design District, making it a destination spot where families, bridal parties and conference attendees can turn salon and spa services into full days of shopping, dining, entertainment or outdoor activities.
Market: Carmel, Fishers, Noblesville, Westfield and Zionsville, Indiana
Size: 15,000 square feet
Employees: Up to 54, including support staff
Specialties: Hair, skin, nail, massage, barbering, nutritional counseling and yoga Men’s Salon New addition!
Upstairs Color Bar: Seating for 12
Color Brand: Artego
Retail Boutique: Hair care—Salon 01 Concepts, Aquage, Gage and Jack Black; skin care—Jan Marini, Jane Iredale and Only Yourx; upscale clothing and Kate Spade accessories
Spa: 1,500 square feet, 4 treatment rooms, a relaxation lounge and dressing area with lockers
Wellness Department: Yoga studio and wellness counseling Professional Memberships: Intercoiffure America ● Canada and Professional Beauty Association; The Salon Association (TSA)
New Talent Salon Originally, the Stirsmans also built a new talent salon downstairs that was hip, fun and what they felt was the perfect place for trainees to build their skills and their books.
"We created a very modern space with a cool vibe," says Micki. "To our surprise, our new staff felt that in order to be a great stylist, they had to work their way upstairs. We didn't want to add any more stations, so we created a lottery that determined whether stylists worked upstairs or downstairs, no matter what their level or experience might be.
"This move has integrated our staff because now, less experienced stylists work alongside senior staff members. It has made an amazing difference in the growth of our newer stylists and given our senior members many opportunities to mentor them on a daily basis. This change has also enriched our total salon operation because education and sharing have always been lynchpins of our culture."
Because the Stirsmans have always had a very structured environment with clear goals and expectations, salary-based pay is the perfect fit for their salon. "As our business grew, we realized that in order to turn a profit and be able to re-invest in our business, we needed to control our overhead," says Micki. "We knew that once our overhead became predictable, we could create business plans that would meet and even exceed our costs to run our business on a monthly, quarterly or yearly basis."
The Stirsmans prepared for the big change from commission to salary for about a year. "During that time, we strengthened our relationships with our vendors, especially Aquage," says Micki. "We started doing more in-salon education, for instance, and reaching out to a number of financial advisors to evaluate every aspect of our business. We also maintained a steady dialog with our staff members about what this change would mean to them: stable incomes; set, eight-hour workdays; and the ability to fulfill goals, including whether they wanted to buy a house or car (salaries speak volumes when applying for loans), take more personal time without worrying about losing clients and being paid to do other things when they weren't busy behind the chair.
"For David and I, our long-term vision for running a salary-based salon was to control our expenses which, in turn, would give us more opportunities to reinvest in our business in terms of upgrades to our facility and our programs," says Micki. "When a stylist receives a salary increase, it's always predicated on performance, including meeting pre-booking and retail sales expectations and participation in education activities. Our salary-based system has also enhanced our customer service experience.
Clients are welcome to request stylists, but if they aren't available, their chosen beauty pros have a list of two or three other stylists they recommend to take care of their needs at a time and date that's best for them. Because of everything that I've mentioned, we've been able to accelerate the growth of our total client base through enhanced customer care, maintain a manageable 34% payroll rate and continually invest in our staff, education platform and salon."
Embrace Your Community
The last piece of treasure that we gleaned from our interview with Micki was the importance of not only reaching out, but also truly embracing your community. Weaving Salon 01 into the fabric of their city, region and state has strengthened their reputation as patrons for worthy causes and their salon culture.
The staff participates in fundraising and volunteer efforts for Toys for Tots, Susan G. Komen Foundation and many others. They also participate in an annual signature fundraising event with 100% of the proceeds going to a chosen charity.
Micki is also a member of several charitable committees, including the Indiana Children's Wish Foundation. Husband David-who's an attorney and a real estate developer- also supports the Carmel Performing Arts Center, which leads us to the second part of the Salon 01 story!