The salon industry is well known for its poor staff retention and high employee turnover. Salon owners are met with the challenge of how to improve retention rates amongst salon workers.
Effective leadership and business practices can help turn a small business into a profitable venture, including salons.
Small Business Trends caught up with Kay Hirai, founder of the award-winning salon, Studio 904 Hair Design, which has been operating for 40 years.
Hirai is also author of Sheer Determination: Swimming Upstream in a Downstream World, about here experiences as a pioneering entrepreneur in the Pacific Northwest.
How to Reduce Employee Turnover
Hirai shared the following tips about how to reduce employee turnover in her industry. Perhaps it could help in your business too.
Establish Your Vision, Mission, and Core Philosophies
According to Hirai, these philosophies are the underpinnings of your business. They spell out the grand vision for where you want to take your business, how you are going to take it there, and what you will do to stay continually focused on your core values and belief systems.
“If you value the people who work for you, you must clearly spell it out to them,” Hirai said.
Transparency, Hirai added, is key if you want your employees totally on board with you to accomplish your business goals. The more transparent you are in explaining the inner workings of your company, the more employees feel like they are a part of the business.
“I try to be a positive role model by setting good examples and asking employees for their input on matters that affect the salon,” Hirai told Small Business Trends.
One of the things the successful salon owner does to be a positive role model for her employees is to make sure she pays for the stamps when she sends out personal mail from her business.
“It would be very easy to rationalize and say to myself, “I can take these stamps; they are only few cents,” Hirai said.
Hirai said it is important to show others that it does not matter how small the amount is, each one of us has to be honest and not take anything from the business.
The salon business owner and author also holds a staff meeting every three months to update staff on how well the salon is doing in terms of its finances.
“After I am done, I ask for their help in improving various parts of our business, whether it is customer service, client retention, or new client marketing programs,” said Hirai.
Set Clear Cut Career Paths
According to Hirai, it is absolutely critical that management walks side-by-side with their employees, offers regular evaluations, and shows them a career path for personal and professional growth.
“Every employee reports to work on their first day with aspirations of doing well and developing new skills on the job. Along the way, though, something always happens; their dreams suddenly diminish and they lose their way,” she said.
It is therefore vital, management offers feedback and guidance to personal and professional development.
Train Them Right
Hirai cannot underestimate the importance of the right training.
For her business, a successful hair stylist must possess a variety of skills in cutting, styling and coloring, problem-solving, consultation, team work, and more.
Hirai recommends small business owners refer to books on “Kaizen”, a Japanese business philosophy that focuses on applying small, daily changes that result in major improvements over time.
“Our stylists go through a self-directed, skill-certification process to show that they are able to meet certain standards for all of the services offered in the salon. Matching new employees with a senior-level mentor helps to ease the stress level when they first start out. It makes them more comfortable when they can ask questions, voice concerns, or work alongside a supportive person while they are becoming acclimated in a new environment,” she said.
Uncover Their Gifts and Empower Them
Everyone has unique gifts to offer in the workplace. The successful salon owner says fellow owners of typical ‘revolving door’ industries should develop a discerning eye to uncover those gifts.
“Sometimes they are buried deep down inside. Most persons won’t even know what they are because no one has ever taken the energy or the time to bring them to the surface,” says Hirai.
Hirai gives a specific example of an incident of empowering employees through their ‘gifts’.
Hirai spoke of Debbie, a young woman with a shy personality, who was hired to run the salon’s front reception desk.
Early on, Debbie was having a difficult time connecting with the salon customers. Everyone wondered if she would be successful in her job. One day, Hirai was struggling to make a sales video for the salon. Debbie saw that Hirai was having a difficult time and stepped in to show her an easier way to record the video.
Hirai said she was quite surprised and asked her:
“Debbie, how did you learn what you just showed me?” She replied, “Oh, I learned that by working on social media. Technology apps are a lot of fun and all of this comes really easy to me.”
After hearing this, Hirai re-assigned Debbie to work with her for two days during the week instead of working full-time at the front desk.
“Now that she assists with the salon’s social media marketing, she appears to be more confident in all areas of her responsibilities at work,” says Hirai.
Put Your Employees’ Welfare Before Your Customers
Another top tip from the leading salon expert and author is to always put your employees’ welfare before your customers.
“Before you can have happy customers, you must have happy EMPLOYEES!” advises Hirai.
“I work hard to get to know each employee’s lifestyle as well as their wants and needs. Knowing that, I try to establish a work schedule and career ladder that will keep them living a fulfilling and happy life. I especially pay close attention to the needs of single mothers who are raising children.?To accommodate their complex, time schedule requirements, I work with each one to figure out a flexible schedule that will take care of their children’s needs,” Hirai explained.
This effort requires a lot of negotiation but something can usually be worked out to address both their personal needs and the needs of the business.
Studio 904 Hair Design is a prime example of what a small business can do to support its working women, so much so that the United States Women’s Bureau recently featured an article that illustrated how the salon supports working women.
Focus on Successful Entries and Kind Departures
According to Hirai, the two most important parts to developing a successful employee relationship are the initial interviewing session and the departing exit interview.
Hirai advises small business owners to conduct a ‘thorough and thoughtful interview process’, stating:
“The initial interview sessions are the most important part in the longevity cycle of employees in your business.”
She provides a quick checklist her team fills out for each job applicant who enters their office:
First Impression Checklist:
- Arrived early or on time
- Friendly, with a smile on her/his face
- Dress style is appropriate to our business
- Hair and make-up (if applicable) is well-groomed and up-to-date
- Body language is confident and inviting
If the applicant receives a favorable score, Hirai then conducts a more thorough interview to unveil other traits and skills they are looking for in a new hire.
Recycle Your Departing Employees
As Hirai writes in her book, ‘Sheer Determination’:
“Goodbyes are hard, but recognize that the only certainty in life is change. Everyone is traveling through life on their own journey. It is only when two roads meet and align that two people actually walk the road together. That road will inevitably part at some point in time when each person chooses a different direction toward their next destination. It will save you a lot of heartache if you accept the fact that no one will stay with you forever…”
The important thing the author wants to emphasize is that employers should never allow employees to depart on unfriendly terms.
“Burnt bridges can never be rebuilt; instead, leave the bridge intact, allowing people to cross it at another point in their lives if it is needed,” advises Hirai.
The salon owner told of a true story about what happened to her just a week ago.
Hirai received a call from Ami, a young woman who had previously worked for her. Ami was responding to a classified want-ad that Hirai had placed on a job posting site.
“I was surprised to find out that she was the same Ami that I had hired and trained eight years ago, using the same skill certification system that I mentioned above,” said Hirai.
Ami said she had opened her own business and went through several hardships after she left Hirai’s salon. She asked if Hirai would be willing to hire her back and Hirai replied that she would.
“Ami is a much-improved employee now that she has had a chance to mature and appreciate the opportunity that she has been given this second time around,” said Hirai.
The moral of the story: look after your employees, no matter what business you run, and they will look after you.