When Joanna Meiseles took her son Ben, now 20, for his first haircut, she wanted it to be special. She even brought along a camcorder to make videos to show his grandparents. "It wasn't so much a bad experience," said Meiseles. "But it wasn't everything I hoped it would be."
So Meiseles set out to create the "most amazing place for a kid to get a haircut." She designed a brand and hired an animator to design the interior of the salon—using lots of bold, primary colors—and a cast of animated characters. Styling stations were equipped with individual entertainment stations, places for parents to sit, and safety straps for toddlers. After their haircuts, children could exchange a lock of hair for a prize from the Magic Box, a type of toy vending machine. The salon also has specialty styling products for kids.
And so Snip-its was born.
Snip-its is now the largest salon focused on children's haircuts in the country, with 63 locations and plans for U.K. franchises in the works. Back in 1995, when the first location was opened in Framingham, Massachusettes, Meiseles saw it as a prototype. "I immediately saw something that could be big," she said.
That doesn't mean that Snip-its growth has been without hiccups. "My goal was to create an environment where the kids had so much fun that the hairdressers wouldn't matter," Meiseles said. "It couldn't have been further from the truth." Meiseles had trouble finding stylists that wanted to work with kids. And many of the ones she found didn't show up for work on time. So she knew she had to refocus her attention on recruitment and retaining quality employees.
"In the beginning I set out only to please the children," Meiseles said. "Kids don't really care about the quality of a haircut, but the parents do, and the parents are paying, and the parents are making the decision to come back."
She let herself be short staffed while she figured out the type of stylists she wanted to hire, preferring complaints about long waits rather than gripes about bad service. What she learned was that she didn't need a huge staff—just the right mix of people that get an emotional reward for helping kids feel great about themselves—and make their parents feel proud.
Meiseles also had trouble figuring out the economic model. More than 1,000 kids were coming in to the first store every week, but at the price of $9.95 a haircut, she was losing money. Unsure of how parents would respond to higher prices, she considered posting a notice alerting customers that the price would rise soon. Instead, one of her stylists told her to just raise it to $11.95 for the very next haircut she sold. "Nobody batted an eyelash," Meiseles said. "I was so nervous. It was such a huge thing for me, and it was no big deal." Today, prices range from about $20 to $25 for a haircut, a price in line with a specialty service.
Snip-its began its franchise program in 2003. But when a franchise in New Mexico shuttered a few years later, Meiseles faced a huge disappointment. "I felt like it was the hugest failure of my life. I asked myself, 'How could I let this happen?' " Meiseles said.
A mentor told her to view it as a positive thing—that she should celebrate getting a bad franchisee out of the Snip-its chain. "If you can replace the owner with a better fit owner, or close it and cut your losses, you save so much time and so many headaches," she said. "You spend so much time with the 10 percent of the stores that are under-performing. When you cut them lose it is the greatest thing."
Meiseles feels that the brand is in a good position now—that the vast majority of franchisees are happy. She said part of the change could be attributed to how they manage expectations of how difficult it can be to open a small business. "In the early days, we sold it like 'You are going to love it. It is going to be so great.' Now we sell franchises like, 'It's pretty hard. It sucks most of the time. But if you work hard and do the right activities, you can seek out a small amount of money,' " Meiseles said, somewhat facetiously.
The majority of franchise owners are moms and dads. "They are very passionate. They love the concept and the brand, and love being part of something that's growing and they are in on the early stages," Meiseles said.
Snip-its now brings in $18 million a year in revenue, and three locations are company-owned stores, while the rest are franchises. Her next goal? Get to store number 100. "I feel like it's been eluding me for a long time," she said. "One hundred is a nice round number, a number that makes a lot of the systems we have in place make sense." It's a goal she thinks she can reach in the next five years.
Meiseles, who grew up in Hollywood, the daughter of a producer and granddaughter of comedian Jack Benny, admits that there might be a touch of show business behind the appeal of Snip-its. "It was important to me to have something remarkable and not ordinary," she said. "I wanted to try and make a name for myself and do something to make all my dreams come true."