When I found out he was the owner, I wanted to learn more. He openly shared his business model and philosophy with me. As an organizational psychologist, what James taught me resonated deeply; and I felt it was important for any high level leader or founder to know.
1. Your Clients Are Less Important Than Your Employee
"If an employee at Wal-Mart quits, that probably won't affect Wal-Mart's business," James explained. "However, if one of my employees leaves, there goes a large percentage of my clientele."
When it comes to having a hair-stylist, many people find one they like and stick to that stylist. As a result, business suffers when someone quits at a hair salon.
This reality has forced James to take a serious look at his company culture. He's come to grips with the fact that his employees are far more important than his customers. Without his employees, he would have no customers. Furthermore, if his employees aren't happy, they won't have recurring customers.
So James and Astrid have worked hard to create a culture where their employees love being there. In an industry where few stylists stick around at one salon for long, at Salon 21, the stylists choose to stay.
James and Astrid have found that being supportive and generous with their employees has directly influenced their success in the market place.
"Although not every industry gets impacted as heavily when an employee leaves as in the hair industry, every leader should recognize the fundamental importance of their employees," James told me.
Salon 21 is thriving in a saturated market, and is continuing to grow. James believes a primary reason for this success is that his employees are literally his number one priority.
2. Professionalism & Technique
"Just as the yin-yang symbol possesses a kernel of light in the dark, and of dark in the light, creative leaps are grounded in a technical foundation."--Josh Waitzkin
The hair industry has become like the food industry. The focus is on quantity over quality. As cheap and fast as possible. You can easily find $10, $5, and even $3 haircuts if you look for it.
Hair schools are trying to get as many people in-and-out as fast as they can. The problem is, new graduates end up at jobs without much skill or technique.
James told me he has to extensively train almost every new employee he gets, regardless of how many salons they've worked at. Quality matters at Salon 21. They want people's hair to look amazing when they leave.
I myself was surprised by the care and technique James put into my own hair cut. He did things to my hair I've never seen someone do, and when I got home, my wife was stoked.
You can't deny a good product. As Cal Newport explains in his book, So Good They Can't Ignore You, when you focus on your craft, the work speaks for itself. The goal should be to produce work that is so good it can't be ignored. With a focus on quality and craft, Salon 21 continues to succeed while other salons in the area fail.
3. Employee Freedom
Lastly, James explained that many hair salons use fear-tactics to keep their employees. Most salons require their employees to sign "non-compete" agreements.
James and Astrid genuinely want their employees to succeed. If a particular employee would be better-suited somewhere else, they aren't forced to stay.
At Salon 21, employees feel safe. There is no fear. There's no compulsion. They can leave whenever they want. At that's the very reason they choose to stay. They want to be there. They are valued.
"We have complete confidence in our culture and craft here," James told me. "There's no need to require non-competes. We know when we hire someone that they will have a unique experience here. They will want to stay. And they will thrive financially here as a result."
What if you looked at your employees like a Hair Salon owner does?
How would you treat your employees differently?
How would your culture change?