I’ve been asked to speak at a conference in Dublin later this year and the topic they have given me is recruiting and retaining staff – serious stuff and a real concern for many salon owners in our sector, especially now.
Looking at our team’s average length of service, it’s no wonder that’s what I’ve been challenged with sharing in my presentation. Most of our staff have been with the company for many years – in fact the combined length of service among our 45-strong senior team is a staggering 790 years – an average of almost 18 years per team member. Out of all our numbers, that’s the one we’re most proud of.
But it got me thinking. Just what do really great brands – in any sector – do to keep their best team members? Companies talk about having a solid ethos and family culture but how do they create it for real?
Finding the right people in the first place then, most importantly, ensuring they stay, can be a huge challenge.
I know many business owners in our industry find recruitment hard; we do too. It’s well documented that most salons and spas find it immensely difficult to find experienced, skilled therapists and nail technicians, but in salons that do hair too it’s also challenging, particularly when it comes to apprentices. In fact, recruitment of trainees in the sector is officially categorised as being at crisis level.
My colleague in the Salon Employers Association, Edward Hemmings, runs a training company and he judges our junior competitions. He always comments on the intricate family tree that is Richard Ward Hair & Metrospa and tells other salons about how we find our next generation.
Our secret is really quite simple – we look to our friends and family members first.
Although vacancies now appear on our website and sometimes our social media, we’ve never really gone down the conventional route of advertising outside of the company or using recruitment sites.
Find your tribe
As with gaining clients, word of mouth is always the most fruitful way to find our tribe.
Because having the right tribe and thus creating the right tribe for a brand is critical, especially in customer-facing businesses.
The best way to illustrate this is to look at our intricate family tree, which is amazing.
Mario (our technical director) came with me from Harrods in around 1990, telling me casually one day that his younger sister was returning from Cyprus. “She’s a therapist,” he said, and my ears pricked up. Fast forward 20 years and Gina is our spa director.
On the other branch, Julie, Gavin, Fiona (and later Robert and Maria) worked with Richard when he was a trainee. All are still with us now.
Nando came to us as a trainee and started our Portuguese contingent. Pat came to us as a nanny for our children. She told me about her friend Bev who was moving from Portugal and was a great hairdresser but didn’t have any formal qualifications. After a short re-training, she became one of our senior stylists, joined later by Edna, who applied as a cleaner. “Why do you want to be a cleaner?”, I asked her. “I don’t,” she said. “I want to be a hairdresser but I thought you’d say I was too old.” Regardless, she did her apprenticeship with us and now helps Cristiano head up our art team.
Crissy himself joined us in the early ’90s then later got Elettra on board as a trainee – he knew her from his native Sardinia. And so it goes on. Even Nick, our barman, has been with us for 25 years.
Talk about six degrees of separation… more like two! Gavin’s cousin Angela joined on reception then became my PA before marrying Nando and recruiting her friend Sam to take over, who was later promoted to run our Tangle Angel division. Gavin’s niece Sophie (an ex-apprentice) recently married our hairdresser Joey who started the Brighton contingent (he was friends with my nephew and I met him at my Dad’s pool in Spain on holiday when he was 17 and talking about going to college to study hairdressing) Are you keeping up?
My point is, once you find the right people – hopefully to join when they are fledglings – how do you ensure they stay? How do those acorns turn into the towering oak trees that will grow and strengthen your business for you for years to come, especially in a sector like ours, which is solely about people?
I think several things are important:
• Advertise vacancies internally first – you never know who might be interested in putting themselves forward. If nobody does, at least you’ve asked so they can’t complain they weren’t given the opportunity.
• See the bigger picture – asking what people really want or where they see themselves in 10 years’ time will indicate what they consider as their potential – ignore what you discover at your peril.
• Remember that creating a culture like this can appear quite insular to outsiders – it’s that old adage of only you being able to criticise your family, woe betide anyone else who tries.
Retention is, of course, another issue, and one which is arguably much more within our control. Too many companies don’t have regular chats or debriefs about the longer term, bigger picture. Confrontation may be uncomfortable but it’s necessary. I’ve learned that not everyone wants to be a dynamo, some are happy to plod and you need a careful mix of both to create stability.
But perhaps my biggest lesson is learning to give up on somebody’s weaknesses and focus on their strengths instead. It’s futile to try and create the perfect team member; for them and for you. Embracing what they are good at, honing it, developing it and then marketing it to its utmost potential is the key to ensuring people feel valued enough to stay. It’s working for me – still.