BACK TO BASICS: GROWTH AFTER A WALKOUT

 

Maggie DiFalco’s Maggie the Salon has been an established business for 21 years in Pembroke Pines, Florida. For years, DiFalco experienced healthy growth and a solid reputation in her community until disaster struck. In 2011, after five or six years of consistent growth, she experienced a walkout. “We lost five of our top stylists,” says DiFalco. “Revenue dropped 40 percent and I knew it was time to focus and get the salon back on track.”

PERFECTING FUNDAMENTALS

DiFalco is a savvy owner who was well aware of the potential danger of walkouts and considered herself lucky she had avoided one for almost 20 years. But that didn’t stop her from also feeling blindsided. Throwing in the towel wasn’t an option for DiFalco.

Instead, she decided it was time to put everything she had learned in business classes, seminars, conferences and industry events to use—immediately. “We went back to basics,” she says. “I got rid of everyone who was non-income producing and worked from 8am-9pm. I worked the front desk, did the laundry, etc.”

The only thing DiFalco didn’t do was hair. Her boyfriend, who was teaching cutting classes at the time went back behind the chair and her daughter added hours as well. She made another big decision as well—after exclusively carrying Bumble and Bumble, she decided to bring on Aveda.

Not only did this open up a world of retail, it also provided the perfect place to recruit new stylists—the Aveda Institute. “I needed new people and I’m close to the Institute,” says DiFalco. “It opened the door for me to go in the school and recruit.”

From there, she created a heavy-duty, fast-tracking training program with her boyfriend and daughter doing the training.

The education program is one DiFalco continues to hone and evolve. Currently, new recruits train every Monday and at least every other month there is an event or guest artist for the whole staff. DiFalco has also taken the time to personally train her front-desk leader who now runs everyday operations including scheduling. “And then last year Qnity came into our lives,” she says. “I took the whole team—18 of us—to spend two days with them and we’ve stayed on track with the program since last October.”

DiFalco has seen 25 percent growth in service the last six months of last year and about the same on retail due to their dedication to the program. All of these programs have played a major role in shaping the salon’s current culture, as well as DiFalco’s personal input and conversations with new, young stylists. “Some of them need direction and ethics,” she says. “I talk to them about loyalty and explain I am not giving them a job, I’m giving them a career.

When DiFalco caught one stylist giving a client her home number when the client said she couldn’t afford a color service in the salon, the stylist was promptly fired, even though DiFalco had spent a lot to train her. “I have ethics and my culture is so strong—I don’t want to jeopardize that,” she says.

After revamping her culture, retail (it’s now Aveda and Eufora) and education, it was time to focus on the salon’s esthetics. To match the culture she had created, DiFalco wanted a new, fresh location. “We went smaller and revamped,” she says. “I sold my ocean-front condo in order to build a beautiful new salon in a more modern shopping center. “When we built the new salon, I told the staff, ‘This is for you guys.’ And they were so thrilled to have it.”

NEW AND IMPROVED

DiFalco is now up 14 stylists and growth has been incredible. “It’s about being committed to delivering world-class customer care, staying on top of our game with education, and the way we do consults,” she says. “And the teamwork involved is beautiful. Anyone jumps in and helps someone running behind or stuck on a color correction. I have such a powerhouse right now I can’t believe it.”

Another benefit? Old clients are returning because the other salons they visited didn’t have the same level of service. “It’s about being consistent and knowing you have to deliver an unforgettable customer service experience,” says DiFalco. Great online reviews and a social-media-savvy staff have also contributed to growth as well as a prebooking rate of 65-70 percent.

“Qnity has helped with the prebooking and retention, which is tied up with it,” she says. DiFalco is rarely behind the front desk anymore but maintains the walkout and everything that happened after gave her a better understanding of her business. “It made me put my feet down on the ground and really understand my P&L, my benchmarks, and how not to be careless in ordering,” she says. “I learned how important it was to follow through and do all these things we had learned about—how to give and deliver more than people expect.”

As she looks to her future growth, DiFalco will continue to practice the fundamentals, but also look for fresh information and best business practices wherever she can. “Networking is important,” she says. “I recommend any owner joins associations like the PBA and attends events like Serious Business.”

DiFalco also has her own small group of owners she has met at events over the years whom she trusts and relies on for advice. “The four of us are very tight and talk and share ideas every day,” she says. “I also do not do business with any company that does not have strong education.” With this mindset, there’s no telling where the next 21 years will take DiFalco’s booming business.

MAGGIE THE SALON’S GROWTH STATISTICS

Instead of looking at it as a major setback, Maggie DiFalco viewed her 2011 walkout as an opportunity for growth and change. Below are some of her salon’s stats and advice for a healthy, thriving salon.

AVEDA MEANS BUSINESS: What was your percentage of growth over the last three to five years, per year?

After a major walkout in early 2011, we moved locations in April of 2012. The move was a blessing.

  • 2012: 10% growth

  • 2013: 22% growth

  • 2014: 31% growth

  • 2015: On track for 20-25% growth

 

AVEDA MEANS BUSINESS: What are your top three new client drivers?

The top new client driver is our referral program. The next two I would say are our online reviews and great location. (location, location, location!)

AVEDA MEANS BUSINESS: What are your top three staff retention tips?

I have to believe that my staff retention has everything to do with our salon culture.We have embraced it together and we all believe in it. The second would be keeping it real—being honest and delivering what I promise. The third is involving the staff in major decisions. When people are part of decision making, they then own the decision. Even though ultimately the decision is mine to make, getting their input and discussing facts is huge.

AVEDA MEANS BUSINESS: What advice do you have for other salon owners to have continued growth?

Keep educating yourself and your team—not just technical, but business as well. Team members need to be aware of what it takes to be successful in 2015. What worked five years ago will no longer work now. Take it back to basics and deliver world-class customer care. Care about the guest’s experience every minute they are visiting the salon. Deliver more than they expect when they are there. Have the right conversation with guests and avoid any negativity. Try to avoid the word “no.”

AVEDA MEANS BUSINESS: What advice would you offer on engaging a salon staff?

Establish a culture and grow your team with those beliefs. Keep them accountable for what those beliefs are. Inspire them to work together as a team with one common goal—success. Have a lot of communication with them—monthly meetings, daily huddles, lots of sharing—this is huge! Recognize hard work and reward them. Praise them in front of their peers. Draw happy faces and stars on their paychecks (I swear I do this). Love and respect them!

 
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