FANNING THE FLAME: HOW JUUT KEEPS STYLISTS PASSIONATE
By nature, salons have high turnover rates. Stylists move to a new city, leave to start a family, quit to join a different salon or sometimes just drop out of the beauty business entirely.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to combat some of these things—life happens and people come and go. But if you’re a salon owner, high turnover doesn’t have to be a mainstay in your business.
You can keep stylists who have worked for your company for years passionate, engaged and excited to come to work every day with the right approach.
Nobody does this better than Juut Salonspas’ owner, David Wagner. And with 400 employees in eight locations (seven in the Minneapolis area, one in Palo Alto, California), Wagner’s attrition rate of less than 15 percent didn’t happen by accident. Below, Wagner shares the secrets to his employees’ happiness and why they stay at Juut.
There are some employees at Juut who have been with the company for 35 years. That’s a long time for anyone to stay at any company, and practically unheard of these days. So why are Juut employees so happy to stay put?
“Part of the reason is we appeal to people’s personal interest,” says Wagner. “The areas we focus on are not just professional and technical skills. We work on providing people with growth intellectually, spiritually, financially and more.”
Guest speakers with a spiritual emphasis often appeal to employees even more than guest artists who come in to demonstrate the latest hair cutting trends.
“We often focus on the physical aspect of stylists—we do wellness classes and teach personal nutrition,” says Wagner. “It helps people perform better from a physical point of view. We’ve even helped people get off high blood pressure pills and control diabetes,” he adds.
Why do all this? “We’re a beauty and wellness organization,” says Wagner. “Wellness shows up a lot in what we offer our guests.”
In today’s work place, flexibility—especially for women—is huge. And in the salon, Wagner has found the more flexible he can be, the more employees want to stay.
For example, “If someone goes on maternity leave, they may come back at part time, then ease back into full time,” he says.
Forcing stylists into a full-time role when they aren’t ready is a quick way to lose them. Remaining open 75 hours a week and keeping the chair productive allows Wagner to keep his business growing and his stylists to work schedules that fit their lifestyles.
“Flexibility is the new benefit,” says Wagner. With new generations coming in who want to work hard and play hard, giving them the option to work more hours less days is key. “Our staff is coming to realize we are fine with flexible hours as long as we are doing chair sharing and the chair is productive.”
COMBAT THE SOPHOMORE SLUMP
One issue Wagner has identified over the years is what he calls the “Sophomore Slump.”
“People just out of beauty school to year three or four are totally passionate,” he says. “But then they hit the slump and we have to re-engage.”
Wagner calls this an “emotional rehire” and sits down with employees individually to figure out how to reignite the excitement.
“They are so talented, but lack passion,” he says. “I always say: Talent without passion is a job. Passion without talent is a hobby. Passion and talent together is your calling. So what’s getting in the way of this person? Maybe they don’t like doing hair anymore. So we invite them to pursue whatever is their passion,” he says.
Being a “day maker” is a huge part of Juut’s culture and often they re-engage employees in that aspect of their career. “Or maybe we offer them the opportunity to educate and give them new purpose,” he says.
Some stylists need constant re-engagement to stay passionate. And for those employees, Juut offers options—mentoring, a shortened work week—anything that will keep them engaged.
“We find that comes in varying forms,” says Wagner. “Maybe they want to knock it out in three days and spend three days with family. Maybe they need to go to London and take a class. We don’t treat all the ‘sophomores’ in one way—they are treated individually.”
At each Juut location, there is a manager who is not behind the chair and spends a lot of time observing. Hair and spa directors also help determine a “sophomore’s” path. Meeting and having peer-to-peer conversations helps the communication lines stay open.
STOKE THE PASSION
“Everyone has different areas they want to be recognized or celebrated for,” says Wagner. “My job is to put them on the right bus.” But it’s not always a simple matter of doling out praise, which he has learned through the years.
“One of the challenges I’ve had in the past is not paying compliments often enough,” says Wagner. “I had a hard time acknowledging mediocrity. But mediocrity at Juut is a super star in another company. I had to be open and aware to recognizing small improvements.”
To keep his stylists’ passion burning, Wagner maintains you must find out what inspires them. “Some are inspired by what they are doing. Some are equally inspired by the connection they make with the guests—both are valuable.”
At Juut, the guest connection is embedded deep in the company’s “day maker” culture, which they remind stylists of daily. Whether it’s a Yelp review or a hug from a guest, Wagner and his management team continuously highlight “day maker” stories to their stylists to help sustain the passion for hairdressing and for Juut.
“It’s interesting to see people come in at 18 years old and stay for 25 years,” he says.