Remember when you were at the top of your game? You had a ton of clients and thought you were the shit. You said to yourself… I’ll just sign a lease, just open my salon, just hire and train two other stylists and just get them really busy and life will be just great. Unfortunately, that ‘s not how it works.  But that’s what we all thought along with Sarah Turcone from Twirl Hair Studio, Smithfield, Rhode Island. 

Sarah Turcone Like many owners, “You just don’t understand until you experience it.  It’s a broken industry,” says Sarah. “Stylists don’t understand and they don’t care. But, it’s not really theirs to care.” 

It’s interesting how stylists recall that one week when they brought in over $3,000. “That was over Christmas when they were working at 105% productivity and had lots of tips and bonuses,” says Sarah. I have always said that myself too.They remember the good weeks and forget all the ones that were bad. 

Sarah calls it the “Big Britches Syndrome.”  She has the best one liners! Sarah says, “Oh I’m the queen of the comeback.” Sarah says she sees the attitude change at about 5 years. They won’t help around the salon with clean-up. They think you are making mega $$$ off of them.  They don’t even comprehend that we are not. The average profit margin in our industry is 3-5%.   They want more money, after you take on all the risk. They want to make $1000 dollars a week working 20 hours.  They want 60-70% commission. 

The sad thing is that most of us don’t want to lose good stylists that we have invested in since the start of their careers and what is even more sad is that all of the salons paying that are not making money. “They don’t even know they are not making money.”  Sarah and I talked about how long it took us to really grasp our numbers and it’s not normally an easy thing to grasp for stylists or owners.  But once you get it,  it’s like a light bulb going off and then you can’t stop. “That’s what an owner needs to do, not be behind the chair,” says Sarah.  

Before Sarah’s walkout she had purchased plane tickets and a hotel for a vacation to Miami to show her appreciation for her top stylist who walked out. She put an extra $200 dollars in someone’s check that went above and beyond on a project. And she always made sure staff members got their lunch breaks. Anyone who works in the salon industry knows that we rarely get a lunch break. We often run over to please our clients rather than eat our lunch or take a break.  Or, she’ll buy gifts for stylists who express that they really want something to reward them. And she usually buys lunch on Saturdays for her team. Such a meanie! I loved how Sarah put it, “they have to make you out to be the Antichrist when they leave.”

She knew something was up about 2 weeks before her walkout. But couldn’t quite put her finger on it. “ I thought they had personal problems.  I even offered to help.  They were making crazy money. We were busy, really busy. It was a lot for everybody. For them and for me. I was really wrapped up in my business and I let a lot of bad behavior slide. Looking back, I wish I hadn’t done that.”  Sarah and I both realized our walkouts occurred when people were stressed and busy and at our highest productivity levels, EVER.  So, I now fully see why Strategies recommends not to push people over 85% productivity for very long and to hire when everyone is at 75% productivity. 

Sarah started to tell more details of her walkout story,  I went in on a Sunday and realized the place was left in disarray. I then realized that my manager who was on that day was in on it. “I even found video of them and their parents stealing items from the salon as they were clearing out.  I had it all on video and they were saying fuck her, take it!  But at the time I didn’t want to press charges. I thought to myself, these are immature kids. They took $1500 worth of stuff and that’s a felony and could really ruin their lives. I took the high road that time.”  But then things got sticky again. “I found out that they were telling people that I only paid them minimum wage, I wasn’t paying them and they were not making any money.  It was their way of playing the victim and also getting bigger tips.” Then guess what…

THEY OPENED UP DOWN THE ROAD!  I find this is part of the plot to almost every walkout story.  Sarah says, “They went down the street and I had non-competes and I took them to court and won.” She says, don’t let anyone tell you that non-competes are a waste of time and don’t hold up. Get them signed.  Do it and do it with every new hire.  Tell them up front about your non-compete and if they don’t want to sign say “NEXT.  I got tired of building someone else’s business and watching it walk right out the door.”

“I was left with 2 assistants and a year long employee.”  I said to myself, ”take the high road.  I’m gonna figure it out.”  I also said to myself, “going forward, this will never happen again! I put skin in the game, they need to put skin in the game.” Sarah converted her salon from a 1099 to commission.  She wanted a new culture. Not every man for himself, no one to help you when behind, no one to cash out your clients. “Now, I like to hire people who have worked and struggled in a salon for a year or alone and realize they need the camaraderie. I want happy and fun. I get that people burn out.  I always check in with people now. Individually and often.  I want to help them hit their goals. We talk about issues whether it is personal or what kind of bleach they want to try.” 

Sarah, since has also been really successful at developing membership programs, ”I had just had my walkout.”  Why do we all identify it as “my walkout.” She told me, “how could I not stay up at night , wondering what I could have done differently? How can I create a better culture?  I didn’t want to do what the salon down the street was doing. I wanted to focus on how I could have the best salon for me and my clients and staff. I wanted to create a fence around our culture and our business.” I loved when Sarah said that. Check out these awards. I’d say, She did what she stayed awake at night contemplating.Awards Collage Twirl

“Our clients and staff see us more than our families do. During the pandemic we only had 2 people cancel their memberships.  They wanted me to charge them their memberships.  They wanted us to survive and stay in business. They tipped us every week.  We drove kits and products to their homes to help them too. It humanizes them and it humanizes us.  Our membership clients are our people.”

What Sarah learned about herself:

“She’s so scary when she’s mad,” she heard a past staffer say on the clearing out video.  “I can count on one hand how many times I’ve gotten angry and I always apologize for losing temper.  People don’t take criticism well these days, even if it is constructive criticism, they don’t take it well. I try to instruct and teach instead of criticize.” 

“I have a presence, I know that now.  I think that people are afraid of me just because of that.  I’m a straight shooter. I don’t  bullshit people.  Be it clients or staff.  I learned it from my father. If you take the emotion out it’s very clear.”

“A walkout is the most cowardly thing anyone can do. Looking back, they did me the biggest favor. On the other side the attitudes were gone, what was left was the good clients and good people.”  

“I hate to fire people even when I should.” I think most of us can attest to that! 

She has the ability to think long term and past the moment. 

Sarah’s Advice:

Do non disclosure/non compete agreements. Don’t listen to people that say it isn’t going to work. 

Now, I’m like a mother animal. I protect my staff and clients.  Now they call me mom!

“Anyone who didn’t care about their staff and their business wouldn’t have a business right now through all of this. Money is just a by-product of that (caring.)  At this point, I don’t do this for money, I do it for my staff who rely on me.” 

“Membership was great for my business and helped us grow long term. We need to work on our business not behind the chair. You have to decide if you want a successful business or a successful clientele.” 

“Business changes. It has to be profitable. Don’t put blinders on. You have to know your numbers, and bottom line.  Don’t undercut yourself because of the people down the street. Price and charge based on you and your business not others.”  

“It took me years to be great at training and business which I am great at now. I used to cry. Now I think that’s my strong point!”

Well said Sarah, keep the comebacks coming!

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