How These Salons Won “Best Place to Work”
Receiving accolades is always great for business. Owners of salons or any small business want their clients to know they are the “Best Pizza in the City” or “Best Place for a Luxury Manicure.” But perhaps the greatest honor for an owner to receive is “Best Place to Work.”
This award is bestowed on businesses large and small across the country by various media outlets from national magazines to regional newspapers. And what makes it special is the fact that employees are invited to participate in surveys for the award-winners to be determined.
We talked to three Aveda salons that have received a “best place to work” award to find out what makes their businesses so special.
Meet the Owners/Managers
- Laura Ortmann, owner of two Ginger Bay Salon and Spa locations in Kirkwood and Town and Country, Missouri (St. Louis area)
- Laura Fuqua, general manager of Juut salons with seven locations in the Minneapolis, Minnesota area, two locations in Arizona and one in Palo Alto, California, and Bridgett Looney, HR Manager
- Khanh Nguyen, owner of two Karen Allen Salon locations in Riverside and Temecula, California
Q: Why do you think your salon has received recognition over some of your competitors?
ORTMANN: We were recognized nationally by Inc. magazine and by a local newspaper as one of the top 10 places to work in St. Louis.
The honor from Inc. was driven by employee surveys—our staff won that award for us. It wasn’t just owners saying, “hey, we’re great.” The employees had to do a lot of the talking and it came down to our culture. There’s nothing more important than a strong, clearly identifiable culture that your team, guests and vendors all know. And I work on it every day—even more so now than when I first bought Ginger Bay in 2008.
We have an open-book culture and have more accountability in the work place because of it. Soon after I bought the business, there was an economic downturn. And we’re in the business of attracting guests with disposable income. We started open book practices and we became very focused on numbers. It was a big shift initially, but over the years, we have incorporated financial huddles, rewritten our mission and value statements, and even hired a facilitator initially to help.
We also have four all-team meetings each year that include dinner, a financial presentation, awards and celebrations of personal milestones. We talk about where we are and where we’re going.
NGUYEN: We were recognized by a local newspaper in the Inland Empire community. We’re one of the only commission salons in Riverside—99 percent of salons are booth rental in our area. That’s a huge differentiator for us. We are really into the guest experience. We sell a good feeling and put the service first, and the technical aspect of it second. Other salons around us are not into serving the customer—they’re all about doing the hair cut, and that’s it.
Our team members believe in the guest experience and our salon reflects it. Guests are greeted within 10 seconds of walking in the door, and they’re offered a beverage right away in a beautiful, clean environment. They also receive two Aveda ritual experiences every visit. If the rituals aren’t offered, they get 20 percent off their ticket.
LOONEY: We were honored by the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. They contacted us and we sent out surveys to our employees for feedback. Our benefits really set us apart. We offer medical, vision, dental, and we also have 401k with match for vested employees—that’s not something you usually see.
Our company mission of daymaking is also a big deal. It’s not something we just say, it’s something our employees and company live by at work and outside of work. We also offer flexibility in scheduling. Work/life balance is something our employees value. Moms come back from maternity leave on a part-time basis or adjusted schedule. On the survey, one employee said, “It’s a place where I can have a home life and be an artist. And I always feel like I can make more money.”
Q: Why do your stylists love working at your salon?
ORTMANN: It’s about 85% booth rental in Missouri. But some stylists are seeking out the employee-based environment we offer. We also offer competitive compensation and benefits—vacation time, health insurance for employees and their dependents, dental, vision, flex spending, and even life insurance to those who qualify. Employees also have the option to purchase other policies like disability, and we have a 401k program with a match, too.
Employees also receive a discount on products, are able to purchase back bar, and we just added a company sponsored gym membership. And for employees who have been with the company for more than 10 years, additional benefits are rewarded like more vacation time and additional money for education—it’s an acknowledgment of their tenure with the company. Perfect attendance is also rewarded.
In addition, we do lots of celebrations and give holiday gifts, but the biggest benefit to our team is education. We pay for in-house education and bring in educators for everyone. We even offer elective education like financial literacy classes, self-defense classes or CPR. That’s just for their benefit. These classes are offered based on employee feedback—we’ve even had a nutritionist come in and talk about healthy cooking.
At the massage team’s request, we hired a physical therapist to come in to teach proper ergonomics and stretches to stay healthy for our clients. They have physically demanding jobs and need to take care of their bodies.
NGUYEN: They feel I really care for them beyond employer/employee relations—we’re a family. Also, we provide education, allowing them to grow into new opportunities. We also offer all traditional benefits including health care and six paid vacation days.
We really honor the schedule, too. We give the team flex time because we understand sometimes they need it for various reasons—new moms, etc. It’s a huge benefit our stylists appreciate.
FUQUA: We have a collection of salons—not a chain. Each of our 10 locations is unique from the energy inside. Our artists are passionate about what they do. Our employee surveys show what they love about working at Juut: their co-workers, being daymakers, the support they receive, education, and work/life balance. They also love having a great space to see clients, access to education and the privilege of meeting different kinds of people.
They are part of a family with people who care about their success.
Q: How do you continue to raise the bar?
ORTMANN: We don’t really have a choice. If you want to be the best and hire the best, you can never be complacent. We’re always listening to our team and adding to the benefits package. The same goes for education. We always try to raise more money, push them to stay the best and drive them to be a part of a successful team.
We’re really clear when we hire people that we expect them to participate in the salon’s philanthropic events, education and everything else we do. It’s part of who we are.
Technology is another big part of raising the bar. We issue a kit with tools and an iPad to new hires and have everyone on a headset. We also use ZeeZor, an app that allows us to interface with our software to see numbers in real time. Team members have all their numbers—prebooking, retail, etc.—at their fingertips. Techonology is such a key to staying on top of things. Guests really want it, and it speaks to a younger generation.
NGUYEN: I stay on top of my game by working on the business, not in it. I know how to create a great experience for guests and continue to raise the bar with team members in education and in-house training. I go to events like Serious Business and Congress so we can be our best selves.
Also, clients know I’m committed to the community—I’ve built the business on relationships. They come in because they are being treated well and love the service they receive.
FUQUA: Education is key. We train in each state we have locations in and require continuing education. David (Wagner, owner of Juut) also likes to keep all our locations fresh—change up the décor, or do minor things to give face lifts as needed to each location. We change the videos in our lobby once a quarter to promote new things as well.
Q: What advice would you offer another owner who wants to be the best?
ORTMANN: It’s all about integrity. If I could do it all over again, there’s not a whole lot I would change.
I can honestly say, I lay my head on my pillow every night and feel like I give this 110%, put my team first, love what I do, own a mistake when I make one, I’m humble to a fault, and I’ve learned more in this job than any other.
Act with integrity, don’t cut corners, know your numbers and put your team first. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Learning is such a key to this job. You’re going to make mistakes, but you must learn from them. Read, visit other salons, and join a business group. Don’t’ get too caught up in the day-to-day details and get complacent.
NGUYEN: My advice is to be more selfless. I have a very strong relationship with my team and truly care for each and every one of them. I know their life stories and work on their hopes and dreams.
Many of them are young and this is their first job. I provide the stability and support they need in life and they really appreciate it.
FUQUA: Develop a mission statement that you and your team stand by. We want the salon to be a place employees come to escape, not one they want to escape.
They don’t see coming to Juut as work, they see it as a glamorous lifestyle that allows them to be artistic. Giving them education is key as well. We have in-house education that is free, but also offer reimbursement for some outside classes as well. We encourage people to request it no matter what level they are.