Van Council’s Four Keys of Culture
Other owners and ambitious stylists ask him, “How do you run multiple locations and stay true to your brand? Why are your employees so happy? How did you build such a great reputation for Van Michael?”
At the 2016 Serious Business in New Orleans, Council took the stage and revealed his secret: a culture he has carefully defined. But it doesn’t end there. He expects each of his employees to uphold the Van Michael culture and hold their peers accountable to it as well.
And because of this dedication to his culture, Council is not caving into industry fears. Most recently he has seen many owners worry their stylists will defect to Salon Suites or some other form of chair rental. But he’s not worried.
“Our culture is so strong, that there is no need for fear,” he says.
Defining Your Culture
Saying to your employees, “We have a laid-back culture,” or “Our culture is all about the best customer service,” isn’t enough. Just like any other system in the salon, culture must be defined, tweaked and worked on daily.
“Culture belongs to everyone at Van Michael,” he says. “People either support it or detract from it.”
“The number-one job for everyone in the company is to be a guardian of the culture. This basically means I’m not going to pee in the pool, and I’m going to call out anyone else who pees in the pool,” he adds.
Council relies on four main principles to guide his culture, which are communicated and demonstrated to his staff.
At Van Michael salons, employees know one thing for sure: they can trust their leader. Council believes in his stylists and in turn, they give him their loyalty and trust.
“I get to know each person individually,” he says. “I take every new person out to dinner when they start, and then take them again after they graduate our program.”
With a personal connection and complete trust in the integrity of their owner, Van Michael stylists thrive and revenues rise. In fact, profit has almost tripled in the years since Council quit doing clients himself.
“I try to hire people smarter than me,” he says. “I bring the right people together and get out of their way. And I don’t tell them what to do, I ask.”
For Council, a big part of having integrity is trusting his own gut instinct—something he learned at a very young age.
When he was a 25-year-old stylist, Council noticed a space for rent near a restaurant he had just pulled up to for breakfast. His gut said it would be the perfect spot for a salon.
“I had no money and no credit,” he says. “But I called the number on the sign and told the owner I wanted to open a salon.”
And even though everyone told him it was a bad location, he followed his instinct, and 32 years later that space remains his flagship location.
Now, with seven salons in the Atlanta area and more than 350 employees, leading with integrity is paramount to protecting his culture.
“Every decision I make is from the team,” he says. “I try to always make win-win decisions. But if you have to make a win-lose decision, you (the owner) need to be the loser—not your employees.”
Council expects his stylists to also make good decisions and communicates his trust in them regularly.
“I tell them, ‘I believe in YOU. I believe you’re going to make the right decision,’” he says.
“Have respect for others and treat them how you would want to be treated,” he adds. “I learned from my father to be a hard worker and that the world owes you nothing.”