Creating a Culture the Competition Can’t Touch
Chris Murphy, owner of three Maximum FX Salon locations in Austin, Texas, was running an efficient business when he hit a wall.
With a background in finance, Murphy was a very results-oriented leader who had stopped seeing growth in his business.
“Culture was not always the number-one thing in our business, and we suffered because of it,” Murphy says. “I had to look at myself as the leader, because it all starts with me. I had to realize business isn’t just about the numbers.”
Recently, Murphy detailed how he created a culture in his salon to Serious Business attendees in New Orleans. His candid tale included his own self-realizations and how he overcame his fears to work with his staff to create the right culture for his salon.
Recognizing the Problem
“As an owner, I struggled with getting comfortable with the abstract idea of creating a culture,” Murphy says. “As a result, I didn’t take action.”
Before Murphy took a deep dive into creating a defined culture for Maximum FX, he was experiencing a high amount of turnover. While he cared about his employees and valued what they brought to the business, they didn’t necessarily see it that way.
“Everyone thought, ‘He doesn’t give a crap about me, so why should I give a crap about him?’ That’s not what I was thinking, but that’s what they thought,” he says.
“We were lucky if 55% of our staff was with us at the end of the year. On top of that, people would quit during training,” Murphy says. “There was no emotional attachment to our brand. It was not fun at Maximum FX. We had no soul, no life—we were just an organization.”
That’s when Murphy decided it was time to take a hard look at his company. After some trickle walkouts of two or three stylists, he decided it was time to stop blaming other people or outside forces, and come to terms with himself as a leader.
“I had to realize everything started with me, and change my own behavior,” he says.
Murphy read a book called Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright, and it made him physically sick.
“Everything I read in the book about toxicity and bad culture was me,” he says.
But instead of dwelling on everything he had been doing wrong, Murphy began implementing all the positive things he learned from the book in his business.
“The book taught me values and purpose,” he says. “And I learned if your culture is alive, then loyalty is never dead.”
Turning Words into Action
Before creating a culture for his salon, Murphy first defined what a healthy culture would look like.
“There has to be high trust—nobody should be questioning what’s going on,” he says.
“Expectations must be clear and the team must have something emotional to attach to—they don’t come to work just with the goal of earning money. They need something more.”
Murphy also believes competition is key—but not against each other. “We compete against the performance of the team. We see if we can beat the previous week’s numbers, which is competitive, but not with individuals.”
While he wanted his culture to be fun for the team, Murphy also wanted it to be efficient and productive with the entire staff involved. To begin defining Maximum FX’s culture, he started with the three pillars of culture:
“To come up with our values and purpose, I closed the business on a Wednesday and we went offsite,” Murphy says. “It was expensive (they were paid to be there), but you can’t put a price on culture, and I wanted the team to know I was serious, since their trust level was so low.
“We made an entire day of establishing our core values and purpose,” he says. “We went through an exercise where everyone circled values on a sheet of paper indicating what was important to them.
Next, Murphy collected the sheets and sorted out the values that were shared by the team. He isolated the top ten, and then they had to come up with a purpose.
“It had to come from them, not me,” he says.
“If you want the team to be involved and have ownership, they have to come up with the ideas together with you.”
Once the team had established purpose and values, the rest of the day was spent defining what those values really meant.
Purpose: Make Everyone’s Day
“When you have a set of values, it makes it easy to know what to do,” Murphy says. “You have a stylist who comes in late, doesn’t participate, isn’t being a team player—well, that’s against our value of teamwork. If we have a conversation about it and I fire them, they understand why.”
Service is another of Maximum FX’s values, one they regularly talk about with their customers.
“We guarantee all our work,” Murphy says. “We want them to leave loving their hair, but we’re also very proud of our values and want to communicate them. They’re not just internal values—they’re all over our website and part of our daily meetings.”
To keep values and purpose at the front of his stylists’ minds, a different value is highlighted every week during daily huddles.
“We also do culture retreats twice a year,” he says.
“Every six months, the energy starts to wane, so we need to do something to stay emotionally attached to the purpose and values.”
Murphy now stays out of planning these retreats and lets the team take over and put them together.
“If we’re celebrating a certain value, the culture committee will get speakers that align with it and put it all together. I can show up relaxed and ready to have fun,” he says.
Murphy believes the salon’s culture starts with the owner and makes its way down through the rest of the organization.
“Someone has to be pushing the team to help them reach their full potential,” he says. “We want everyone to have a sense of urgency because clients appreciate a little oomph in your step. We want them to project the attitude of wanting to help because they want to, not because they have to.”
At every staff meeting, Murphy takes time to remind his team to take it to the next level with their clients by making their day. And if a client is unhappy with a haircut or has another problem, they’ll receive a refund or gift card to come back.
“A bad situation turns into an opportunity for the client to become an ambassador for the salon,” he says. “We’ve gotten more five-star reviews on Yelp by taking it to the next level.
“Sadly, a lot of salons aren’t doing this. They want to fire the client. But if you check your ego, you can make it a win for everyone involved, and it’s fun to watch it play out.”
Murphy stresses, “Don’t let negative attitudes seep in and not do anything about it. Get that compromise out of business and have tough conversations.”
This is the most tangible pillar of culture, and one you can start working on immediately to get your staff on board.
“We keep score (measure our numbers) at the salon. It’s a form of communication in addition to individual and team goals. We run the numbers every hour on the hour and post in the breakroom so the team knows where they are halfway through the day. There’s a magic that happens when you share information more frequently throughout the day.”
Another important form of communication at Maximum FX are the daily huddles that happen two times a day (one for each shift). One core value is highlighted at these huddles every week, and the team goes over goals, birthdays or anniversaries, new clients coming in, and any other pertinent information for the day.
But the communication that revolutionized Murphy’s business was coaching. These 30-minute, monthly conversations between manager and stylist are a two-way street. If they have to be canceled or moved, they must be rescheduled within the week they were originally planned.
“Everybody wants to know that someone is paying attention to their work,” Murphy says.
“The team member brings the agenda. Sometimes we talk about numbers, but not always. These meetings score so much trust,” he adds.
“Sometimes we just let them vent, but always end on a positive note. There’s not a right or wrong way to do it. We just want to have an environment where things can unfold.”
The End Result
Having a tangible culture your staff supports gives your salon a competitive edge you may not otherwise enjoy.
“People want to come work for you,” Murphy says. “Culture is the only thing we have that our competition cannot touch. They can try to imitate or duplicate, but can’t exactly match it.”
Profitability also results from culture. When you have stability and no staff turnover, you are more profitable.
“Staff turnover is the number-one profit killer,” Murphy says. “The cost of replacing someone and training someone new, just to have them leave, is bad for business.”
Murphy sums it up: “When everyone is aligned and understands your vision/purpose, things move fast. Your growth speeds you up, up past the competition.”