Living on the Edge: Inspiring Stylists for Long-Term Growth
When you’ve been in business for 24 years and have seven locations scattered across the country, you’ve seen a lot of changes in the beauty business.
Different generations of hair stylists, new technology, trends in cuts and color all come in waves every few years. But William Edge, owner of seven William Edge Salons in New Braunfels, Texas (2); Arlington, Texas; Las Colinas, Texas; Nashville (2) and Seattle, knows one thing always stays the same: Great customer service equals great business.
Who Are You?
Over the years, Edge has observed a common problem many owners have when launching a new business—a lack of vision.
“You have to know what your sustainable competitive advantage is to grow and sustain growth,” he says. “If you’re not doing something different or better, why are you opening? Just because you can open a salon doesn’t mean you should,” he adds.
Recently, Edge opened a new salon in Seattle, Vann.Edge, with partner Lisa Vann. “Lisa is known in the area as the texture queen,” he says. “So we had to ask ourselves, ‘Are we going to be known as a texture salon?’”
The answer was a resounding “no.”
“We’re going to be known for customer service,” says Edge. “That’s our sustainable competitive advantage. Another is being community driven.”
Being involved in the community was easy for Edge in his Texas salons where he had a long history and standing in the communities. So when he went to Nashville to take over a dying salon he had a new challenge—nobody knew him there.
“It was a pretty well-known salon, but nobody knew me or my brand in Nashville, so I lived there and immersed myself for a while,” he says. “I’m really community driven in my own hometown and I kept hearing about the children’s hospital in Nashville, so I went and spent a few days there.”
Now, “every service serves a child” at Edge’s salons. They donate a dollar for every service to the children’s hospital. In addition, his stylists spend time at the hospital volunteering—cleaning toys, reading to kids or just being there.
“It changes the stylists’ lives,” says Edge. And he maintains it all starts with his own actions. “If you want the team to be more community-minded, you have to show them, if you want them to be more gracious, you need to be more gracious, and so on,” he says.
In order to keep his team focused on customer service and serving the community, Edge has found he has had to work harder than ever on “people skills.” The most recent generation of stylists entering the workforce grew up on technology, and it shows.
“A lot of factors have changed and we don’t have the social environment we had 20 years ago,” says Edge. “We have to work on teaching our new trainees on basic stuff like how to introduce themselves,” he adds.
Another huge factor that plays into Edge’s customer-first culture is the no-tipping policy his salons all have.
“Everyone knows we are a non-tipping salon—we’ve been that way for 20 years. And it’s one of the most magical things we’ve ever done,” he says.
Edge feels strongly that stylists should be treated as professionals, just like a nurse or electrician, for example. People who earn tips are usually in professions like waitressing, where they earn minimum wage or less and depend on the tips as part of their income. Tipping in the salon is a relic of times when women visited once a week to get their hair set—before precision cuts took over.
“Also, from a business standpoint, salons are paying a fee on credit cards because they are counting tips as revenue and then giving it back out. It’s a bad business move,” says Edge.
And after stylists learn the benefits of a no-tipping policy aren’t just for clients, they’re on board.
“You can’t go to the bank and tell them you have a bunch of unclaimed tips,” he says. “It weakens your buying power because it’s throw-away money.”
But the main reason his stylists like the no-tipping policy is simple: it helps them build a strong relationship with their clients.
“We coach them to tell their clients to purchase retail, write a review or give them a referral instead of tipping. People want to help, and this is our way of redirecting that,” says Edge.
The result is a salon full of stylists who are pre-booked and sell a lot of retail, and clients who don’t have to stress out about tipping and leave the salon with the home-care they need to maintain their looks.
Cultivating and Caring for Your Culture
When a stylist first gets hired at a William Edge salon, they attend a four-week boot camp as contractual workers. This intense time of hard-core training is where Edge and his team can weed out the people who aren’t going to fit into their culture.
“I do the boot camp because if they make it through, I know they’ll stick with us,” he says. “It’s meant to kick ass—can you handle long days, challenging information, note taking, etc.? It’s where development starts.”
From there, stylists go into the model phase, where they must go out and recruit clients.
“We’ll know within 30 days if they are able to meet people, talk to people and bring in clients.”
Next, they do intermediate training for 18 weeks, sometimes at Edge’s prod.Edgy salon, depending on where the stylist is located.
“It’s a great initiation program and immersion process into who we are,” says Edge.
The training is not all technical, either. Edge wants stylists to come to his salon for a long, successful career where they will eventually retire.
“I don’t want my stylists to go out and find a better place,” he says. “So I built an infrastructure so people can realize their dreams.”
Via one-on-ones, Edge and his team talk to each individual stylist about their goals and dreams. Do they want to buy a home? Save for their kids’ college fund? Become a rock star in the industry?
Edge keeps track of these goals and reminds his stylists of them as they meet them or fall short.
“The only reason someone should leave your company is when they can’t realize their dreams in your infrastructure,” he says.
Personal development classes also help Edge’s stylists focus on goals and hone in on what they want out of their careers.
“Every year we do the William Edge Tribal Forum,” he says. “It’s three days of personal development and everyone gets flown in for it.”
For many of the 126 people who work for him, it’s the most impactful event of their lives. The completely immersive environment is filled with cream-of-the-crop speakers who often have the crowd crying and laughing together.
“It’s not hair industry stuff,” says Edge. “It’s life stuff.”
A common problem many owners face with their employees after a few years is burnout. Edge digs deep with his employees to discover the root of the issue if he finds they are losing enthusiasm.
“If I’m engaging them they will be ok. They become complacent because their dreams change without you realizing it,” he says.
“If I sit down and talk to people about their personal dreams—a wedding, earning six figures, buying a car—then they won’t get stagnant. It’s when they aren’t working towards anything that they stall.”
So when Edge or a member of his leadership team sits down to talk to a stylist about how much they need to put away each week to hit a certain goal, the conversation can change if the behavior of the stylist changes. That’s when Edge digs deeper to see why a stylist’s gears have shifted.
And always at his core is leading by example—showing his staff rather than telling.
“The hardest job we have is staying relevant to the staff,” he says. “How do I as a 51-year-old, stay relevant to new, 20-year-old stylists? I don’t mail it in. I still go to classes. I live the life I want them to live. And I have leadership in my salon who are also living examples,” he adds.
“In all our people, it’s ingrained to give back to young people,” he says. “To keep that alive, I’m taking people to shows and educating. Everyone must feel valued, like they’re making a difference.”
Instead of having the feeling that they are just there to produce more money, William Edge stylists feel invested in the business. Edge has learned to let them make their own mistakes and allow everyone to have a voice.
He also wrote an eight-stage delegation model that has become a valuable asset to his business.
“It starts with me saying, ‘We’re going to do this—what do you think?’ Then the next time I want you to do exactly what I say so I know you can follow direction. It goes all the way up to the last stage, which is me telling them to do something huge like put a team together and do a show without any input.’”
With individual personal and professional development plans and a rock-solid salon culture, William Edge stylists can enjoy a career tailored to their goals and dreams while helping grow a reputable business with strong community ties. It’s a win-win for the salon leadership, the team and the communities the salons serve.