Managing Multiple Locations: Thriving vs Surviving
Kathy Thalman was brought up in the beauty business. A third-generation hairdresser, she used to work in her mom’s salon in Tulsa, Oklahoma, before purchasing her own salon in San Antonio in 1984. But Thalman didn’t stop with just one salon. She is currently the owner and CEO of three full-service K Charles and Co. salons in the San Antonio area and, this year, opened Salon Syzygy by K Charles, a salon that offers hair services only.
While four salons may seem like more than enough to keep anyone busy, Thalman also owns two Aveda Institutes—one in San Antonio and one in Corpus Christi.
Her passion for the beauty business has been passed down to the fourth generation, her children, Holly Vaught, who is director of education and Chase Thalman, director of operations.
After her first salon opened, Thalman’s subsequent salons opened in 1999 and 2006 (Salon Syzygy opened in 2015). But after a while, she had a big problem—the quality of talent coming out of schools was not meeting her salons’ standards. So, Thalman opened an Aveda Institute in 2005.
“Holly had graduated from the Aveda Institute in Minnesota, and we saw an opportunity to get in the business,” says Thalman. “We felt San Antonio would support an Institute.” It did. Next up, Corpus Cristi. Thalman opened that Institute in 2010. “Before having the Institutes, we would have to do a year or two of training new stylists before they were capable of handling our client expectation and fast pace,” she says.
Lead People, Manage Things
Managing multiple locations takes a lot of dedication and commitment to a culture from owners, directors and management. Many owners open second or third locations only to close them within a year or two. Through experience and perseverance, Thalman has figured out the key to keeping all her locations and Institutes running smoothly and profitably.
“Poor management is the most common mistake people make,” she says. “If you’ve got a good manager who’s well versed in your culture and is a leader, that makes a big difference.”
Thalman stresses, “We tell them they are a manager and leader—they manage things, like challenges with electric of the phone system—and lead their team.” Teaching someone to manage things is pretty easy—almost anyone can do it. But finding someone who can lead while maintaining the salon’s culture is a more difficult task.
Thalman has found her stylists are not the people who make the best leaders. She has one stylist who is a manager, but the rest all come from a business background. “They are also all a bit artistic-minded, because hairstylists are creative and managers need to able to cultivate that creativity,” she says.
“My best managers are guests of the salon who came from a business background. One has a degree in marketing, one has a degree in business and one doesn’t have a degree, but is very business minded.”
Over the years, Thalman has developed an interviewing process that allows her to weed out candidates who are unable to lead. One of the key questions she asks is, “If you could describe a management role to me, what would it be?” She says, “When they answer me, ‘it’s hard to manage people sometimes—I would try to be a leader,’ that tells me a lot. You can cultivate and lead people, but not manage them.”
Benchmarking to Success
Over the years, Thalman has found systems and techniques to improve her salons and schools. Most recently, Aveda’s benchmarking system has made a huge impact on her business. With Vaught’s help, they’ve made the system protocol in all their locations.
“Basically, it’s about hitting your numbers so you can move up to junior, senior and master levels,” says Vaught.
“Your commission can go up, too,” she adds. “It gives reason behind moving people up rather than arbitrarily moving them because they’ve been at the salon for a while.”
Pre-booking, retail, guest retention and new guests are just a few of the numbers tracked to advance stylists.
After putting the benchmarking in place, Vaught and Thalman found some stylists weren’t at the right level. “People who were already Masters might not have been hitting Master numbers,” Vaught says. “But after a year and a half, we finally had to draw a line in the sand and put everyone where they were supposed to be.” Out of 68 stylists, there were 10 who had to move down from Master 2 to Master 1 or Senior. However, nobody left until a year or two later when two stylists moved on.
“Since then, we’ve had to fluctuate people back and forth a little, but not much,” Vaught says. “We do increases in commission twice a year in July and January, and between that we are coaching them and letting them know where they are,” she adds. “They know we’re behind them every step of the way.”
Vaught also stresses the importance of documenting incidents or areas in need of improvement. “The most important thing I would recommend to salon owners is to take personal relationships out of the equation and document everything—and don’t do it alone, always have someone there to verify.”
Keeping employees in four salons happy with their schedules seems like an impossible task. But Thalman has found a way to give her stylists the personal life balance they crave and the salons running smoothly.
“Once team members reach senior status, they go to a four-day work week,” she says. “Each week there’s a different rotation and every fifth week they get Saturday, Sunday and Monday off—a three-day weekend.”
Her stylists still work a 38-hour week and are able to schedule doctor visits, appointments, time to watch their children’s school play or anything else they may need to do during the week.
Within their rotation group, stylists can also switch days with others if they know they have something to do on a Thursday but happen to have Wednesday off that week. “As long as they switch before the scheduler makes the schedule, it’s fine,” says Thalman. “They need personal time to be in harmony—it keeps them happy.”
Ultimately though, Thalman says there is one thing that makes her successful—transparency. All K Charles employees know what is expected of them, and have a clear understanding of the salon culture. Thalman regularly meets with managers and everyone knows what they are responsible for. “Our managers are benchmarked the same as our stylists,” she says.
“It can be lonely at the top,” says Vaught, who used to be a stylist before moving into management. “But they know we’re in the trenches with them. They see us work just as hard—we lead by example.”