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Boot Camp Boosts Bottom Line

Whole Aveda Salons new hire boot camp | Source: Aveda Corporation Flickr
Source: Aveda Corporation Flickr

A couple years ago, Tim Belcher, founder of two Whole Aveda Salons in the Tampa Bay area, realized he was missing a major piece in his education program for new employees.

Straight out of school, young stylists would come to him lacking confidence in their social skills. They felt ill-equipped to service guests in a high-end luxury salon.

Tim Belcher, founder of Whole Aveda and educator at The Salon People’s Business Academy

Tim Belcher, founder of Whole Aveda and educator at The Salon People’s Business Academy | Source: Whole Aveda

Belcher, who has some experience in teaching and creating curriculum not just at his own salons, but also as an educator at The Salon People’s Business Academy, knew what he had to do. (The Salon People, or TSP, is the Aveda distributor for Florida.)

The New Employee Boot Camp was born, and now kicks off new employees’ first week at the salon before hitting the floor as an intern. 

Boot Camp happens three times per year and provides a crash course on the people skills that new recruits need specifically to work for Whole Aveda Salons.

It’s also the first step to participate in Whole Aveda’s internship program. The internship program lasts from four months to one year and provides stylists with a clear path to hit performance benchmarks and measure their progress.

The Agenda

Orientation is the only day that new recruits (typically 6 to 10 of them) are not paid for during Boot Camp, because technically they are not employees yet. On that day, Belcher or another manager goes over all the salon’s expectations of their new recruits and answers questions from them as well.

“We go over how they get paid, how they achieve the next level, what training consists of and more,” he says.

The rest of Boot Camp is broken down into the following categories:

IMAGE: New stylists learn exactly how they should come to work, from hair and makeup to clothing.

“We talk about looking like Aveda, and I pull up Aveda imagery,” Belcher says. “I also give them imagery that shows them what NOT to look like.”

Belcher also emphasizes visualizing the ideal guest and how to attract them with your own style.

“I don’t ban tattoos, facial piercings or colorful hair,” he says. “But we still have to look professional. It’s about identifying our ideal guest and creating our image to reflect that.”

PEOPLE SKILLS: Inspired by Van Council’s method, Belcher requires stylists to have a card on every guest that gets updated each visit.

The card lists everything the stylist and client talked about from personal conversations to their hair.

“Was her scalp sensitive? Is she growing out her bangs? This is the type of information we record,” Belcher says. “I also teach them how to get to know the guest with John DiJulius’ FORD method.”

FORD stands for Family, Occupation, Recreation, Dreams. Young new stylists often struggle with finding common ground with guests who have a totally different lifestyle, and this method gives them talking points and the ability to connect.

“In a new relationship, the ‘Dream’ the guest shares may just be something as simple as going blonde,” Belcher says. “But that can grow and change as they establish the relationship with their stylist.”

SOCIAL MEDIA: In the age of tagging, liking and sharing, establishing social media protocol is a must.

With that in mind, Belcher offers specific details on how the salon tags, what content is acceptable for photos, what stylists need to do to get published on the salon’s page and a list of hashtags to use.

“We go over what a good Instagram account looks like from the profile pic to the verbiage,” he says.

“I want them to look and sound like experts, because we’re selling ourselves and our services.”

Belcher has also learned to showcase photos of the services they want to promote.

“If highlights and balayage are what we’re selling, that’s what we need to post,” he says. “And we don’t want bad hair in our feed, so we’ve eliminated ‘before’ photos.”

He also coaches new recruits on adding video and personal photos into their feeds as well.

“Guests want to get to know them,” he says. “So posting a picture of you and your puppy playing or a family photo every once in a while is a good way to utilize your own personality.

I also encourage them to post a photo of themselves in a trendy place every dozen photos or so,” he says. “You want clients to see you looking pulled together in a cool place they’ve heard of or have frequented themselves.”

MANNERS: Polished manners matter at Whole Aveda. Belcher goes over the proper way to shake hands with a guest and offer a greeting, including every last detail down to looking them in the eye.

RETAIL CONVERSATION: “I teach them to have no emotion around retail,” he says. “It’s not about whether or not someone can afford products—wealthy people have budgets. It’s our stylists’ job to recommend what they need.”

INTERN PREP: The last day and a half of Boot Camp is focused on styling and preparing new recruits to be interns.

“We teach them how to shampoo properly, do rituals, and blow dry,” Belcher says. “We start on mannequin heads, then move on to live models.”

The Results

More confident, better trained interns have resulted in an increase in retail revenue for Whole Aveda.

“We have about 15 levels our stylists go through, starting at the new artist level,” Belcher says. “The retail benchmark for them is $10 per head, which used to be a struggle.”

Since starting Boot Camp, Belcher hasn’t had a single person fall short of their retail benchmark.

“They often have higher numbers than some of my mid-range staff who are a little complacent,” he says. “These newbies are sometimes up to $24 retail-per-service ticket, which inspires and excites stylists who’ve been here a while and are only at $16-$17.”

Belcher says his interns’ transition to the floor has been much smoother due to the people skills they learned in Boot Camp.

“We’ve role-played and they feel comfortable because I use real-life scenarios,” he says. “They know there are systems to deal with any situation.”

After factoring in minimum wage and materials, Belcher says the Boot Camp program costs the salon roughly $500 per person for the week. But it saves him much more.

“We no longer wait too long to figure out if someone isn’t a good fit,” he says. “And we have better guest retention because there are fewer bad experiences. We give our interns the tools to succeed, so we’re lowering the odds of failure.”  

However, Belcher says planning out a Boot Camp program takes careful thought and must be plugged into your P&L.

“Hire an amazing consultant or attend TSP’s Business Academy,” he recommends.

A four-day experience (with an optional financial wellness add-on day), TSP Business Academy (Florida) meets owners where they are and provides the inspiration, information, and customizable tools to create abundance and prosperity in a rapidly changing salon business climate.

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