Good To Great: The Secrets To A Successful Service Every Time
Brandon Darragh, a 30-year veteran stylist who earns $200K from his chair at Van Michael Salon is required to turn in his client index cards to his manager, just like the rookie stylist a few chairs over.
“Our culture starts at the beginning of and rises up through the service wheel,” Darragh says. “And managers serve as the checks and balances—for everyone.”
It’s this consistency in top-notch service that sets Van Michael apart from its competition and vaults its stylists into successful, lucrative careers.
New hires spend a year as an assistant to a senior stylist before they move on to the New Talent program, where they spend the next year or two working to earn a spot as a Van Michael stylist.
“Great technique and skill set is considered baseline,” Darragh says. “You have the title of ‘hairdresser,’ and that’s enough for people to expect you to be good at your job, just like a doctor. From there, you have to focus on people skills and education.”
Setting Up the Consultation
The first step to a great service in any salon is the consultation. At Van Michael, it’s the most important part of every client visit.
“Every stylist must have a portfolio they put together (usually a Pinterest board) on their iPad,” Darragh says. “We ask stylists to do this individually rather than have a company-wide portfolio, so they can reflect their own taste and push the styles they want to create.”
Whatever looks a stylist leans toward will be heavy in their portfolio, allowing the client to connect with their stylist.
“Images you both like serve as a common denominator,” Darragh says.
Another part of the thorough consultation is asking the right questions, which is easy with a new client or one who wants a big change.
But what about the client whose hair you’ve been doing for 20 years?
Darragh says this client still gets a thorough consult, but he asks different questions.
“I may ask, ‘How is your hair styling right now? Is there an area giving you trouble? What frustrates you about your hair?’
The answers to these questions dictate the styling lesson I’m going to give them for the next 45 minutes,” he says. “And they walk away feeling like something new happened.”
If a client complains, the first question a manager asks is, “Did your stylist show you photos first?”
“We reinforce our own system,” Darragh says.
Know Your Client
Another way Van Michael reinforces consistent, great service is through index cards. Each stylist is required to have an index card for their client to keep track of every aspect of the visit.
“When I get a new client, I get a text from a manager asking to see their index card—I’m just as accountable as a first-year rookie.”
The index card is filled with every detail from the cut technique to styling information like whether or not Velcro rollers were used for more volume.
“This way, I’m informed when the client shows up for their next visit,” Darragh says. “But it’s really about caring.
“You need to actually care whether the client is happy or not, and you’ll take the time to write down all those steps.”
“At the end of the day, when you care more about them than yourself, you’ll have a pocket full of money. They’re happy to exchange their money for your energy.”
Once the client has received a consultation, Darragh recommends keeping the conversation focused on their beauty issues.
“Discuss the products you’re using as you use them, and don’t bore clients with your problems,” he advises.
“The number-one secret to success is—it’s not about you, it’s about them.”
“If a client asks about your vacation, give a brief answer and turn it back around to ask about their vacation.
I have had some clients for many years, so naturally they ask about my kids and/or personal life,” Darragh says. “I give them a brief rundown, but then say, ‘And how about you?’
Between your index cards and the consultation, you should know what you’re going to talk about during the service. And if the consultation is done properly, there’s not a lot of time left in the appointment.”
He adds, “Guests really want four major things—cut, color, to know the condition of their hair and when to come back.”
Consistency is Key
From the start, every Van Michael assistant is trained to deliver a perfect service every time, but that doesn’t mean complacency doesn’t kick in on occasion.
“For the first three years, a stylist is just trying to gain a spot on the floor,” Darragh says. “And then from years three to five, they’re competing with each other to see who’s going to be the hot shot and who’s going to be mediocre.
But around years seven to 10, after stylists get established with a regular salary and clientele, they hit a plateau and sometimes stop pushing themselves.
This is when I usually suggest an education trip,” Darragh says. “The hope is to rejuvenate them and keep them motivated another five to 10 years. They have to keep the Van Michael standards up though—everyone’s head is always on the chopping block because chairs need to produce.”
“Consistency can be lost in retail, too,” he says.
“We’re always reiterating that they’re not selling, they’re educating.”
“While I’m round-brushing hair, I’m telling the client why I’m using my favorite gel that will create lots of volume.”
Darragh says clients are interested in how the product performs.
“If a stylist doesn’t do the beginning of the service properly, they’re more likely to fall off later in the service,” he says. “This is why we pound home our systems every day to make it routine.”
Darragh also believes in the power of praise. “I nurture my assistants to feel good about themselves,” he says.
This trickles down to the client, making them feel special, too.
“My clients are human beings who want to be taken care of, known, special,” he says. “I want them to feel they are my favorite people.”