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How to Style a Salon's Growth

Q: I've owned a salon and spa for 13 years, and it's so successful that I'm negotiating to open a second location. Should I send my current manager to the new location, or hire another manager to train at my current location and then send her to the new one? I'm a stylist, but my goal is to personally work behind the chair less and still make a good profit.

-- S.S., Murrells Inlet, S.C.

A: This is a tough decision with no real "right" or "wrong" way to handle it, experts say. You can choose from several approaches, any of which could prove successful. The best solution for your business will depend on a number of factors, including the level of confidence you have in your existing manager, how much responsibility she already assumes at your current location, and how competent your new manager turns out to be.

Your long-term goal of stepping into a managerial role in your firm is a good one, but plan on pulling double duty for the short term. You will undoubtedly need to spend time working at both locations until you get the new one up and running.

To help make the decision about who should manage the new salon, first evaluate the competency and reliability of your current manager, says Jonathan Goldhill, CEO of The Growth Coach, a Los Angeles-based consulting firm. "How long [has she] worked with you? How well does she represent your style and approach? Do you trust [her] to make sound decisions?" Goldhill asks.

KEEPING THE NOVICE CLOSE. Once you've answered those questions, you can choose from two schools of thought on how to handle your personnel dilemma: Have your current manager stay put and train the new manager at your existing site while you supervise the new location personally, or send your current manager to supervise the new salon while you train the novice manager in your current salon.

The first approach offers two advantages, says Robert M. Donnelly, a New York City-based adviser, educator, and planning strategist who works specifically with entrepreneurs of growing firms. "You can personally ensure a smooth startup and...instill the model for success that worked in the original salon," Donnelly says. "Then, after the new manager is fully trained, she can take over the new salon, and [you] can step back into the role of owner/manager of two profitable salons." Of course, the caveat with this approach, he says, is that you have to trust your current manager to manage the existing salon, while also training a new one.

Goldhill, on the other hand, advocates option two: Asking your current manager to assume leadership duties at the new salon, while you train the new manager at the existing location. "Assuming that you have worked with this manager and trust this person, I would always rather have a new manager close to home where I can train her the way I want her to do things and supervise her more closely," he says.

MAINTAINING THE FAMILIAR. Donnelly sees a couple of drawbacks to that approach, however: You won't be personally involved in the new locale's startup, and you'll be taking a seasoned manager away from your existing salon.

Entrepreneur Carey Goldberg recommends you avoid the latter problem. Goldberg, who owns a Relax the Back outlet in New York City, says a significant part of a service firm's success is the trust developed between the customers and the main service provider.

"By taking away your current manager, you take away the effective selling resulting from the relationship and trust developed with the manager and your clients," Goldberg says. "Your customers and people in general like to have familiarity and not lose relationships they have already established."

BUCK STOPS WITH YOU. Weighing in on the other side of the argument is Frank Stokes, an entrepreneurial adviser at Stokes Pacifique Associates in Los Angeles. "Your confidence in your current manager allows the new location to come up to speed on a shorter learning curve, since your current manager knows your unique delivery system," Stokes says. "Hiring a new manager for a new location complicates the...process, because you have two learning curves -- building a new business and training a new employee to manage."

However you choose to handle the transition, remember that you're the one ultimately responsible for quality control and customer satisfaction at both sites. "You may need to step in yourself to work very closely with your newly hired manager for training and continuity," Stokes says. "Even if your new candidate has experience in this service industry, your objective is to train him or her in how to do things that have contributed to the success of your first location."

On that point, Goldberg agrees. "You should be there to help her with the transition, monitor traffic flow, see if the clientele and their requests are different in the new location, and advise her accordingly," he says.

EVOLVING ROLE. If you don't already have a company handbook, now is the time to write one up. It should lay out in detail how your business handles challenges, miscues, and everyday management. Such a document will ease future transitions and help new hires pick up on procedures and policies smoothly.

Once you have the new location running well, you can assume more of an executive role. And then, Stokes says, "Your time will become more valuable in...making site visits, examining financial statements and reports, communicating with your staff, and marketing your company brand." The fact that you already realize your role will need to evolve as your company grows suggests that your salon is on the cutting edge.

Have a question about your business? Ask our small-business experts. Send us an e-mail at Smart Answers, or write to Smart Answers, BW Online, 45th Floor, 1221 Avenue of the Americas, New York, N.Y. 10020. Please include your real name and phone number in case we need more information; only your initials and city will be printed. Because of the volume of mail, we won't be able to respond to all questions personally.

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