From left, Americana's staff: Melissa, Owner Jenny Grisham, Angie, Shelley and Eric.
The quaint interior of Americana in Alpine, Texas.
One of a salon owner's toughest jobs is identifying and recruiting talented cosmetology students who will transform into productive, loyal, longtime staff members. That challenge is even more impossible when the salon is located 200 miles from the nearest cosmetology school and an equal distance to the closest mall.
Jenny Grisham's salon Americana resides in Alpine, a town of 6,000 located in the stunningly beautiful high desert of west Texas. With no schools in sight, Grisham travels around the state approximately 12 times a year visiting barber and cosmetology schools and speaking to as many as 300 students on each trip. Her primary motivation is to "empower students to create bright, prosperous, fulfilling futures in a rewarding industry," but she's always on the lookout for the next member of her talented Americana team.
"We are looking for rare individuals who want a high quality workplace, and who are motivated to improve constantly, appreciate a diverse team environment and who are up to the adventure of living in a small town in a remote location," Grisham says. "Finding and retaining personnel has been our biggest business challenge, so recruiting is our most important initiative."
Aside from traveling to schools, Grisham estimates she spends anywhere from a few hundred a few thousand to recruit each new Americana hire, and she's developed quite a sophisticated process to ensure that the fit is a good one. "The investment of time, money and emotion in a single new staff member in Americana is high, so it is an enormous disappointment, as well as a huge expense, to lose a trainee," she says. "Therefore it is extremely important that our selection process is thorough, and that we are careful to hire only those whose values and goals are in alignment with our own. I've discovered that is the most important factor in hiring, but it's not always the easiest to identify."
Americana's selection process begins when an applicant fills out the salon's online application. "We ask a few questions designed to identify the priorities and goals of the applicant, as well as determine their current vision of Americana," says Grisham. One of her favorite questions to ask is, "What do you want all first-time clients to know about you before you introduce yourself?"
Before checking references, Grisham corresponds with the applicant to make sure they understand the extent of the opportunity as well as the requirements involved. "Since joining our team usually calls for a dramatic change in lifestyle, we are careful to check personal as well as professional references, asking questions such as, 'Do you think the applicant will be happy living in a small town?'"
If references are acceptable, Grisham conducts a phone interview, asking the applicant practical questions to determine his or her level of experience and training and conveying information about the area, housing and other issues. "At this point, I typically send a gift of our salon's products so they can get familiar with the brand," she says. "I like to go all out, and will send about $250 of hair care, skin care and cosmetics products, as well as information about our town and region."
Next, Grisham invites the candidate and a family member out for a visit, picking up the tab for travel expenses and a hotel stay. At this point the interview gets serious. "We usually supply a model and require a demonstration of skill to establish a benchmark of what training will be necessary," Grisham says. "And each staff member has an opportunity to interview the applicant privately and I encourage the applicants to freely ask questions of my staff. They can ask anything from what I am like to work to what the Alpine dating scene is like."
The final interview is a one-on-one, sit down, heart-to-heart conversation between the applicant and Grisham. "I lay out my expectations, as well as any potential challenges I see," she says. "Trust is a very important component of any relationship, and we do our best during the selection process to determine if we have found a good complement to our team."
Grisham's final determination is based on four key issues: alignment of core values, mutually beneficial career goals, a positive response from all team members, and the applicant's desire to live in Alpine. "Working at Americana is not just a job at a salon, it is an adventure, a challenge and instant acceptance into a warm, supportive and unique community in far west Texas," she concludes. "Very few individuals are ready for this remarkable opportunity and we do our best to make sure we have the right person to share in our odyssey."