Reflecting on NAHA: Jackson Ruiz SalonNAHA judging is now taking place for the July 2014 event. Have you ever thought about putting a team together in your salon? We talked to three owners who’ve successfully put together teams and won the prestigious NAHA Salon Team of the Year award for an inside look at the process.

Below, Allen Ruiz, co-owner of Jackson Ruiz (with co-founder Heath Smith) in Austin, Texas, (NAHA Salon Team of the Year winner in 2011) weighs in on his experience. Read our interviews with other past winners Anna Pacitto of Salon Pure and Steven Robertson of Lunatic Fringe Salon for their insights.

To see a gallery of winning images throughout the years, click here (http://www.probeauty.org/nahagallery/year/).

SALON TODAY: How did you choose who worked on your team? How many people were on the team?

Allen Ruiz: I like to look at what people’s strengths are and build a team around that. I need a great hair colorist, hairdresser, cutter, etc. I’ll appoint a lead person in each category and then partner them up with a support person. Five leads plus five support people equals a team of 10. That’s excluding wardrobe, photographer, make-up and creative director.

SALON TODAY: How soon before the deadline did you start developing your concept? What was your timeline like (hiring models, photographer, stylist, make-up, etc.)?

Ruiz: I like to have a concept ready to go three to four months prior to the shoot. I first book the photographer and shoot date and then work back from there, booking the make-up artist, wardrobe stylist and models.

SALON TODAY: Did you have a specific vision from the start that the team helped execute or was the whole team involved in the concept? What was your creative process like?

Ruiz: I take a very Tim Gunn/Project Runway approach to the creative process. I share with the team my vision for the shoot: “Designers, here’s your challenge,” and they then build on that vision through storyboarding.

They pull inspiration that they feel supports the vision. We all meet, put the images up on one board and begin to look for commonalities. We then break up the images into categories (i.e. texture, hair cutting, avant-garde, color, etc.). We assign each category to the already appointed team lead whose strength lies within that category.

Like Tim Gunn, as they are working if I see them straying too much from the vision I will reign them back in. This process seems to really work for us.

SALON TODAY: What would you do differently if you entered again?

Ruiz: I would have scheduled a day to review wardrobe. We went into the shoot having previously discussed wardrobe concepts but not having seen the items we would be working with.There were definitely some additional items I would have liked to have. By having done a walk-through a couple days before it would have given the stylist additional time to pull the items I felt we still needed.

SALON TODAY: What do you think set you apart from the others in your category, making you the winner?

Ruiz: A Salon Team entry should be a collective effort, supported by images showcasing a wide-range of skills. We tried to show a full-range of everything. I really think our process for selecting a team based on individual strengths really lends to that end result.

SALON TODAY: How important is the dynamic on the team? Did personalities ever clash? Were disagreements productive in the end?

Ruiz: I think having one creative director with final say keeps team disagreements to a minimum. Some people’s work won’t make the cut and they get that. That’s also what motivates them.

SALON TODAY: What advice would you give to a salon team that’s considering entering this category? Was it a good team-building process?

Ruiz: Putting a group of hairdressers together is like herding cats. You really need to have one person who’s creative director and keeps the team on track of the vision. Based on that, my advice would be to watch Project Runway and decide who is going to be Tim Gunn and then empower them with full leadership and creative direction.

Having a creative director for your shoot is key to its success.

SALON TODAY: Finally, how did the experience help you in your every day work at the salon?

Ruiz: The work my team does behind the chair every day is their bread and butter. These team shoots are a creative outlet for them. It keeps them motivated and gives them a voice in the industry. They get to show the work off to their peers and their clients. At the end of the day having a motivated and inspired staff is critical to running a successful salon business.

Interview conducted and story written by Laurel Nelson, contributing editor for SALON TODAY.