Martha Lynn Kale was no stranger to pivoting. She had a full career going in advertising, marketing, and media planning before getting off that train to attend cosmetology school, become a working hairdresser in a couple of salons, and ultimately open Mirror Mirror Salon in Austin, TX. She switched the compensation structure from booth rental to team-based commission.
Still, the pandemic challenged even a pivoting pro. In the recovery, Kale made customer service and training new talent her top priorities.
Changing the Language
Looking outside the industry for a customer service leader, Kale hired a restaurant industry professional with 17 years of experience. Under that new leadership, the front desk became the “Hospitality Team.” All procedures were detailed in the salon’s new comprehensive training manual. The language changed in developing new talent as well, with the title of “Educator” referring to any stylist who worked with the apprentices.
“This title change has had a positive impact on the program,” Kale reports. “Our top talent is reminded that it is their job to educate the apprentices each day, and it sets them apart from other senior stylists who also are incredible artists.”
Like many salons, Mirror Mirror experienced a staff turnover in 2020 that ended up benefitting the business.
“We welcomed many senior-level stylists from all over the country to our salon family,” Kale recalls. “It reinvigorated the entire team with fresh ideas and new perspectives.”
The salon was back to health when nature delivered yet another wake-up slap—an ice storm in January 2021 that left many Austin residents without power. The salon closed for a week, and Kale housed some of the team members in the office space above it. Just when they could have been brought to their knees, the Mirror Mirror staff coined the phrase #MirrorMirrorStrong—and sold merchandise around the new hashtag.
“This was just another way for us to take care of one another when times were scary and tough,” Kale says.
Facing challenges head-on by making necessary changes resulted in higher profits and six-figure incomes for the top stylists. It also helped Kale to freshen up a new salon culture based on long-held values.
“We are warm and welcoming to clients and behind the scenes to our colleagues,” Kale explains. “We are fun! People spend way too much time at work for it to not be fun! I like hearing laughter on the floor! We are innovative. We don’t want to look to other salons for inspiration; we innovate new systems, business models, and teaching methods.”
Building Strength Step by Step
While she says that her passion today is “helping my team members grow and reach goals that they never thought they could,” for many years Kale had to rely on her own fortitude. She credits family members with instilling that in her.
“I was raised by a single mom who was extremely successful,” Kale says. “She listened to Zig Ziglar and Tony Robbins while she drove us to school, so the mindset is ingrained in me. My husband gave me confidence as well. He saw the potential in me and really encouraged me to take chances. Without either of them, I wouldn’t have started my own business.” As she struggled with her career path, her step-dad, an entrepreneur, also encouraged her to think about ownership.
“He challenged me to think about what I enjoyed doing and how I could build a business,” Kale says. Eventually, her own growth pushed her forward.
“There were plenty of times in those first three years when I wanted to give up,” Kale recalls. “I was trying to build a business, I had a newborn baby, and I was dealing with postpartum depression. I was in a complete whirl. It would have been easy to quit. I didn’t, and I learned how much I needed work for my own health and for my family’s health.”
Passing Along Her Lessons
Kale lists eight tips for salon pros launching a business:
- Don’t be afraid to be a leader. It’s so intimidating when you start your own salon. You don’t think about the fact that your new clients will all have to leave their old salon. You have to stick your neck out and lead. Your team wants and needs someone to show them the way and bring them alongside.
- Identify your core values and hire people who share your core values. The right people for your business are everything! They will support you, trust you, and get in the trenches with you. On the flip side, the wrong people will get in the way of everything you do. Keeping them around will hold the rest back.
- Systems are your friend. In the interest of building a company that runs like a well-oiled machine, you will need systems, policies, and manuals. While that may seem rigid, it will actually provide more freedom for you and your team than you can imagine.
- Stay flexible and ready to evolve. Yes, you need systems. But you must also be ready, willing, and able to adapt! Innovation is a superpower. In business, you need to continue to evaluate and innovate!
- Don’t be afraid to fail. You will mess up. You will try things that will not work. You will let people down. That’s okay. If you don’t take chances or try things, you won’t know what does work!
- Take breaks. You will get tired if you don’t take breaks. You will burn out.
- Treat others as you want to be treated. Treating people the way you want to be treated—both your customers and your team—is really all it takes. When it’s time to make a business decision or create an experience for customers, come back to The Golden Rule
- Don’t run your business based on how you think others are running their businesses. It’s normal to look around and see how others run their businesses. It’s helpful to keep an eye on competitors. But trusting your instincts and paving your own path is the way to go.
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