SALON TODAY 200: Timothy John’s Salon Snaps Back
SALON TODAY 200: Timothy John’s Salon Snaps Back

Our SALON TODAY 200 Series dives deeper in the best business practices of the this year's honorees. In this profile, the New York-based Timothy John's Salon struggles after the reopening when its former commuter clients are working from home, so the owners do some grassroots markeing, introducing themselves to local businesses and inviting in influencial neighbors for complimentary services. As the appointment books fill up, the owners adapt their recruiting and onboarding strategies to get new staff on the books quicker.

New York closed up tight in 2020. Vacant subways, locked shops, a dark Broadway. No hustle, barely any bustle. It wasn’t the NYC anyone had seen before.

Steadily successful, Timothy John’s Salon had planned to move around the corner from a side street to a more prominent spot, with double the space, on 8th Avenue. Building permits came through on March 18, the same day that the city officially shut down. The salon relied on its reserve during the 14-week lockdown and, when it opened, business came back—but only for a short time.

“The rush of guests was insane for about three weeks,” recalls David Spangenthal, who owns the salon with his husband Timothy Differt. “Then it slowed down to 50 percent below pre-pandemic service totals.”

The owners pushed ahead with their relocation plans, and in just two months they were ready to launch their eight-chair, 970-square-foot salon. They installed a state-of-the-art air filtration system and embraced the strictest COVID safety precautions—smocks, goggles, biweekly testing—and required masking for both staff and guests for two full years. They removed one station to facilitate the social distancing.

“Even though we continued to maintain all of the protocols, moving gave us a new sense of freedom,” Spangenthal recalls. 

Beautiful, New, and Empty

But while the staff felt safe to return, the guests had no reason to come into the city. The salon’s clientele fell largely into two categories: commuters and Broadway people. The commuters were working remotely from home, and Broadway was shuttered. That left some walk-ins but not much else. After that first rush of people showed up desperate for a haircut, things got very quiet.

“Timothy and I would sit in our new, beautiful salon, looking through a spectacular window onto busy 8th Avenue, and we’d see plenty of people walking on the street,” Spangenthal says. “We came to the conclusion it was time to rebuild this business as if we were starting over. And that’s what we did.”

A Grass-Roots Rebuild

Differt and Spangenthal started with what was right in front of them—the people walking along the street who, the duo assumed, probably worked somewhere close by. So they canvassed the neighborhood, inviting employees of neighboring establishments to enjoy complimentary services. 

“We invited the entire staff of a neighboring nail salon to enjoy complimentary blowouts at our salon company,” Spangenthal reports. “Within days, the nail techs began walking their guests, hand in hand, to our salon to experience our services.” They repeated this pattern with the local coffee shop, the Verizon hub, the eyeglasses store, and apartment buildings. Soon everyone from wait staff and busboys to doormen and vision technicians, along with some of their patrons, were filling the chairs at Timothy John’s.

Although they’d been in business just around the corner for 20 years, Differt and Spangenthal had never really been part of the neighborhood the way they were now. The area may be called “Hell’s Kitchen,” but it was becoming heaven’s gate for Timothy John’s.

“We had always been so busy that we neglected to build relationships with the small business owners in our very own community,” Spangenthal reflects. “Now we are showing community involvement, and complimentary services give our junior stylists and associates a great way to get their hands in hair. They’ll get at least a tip and build a relationship to maybe have a future guest.”

Making it Stick

To turn these one-time freebie clients into a regular, reliable clientele, the owners revived another basic strategy they’d abandoned long ago: a welcome packet. On the first visit, the client receives a 20% discount on all home care purchases. When rebooked during the first visit, the second visit activates a $20 discount on the service, and the third visit offer is a complimentary treatment service. Through this and its traditional stellar customer service practices, the salon has been achieving a 79% retention rate.

“We are a Summit Salon,” says Spangenthal, now a Summit coach. “We focus on growth through average tickets, retail sales, and rebooking.” 

Staffing for Growth

The surge in business in a larger space has created urgency in hiring additional staff. The Timothy John’s team had been together for years, the members proving themselves through a rigorous training process followed by long loyalty. But now onboarding had to happen quickly—for a team-based-pay salon in an economy with a shortage of stylists.

“We’re adjusting our culture,” Spangenthal says. “In our old salon, which had five chairs and 450 square feet, we curated a team of individuals who were very like-minded. They focused on exceptional work, valued great education, and were really easy to deal with as employees. We were a tight group, an engaged team.”

Now the owners are finding they’re in a different niche market. They’re also in a hurry.

In New York City, stylists are like apartments,” Spangenthal laughs. “If you don’t put down that deposit, you won’t get one! So if someone walks in the door and looks like they could be a good fit in the salon, we offer them the job.” 

It’s not as risky as it seems; the job offer is really just to spend time in the salon before the owners make a final decision. But the difference is that the owners are open to more types of personalities and aesthetics. And instead of exclusively growing their own talent as they had in the past, the owners now welcome experienced stylists, too. 

“If they take that risk with us, I’ll take a risk on them,” Spangenthal explains. “We hire them at Level 1, observe them, and assess their skills to determine which level is appropriate for their skill set.”

Real-time observation is key, Spangenthal says, because “Instagram doesn’t show me whether you are a generous team member or a selfish artist who won’t help the next stylist.”

The owners stay true to the salon’s heart and core.

“We stand our ground on who we are,” Spangenthal says. “We tell them that we’d like them to join our company, but we have a beautiful, systematic way of running things that we’re not going to change.”

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