The Next Plateau

In light of current economic conditions, the ISBN conference plans an event focused on helping members grow by cutting costs and seizing unique opportunities. As a preview, Mel Kleiman, a recruitment expert and the conference’s keynote speaker, reveals his top tips on how to recruit and hire the best employees.

When the members of the International Salon and Spa Business Network gather May 31 through June 2 for their annual conference at the Ritz-Carlton in Amelia Island, Florida, there’s no doubt the popular beach of the luxurious barrier island’s hotel will be tempting. But it’s the invigorating mix of pertinent speakers, roundtable sessions and exhibitors that promise to excite and motivate participants.   

With an overall focus on the strategic decisions that will keep salons “in the black” in these leaner times, ISBN invited Mel Kleiman, an international authority on employee recruiting, selection and retention practices. Now president of Humetrics, Kleiman at one time was the single largest owner of Hertz Rent-a-Car franchises, which gave him unique insight into successfully hiring hourly employees.

Kleiman feels that many industries—including the professional salon and spa industry—suffer from the plague of the warm body. “From the salon industry to home health care to security guards—all these industries have one common denominator—your people are your product,” he says. “The most important decision you make every day is who you allow in the door to take care of your customers.”

In preparing for his ISBN address, the Hire Tough, Manage Easy author shares a few of his strategies with SALON TODAY readers:

ST: How should an owner prepare to interview potential employees?
Kleiman: Going through the hirinig process is like going to the grocery story. The number one mistake is shopping without a list. You don’t know what you’re looking for and don’t get everything you need. Another mistake is shopping when you are hungry. The same rules apply to hiring. Make a list of what you need in an employee, and don’t wait to interview people until you need them right away. Then, their most important attribute is the fact they can start tomorrow.

ST: We’re developing a shopping list. What things should be on it?
Kleiman: Just as there are four categories on the USDA Food Pyramid, there are four categories to consider when you are hiring:
  • Capacity: This forms the base of your pyramid. Is the candidate physically able to do the job? Is he or she smart enough to do it?
  • Attitude: This is the next level. The problem is that people are hired for what they know, but are fired for who they are. When it comes to statistics, only 13 percent of people are fired because they can’t do the job—most are fired because of their attitude. Dependability is an attitude; teamwork is an attitude; customer service is an attitude.
  • Personality: Companies have a personality—we call it a culture. The better you are at identifying a candidate whose personality matches your culture, the more effective that employee will be. Personality is more ingrained than attitude and more difficult to change. Whether a person is an introvert or an extrovert is personality; their level of attention to detail is personality. A successful personality is the one that’s not just motivated by things they like to do, but is willing to do the things they don’t like to do to be successful.
  • Skill: This is the top of the pyramid, whether the candidate has the necessary skill to do the job.
When you look at the pyramid, the bottom and the top (or capacity and skill) have the most exposed area—those are the things that are the easiest to discern. It’s the traits in the middle—attitude and personality—that are the hardest to discover. When you make your shopping list, look at each of these areas and decide what traits a candidate needs to become a successful employee.

ST: In addition to making the list, you caution that there’s homework an owner needs to do before they go shopping. What is that?
Kleiman: There are five questions you need to ask yourself before inviting in candidates for an interview:
  1. Are you really committed to hiring A-list players? If not, that’s OK, but then you need to identify what level you are willing to hire and let that build your process for you.
  2. What are the reasons a candidate would want to work for your company? Make a list of the top 10 reasons a candidate should come to work for you. More than 95 percent of owners haven’t done this, but just going through the process helps you develop a sales pitch for your company.
  3. How easy do you make it for the people you would want to hire to find you and get into your process?
  4. How will you know when you have the best candidate?
  5. What will you do to retain them once you’ve got them?

ST: Where should an owner look for the best employees?
Kleiman: Stop shopping among the people who are looking for jobs. First, have you ever had great people work for you who have left? Start by trying to bring them back. One woman came up after a session and admitted that a competitor called looking for a reference on a former great employee. She told the caller she’d have to get the former employee’s permission first, then called the former employee herself and made her an offer. Why give away the best employees if you can get them to come back to work for you?

The second best source of candidates is from your present employees and best customers. Ask your clients why they come to you. Find out if they go anywhere else for other salon services and find out whom they see.

Remember, the best person to hire is someone else’s frustrated employee. If all the best people are already working, then you have to think about how available you are for interviewing. Be available to schedule interviews early in the morning and late at night.

ST: How do you identify the best employees when interviewing?
Kleiman: Never interview with a resume in front of you. I wouldn’t even ask for a resume—they are just marketing tools. If you interview off a resume, then you’re following the information the candidate wanted you to follow, and you are no longer controlling the interview.

Instead, hand them an application and ask them to fill it out completely, then see how they follow the directions. If they can’t or won’t follow directions, then you don’t want to hire them.
Then, I’d hand them a voucher and tell them, “If I hire you, you’ll never look at this salon from a customer’s perspective again. I want you to set up an appointment for a service, then come back and give me a complete report—tell me what went right and what went wrong.”

When they report back, note if they can recognize good customer service. Are they smart enough to pick up on possible concerns?

ST: What’s the best interview question to ask every candidate?
Kleiman: Most of us ask candidates to tell us about their last job—but they are prepared for the question and it’s kind of like watching a movie backward. I like to ask them about the first job they ever had, whether it was as a waiter or a babysitter, and ask what they learned from that experience.

ST: What’s the best system for interviewing candidates?
Kleiman: It’s best to develop a structured interviewing process and, remember, the more you know about the candidate, the less you risk. Involve your organization’s best people in the process. It’s good to have more than one of you in the room when interviewing. You’ll be more likely to concentrate on the candidate rather than the question, and having an extra person in the room can have a dramatic effect on the responses. You’ll also have a second opinion to help you decide.

For the Long Haul

In light of Mel Kleiman’s address, ISBN members weigh in with the staffing strategies that have weathered the test of time in their own companies:

“We interview and hire based on four core values that our staff agreed upon—respect, teamwork, friendliness/image and customer service. Of course we look at technical skills as well. When we do make a hire, the new person is put on a 45-day trial period, and our staff takes a vote at the end if we should make the new hire permanent. We tell candidates about this upfront, and many eliminate themselves from the process. Because we share a portion of our profit with staff members as a bonus at the end of the year, they really take ownership in the hiring system and have a vested interest in hiring employees who will help us grow overall.”
—Larry Walt
Owner, Design 1 Salons, with four locations surrounding Grand Rapids, Michigan

“We’ve been in business more than 70 years and have a history and brand recognition in our market that attracts candidates. Our company has a training salon that operates under the name Gould’s Exchange. When we hire new stylists, they start at the training salon and work from six months to a year depending on how they progress. They work on real clients every day, and on Mondays are required to attend classes to help them develop their skills. They receive a guaranteed salary against commission, advanced education and benefits. The training salon serves as a continuation of the interview process, providing us with the ability to assess not just their technical skills but how well they communicate and interact with clients. It’s a process that works well for us—we always have a waiting list of stylists wanting to work at the training salon.”
—Philip Gould
Owner, Gould’s Salons and Spas with 14 locations surrounding Memphis, Tennessee

“With six locations and a school, we try to work with what’s in our stables and groom from within. When new hires come from our school, we know who they are and what kind of behavior they’ll exhibit. Having them as students gives us the ability to really choose who has potential and a strong work ethic, as well as the right attitude and personality.”
—Paul Brown
Owner, Paul Brown Salons and Spas, with six locations throughout Hawaii

“Some of the best prospects are those who are referred to us by our staff members. I spend a lot of time going into schools and giving classes on motivation, inspiration and career path opportunities. Although you can never discredit technical ability, 90 percent of an employee’s success is dependent on their communication skills. When a candidate comes in, I’ll spend about 90 minutes talking with them. I look for people who smile a lot, I look at their appearance, I note if they are on time, and I ask why they wanted to become a hairdresser. Sometimes that will reveal whether they truly have a passion for the craft. I have each candidate interview with three different people so we can compare notes, and I always ask them to take the weekend and think it over before accepting.”
—Carlton Whitaker
Owner, The Spa at Mitchell’s, with two locations near Raleigh, North Carolina


Survive and Thrive

At the ISBN conference, a series of planned roundtable discussions will focus on helping salon and spa owners control costs and drive sales in these difficult economic times. The sessions, limited to about 10 participants each, are designed to be intensely focused and highly interactive. To date, sessions include:

  • Maximize Market Share. While everyone else is slowing down, now is your chance to make your move. This session provides marketing tips designed to help gain market share while the economy is in a downturn. Moderated by Doreen Belliveau, director of marketing, Chatters Canada and Sam Lennes, GoLoyal Inc.
  • Cash is King (But Financing is Still Available). Tips for obtaining financing in tight credit markets. Moderated by Scott Perry, vice president, Sport Clips.
  • Real Estate is a Buyer’s Market. Tips for leveraging your bargaining position with landlords and developers. Capitalize on better rent rates and tenant improvement allowances to take advantage of once-in-a-decade opportunities.
  • Cut Costs Without Sacrificing Quality. Tips on scrutinizing your operating expenses for cost-cutting opportunities that won’t affect the quality of service your company offers.
  • Tighten the Front Desk. What are the cost-cutting and revenue-enhancing opportunities at your front desk? Once you identify them, how do you engage your team to act on the best opportunities? Moderated by Tom Kuhn, Qnity, and Jeanine Blackwell, SalonBiz.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.