In a candid interview, NAHA Hall of Leaders winner Geno Stamporo shares what owners must do to get through the recession and the importance of optimism.
Geno Stemporo: Surviving the recession
Geno Stampora.
Photography by Roberto Ligresti

Genuine, Enthusiatic, Nostalgic and Optimistic-roll them together and you've got Geno Stampora, one of the professional salon industry's favorite consultants, authors and motivational speakers. His instantaneous connection to his audience and his message's effectiveness stem from the fact that over his long beauty career he's walked the walk of a hairdresser, owner, instructor, school owner and distributor.

After capturing the 2009 NAHA Hall of Leaders award, Stampora spoke with Editor Stacey Soble about what today's salons need to work on, the importance of staying involved and positive, and what exciting project he's working on next.

SALON TODAY: How did you get started in the professional beauty industry?
GENO STAMPORA: Basically, I fell into beauty school-it was nothing planned. I used to walk by a school every day, and that's where all the girls were. I went in to get my hair cut and meet some of the girls, and got talked into enrolling. I didn't think I'd be good at it, because I didn't think I was artistic, but I loved beauty school. In fact I never wanted to leave, and I've had an ongoing love affair with this industry ever since.

ST: Your career eventually led you to salon ownership, beauty school ownership and a distributorship-how did you become one of the industry's most-engaging speakers? Have you always been such a natural public speaker?
GS: When I was a salon owner, Paul Mitchell and John Paul DeJoria came in with the first product line that I ever wanted to commit to. And our staff really believed in it and committed to it. Later, my distributor told me I was selling more product out of my salon than his other salons put together, and he asked me to speak about retailing to other salons.

At the time, my staff found that amusing, because public speaking was very difficult for me. When I first started teaching classes to my staff, I was so nervous, I put up a great big mirror and talked to them through the mirror. It was a hurdle I had to overcome, and I went to Toastmasters for several years before I was comfortable doing it.

Catch some of Stacey Soble's interview with Geno Stampora. Stampora shares what he believes is the most important thing an owner can do for the professional beauty industry.

But when your heart is in the right place, there's always someone there to take you through the works. Sam Brocato, who owned the chain of Lockworks salons at the time, taught me how to be a better owner and leader. And, John and Maryann McCormack, owners of Visible Changes, helped me be a more inspiring speaker. I remember John telling me that as far as speakers go, I wasn't going to be one in a million, but with a lot of hard work I could be one in 100,000. He invited me to borrow his confidence in me until I developed my own. I began thinking if a successful chain salon owner believed in me, then maybe I could be good.

ST: When you are consulting in a salon, what do you tend to focus on?
GS: Too few salons understand the importance of continuous growth through advanced education. Many think if they hit one hair show a year with a big suitcase to fill up with product, they're doing a good job. And now, the recession is giving them a wall to hide behind-it's become everyone's favorite excuse. But, now is the time to reach out and grow your business, and you do that through education.
ST: How are salons reacting to the recession?
GS: There are a lot of salon owners who are scared to death, closing their shades and waiting it out. The weaker salons who've been doing OK until now are starting to fragment and fall apart. But, if there is a recession going on, you have to stand up and say, "I refuse to participate."

There are also some incredible salon companies setting the benchmarks for everyone else. As Walt Disney, one of my greatest heroes, used to say, "No one has a corner on brains. We'll keep moving forward and just let them try to copy us-they'll never catch up."

In the best salons, they continue to build that emotional relationship with their customers, and they are differentiating themselves to meet certain customers' needs-whether that's catering to a more mature audience, opening earlier and later for those who work, or establishing a hip, cool business that targets the edgier client. They are networking with each to improve their businesses and the industry overall, and they are becoming more involved with their communities, participating in charitable events.

ST: How should salons be responding to the recession?
GS: They need to focus on the simple things, such as how to improve that commitment to the customer and how to develop a trusting dialog that truly sells more services and products. Instead of one out of every 10 clients buying product, we need to get that ratio up to every five in 10. Owners need to have weekly meetings with their staff members and talk about the importance of the team. They have to start creating a culture, and look at how they can take the customer to where they've never been before. They need to read the trade magazines, join their associations, and network with one another-even join a business book of the month club. They need to pay closer attention to their businesses and look at where they can eliminate waste.

Know that what you focus on is the thing that tends to get done. But you can't just set yourself up as an example and expect your staff to follow-that's not the way young people learn. You have to engage their focus, and teach them. You have to get involved in salon education from all angles.

ST: You often speak of the importance of staying positive. Why?
GS: People who have a positive, motivated attitude are more approachable and more attractive and, as a result, they lead a better life and make more money. I was never a great cutter or colorist, and I often surrounded myself with staff who were much more talented. But they always wanted to know how I was booking 8-10 weeks out-it was all in how I make my clients feel. No one can make your clients feel the way you do-it's all about making them aware of their potential and helping them feel good about what they are becoming.

In a recent speech to 500-600 professionals, I asked, "Who has the worst problems?" Chances are you will think it's you, and I will think it's me. But when you are dealing with a client, what right do you have to share your problems, especially with someone who can't solve them? All you're going to do is make them feel bad.
It was a lesson I learned when I used to go to the barbershop with my dad. The barber always had a new joke and loved to give his clients a laugh.
You need to know attitude is a choice-you get to choose how you respond to life. Put life in perspective-it's great to be human in 2009, so start looking at all things you have, instead of all the things you don't.

ST: What are some of the most important steps owners should take for maintaining a strong business?
GS: First, develop a culture. Even if there are only four of you in your salon, you represent a culture. There's a quote I love that says, "In the absence of culture, there is culture-it's just not yours."

Secondly, develop a strong team based on mutual respect that doesn't waver. Basically, we're not a team-based industry. When the owner hires a new stylist, the rest of the team thinks about how that new hire will compete with each of them. The leader has to think about the team and how to enforce a true team at all times.
You also need to have weekly meetings-just 30 minutes where you get everyone engaged.

Help each staff member develop a new level of personal marketing. If you have 45 employees, and each one gets a new person into the salon every two weeks, you've got 90 new clients per month. If you love what you do and have passion for it, and share your story with everyone you meet, you'll draw in the crowds. I used to pay for first-class tickets when I traveled, and would share my story and business card with every other first class passenger.
For other businesses in your town you like to work with, consider it your obligation to tell everyone what they do and how they do it. When you make a professional recommendation, it comes back to you.
Finally, get serious about selling services and products. If I walked into most salons and gave staff a product knowledge test, 90 percent would fail-there's no excuse for that. Teach your staff about your product lines, and persuade them to indulge themselves in other services-how can you expect your stylist to convince a client to get a facial, if she doesn't get them herself?

ST: You are always working on something exciting, what's next?
GS: I'm working on a new project I'm really excited about. I was contacted recently by industry consultants Gina Dial and Janet Gordon to give a keynote address at My BIO, (My Beauty Inside and Out.) This one-day event is designed to pamper the minds and bodies of the wonderful spouses of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment at Fort Hood, Texas. While their spouses are serving their duty in Iraq, these women and men are single-handedly taking care of everything from childcare to home repairs to bill paying. Although they are often tired, lonely and scared, they are bravely and whole-heartedly supporting their soldiers. We wanted to celebrate their strength and endurance with a special event. After I jumped on board, JPMS's John Paul DeJoria agreed to address the crowd, and a number of companies donated products for gift bags. I can see this growing into an event we do all over the country.

Please read the related article, PBA's Beacon Program: Geno's Guiding Light

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