Your staff members are artists by nature, yet the day-in, day-out conveyor belt of clients just wanting a ‘little off the top' or ‘a few highlights for Spring' can stifle creativity over time. Some wise owners are learning how to cultivate and celebrate that creativity, while harnessing its power for some great salon PR and marketing.

Every year, the 580 employees of the seven Charles Penzone Family of Salons and Spas (charlespenzone.com) gather together in Columbus, Ohio, for a few days of education, recognition and inspiration. When a fashion show of styles by the salon's creative teams drew rave reviews at last year's special 40th anniversary celebration, owners Charles and Debra Penzone knew they were on to something big.

2010 Vision: Engage Your Employees
One of the many great creations from Project Penzone. (Photo credit: Jennifer Schaaf of JOJO Photography and Film)

After HABHA; the model, Habitude owner Inez Gray, winning stylist Lauren McThewson and salon director JJ Wrighton.

Engage your staff by helping them flex their creative muscles within the professional beauty industry. Look into the some of following competitive opportunities:

Matrix Mannequin Mania: Express your creativity and talent by styling a mannequin head however you choose. (Mannequinmania.com)

North American Hairstyling Awards: Each year, this beauty photography competition recognizes individuals in 13 categories of excellence during a star-studded awards ceremony. (Probeauty.org)

Sebastian's What's Next Awards: Create a unique and edgy look to support the current volume focus theme. Upload a photo of your creation and await your fame fate. (Whatsnextawards.com)

Stars Photo Competition: Create a collection and submit the photography to win a membership in America's Beauty Network, your work in MODERN SALON and a cash prize. (americasbeautynetwork.com)

Trend Vision 2010: Choose your favorite trend from Wella's Trend Vision 2010 and interpret in your own way. Photograph a model, fi ll out an entry form and send it to well.com. Winners have the chance to represent the U.S. and compete in the International Trend Vision Awards in Paris. (wella.com)

This year, Debra and a team of her staff worked with an event planner to ratchet up that idea another notch. They conceived "Project Penzone," a runway beauty and fashion competition inspired by Heidi Klum's hit show, Project Runway. Debra sent kits to each of the Penzone salons- one to the smaller salons and up to six at the larger Grand Salons. Each kit included a basic black dress, a wig and $25 dollars for materials or supplies. Each of the salons formed teams to work on the models-incorporating the black dress into a fashion look, while also designing the hair, makeup and nails.

"Most of salons developed their own themes," says Debra. "For example, there was a bird theme, a Vintage Victorian theme, an Alice in Wonderland theme, an Elvis theme and a Lady Gaga theme," says Debra. "Everyone really got into it-even the Call Center did a model.I heard stories about teams staying late at night to work on their models and practice. My phone has been ringing off the hook from salon managers telling me how the activity has pulled the teams together. I've even had calls from clients wanting to come to the show."

While clients weren't invited this year, all the company's employees and their families were, as well as three outside judges who selected the winning salon. "I was amazed at the creativity, and it was a fun way to learn some of the hidden talents of our staff. These stylists aren't fashion designers, but I couldn't get over the creative things they did with those black dresses, the fi nished hair, make-up and nails. They could be on the runway in New York or Paris," she says.

Because of interest, Debra is looking for ways to share the results with her client communities and is considering inviting them to next year's event. "We had a professional photographer at the show and I'm buying digital frames for all the salon locations so we can showcase the looks- and we've been posting the images on Facebook and Twitter."

At Habitude Salon and Spas (habitude.com) in Seattle, Washington, Owner Inez Gray and Salon Director JJ Wrighton brainstormed ways to begin developing an artisitic team with the overall goal of competing one day in the North American Hairstyling Awards. This year to inspire creativity and promote team camaraderie, Habitude hosted their own version of NAHA, which they playfully titled the HABHA.

"We kicked it off by doing a Power Point presentation of past NAHA winning images during a staff powwow to get the buzz happening and the juices fl owing," says Gray. "We cut out cool pictures and put them on a preliminary sign-up in the back room, then created an application form to make it official. When we started patting people on the back and encouraging them to get involved, mannequins began to appear in the backroom and downtime turned into creative brainstorming, color and updo sessions."

Eighteen Habitude professionals, supported by the salon's team of apprentices, threw their hats in the ring. Some approached the models, who were clients and friends, as a team and others went solo. Ross Taylor, one of the salon's multi-talented senior stylists served as artistic director and did all the photography and retouching. "For our newer stylists, this was educational-this is what NAHA is," comments Gray. "For our more senior stylists, I think it created two trains of thought, one was, ‘Wow, this is possible, I could do this!'or ‘Wow, this is harder than it looks!'"

Habitude invited local celebrities to come and judge the runway style show, which Gray incorporated into a local Saturday Artwalk event, which included drinks, food, music, the images on-screen and a runway show. After the runway show, contestants joined their models on stage to answer questions about their designs. The winner, Lauren Mcthewson, won an all expenses paid trip to this year's NAHA.

"I am really proud of what JJ achieved in putting this all together-it was a fantastic way to win the admiration of the team and engage the stylists in a creative pursuit. It brought them all together and inspired us all," says Gray. "It's also been a terrific recruiting venue for us-hairdressers want to work in salons that are doing interesting and creative work."

She warns: "Our artistic team is working together beautifully and learning a lot-we just finished our first Signature Collection, ‘Ingenuous.' Look out NAHA, here we come!"

More articles in this series, 2010 Vision: The New Rules of Engagement:
2010 Vision: Engage New Business
Engage Your Employees
Engage Your Conscience
Engage Through Marketing
Engage Your Social Media Networks
Engage Your Budget
Engage Through Accountability
Engage Without Compromise
Engage Our Future

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