Van Counsels

Stacey Soble | October 24, 2018 | 2:25 PM
Van Council with his team and models on stage at Aveda Congress 2018.
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Van Council with the Van Michael team of artists presenting at the 2018 Aveda Congress.
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Harry Wood IV (in shades) gives a group of us a personalized tour of the Van Michael flagship in Buckhead..
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Less than a week after Stylist Harry Wood IV toured me through the Van Michael flagship in the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta where he hangs his shears, I found myself at a quiet table in the Press Room at Aveda Congress, having a frank conversation with the salon’s co-owner Van Council. It’s always a pleasure to explore the mind of a successful owner, and Van never disappoints in dropping a few pearls of managerial wisdom that can benefit any owner:

On keeping his clients: With seven salons and one barbershop in Atlanta, the Van Michael salons are positioned like a wheel, with the flagship in the center and the surrounding salons about three to five miles out in different directions. Not only does this, along with a healthy non-compete, discourage a stylist from leaving and pilfering the brand’s clients, but Van makes it clear he’ll do everything he can to keep every client.  “If a stylist leaves, I offer every one of their clients free services for a year and 75-80% of them will stay with the salon,” Van shares. “We did a consumer focus group a number of years ago, and when we asked participants if they would follow their stylist, 90% of them said yes. When we then said the salon would offer them a year of free services, 90% of the participants said they would stay with the salon.”

On raising the customer service bar: For Van the most important component of maintaining top-notch service is to educate every employee to go through each step of the salon’s performance wheel with every client. “That being said, we’ve tried different things over the years to up the experience. For example at one time, clients could get their cars washed while they had their appointment. Now we have phone chargers at every station and some stylists keep boxes at their station that will clean a client’s jewelry and keep it safe during the appointment. And, we hire people to hand write about 150 thank you notes to new clients that we have their stylists sign.”

On supporting his team’s success: Van has had several people who have launched complimentary businesses while working in the salon. For example, Wood developed the Six Figure Hairdresser education system and is busy building Back to You, an organization which helps stylists in helping cancer patients find wigs. And Brandon Darragh, who routinely brings in more than $200,000 a year, also finds success as an educator. “Horst once told me I shouldn’t give away my power, but I feel differently about it,” he says. “If someone wants to be star within their own right, but still be part of a successful team, I’ll do what I can to help them do it.”

On a hard lesson learned: Unlike many people I interview, Van didn’t dodge my tough questions, including, “If you’re life as an owner was a scrapbook, what page would you tear out?”  Around the year 2000, Van admitted he really stepped away from the salon while he built a mountain home and was contemplating retirement. “I had a wake-up call when I heard wind that a number of employees were planning on opening their own salon and taking their clients with them. We set up 15 minute one-on-one meetings with each one and I fired them all. The next day I was back in the salon cutting hair. I learned I had to do what it takes to lead the salon’s culture. I needed to be in it, or get rid of it.”

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