Phil Jackson, Salon Owner and Salon Marketing Expert

How to interview – arsehole style

First up: this is not for everyone.  You need to be in the right industry and targeting the right level (remember from my last blog? we’re targeting young, raw, potential hairdressing talent – not middle-aged sales managers).  I wouldn’t exclude this from recruiting qualified staff but the process is designed to weed out talent from a big lunch of candidates really quickly.  You also need balls the size of melons.

Second up: I did not come up with this process for recruiting.  It is taken from a much cleverer guy than me called Nigel Botterill – I’ve taken the idea, tweaked it for the industry and in no way am I passing this off as my own inventiveness.

Quick disclaimer.  Candidates have legal rights before you even send out a job offer or rejection letter.  Don’t take this blog as legal advice – and if you think good legal advice is free you’re a muppet.  Pay for good legal advice and follow it.

What’s the job?

You need to start with a really clear, fair idea of what the job is and the type of person you’re looking to recruit.  The job description should be really crystal-clear but keep the person profile a little looser.  Apart from anything, you can get in a LOT of trouble by deciding you want 5’11” 21 year-old girls with long legs and blonde hair.  Also you need to keep yourself open to the odd curve-ball.  You might think you need one type of person but in fact be impressed by someone very different.  My person profiles are more personality-based.  For example, if I have an assistant team who is nice but kind of lazy, hard to leave unsupervised for long or disorganised, I’ll be looking for someone who is assertive, who can demonstrate leadership potential even on a small scale or someone who just comes across as plain bossy!

Go through your pile of applicants comparing each with the job description and person profile – NOT with each other – that’s the quickest way to employ merely the best of a bad bunch.  If you have to reject ALL of the applicants, do so.

Send the job description to remaining candidates with their interview letter.

Interview arrangements

Here’s the bit that takes some balls.  You’re going to make the interview a bit of a bitch.  The interview letter should be a little vague – maybe even leaving off your address.  Just say it will be held “at our Smallville salon”.  If the applicants can’t pick up the phone to ask for directions or do a little Google research, you don’t want them.  Make the interview at a dumb time in the morning.  My last batch of interviews for the post of receptionist were at 7am.  I had 2 applicants call me to ask if this was a mistake and 3 ask to reschedule.  Stick to your guns – you want to weed out any that are inflexible.  It might seem harsh, particularly as we never open the salon before 8am, but I want people that, when it really counts, can make the necessary arrangements to impress.

At 7 am PRECISELY, lock the door.  No latecomers allowed.  You can allow them to reapply at a later date if you like, I don’t.  I do find lateness disproportionately offensive, so make your own call.

If you think that’s harsh …

Arrange ALL of the interviews for 7am.  The first stage is going to be a group exercise.  Put all your applicants on one side of the room.  Ask them, in turn, to tell you ONE thing about your business.  It can be anything, but it can’t be something someone else has already said.  If they can give you a fact, tell them to go stand the other side of the room or even go into a different room.  If they can’t they stay where they are.  If you are nice, you can come back to the people who struggled and see if they suddenly remember some little nugget they want to share.  I’m not that nice.

When everyone has had a chance to speak, tell those who couldn’t tell you anything that unfortunately, the interview is over for them.  You just saved yourself (and the applicants) a whole bunch of time – and you haven’t even eaten into your salon hours yet.  Be kind – remember that your applicants will be on Facebook the second they leave your salon – make sure they are saying good things.  Treat them with respect and emphasise the need for a good fit between employer and applicant – it’s not them, it’s you and your funny ways.  you don;t have to mean it.

Now you get to talk to individuals

NEVER interview on your own.  You won;t be working with these guys in isolation – it just isn’t fair.  My interview has AT LEAST 2 interviewers, preferably 3 including: myself, a person the applicant will be working WITH on the same level, and a person the applicant will be working FOR.  Go through your list of interview questions ahead of time (I’ll share mine in a future post), talk about possible responses that would be positive, and those that are negative.  Keep the interview friendly (if you’re not enjoying their company, your customers won’t either) but don;t be afraid of silence.  Applicants nearly always feel the need to fill silence – very often with a closer version of the truth.  Make immense amounts of notes and take a Polaroid – I know it’s old-school but you need an instant print.

Keep the other applicants waiting.  This bit is unfortunate and can come off as rude – I always temper the news with the fact that they will find out the very same day whether or not they will be offered a job.

Compare notes

Both with each other and referring closely to the job description and person profile.  If nobody fits the position, reject them all, there and then.  If you have one position to fill and two strong applicants, reject the rest then re-interview – if you still can’t decide call your accountant and take them both (you have a probationary period in your offer letter, don’t you?)

NEVER ignore your advisors – what is the point of bringing them in to the process if you weren’t going to listen? – but ultimately the decision has to be yours.  Live by the sword, die by the sword – if you make a duff decision own it and rectify it quickly.

Decide and tell them immediately

You don’t have to have your offer letter typed up and ready to go.  Be sensitive to those you are declining – they got through to the last stage of a tough process and you need to recognise that.    You can tell them in a group if you have more than one to decline – remove those candidates that aren’t right for this job, but that you’d like to call on again in the future.

With the ones you’re offering jobs to I would always do that individually.  Can you imagine offering 3 guys jobs and two of them saying they now don’t want it?  Tell them you’d like to offer them a job then get it to them in writing the same day – candidates that are waiting around have a horrible habit of going for more interviews.

Something to add?  Let me know!

Phil xxx

When is a salon client “lost”?

I reckon you should be sending a number of emails every month to customers who aren’t returning and spending their lovely money with you, but just when IS customer is “lost”?

This is a tricky one and where to draw the line varies a lot between salons, but I can share some loose guidelines that will help you to decide.

What is a “lost client”?

A client who isn’t current – somewhere along the line they haven’t rebooked.  The tricky thing is knowing when they are “lost” and when they are “infrequent” – we all have those customers who think an annual trim is all they need.

Why do I need to know?

So that we can market to them, bring them back into the fold and make them “current” again. These are people who have responded to your marketing in the past and are familiar with your brand – assuming you didn’t really piss them off, getting them back should be easier than trying to market to a cold prospect.

What, say, after a year?

I think that’s waaaay too long.  If you have a client visiting every 8 weeks, she’ll have been to another salon 6 times in a year.  It’s safe to assume the salon she chose isn’t completely useless, so she will have started building loyalty to that salon and getting her back will be really tough.

So shall we say 7 weeks then?

That’s probably too soon for a hair salon, though it might suit, say, a nail salon where you’d expect a customer to return frequently for fill-ins.  If you email discounts to hair customers after 7 weeks, you’ll be discounting services for all those lovely loyal clients who happen to leave it 8, 9 or 10 weeks between cuts.  That will hurt your profitability really quickly.

Stop dicking about – how long then?

It really depends on how long your clients tend to leave it between visits.  If your average is, say 6 weeks you can probably assume clients are wandering off after about 12 weeks.  If your average is 8 weeks you could consider making the cutoff later.  I wouldn’t go much higher than about 15 or 16 weeks though.

You’ll need to monitor and tweak this a couple of times a year, and definitely if it feels like you’re discounting a lot of visits that would have happened anyway.

What do I need to ask my reception system?

  1. Your average return visit period in weeks – you should be monitoring this as one of your salon KPIs anyway.  If you can’t find it, call support.
  2. A list of customers with email addresses who haven’t returned for approximately double your average return visit period.  DON’T just extract it and send the first few times – cast your eye over it and see if there are names of customers you KNOW aren’t “lost” – it probably means you’ve set the criteria a little too low.

So I know who is “lost”, what now?

Now you need to come up with a cracking offer to win them back.  Nobody is truly lost forever until they’ve unsubscribed from your “lost” list and don’t want to hear from you again.

Or they died.

Got an amazing response on a “lost” client offer?  Send it over – I’d love to share it!


They unsubscribed – my life is over

What did you do wrong? This hurts!  You’ve put more effort into hitting the right note with those emails than attention to your relationship with your spouse these last few days.  How dare they?

I know how you feel – you’ve worked so hard collecting data from your existing customers and maybe grown your list with some advertising, a couple of lead magnets and a competition.  Your list is all complete and fluff, up-to-date and healthy.  You crafted your emails carefully – they’re direct, full of lovely clear calls to action and smoking hot offers – and then someone unsubscribes.  Maybe – brace yourself – a whole bunch of people left you.

The bastards!!

Even worse, that first unsubscribe had the sheer nerve to SMILE and TIP YOU A FIVER last time she was in – but by hitting “unsubscribe” she obviously hates your guts.  SO TWO-FACED!  Can no-one be trusted?!

I’m exaggerating a little, but believe me a version of these feelings dogged me every day when I first began seriously marketing to my email database.  Here’s the one tip that saved my sanity:

You know the little update that Mailchimp sends you telling you every time someone unsubscribes?

Turn it off!

You’re stressing unnecessarily.  In fact, unsubscribes are good news … I promise!  It’s all a question of where you put your focus.  Don’t worry about unsubscribes and think instead of what is left. Even if your remaining subscribers didn’t click the link you gave them or pick up the phone they are still happy to hear from you.

So, over time, what’s left?  A whole database of people who expect to hear from you and are happy to receive your news.  As long as your content remains good your open rates, engagement and conversions should all rise as those nasty ditchers fall by the wayside.

Of course you should never stop trying to grow your list, and remember that as you stretch the boundaries away from your existing customers unsubscribes are more and more likely.

Relax – you’re doing great.  Keep the faith.  Send another email!


Don’t kid yourself – they are still tough times!

It’s been HORRIBLE!

The last few years have been the toughest time we’ve faced and though I can’t tell you how to avoid the effects of recession (a small business can’t hope to turn the tide of a whole economy) I can explain how we’ve managed and give out a couple of tips I wish I’d had five years ago.

1. You have to spend. It’s unavoidable. Rent, rates, materials, stock, marketing and wages are part of the financial ebb and flow. The recession has been a great kick-up-the-bum for us to review how we spend. Every cost has been reviewed line by line and we’ve cheekily asked for discounts, reductions and better terms from everyone we deal with. Some suppliers have helped, some we’ve switched, some we’re stuck with and some wouldn’t help. What’s the worst that can happen? I’m not scared of “no”.

2. Continue to spend where it makes a difference. Some costs can be shaved without your customers even noticing. They don’t care that your toilet bleach comes from Poundland and your milk is from One-Stop (cheapest in our town – I’ve checked!). But some things do show – less apprentices, nasty coffee, cheap shampoos at the basins. Yeah, you can save a few quid, but unless you’re charging less you can’t afford to cheapen the experience. Someone much cleverer than me told me about the Price/Experience Match. Look it up: obvious stuff but so many places get it wrong. Bear in mind that your customers are having a tough time too – but I bet they don’t want to be reminded of how crappy things are out there.

3. Be harsh. Unprofitable services? Ditch ’em. Carrying dead weight staff? Bye-Bye. Even customers can be unprofitable and in tough times you really can’t afford any passengers. The nice thing is, everyone knows what you’re up against and my team have been fab when I’ve asked them for an extra ounce of sweat. Be aware of knock-ons though: getting rid of an unprofitable service is fine, but if the same customers are spending elsewhere in the business you must factor that in too.

4. Stick to the plan. You know, your business plan – your strategy. You do have one, don’t you?? Assuming you do, stick to your guns. Our strategy is a living, breathing, scribbled out, Tipp-Exed monster which gives us direction in everything. I could be run over by a bus tomorrow and someone else should be able to pick it up and carry on (assuming they can decipher my horrendous writing). Our goals haven’t changed much over the last couple of years, but the timescales certainly have. This isn’t the same as simply re-setting goals that you’ve missed, it’s adapting the strategy as conditions changed.

5. Play the long game. It’s tempting to reduce headcount and cut investment in training and equipment, but recessions (even double-dips) won’t last forever. Ensure that you have the capacity and equipment to grow when things improve. What’s more, with a lower cost base and a keener team you’ll be well-placed to thrive over the next couple of years. Should give you enough time to stash some cash for the next recession 😉


Where did all the stylists go? Part 1: How NOT to recruit in hairdressing!

It’s been a tough year as far as staff turnover goes.  I’ve always been really proud of Bravo’s low staff turnover, but this year I had to eat my words.  We lost 3 stylists and one apprentice in less than 6 months.  To put that into context, that’s about half of my team.  Not good.

This post isn’t about the reasons.  The shift in business strategy has brought a ton of change and I don’t blame my staff for struggling with that: it’s my fault for not managing the change effectively.  This post is about the death of traditional recruitment, at least in hairdressing.  No swan song, no long slow decline.  Dead in a year.  Scary stuff!


Let me tell you what I was up against.  Stylist number one left – nice long notice period to go travelling for two years.  We had a couple of apprentices nearly at completion so I didn’t panic.  Though the strategy was to increase headcount this year I should still have been on track.  I put a half-hearted Facebook ad out there and watched precisely nothing happen.  My fault – I had no idea about Facebook ads at the time.

A couple of months later stylist number two hands in her notice.  Proper notice period and she’s leaving the industry so no poaching will occur, but this is a blow.  It makes my progression plans for the next few years vulnerable and staff morale has taken a dive.  I panic for a day, then get to work.  There’s no chance of sleep so that night I manage to achieve:

  1. An online ad with Hairdresser’s Journal International recruitment.  This is our industry ‘bible’.  It’s BOUND to work! Cost of £99 for a month.
  2. I get a Fiverr freelancer to draft a recruitment ad for me and put a rush on it at a cost of $20.  Bargain.  I use it as a Facebook post.  Cost £0.
  3. I place the ad in our local Newbury Weekly News for a week.  It has great local readership.  The ad is funky.  It’s catchy.  It costs me £66.90 + VAT.

By morning I’m feeling smug.  I have handled this!  The results leave me … well … less smug.

  1. HJi ad gets 68 views and gives me 4 applicants.  Three are entirely unsuitable with little or no experience at all.  One would be great.  If he was in the UK.  How I’m meant to arrange a trade test escapes me as our closest applicant is in Cyprus.  HJi want me to upgrade the ad.  I decline.
  2. Facebook post get a bit of reach and a few shares but doesn’t get any applicants.  Not really disappointing as our page is for customers and doesn’t really reach industry.
  3. Newbury Weekly News gets me one telephone enquiry from someone who then doesn’t apply.  And that’s it.

By the end of the week I’m anxious.  By the end of the month I’m drinking heavily and ready to offer a job to anyone.  Not good.  That’s when my senior stylist and assistant manager gives me two weeks notice and tells me he’s going to compete.  By the time my second year apprentice resigns I am fluctuating between numb and almost hysterical.

It’s time to ask for help.

It’s time to change the plan.

It’s time to innovate.

This is going to be fun!

Thank you Stroppy Cow of Newbury

There’s nothing I hate more than receiving salon complaints, but here’s a great example of how you CAN polish a turd and get a great result from the most disappointing start.  I got an email complaint from a mum who was angry that I’d refused an appointment for her 12 year old daughter for foil highlights.  I’d not even hesitated.  The use of oxidative colour on under-16s is not allowed in-salon any more, plus I think the mum’s job here is to make her daughter feel great about herself the way she is, not to start getting the boot in about her self-image. Now, I’ve been looking for ways to inject a little personality into the salon’s Facebook page for some time.  It’s really hard when you’re writing behind a company name to come across as anything other than faceless, so I put it out there. I typed a post saying that I’d had the complaint and asking if my followers thought I’d done the right thing.  2 minutes work, but a nice little conversation starter. I’m shamefully not one for examining the numbers too much on Facebook but I got:

Reach 3390

Like 108

Comments 26

Compare that to the last time I gave away over £60 of service in a sweepstake:

Reach 2728

Likes 49

Comments 37

Better reach, more personality, great brand positioning and virtually zero cost.  I love it!  So I’m taking the opportunity to say a big


to my stroppy complainer.  I learned that you don’t always have to “chuck it in the fuck-it bucket and move on”.  You can milk it, use it to start great conversations with your audience and THEN chuck it.

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