One Size Fits All

Cole’s Salon for You in the suburbs of Minneapolis, Minn., has a charmed history that sounds like the makings of a feel-good Disney movie: small two-man barbershop for kiddies expands when clients outgrow its child-sized chairs — then keeps growing and growing into five world class full-service salons. 

MADE FOR TV MOVIE: Cue music. Cut to a barbershop in the suburbs of Minneapolis and St Paul, Minn., in the late ‘70s. The interior is bright, kitschy and kid-friendly. Two barbers charm squirming children into sitting still for a quick trim. Happy mother’s whisk their dapper kids out the door. Suddenly the music changes. One boy has outgrown the mini barber chair. Focus on owner, Doug Cole, who is looking pensive. Fade to black. Cut to a serene, beautiful, modern salon. It’s 2002 and Cole’s barbershop has changed with the times and is now a trendsetter in the beauty industry and boasting five locations.

If this were a typical story the credits would roll and “the end” would appear on the screen. But Cole’s Salon For You is atypical and its story is just getting started.

In its first incarnation Cole’s was known as The Children’s Barber. Then in 1979 it was re-named Barber Plus and The Children’s Barber to reflect the incorporation of hair services for clients of all sizes. Next came the addition of nail and tanning services and three additional locations. Finally, in 1990 the salons became Cole’s Salon For You and in 1998 the fifth full service location opened.

Salon Name: Cole’s Salon for You

Location: Five locations in the suburbs of .Minneapolis and St Paul, Minn.

Owner: Doug Cole

Square Footage, Salons range in size from 7,000 to 13,000 square feet

Yeats of Ownership: 23

Number of Nail Techs/Employees: 24/300 Specialties, acrylics, colored acrylics, pedicures, spa-type manicures

Other services: massage, hair; skin care, waxing

Compensation Structure: employees are paid a commission (commission vanes with experience)

THERE IS NO “I” IN TEAM: Cindy Hill, lead coordinator of the five nail departments, credits exceptional education and teamwork with the salon’s success. “The education of our clients and employees is key. It is what has made us truly successful,” she says. “We work as a team to meet our customers’ needs.”

In order to make sure that each salon is run efficiently and to a high standard “each salon has a manager, salon coordinator, and mentoring team,” says Hill. “We have mentoring groups that work one on one with individuals to help develop special skills and talent. We encourage individuals to set goals high enough that they have to take certain risks in order to grow and become successful.”

The training program and a high level of education allow Cole’s to train and develop nail techs right out of school. “Our salon managers go to schools and develop good relationships there,” says Hill. “That way, students are aware of us and what we offer.” It appears that the training system works. “We have very low turnover,” says Hill.

THERE IS AN “I” IN NAILS: While education and teamwork are at the core of Cole’s success, the success of the individual is a key benefit for nail techs. Each nail department at the five locations has a lead nail tech who is responsible for the department and implements the training of new techs. Every new nail tech must pass a two-week orientation program to ensure that they are a good fit with the salon. Then follows a month and a half long training period and certification process.

After certification a nail tech’s earnings may steadily increase as she gains expertise. The greater the skill set, the higher the commission. An advanced nail technician commands a 60% commission and a higher price per service.

“I work closely with the trainers in the other salons to make sure we are constantly improving our training procedures.” In addition to in-house training, Hill brings in educators to train her staff on the products they use and retail. “We have narrowed our product lines to enhance our retail sales and educational opportunities,” says Hill.

With 24 total nail techs, nail services account for 10% of Cole’s business. Each of the five nail departments feature custom-designed nail stations. Each individual station is equipped with a ventilation system that removes odor and dust, and pumps in fresh air.

While the five salons may be nestled in traditional bedroom communities, Cole’s nail clients have been treating themselves to a little urban edge in their services. “We’ve noticed a greater interest in colored acrylic,” says Hill. “We’ve had advanced training with Tom Holcomb and Danny Haile of EZ Flow. Our nail techs themselves wear the colored acrylic and the clients’ interest was piqued.

“Spa services and pedicure services have also become increasingly popular. “We are remodeling our salons to meet these needs by adding additional pedi­cure chairs and adding massage and facial areas,” says Hill.

GOOD MOMENTUM: With such impressive nail departments it is only fitting that the rest of the salons be equally stellar. They are. Each salon boasts a prime location in its individual neighbourhood. “All of our salons are located in strip malls at the busiest intersections of the communities they are in,” says Hill.

“We haven’t ruled out expansion because we grow as our staff grows and the demand for services grows,” says Hill. “We update as needed. The managers go to visit salons in Minnesota and throughout the U.S. to be aware of the latest technologies and keep us updated.”

While the five salons range in size from 7,000 to 13,000 square feet, they all benefit from the thoughtful and serene design of Cole’s full-time contractor. The contractor has overseen the design and remodelling of all of the salons and helps ensure that they maintain a cohesive appearance.

Already beautiful and polished, Cole’s is not resting on it laurels. “We I just remodeled our Burnsville salon, relocated and built our Eagan Station salon, and are beginning to remodel our Cedar Cliff salon,” boasts Hill. “Our clients love the changes we make. There is always something new, and it keeps everything seeming fresh,” says Hill.

The largest salon, the Burnsville salon, acts as the corporate headquarters, warehouse, and advanced training center for the company. It features a beautiful fountain in the waiting area, stone and natural wood floors, maple and glass retail displays, and sinks at each of the 54 hair stations. Floral arrangements accent the understated decor. As a nod to its past and as an added benefit for its clients, Cole’s also features a special children’s area.

With happy employees, happy clients, and bustling business, Cole’s has a firm grip on its future—but it still runs into a few snags now and then. Deb Offer- man, the salon manager at the Eagan’ Station salon, acknowledges that Cole’s does run into a few challenges. “Adding new services is challenging [due to the difficulties associated with] starting up new services, pricing, timing, and education,” she says. “Another challenge is finding career-oriented people dedicated to excellent customer service.”

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