When Cindy Fairchild opened and Toes in Tucson, Arizona, in October 1987, she had no idea what lay ahead. “If I had known, I probably never would have opened,” she says. Like many nail technicians, she opened the salon with nothing more than a vague idea of how much business the salon needed to stay open and a desire to rule her destiny.

“I had worked as a nail technician for so many years, and a client who was an accountant kept after me about how unprotected I was. She’d say, ‘You have no benefits, no stability. What are you going to do if you get sick?’ She prompted me to open a salon,” Fairchild remembers.

“I had no background in business or management,” she says. “I knew nothing about workers compensation and FICA taxes, and I had no concept of all the costs of running a business.

My partner and I just figured out how much money we needed to pay the rent and other expenses, and how much money we needed to make a profit.”

Unfortunately, their numbers didn’t account for things like payroll taxes, insurance, and other overhead expenses. But like so many salon owners, Fairchild persevered and the salon eventually established a strong client base and began turning a profit.

Five years later, Fairchild expanded her services to include skin care and hair services and renamed the business Salon De Nouveau. Three years after that, Fairchild moved Salon De Nouveau into a larger, stand-alone location in a 1934 Spanish adobe building where she also added spa services. She celebrated her first anniversary in the 3,000-square-foot building in April 1997 and has allowed herself to start dreaming about what she could do with just 1,500 more square feet. “I’d add more hair stations, another nail station, a chemical treatment room, and another body service room,” she says wistfully.

Growth Comes From Within

For now, however, Fairchild’s energies are focused elsewhere. “My new job is making lipsticks,” she says with a laugh.

Fairchild is referring to the new custom-blended lipstick service she recently added to the salon. “Customers can come in with hard-to-match clothing or nubs of lipstick colors they like that have been discontinued, or they just describe the shade and properties they want (silky or glossy, moisturizing or long-wearing). We blend the pigments and additives and put it in the lipstick mold,” she explains. “People are amazed when it comes out. Clients can name their color, and we log the formula.”

The lipsticks, which retail for $18 a tube, are hot with clients and reveal Fairchild’s secret to expanding her salon’s sales by 20%-30% a year for the past several years. The key, she says, is focusing on growth —both hers and the salon’s. “I sincerely believe God put me in business to learn the lessons I need to learn as a person. We all have a duty to grow as people,” she says to explain her philosophy.

To Fairchild, doing her duty means always stretching her abilities and her vision as a salon owner. “The first four or five years was like going to college — it was learn as I went about running a business. About five years ago I stopped doing services and focused more on the business’s growth. Now I try to focus half my time on motivation, moving the salon forward, and promoting growth by marketing in different areas and with new promotions. In a typical day I’ll do the banking, look at yesterday’s sales, spend time talking to clients, and spruce up the displays. If we have a project going I’ll work on press releases and our advertising.

“This year we’ve focused on internal advertising to our clientele, and I try to stay a few months ahead in developing the postcards,” she continues. “To keep up with trends I think about what attracts me as a consumer. I always realized I wanted to compete and set the salon apart, so I watch what’s going on and try to stay ahead. I’ve tapped the resources of a wonderful graphics person I have here and a local photographer who’s immensely talented”

Her staff’s growth is as important to her as her own, which is why Salon De Nouveau recently sponsored a fashion show at a local hotel to benefit the American Cancer Society. “We wanted to find something that was creative and fun and let us give back to the community while helping us work better as a team,” Fairchild says. “We decided to do a fashion show. It was such a challenge — we didn’t know what we were doing; as we went along we kept discovering new things that had to be done that we hadn’t considered.

“We contacted Nicole Miller and Banana Republic, who provided the clothes, and we arranged for two local deejays to emcee the show. Then we made arrangements with the hotel for the room, and the staff hustled prizes around town for the raffles. [Proceeds came from show and raffle ticket sales.]

“Then we broke into teams: Men’s Evening, Avant-Garde, and Daytime,” Fairchild says. “We did a model call at the salon, where we took Polaroids and asked what they were willing to’ let us do. Then each team arranged with the models for clothing fittings and the services they needed. The nail technicians did their services the day before and the day of the show. At 9 a.m. we were at the hotel doing the finishing work on the hair, makeup, and nails, and doing re­hearsals. The clothes arrived at 2 p.m. and the show started at 4 p.m. We were finishing people as they went onstage.” More than 200 people attended the event, and the staff exceeded its fund-raising goal by $1,200.

“It wasn’t easy — there were a few weeks around here where you didn’t mention it — but everyone worked through it and we all grew from the experience,” Fairchild says. And, while they swore they’d never do it again, she adds that they’re already planning next year’s event.

The Staff That Grows Together Stays Together

Fairchild attributes much of the salon’s success to its staff. “For the most part I try to let the people set the direction. We’ve gotten some of our best ideas from the staff. Everyone has a primary goal of excelling at their work and providing excellent customer service,” Fairchild says. “To stay focused, we did mission statements for each area of the salon, and all of our actions are modeled after these statements in terms of new products and services and growth. We monitor everything with our mission statements to make sure it fits what we say we want.”

The staff helps make changes to the service menu, which keeps both them and the clients excited about the salon’s offerings. “For example, the nail technicians will say the pedicure is getting boring and they’ll examine how we can change it, even if just by using a new aromatherapy soak. Right now we’re doing a clay mask on feet, which is a suggestion that came out of that input. Last month the technicians wanted to do paraffin for half price as a promotion because they said the service was down. Ideas like this get clients thinking about what else we have to offer. By varying the services, technicians have something new to do and the clients have something new to experience. “

It was also at the staff’s prompting that Fairchild explored new ways to cross-promote services. “Now, after 10 pedicures clients get a free manicure. After 10 manicures they get a free Glycolique treatment, for example. This way, clients are exposed to other services and are more likely to try them.”

Helping her staff develop confidence to drive salon growth starts with creating a supportive environment that focuses on teamwork “We give each other the latitude to make mistakes. That includes me. The staff is really wonderful about giving me the room to make mis­takes and grow,” Fairchild says.

Because Fairchild views each staff member as integral to the salon’s overall success, she invests a lot of time in developing their individual skills. For starters, every new staff member starts as an apprentice. “With the nail technicians, we start by refining their manicure and pedicure skills. Once they can do those services at the level we want and in a reasonable amount of time, we start scheduling clients with them. In the meantime, they continue doing model sets of artificial nails and we give critiques. Once they can do an acceptable set in two hours and a fill in one and a half hours (although ideally we like them to do these services in one and a half hours and one hour, respectively), then we start booking artificial services with paying clients. Then we train them on our silk system.

In all, most nail apprentices graduate in two to four months. During their training, Fairchild guarantees minimum wage, but she finds this is usually necessary for just a few pay periods. Regardless of how long it takes, the investment pays off: While salon owners everywhere complain of the difficulties in finding — and retaining — good staff members, Fairchild has had only one technician leave in the past four years. She had one other technician consider leaving to expand her horizons, but Fairchild encouraged her to do that right at Salon De Nouveau. “She was feeling frustrated in her job. Al­though she was happy with her work and her clients, she felt she needed to grow. She approached me about being the department head, and now she deals with all technical problems, inventory, and product ordering. She also helps with client matters and employee issues,” says Fairchild.

In the hair department, quite the opposite problem arose with the department head, but Fairchild kept that person too. “She got burned out on the job and talked to me about it, so she has scaled back to services,” Fairchild explains. “She’s an excellent hairdresser and she was glad she tried the management position, but it wasn’t her cup of tea. Right now we’re all working on written job descriptions so the responsibilities are clearer.”

Keep Your Eye on the Customer

Fairchild knows her current client base is essential to her salon’s continued growth, and she makes her decisions with them in mind. “To maintain our growth we must maintain and please our current clients as well as new ones. And because of our growth it’s hard to maintain the ambiance of personal attention. So instead of adding more stations, we’ve extended our hours to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and we’re double-shifting,” she says. She’s also opened the salon on Sunday and is think­ing about adding Monday hours as well.

Fairchild works hard to keep her team working together and focused on their number one goal: excellent customer service. “Customer service is our edge — making clients feel welcome and feel that we want them here. I have a checklist for clients about the service they received that asks, ‘Were you greeted? Were you offered something to drink? Was the area dean? Did the technician follow up at the end of the visit with professional recommendations and offer to schedule another appointment? Were you walked to the front desk and were you thanked for your business?’“

But no matter how many checklists a salon owner has, the sincerity of the staff’s actions and efforts shine through. For this reason, Fairchild uses many techniques to keep the staff dedi­cated to customer service.

For example, not long ago she read a book called Raving Fans [which is about how to make clients “fans” instead of simply clients by providing extraordinary customer service] , which she thought her staff would enjoy as much as she did. “I was trying to figure out how to get them to read it without making them do it,” Fairchild says. “I told them that anyone who read the book before the next staff meeting would be invited to answer three questions. If they were able to answer the questions they got a free paid day off.”

Even more recently she was faced with how to rally the staff behind the new custom-blended lipstick program. “There are only four of us who do it, and I could see a potential problem because when someone refers a customer for the service, who gets the commission — the person who referred or the person who does it?” she asks. “It was becoming too much of a problem because we couldn’t make sure we’d track it right and there was no incentive for everyone to get behind it. I suggested we put any commissions from the service into a profit-sharing plan. That way they all win and everyone benefits.”

For Fairchild, the growth is personal as well as professional. “I don’t often stop to think about it, but when I look back and realize who I am and where I came from, it feels wonderful.”

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