salons as a service hero

Industry • Best Practice

Salons as a Service: Bringing Scalability to Relationship Businesses

McDonald’s revolutionized the modern franchise model — here are lessons salons can learn from its success.

You’ve got a successful salon with a killer business model  — now the next step is expansion. 

When you’re looking for inspiration, there’s no more successful story of growth and franchise-ability than McDonald's. They reinvented the franchise model by selling more than cheeseburgers — they sold a brand and a detailed playbook for success. Their methods hone in on the two things that make franchises truly successful: efficiency and consistency.

McDonald’s perfected processes for every step in the supply chain, like finding suppliers, staffing up, and getting timing down to the second for storing, cooking, and disposing of food. These steps reduce waste while maximizing revenue. They also ensure that your experience at a Mickey D’s in a major metropolitan city is the same as it is at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere.

While that’s all well and good for fast food, is it possible to replicate this framework within an industry built on personal relationships? Every salon client’s needs are unique, regional differences influence local trends, and changing styles require constant stylist education. How can you introduce scalable processes to a business that requires care and attention at the individual level?

The brands discovering the most success are the ones that understand the perfect balance between scalability and paying attention to the relationship between the salon and its clients. Read on to learn how to apply their approach to your business and achieve sustainable growth without sacrificing that personal touch.

Make training a core facet of the process

Where McDonald’s took scalability to another level for food, Toni&Guy did the same for beauty. The four Mascolo brothers delivered the fashion franchise concept to the UK, eventually expanding throughout Europe and finally into the United States in the 1980s. 

The franchise package includes the usual benefits you’d expect: marketing collateral, internal systems and infrastructure, a point-of-sale system (through a partnership with Boulevard), branding, and the like. Those are vital for any business, but personalized, ongoing training is perhaps the most important feature franchisees receive.

When opening a franchise, Toni&Guy provides initial training for both managers and staff, guiding them on how to run the business, teaching them the latest styles, giving instruction on customer service, and other important aspects of the salon industry. These aren’t instructional videos but rather tailor-made sessions that cater to each franchisee’s needs.

This education-forward philosophy also extends to their world-renowned hairdressing academy, providing barbering and cosmetology courses and advanced classes for further training and instructor courses at locations across the country.

Toni&Guy’s approach understands that the salon franchise model cannot entirely be one-size-fits-all but that processes need to include a dialog between leadership, stylists, and clients, with an eagerness to learn and improve at every opportunity. When looking into growing your salon business, ensure that you factor in chances to work directly with and educate your stylists, understand their clients’ needs, and provide instruction on how to meet them.

Find the right people

While McDonald’s gets most of the credit for popularizing and streamlining the franchise model, history tends to forget that the first modern retail franchise was a series of wildly successful salons. 

In the late 1800s, Martha Matilda Harper escaped servitude and opened the Harper Hairdressing Parlor. Over time, her operation grew to over 500 salons, pioneering both the franchising concept and modern hair fashion as we know it. 

The secret to her success was twofold: first, she came up with a special process called the “Harper Method,” which started with hairstyling, massages, and facials but evolved to meet client desires. Her greatest strength, though, was found in who she chose to open and expand her business.

Harper decided to open new locations thanks to community petitions, so she knew there would be a sizable client base waiting for her when she arrived. Then, she sought out “Harperites”: women from a similar, lower-class servitude background dedicated to maintaining strict quality control and branding standards.

While your hiring process doesn’t need to be as specific, finding the right people is a crucial part of any business — doubly so when attempting to provide consistent service levels and unified experience across multiple locations. Look for individuals who understand the importance of following proven procedures and are excited to share your brand with their local clients.

Don’t expand too rapidly

McDonald’s is as much a real estate business as a restaurant. Their process for finding new locations for franchises is essentially down to a science, using demographic and location data to find the perfect spot to maximize revenue, where they can hand over the reins to their franchisees with the processes they’ve put in place, allowing both franchisee and corporation to profit.

This information doesn’t just tell them where to open; it also tells them where they shouldn’t open. Expanding too soon, too rapidly, or in the wrong location can increase expenses and diminish returns. 

Toni&Guy in particular understands the value of knowing when and where to expand. After decades of growth within Europe and the United States, the company slowed down store openings in the 00s, eventually looking to other countries for opportunities. “You can’t open too many salons,” Toni Mascolo once said. “You run out of space. And you don’t want to have salons too close to each other, in competition.”

When looking into locations, consider the area’s potential customer base and whether there’s overlap between your shops and the competition. 

Maintain a consistent look and feel across locations

Consistency between locations isn’t just felt in the quality of service — it’s found in the decor, the music, the atmosphere, the way employees dress and interact, and the values inherent to the business. 

Everyone recognizes McDonald’s Golden Arches, but you can also feel its brand identity in the construction of each location and the paint and furniture choices, evolving with the times as tastes change. In the 70s and 80s, each location featured an enormous play area for children, eventually giving way to the modern, fast-casual approach to furniture choice and layout found today. Even if buildings use different floor plans or slightly different layouts, you’re never in any doubt when you’re standing inside a McDonald’s.

When expanding your salon, use a similar approach to maintaining a consistent look and feel across your locations. For example, Toni&Guy is instantly recognizable with its bold iconography, sleek modern architecture, wall-enveloping fashion model portraits, and shelves lined with TIGI products. Floyd’s 99 Barbershop (another Boulevard partner) takes a similar approach, cementing its hard-rock vibe across multiple locations with a poster wall covered in music memorabilia. 

That doesn’t mean every location needs to look the same (local building codes or supply chains will likely make that an impossible task in some ways). But you can paint in broad strokes with design elements and the attitude you want to portray, so clients know precisely what they’re getting when they visit your establishments.

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