Great Clips: Embracing Technology while Maintaining a Strong Customer Focus

“I believe that we have a really strong, consistent customer focus,” CEO Rhoda Olsen says. “It’s really simple. Sometimes businesses get complicated, but we’ve stuck to that core document, and it has visibly made a difference.”

Even as it upholds its original values, Great Clips is bringing the hair care industry into the 21st century by investing in technological advances to make looking good convenient and affordable. In fact, the company has had some major product rollouts just in the last year that are still in the implementation stage.

“The challenges we face are making the right investments related to technology,” Olsen says. “There are so many opportunities in the technology area, and there are several different audiences we impact, so [the challenge is in] making the decisions for the right technology investments with so many things coming at you.”

Ahead of the Curve

As Olsen puts it, the salon industry traditionally has been slow to accept new business technologies. For instance, Olsen says Great Clips is the first major chain to add online customer check-in capabilities to its website. Online check-in was developed by Innovative Computer Systems, Great Clips’ POS and technology vendor.

Aside from checking in before entering a specific salon, this system provides accurate wait times so the customer will be able to plan better and only wait a few minutes once they are in the salon. They also have a database that stores customer preferences for styles, products and services they purchased at previous visits, giving every stylist the information to give a consistent experience.

“Our customer database with metrics is the best in the industry,” Olsen says. “This helps both the franchisees and serves the customers, which is clearly different than the competition.”

Great Clips has had ICS as a partner for about 20 years, but it regularly upgrades its software with the latest advances in metrics.

Olsen credits the company’s franchisees with giving the feedback about the type of upgrades necessary to improve their businesses.

“Our franchisees provide a lot of input and ICS is able to make those changes,” she says. “They have done a great job for us.”

Hands-on Owners

Olsen maintains that Great Clips franchisees exhibit a level of caring throughout the organization not commonly experienced elsewhere.

“We’re always cautious about calling it a ‘family,’ but there is a strong sense of community and support for one another,” Olsen explains. “We need to collaborate with franchisees for testing, so we include them directly.”

Corporate executives regularly step into the field and meet with franchisees to determine what their needs are, whether it relates to technology or not. Later this year, all corporate staff will meet face-to-face with about 3,000 franchisees and managers at Great Clips’ 30th birthday celebration in September in Minneapolis.

In fact, Olsen says she expects record crowds at this year’s convention because, despite the technological advances, there’s still something to be said for in-person networking.

At the convention, franchisees not only come together to enjoy the entertainment and attend learning seminars, but also to catch up.

Olsen explains that countless Great Clips locations have been in business for more than 20 years, and many of them are entering their second generation of family ownership.

“Even with so much technology, there is nothing better than a hug,” Olsen says. “A lot of franchisees have been with us more than 20 years, so their children are moving into running the business. It adds a different sense of connection to the business.”

Extensive Training

Every franchisee goes through extensive training before they set out on their own in a specific location. It starts with a three-day, in-person “legacy” training seminar at headquarters in Minneapolis. Managers also attend seven-day management training at one of the almost 60 training centers.

“The combination of those training efforts gives them what they need to succeed in their business,” Olsen says.

The company has about 200 corporate-level employees, and Olsen says Great Clips focuses on employee engagement to keep that talent in-house. Corporate employee turnover stands at about 8 or 9 percent, according to Olsen, and the company wants to keep that number down.

“Our corporate team is focused on retention and providing training and support and a fun environment,” Olsen says. “In our business, the franchise model really nurtures a different kind of relationship than the big corporate structure. With the strength of a big brand, there are nearly 30,000 Great Clips stylists. But, because salons are owned and operated locally, the franchisees tend to know their employees; this creates a better working environment.”

Great Clips offers regular ongoing training and meetings for franchisees, manager meetings, co-op meetings and stylist training. This is all in an effort to keep Great Clips’ customers looking great no matter what location they patronize.

“My vision of the future is a dynamic, changing, fun organization that serves the customer better than anyone else,” Olsen says. “Also, our franchisees are happy and profitable, and they enjoy the business.”