What I Learned From Opening a Salon in One of the Toughest Cities in the World

Located in New York City's TriBeCa neighborhood, FourteenJay prides itself on delivering exceptional service and beautiful color for healthy hair.

Virginia Meyer, co-founder of RedChocolate and New York City’s Fourteenjay Salon, opened up shop in one of the toughest cities in the world. Here, she shares lessons in persistence, success and how to stand out.

Guest Care in the Big Apple

How Hard Could It Be?

When David Adams, Frank Rizzieri and I first stumbled upon our TriBeCa salon location, our first thought was, “If we want to open a salon in New York City, this is the place—we will never again find this kind of deal.” We were right. We were fortunate enough to acquire an existing salon downtown and, as they say, the stars aligned and everything fell into place. 


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During those initial months, everyone kept saying things like, “Wow, New York, that’s expensive,” or “New York, you guys are brave.” I wondered, why are they saying that? We know the business inside out, have top technical talent, have trained for years, the location is a diamond in the rough—how hard could it be?  

It’s been 18 months since we opened, and we've learned that almost nothing from the “building a salon business” playbook works in New York City. We quickly realized that we had to challenge conventional thinking and start from scratch—dump the blocks from the box, rebuild the box with some brand-new blocks, or reconstruct the old blocks in a new way.

Virginia Meyer

Fortunately, the salon is thriving, and we believe that’s because we got really serious really fast about some very fundamental things, which we are excited to share. Our thinking is that if it works in New York, it can work anywhere. 

First, we have to make a big disclaimer. We are a work in progress, just like you. We are doing some things really well, and others, not too well, just like you. The truth is, no matter where your salon is located, we are all working on the same thing: creating amazing experiences for our guests so we can achieve growth and prosperity.

Hopefully, our key learnings from a market like New York can help to inform, excite and inspire you to bring new thinking and systems to your salon in 2018. That's our intention, and it is in that spirit that we encourage you to read on.

Vision, Mission and Culture Bedrock

Mother Nature is a great teacher when it comes to planning growth. She teaches us that it happens from the bottom up, inside out. Trees, plants, flowers and humans don’t begin from a mature state—rather, they start as a seed or embryo that needs development and nurturing. 

We think our business is no different. To grow well, we need a rock-solid foundation and seeds for growth. For us, that starts with vision, mission and values. That trifecta matters now more than ever. We had to create a culture and service experience that was sharply aligned with the vision, mission and core values of our company. We take it seriously and mean it literally. We work the mission and values into every huddle, training and team interaction. We also spend time assessing and understanding each team member’s strengths and values, using the Strengths Finders Assessment and Values in Action Survey, so that we can learn how to optimize our team performance by leveraging the strengths of each person.

Questions to Consider:

➤  How alive are your vision, mission and values in your culture?  
➤  Does the team know the mission and do they know how to handle issues and opportunities with the mission in mind?
➤ Where are the greatest opportunites to link back to your vision and mission? Think about huddles, one-on-ones, modeling guest care standards, etc. 

If you don’t already have a vision, mission and values statement, don’t stress. Start to create. Write down the reason you opened your salon and what difference you want to make. Think about what matters most to you and capture that in some way. You can record it, make a mind map, do an outline. Keep it simple. Capture it. You and your team can refine as you go. Just get it down. 

Define the Experience

Our salon is located in the third most affluent zip code in the country. There are 20 salons in our salon’s 10-block radius and each essentially offers the same services. So, what makes our salon experience different? Why do people come see us, and why do they want to come back?

The FourteenJay Service Experience is founded on four non-negotiables: 

Beautiful Color Begins with Healthy Hair. Our mantra, emblazoned on our wall, is the first thing guests see. While we’re known for color, we put hair and scalp health at the center of every service. We assure guests will leave with hair in better condition than when they arrived. It’s a promise we live, and it makes us different. 

100 percent Execution of the Guest Service Wheel. Every guest, every visit, no exceptions. That's a tall order and something we work incredibly hard at. Executing the steps of that wheel is the business. It’s our true north, it’s our scorecard, it’s everything. We are aiming for consistency and excellence, not perfection. 

Be Nice. We have found that being nice, especially in a city like New York, and genuinely caring about the guest and the quality of their experience gives us a true competitive advantage. Nice is part of our culture, and we have worked to define what that means in big and small ways.

Always and Never.  We want everyone to deliver exceptional service. We're always working toward the “yes,” no matter what the guest’s question, desire or issue might be. We know that means we have to collectively define what must always happen and what must never occur. 

Questions to Consider:

➤  What are your service non-negotiables? Name three but not more than five.
➤  What is your customer service “always/never” model?
➤  When your non-negotiables are in place, what measurable impact will they make on your business?

Standards and Focus Matter

As much as we live in an in-the-moment age, having standards in place for everything—from how a guest is greeted to how they are shampooed to how they receive a consultation—is essential. Without those standards, we wouldn’t know what to do or how well we are doing it. When it comes to consistent excellence, we don’t think that you can wing it. Practice and well-defined standards count. 

Each step of our FourteenJay Service Wheel has a corresponding set of behaviors and standards that serve as the foundation for our training and as a performance assessment. While the service wheel concept isn’t new, what is novel is the implementation of each step of the wheel every day with every guest.

We consider the salon floor the stage, the team the actors and players, and the guests the audience. We know guests expect the same performance every time, and we must be prepared to deliver it—easy in concept, but more difficult in practice. Because it makes  a big difference, it deserves and requires our focus. That means having well-defined systems in place and making sure everyone is clear on their roles and cues and that understudies are in place so that every performance is set up to be seamless. 

Questions to Consider:
➤  Have you mapped your guests’ experience from the moment they walk in to the moment they leave?
➤  What is the one most important thing you think must happen at each step of your wheel?
➤  Which areas of your Service Wheel represent your greatest growth opportunity? 

Coaching and Implementation

It’s not sexy, it doesn’t get blogged about much and it’s certainly not on the influencer top 10. Our not-so-radical very radical thought is that exceptional guest care has to be lived. It has to be modeled by the leaders of the company and showcased in their behavior. It’s not a “do as I say, not as I do” kind of thing. As leaders, we have to passionately and authentically model exceptional guest care. The hard truth is that if “they” are not doing something, it is because “we,” the leaders, are doing or not doing something. 

Questions to Consider:
➤   If you work behind the chair, how consistently are you implementing the Service Wheel? What are your areas of strength and opportunity?
➤   Where can you find opportunities to model exceptional guest care to your team?
➤   How does your interaction with your internal team members reflect the standards of care you wish to extend to your guests?


Tools & Tips

The “Doing” of Being Nice

❑  “Please,” “Thank you” and “May I.”
❑  The answer is “Yes.”
❑  “What we can do is…”
❑  Face-to-face and heart-to-heart greeting (no front desk), virtual check-in and chair-side checkout, if desired. 
❑  Customized new guest welcome gift with a handwritten note, sample products to take home, a referral card and a menu.
❑  Custom consultation with three options including time, price and upkeep, written and given to the guest and documented in their record. Always confirm with a visual. 
❑  Scalp health assessment using the scalp.
❑  Drinks menu (coffee, cappuccino, espresso, assorted teas, flavored water of the day, prosecco).
❑  Tray, napkin, biscuit, cup and saucer.
❑  Head, neck and shoulder massage, hand and arm massage, and hot towel treatment.
❑  USB outlets at each station and power cords provided.
❑  Lap desks.
❑  Send a follow-up thank-you and “How is your hair doing?” email within three days of the visit.

Always/Never Telephone Etiquette

❑  Happy voice and tone with smile.
❑  “Please," “Thank You” and “May I?”
❑  Guest’s name.
❑  Say “Yes.”
❑  Close the loop.
❑  When in doubt, ask or refer “up.”

❑  Rush, rapid, short or rude.
❑  Give an outright “No.”
❑  Hon, honey, dear, darling, etc.
❑  Quote a haircolor, extension or texture price over the phone.
❑  Make the guest wrong.
❑  Hide or bury.