Come Together

Throughout her 38-year career, Pat Helmandollar has played the role of employee, boss, one-woman-salon owner and stylist to thousands of clients. The industry veteran now applies these experiences as owner of Savvy Salon and Spa in Cornelius, NC, a 6,400-square-foot business on the outskirts of Charlotte. In its 10-year history, the salon has developed an efficient operating system based on loyalty and collaboration, acquiring steady business and a dependable 40-person staff. In recognition of these achievements, Helmandollar was honored with the 2005 Global Salon Business Award for Team Philosophy. "To have client loyalty, you must have loyal employees," she says. "Customers are more comfortable when they see stability. But that doesn't mean we scratch our creativity." Here, she reveals how to make a lasting impression.

 Savvy Salon and Spa's Pat Helmandollar
Savvy Salon and Spa's Pat Helmandollar


To build support among her staff, Helmandollar has implemented a team-based pay program. "Often a commission structure creates an environment of competition and urges individuals to build their clientele," she says. "The more they do for themselves, the more they make. And when they can't do anymore, they take their clients and leave." She prefers an atmosphere of teamwork, where employees collaborate for a greater good. "Our team philosophy is centered around the client—how to keep them with the salon," she says. The system not only encourages teamwork but also attracts the right employees, appealing to cooperative staffers while weeding out the more competitive.


Education and communication each play a significant role in the salon's success. Helmandollar continuously trains her staff, offering both in-house and vendor-sponsored opportunities. She also holds a 15-minute huddle at the beginning of each day for the team to discuss plans and activities. Adding a hint of education, these huddles also address the product of the day or a new way to answer the phone. "I find that communication eliminates a lot of difficulties," says Helmandollar. "If people don't listen the first time, I say it in a different way. Through ears, eyes or body language, there's always a way to convey the message."


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No matter how positive the employee environment, the friendly vibe must extend to customer service. Instead of strict rules or training programs, the salon relies on an old-fashioned concept. "Excellent customer service is nothing more than good manners," says Helmandollar. "Unfortunately, in today's world, people don't always practice this. It's all 'huh' and 'what.'" To promote good manners, she stresses the simple nuances of being polite: for example, rather than responding with "No problem," say instead, "It's my pleasure."


Cooperation may boost morale and improve results, but marketing is the key to attracting business. The salon generates publicity through outreach measures such as participating in door-to-door welcoming committees and donating products and services to charity. The salon also offers internal marketing incentives, including birthday card discounts and cross-promotions between salon and spa services.


Even in an atmosphere of cooperation, a vital point for the salon owner to keep in mind is that no matter what, the boss is always in charge. "Take control of your business, finances and staff," Helmandollar advises. "This is a schizophrenic industry, and you'll go out of your mind chasing employees around all the time." Though establishing the payroll was a sizeable hurdle, Helmandollar created a strong supporting cast by adhering strictly to her system. "Managing this staff requires a lot of time," she says. "But the rewards are much greater."