The Comeback

One Chicago salon nearly lost its whole staff over the course of a year, but came back stronger than ever. Turns out that replacing your entire staff can be good for business.

as0415-BB-JGordon-rev__fmt_0_0.jpegWhen Jerry Gordon opened J. Gordon Designs in the Lincoln Park section of Chicago in 1974, he hoped that the goodwill generated by his mother and grandmother, who had been well-respected hairdressers in Chicago, would carry him through. In fact, business was so good that the salon had to relocate to a larger space within two years. Then in 1995, the bottom fell out when a few hairdressers left to open their own salon, taking many of their co-workers with them. The walkout left Jerry and his wife/salon co-owner, Karen, scrambling to rebuild.

“I think that someone convinced them that the grass would be greener elsewhere, which is a common story in our industry,” says Karen, who says that it hurts to lose people you have nurtured through their careers, people you have known and trusted for years, especially when you suspect that they haven’t been entirely truthful with you about their reasons for going. Wisely, Karen decided to enroll at DePaul University where she earned a master’s in business so she could handle these types of challenges intellectually rather than emotionally.

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The Gordons also decided to take a step back and reflect on the changes that needed to be made in order to keep their regular clients from defecting. “I tightened up our team and shortened the number of hours we were open so the salon would look busy and have a lot of energy when clients did come in,” says Karen, who also reexamined the employee handbook to see if it needed to be revised.

More significantly, they made it a point never to talk about what had happened with clients. “I only talked about positive things that we would be doing in the future because you have to put on a brave face,” says Jerry. “Clients, your team, your reps—all of them are looking at you to see how you respond to a crisis.”

Here’s what the Gordons learned from their situation that could help you prevent a walkout:

1. Surround yourself with people who are passionate about lifelong learning and who are good students.

2. Hire for personality. Any salon with a good training program can teach hair techniques, but if someone is unpleasant or does not smile easily, they’ll never build a clientele.

3. Build a good company culture and preserve it. —D.C.

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