by Simon Lord
last updated 14/12/2009
Case study: Rodney Wayne Hairdressing
by Simon Lord
last updated 14/12/2009
The following is part of an extended interview carried out for an article on personal branding featured in the latest issue of Franchise New Zealand magazine - send for a free copy here.
Rodney, these days your name is over salons all over the country and your face is known everywhere you go. What made you go into franchising in the first place?
Back in the beginning, when I returned to New Zealand after having my own salon in Melbourne, I knew that if I wanted to build a bigger business I had to do it differently. Patting myself on the back, I was a good hairdresser myself and had built a very strong following, but I only had one pair of hands so I needed to train other people who could do the quality of work that I was doing. But it was my reputation that was out front so I still had to be the front person and personality. Then when I went on to grow the chain I would get in my red Porsche and drive round each salon and have a day in each one, so that I was still very much out there. The team members got to know Rodney and felt very much a part of that. I grew the brand that way, unashamedly putting myself out in front. I had the cut-outs, billboards with my face on, and I made sure that I was out there as much as I could be.
That was a very conscious decision?
It was a very conscious decision. Back then I would accept every initiation to go to every opening of whatever was going on to build the brand. I learnt that I got bored to tears and I eventually stopped doing that, but it was part of building the business. The franchising started when the salons were in need of a refit and I realised I was looking at investing over $1 million to refurbish them all and I thought there had to be a better way. Franchising offered the benefit not just of investment but of on-the-spot committed management.
I had met John Louis David who I think had about 800 franchised salons mainly in Europe, but had just opened in New York, so I knew franchising hairdressing could work. He asked me to join him and I could see the strength of his brand and his business, but when we hired a research firm to ask people in Manukau, where we had no salons at the time, which hairdresser first sprang to mind, the overwhelming response was “Rodney Wayne”. I had worked very hard to make that happen and decided there was no point in starting again with another brand.
That profile had happened through my spot on the Good Morning programme on TV, our billboards, the magazines - I was in everything! I did the hair of models for a lot of fashion shows and had more than my fair share of publicity, but I worked very hard to get it. Back in those days I would talk to women’s’ groups at least once a week. I would be invited to attend a garden club, a book club or a tennis club and I would talk about hair and hair fashion and do some makeovers so I personally introduced myself to a lot of people.
Some years after that we went through a stage where the Rodney Wayne brand wasn’t so cool any more, and I then made a conscious decision for me to step back out of it a little bit.
So you semi-retired and went to live the rural life?
Yes, I appointed regional franchisors and deliberately stepped back from the business for a while. I kept up a semi-profile but it was very hard for me to do it because when you’re away wearing gumboots all week, to put on a smart suit and talk about fashion doesn’t come naturally – you slip out of the mode. But after we’d re-done our branding and our salons I thought, “It’s a funny old thing with age in a human beings.” Giorgio Armani and people my age (Rodney turned 60 last year) are becoming quite cool again. Tony Bennett is a great example: there are as many teenagers and early twenties go and hear Tony Bennett as there are of my age. So I started to increase my profile again.
Were your franchisees pleased to see you back?
The request I get most from franchisees is that they would like to see me more in the salons more. I don’t go round visiting the salons so much now but I do put on more and more functions for staff, managers and owners and I make sure I front at all those because they like to see that someone still fronts the brand. I’ve actually really enjoyed getting back into that role over the last five years or so. I do get out and about more now, although I’m more selective about what I go to. I don’t just roll up to every invitation, but I’m certainly out there more and more with our own people.
Is the personal profile a plus for them too?
There is a risk that franchisees could get put off by having this ‘personality’ around but, to date, it’s been the opposite for us. Even franchisees that I have the odd head-butt with are always the first to say, “We should be seeing more of you.” There are many industries where a personal brand works but I think it very much suits the hairdressing industry. Look at Vidal Sassoon, John Louis David, Jacques Dessange, or Stefan and Edward Beale in Australia: some of the biggest businesses have been built around a person and that person becoming a personality. That’s probably the fashion industry really. It’s interesting that at one time hairdressers were hot, and now we’re not so hot. If you look at fashion, Karen Walker and Trelise Cooper, are more prominent names in magazines every week than Rodney Wayne. Now to get good PR in the fashion mags we have to work harder at it than what we did 20 years ago. Trends change: now you’re more cool being a chef than a hairdresser and it’s about the food thing with people like Gordon Ramsay and the Naked Chef.
What’s important for me with the personality thing portraying what our brand stands for to our own people. I could still be here doing this if I live to be 90 because in my case I was a hairdresser and our staff know I walked the talk and did it and those young people coming through the ranks have some respect and admiration for somebody who has been there and done it and can talk about it.
So they respect what you’ve achieved - that isn’t the common perception of the younger generation?
Yes, they respect it without a doubt. You know, we often say we’re in an industry that is here today, gone tomorrow – but it isn’t like that at all at Rodney Wayne. We keep most of our apprentices for the full 3-4 years and then many of them go and do their OE and come back and work for us again. So they build loyalty with the brand, but that’s because of more than just our brand personality; there’s all the other things we do for them from training to the excitement of the nights and events. My role in the business now is to be at the forefront and live up to all the things that the brand stands for and to be able to articulate and share that with them and keep them excited.
But in saying that, I’ve still stepped away from lots of it. I always used to head our artistic team and I did some of the hair, but now we have a style director who does that so I am liaising with him as to what I think the look should be for summer. I’m introducing him on stage now so that the brand is now becoming bigger than just Rodney: there are other people in there that are becoming stars and personalities within the brand. However, in saying that we’re still careful with how much we promote that person’s name. We’re not as big as Gucci to have a Tom Ford with that personality within a brand, so even though our magazine and fashion quarterly might do an interview with style director Ian Thompson, it’s still done through me.
So you’re being a little more hands-off now?
When I had regional franchisors I wasn’t so involved. They thought that they were in control of the franchise and how important was Rodney anyway? So when I did come back in the franchisees were very, very happy and I think there were two reasons for that. One is my mode of business is to be to sit down and sort things out, or sit around a table and plan, not to be dictatorial and say “this is what we’re doing,” which is how many franchises are run. I prefer to have everybody on side and feeling that it is the best thing to be doing rather than just telling them.
I learned from the regional experience and we’re doing things differently this time round. We’ve just appointed one of our key support managers to be general manager of operations and she will take over a lot of my role - dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. That will give me more time to step back and keep a fresh look at the brand and what is it that we have to keep doing. I’ve always loved business, so I’ll keep my finger in there but I won’t be as hands on as I’ve been since I’ve come back from farming.
We also have a general manager of finance, so they will be taking care of the day-to-day business. I know that I need to keep very much into it with the fashion and the people side of the business. I still have absolute empathy and thought for every customer that walks in the door, and if I hear that they’ve had a bad experience it hurts and upsets me. That’s another thing that we take very seriously here - if we get a letter of complaint, boy it’s the first job that we get on to that day. It has to be handled and we want to correct it. So often our letters of complaint turn into being our very best customers.
In our business we don’t do bad haircuts or bad colours. If we stuff up it’s because we haven’t listened well enough to the customer’s wishes. The biggest challenge in the hairdressing business is to get the hairstyle right for the customer, and that’s why we have a consultation process where we sit down and have a talk with them before we even start.
That sort of people focus has to go throughout the entire organisation – it has to! If a new manager comes to one of the salons I say to the support manager, “I don’t care if you have to go and see them every day this week, just do whatever you’ve got to do to provide the help and support they need.” Of course, you can over-do it. The support managers used to stay in the salon with them for the whole week but they found that a little overcrowding, and needed more freedom, so we don’t do that any more, we’re always around when they need us.
The other thing I do, which I’ve been told is most unusual for someone with 600-odd staff around me, is always answer my phone. I always take a call, so from the newest franchisee to staff members, they are welcome to call me. We’ve got two managers looking at buying salons at the moment and they have felt very comfortable to phone me on my mobile and meet with me. I have an open door policy that anyone that wants to come in from the organisation and chat about anything roll along.
That probably reflects the fact that hairdressing is very much a people business. We’re the only industry, other than a dentist, that has a client sitting with us for more than an hour. We have a licence to touch and a lot of time to talk. If the stylist stuffs up the talk, it won’t matter how good the hair is. So we have a policy that the chat should be 95% professional and 5% personal. Contrary to the belief that customers want the hairdresser to gossip, every survey we’ve done proves they don’t. They don’t mind a little bit of chat about what happened on the weekend but they don’t want a whole life story. There are some salons that survive pretty well on gossip, but they’re normally little boutique-style salons.
You’ve commented before that many of your franchisees have been with you a long time. What is the future for Rodney Wayne?
We will open new salons if the right locations come along, and there’s plenty of interest in them. We thought some of our existing franchisees might be reaching the age they would want to move on, too, but it’s not happening so far. And, of course, some own multiple salons.
Are multi-unit franchisees more effective than single unit ones?
Not necessarily. We’ve had the experience of a franchisee with half a dozen salons and we now would be very careful of letting any owner have more than three salons unless we were going to work with them at putting in a management system that reported back through us here. Overseas now, two of the biggest franchise groups actually sell groups of salons to corporations as an investment, but the franchisor still hires the manager that manages and oversees that business so they’re not losing control of the image and what it’s doing.
That’s something that we may look at down the track but I don’t think that we’re really quite big enough for that at the moment. At one stage my sister had three of our biggest sites and she just found it far too much because part of the success of franchising is having an owner-operator who is in there running the business under the prescribed formula. Adele found that with three sites employing probably 80 people it was almost impossible for her to get around and have one-on-ones, whereas with two sites she can do it very well.
Our most successful owners are the ones who not only use the system but get the KPIs out every week and sit down and share them with their people. It really helps people stay on track to say, “Look, what a fantastic week you’ve had you did X amount of re-bookings and your average client bill was this…” It’s ensuring that everyone is on the same page and we’re heading in the right direction. And if somebody isn’t quite getting there or has a better week but is still not quite on the button, then they know where the issues are and can be helped to do the right things to resolve them. That’s about people, too - if you just leave it up to them it’s like a ship without a rudder, nobody knows where you’re going.
So the franchisees keep their teams on track and our managers keep the franchisees on track and my job is to keep Rodney Wayne the brand on track.
Rodney Wayne, thank you very much.