October 8, 2007
UCLA helps style management skills of salon owners
Los Angeles Times
ROBERT DURELL/LOS ANGELES TIMES
LOS ANGELES — At Topps Salon Day Spa, owner Suzanne Van Houten is going for a look that is "very seamless."
Clients are greeted by name and offered something to drink before their hair, skin or nails get a tuneup. A list of values – "creativity, commitment, integrity, loyalty, trust, fun" – is displayed throughout the small Oakland salon.
It wasn't always this way.
Just a couple of years ago, stylists routinely would arrive for work late and unprepared, Van Houten said.
With clients waiting, they would rush to the bathroom to style their own hair or apply makeup. Employees set their own schedules and made other business decisions without informing her.
"My salon was run by my employees," said Van Houten, 47. "Not by me."
Van Houten credits her salon's turnaround to the University of California, Los Angeles, and a business program to help beauty salons. In 2006, Van Houten attended a five-day program created for owners and senior managers in the beauty industry by UCLA's Anderson School of Management.
School officials developed the course after learning salon managers worldwide share similar problems. Since 2005, the annual Executive Salon Management Program has drawn salon entrepreneurs from a dozen countries, including South Africa, Australia and the Netherlands.
"It was incredible – it's probably one of the best things I've done professionally," Van Houten said. Without the program, "I don't know if I still would have my business."
Her customers have noticed the change.
"It's not just about styling people's hair – it's about approaching this as a business," said longtime client Deborah Kaplan, 57, a technology administrator with the California State University System. "People know what they're supposed to be doing. Things run smoothly."
Although there are many leadership seminars for cosmetology professionals, programs focused exclusively on the business side of managing a salon are less common, said Alfred Osborne Jr., program faculty director and Anderson senior associate dean.
The goal of the program is to give salon entrepreneurs an "MBA-like experience without having to go to business school," he said.
Among the challenges that participants face in their salons are inadequate marketing strategies, high staff turnover and managing cash flow. Many come to the program with the hope of expanding their businesses.
"They're smart businesspeople," Osborne said. "They just never had a formal business education."
The program began after salon owners told Anderson faculty about their frustrations with the day-to-day management of their salons.
"Like a lot of business owners, they get to a certain point in their growth cycle where they need some more management tools to take their business to the next level," said Elaine Hagan, executive director of Anderson's Harold Price Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, which helped develop the program.
The cost to attend the program is $4,500, which covers tuition, many meals, books and other educational materials. Travel and lodging expenses are extra.
Entrepreneurs from small independent salons to large chain franchises can apply, though a participant's business must have generated annual revenue of at least $250,000 for each of the previous three years. About 25 to 50 participants are selected each year.
Lectures and small discussion groups are integral to the intensive program, with topics including finance and accounting, marketing and human-resource management.
One session analyzes the financial statements of a real salon; another teaches participants to incorporate risk and reward into decisions. "We're really treating these people like they're executives, which they are," Hagan said.
Each participant also completes a " salon-improvement project" – an individually tailored assignment that identifies one problem area at the participant's salon. The expectation is that participants will implement the findings from their projects once they return to their salons.
For Van Houten, who has owned Topps for 12 years, the program allowed her to "look at my business from the outside rather than being in it," she said.
She returned to Oakland and set a one-year agenda. "I audited my salon from the front to back and looked at everything."
The biggest task was turning her salon to a structured, streamlined business "operating from systems rather than from feelings," she said.
That transition included reorganizing the salon's compensation structure, eliminating the front-desk position and retraining employees.
At times, her new management style required a stricter approach with employees. A few left, and were replaced by stylists who were on board with the changes.
"You can't be held hostage by your staff," Van Houten said. "There was definitely a shift in attitude and expectation and accountability."
Her only regret, she said, was not attending the program sooner. "I did not have a profitable salon when I went to UCLA," she said. "I do now."
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