Best Practices: Recruiting the best, being the best

By Beth Nilssen

Relationships + Respect is a formula for satisfaction. That’s the formula that Gary and Barbara Polk say is the key to their success in building a steady pipeline of stylists for their Great Clips salons in the Chicago market—and they do it often without even running a classified ad for available positions.

How does that happen?

“It’s because of the relationships we’ve built with the schools and, through the schools, with the students,” Gary said, calling the increase in the number of applications they receive every month “startling.” 

Gary and his wife Barbara have been franchise owners in Chicago for 20 years. They just sold two of their salons to one of their four grown children, leaving them with 11 salons in the Chicago market and two in the Milwaukee market. 

When they started, the Polks thought they could find all the stylists they needed through advertising. They soon realized they were getting spotty results, even when hiring stylists with experience. “They could have good experience, or they could have bad experience,” Gary said. 

They began cultivating relationships with owners and instructors at area cosmetology schools. 

“When you work with the schools, you have a better selection of candidates,” he said. “We wanted students who were driven, who had the desire, and who had a love of the hair care industry.” 

Gary said the dramatic increase in the number of stylist applications isn’t due to only his work at reaching out to the schools. This is also a story of franchisees working together. When others noticed the Polks’ recruiting success, other franchisees began to follow their lead. 

Great Clips franchisees in the Chicago area take a very deliberate approach to making sure they are visible to industry leaders and schools. Co-op members visit schools and let them know that Great Clips representatives—owners, managers and stylists—are available “whenever they need our help,” said Gary. That could include presenting at seminars, sponsoring special programs or participating in community events. 

That regular presence in the schools builds students’ awareness of Great Clips as a brand, and creates a bond with the best students before they graduate and look for a job. 

“We tell them what Great Clips can do for them,” Gary said. “We let them know how the company is structured, that there are growth opportunities—that you can start as a receptionist or stylist and you can work up to a general manager or move to a corporate position.” 

Gary recognized early on that the size and scale of the Chicago market—when franchise owners work together—increases its clout. He negotiated an agreement with Staples that started with a discount and free delivery of Dum Dum lollipops. Today, that Staples relationship is systemwide. It’s grown so that Staples now contributes to Great Clips’ scholarship programs. 

Gary knows that recruiting the best stylists is just one part of staffing a salon. The next question is how to keep those stylists once they’re on board. Gary is ready with an answer: 

“The best way to retain people is to treat them like professionals and develop them to the best of their abilities. That’s the best retention tool you can have.”