We're pleased to announce the launch of a new feature on our blog. Each month, we'll sit down with one of the leaders in the beauty and wellness industry to find out more about their business, their insights on the industry and their predictions for the future. This month, we spoke to Chris Brown, vice president of marketing for 18|8 Fine Men's Salons and owner of two 18|8 salons in Ohio.
1. Thanks again for agreeing to be our first customer profile. Tell me more about 18|8 and your role in the company.
18|8 is a franchise concept with about 80 locations across the country, in every major city. It’s a high-end men’s salon, designed to give men the experience that many women are used to receiving when they go to a salon, but that men don’t often get. When you come in, you’re going to get a drink and get comfortable in the waiting area, with nice chairs and TVs that probably have sports on while you wait. Every haircut is very customized – they come with a hot towel, a massage, two washes and conditioning. We have barbers under the same roof as stylists, so we can do straight-razor shaves and some other salon-type services, like facials and manicures. We’re really trying to set ourselves apart as a place for men that goes beyond just a haircut. I own two salons in Ohio and I have also responsibilities on the corporate side as the vice president of marketing for 18|8.
2. You’re in a really unique position to own a couple of their franchise locations and also serve as their corporate VP of marketing. Can you tell me how that came about?
I started off as an 18|8 franchise owner. I own the Cincinnati location, and it became the no. 1 18|8 location in the country in terms of guest count. As a franchise owner, I began talking to Scott [Griffiths], who is the CEO of 18|8, and eventually developed a good relationship with him. My background is in marketing at Procter & Gamble. I spent 15 years doing that. So, I was having success with my Cincinnati location, and corporate needed some help on the marketing side and I had a background in that, so it was a good fit for all of us. I’ve since acquired the Columbus location, so now I split my time 50/50, basically, between running my salons and my role as VP of marketing.
3. It seems like those are both full-time jobs. How do you balance those obligations?
It is a lot of work. I mean, it’s probably at least a job and a half so I’m working a lot of hours. But as a franchise owner, once you get into a good flow, you don’t have to be as hands-on, especially if you have good management. The Cincinnati location is getting to that point so I can focus on the business side versus always being there. That’s helped out a lot. I don’t know if I could’ve done it when I was first starting out.
4. What do you think of as the difference between a men’s salon versus a barbershop, especially as more barbers offer more types of services?
There are definitely some barbershop concepts stretching into more of what we do as well. But, traditionally, a barbershop focuses on haircuts, and it’s just going to be staffed by barbers. At 18|8, we have cosmetologists and barbers all under one roof, which is one big difference. Barbers and cosmetologists are trained differently in how they cut hair. But we do a lot more than just haircuts. We do scalp treatments, solutions for thinning hair, and manicures and pedicures — which barbershops really can’t do — and facials, which they don’t usually offer. Our locations feel much more like a salon than a barbershop. Barbershops tend to have open environments whereas we have semi-private stations that create more of a one-on-one experience for our guests.
5. What led you to open your first 18|8 location?
One is my background in marketing. I worked in skincare, so I had experience in the beauty industry and I saw where some trends were going with men’s grooming. The other piece was I’m kind of the core consumer. I was the guy we’d go after. You know, the guy who is probably going to a female salon but doesn’t really feel at home there because it’s not really designed for him. The salon chairs are more designed for women. He’s probably the only guy in there at the time. He goes there because he gets a better, higher end experience than he does somewhere like Great Clips, but it’s not really an environment or experience designed for him. I did that myself for about 15 years. So when I discovered 18|8 and it delivered all of the things I liked about salons, but was just for men, it really resonated with me.
6. If you had to choose the most important things you’ve learned about the industry since you opened your first salon, what would they be?
The biggest thing is that it’s a people business, both the guests and the stylists and barbers themselves. If you don’t have the right stylist and barber team, it’s just not going to be successful. You can have the prettiest, nicest location, up and running perfectly, all the marketing going, but if you don’t have good people that you can retain and grow with, it’s just not going to work. Particularly for an owner like myself who can’t cut hair, people are the product. If you don’t have the right people or you have a lot of turnover, then you’re going to be out of stock on the product. A really huge part of success in this industry is building and retaining a really strong team, and I spend a lot of time working on that. The other piece on the people side is the guests. You’ve got do something that sets you apart. There’s probably a barbershop or a salon almost every mile of this country. And many of them don’t stay open for more than a year. It’s because they’re not doing something to set themselves apart. While I knew that on some level because of my background in marketing, as a salon owner you really have to live that. We don’t compete on price. A lot of places do. We’re offering probably the most expensive haircut in the city, so all of the other things about the experience are really important for the guest. The guest is the king. So, the beer, the interior, the way the music is playing all matter. That’s where Zenoti comes in. You know that a lot of why I’m so excited about Zenoti is because it’s something that sets us apart that not a lot of other places have. A lot of barber shops still run cash only. Or maybe they offer a really simple chip reader for credit card payments. But with Zenoti, guests have the ability to schedule appointments in the customer app, check themselves in and out, and stylists can view their schedules on their employee app, and look at their guest profiles and notes. That’s all very differentiated and sets us apart from everybody else. It’s really the key when there’s just so much competition.
7. You mentioned how important it is to retain employees. How do you build an employee culture that keeps people around?
Part of it is giving them the things they can’t get at other salons. Salary and pay is obviously a big consideration for anyone in any career, so you have to make sure you’re competitive there. But salary isn’t the only way to set yourself apart as an employer. It can be things like the Zenoti stylist app that helps them be better at their craft too. It’s also important to constantly check in with your staff. Letting them know you care. Helping them work through issues, helping them on the work front, but also on the personal side at times. Giving them a lot of opportunity for training, career progression and growth.
8. What do you think is going to change in the beauty industry, particularly in the men’s market, over the next one to two years?
I think technology will be a bigger part of everything we do. Some of this you’re already doing at Zenoti with the stylist and customer apps, online booking and mobile payments, but it’ll become more prevalent in the industry. I also expect retail subscription models to be really big. If you think of Dollar Shave Club, Stitch Fix, and all of these different subscription models that people are signing up for, e-commerce is changing the game in retail. I think subscriptions are a big part of that, but we also have a high-touch environment with salons so we have to be thoughtful about how we roll them out. We just partnered with a him to provide this type of subscription service. Guys can sign up for him in our salon and get access to prescription-type hair products shipped to their houses. That’s the type of intersection of the salon and e-commerce that I think is going to be big.
9. Do you think there’s anything different about where the industry is going for men versus women or do you think it’s more about rolling men into some of these models that are already working with women?
I think it’s got to be customized towards men. Everything 18|8 is doing is designed for men. But I think men are getting more and more concerned about their grooming needs and their haircuts. They’re just not willing to settle for bad experiences in the salon industry anymore.