Frank Gambuzza Thoughts On The Future Of Salon Ownership
Has the dust settled since the explosive announcement that the Ted Gibson Salon on 5th Avenue in NYC closed unexpectedly?
No - it has not. Our most recent post on the reactions from several key salon owners, seems to have stirred up conversation again.
MODERN reached out Frank Gambuzza to see if there is any new buzz among the 400 members of Intercoiffure America/Canada. Gambuzza is President of the organization and is also co-owner of Salon Visage in Knoxville, Tenn., a group including a salon, spa and barbershop, with a total of 210 employees. “Oh, yes, there is buzz,” says Gambuzza. “It’s that 800-pound gorilla in the room. It’s something no one wants to talk about but we should. It’s a very important discussion. It’s bigger than just a salon closing.” According to Gambuzza, the needs of the workforce have changed. “The message may be that ‘wow, if a place like Ted Gibson can close we may all be in trouble.’ What is shocking is that it was just so unexpected.”
Gambuzza believes that the abruptness of the closing could – and should - have been avoided. “Ted and Jason are members of Intercoiffure, they are dear friends of mine and I greatly admire them. However, if they had asked me I would have advised that they stick it out and keep the salon open through the holidays [the salon closed on Dec. 21, 2016, without any notice.] It normally is the biggest time of the year for everyone. The holiday season is a crucial period for the client and the hairdressers would have received the best check of the year. I don’t know all the circumstances but It would have been better for everyone if they just waited a month. There was a lot of road kill this way. It should have been prevented if possible.”
In fact, Gambuzza believes the entire thing could have been prevented if there had been some pre-emptive planning, saying expectations should be managed from the outset. “Like during the initial interview,” he says. “If a salon is having multiple walk outs they are not getting the right people on board from the beginning.” Gambuzza draws an interesting parallel. “Compare this to the restaurant world. I would be foolish to hire a vegetarian to work at my steak house. No matter the industry, we all have to make sure that there is an employer/employee fit right from the beginning.”
Gambuzza advises this is done right after that very first handshake. “Our number one question is ‘Do you want to be like us?’ and we immediately say that means going through all of our non-negotiables.” Although there are several on the list, Gambuzza shares 4 from the top:
1. We are departmentalized – non-negotiable.
2. Our training program is required – non-negotiable.
3. Compensation is performance based on the salon price grid – non-negotiable.
4. Giving back to the community (i.e. doing free haircuts at the children’s hospital for example for charity) is required and non-negotiable. We draw from our inventory bank which comes to one service per month.
If accepting all the non-negotiables and hired, Gambuzza coaches and trains his employees to perform. “People will perform to the level of expectation. We get more out of people that would have been mediocre elsewhere. We get them to be more because of our expectations.”
But not everything is carved in stone at Salon Visage. Gambuzza says there has to be some flexibility from both the salon owner and employee. “Our manual is our culture book,” he says. “It is constantly updated and changed, but the base always represents the core values of the salon. We can always change the activity, not the core values. “
Salon owners that pay attention and live in the now are successful, according to Gambuzza. “Things must be gradual, not shocking," adding, “you must constantly morph to not grow old. There has to be corrections along the way in real time.” Gambuzza believes in incremental improvement and says this represents as good of an opportunity as ever. “The salon industry is moving and morphing and if you aren’t you aren’t moving and morphing you are going to wake up one day and say WHAT HAPPENED!! We can’t sit back and hope everything works out. We must keep changing.”
That change includes addressing what is actually happening on the floor in the salon - especially the energy. “People want to be part of a crowded dance floor,” says Gambuzza. “Look at restaurants. It’s magical when you get to be part of something big. The number one human need is to belong to something so it our responsibility to create a culture and the right environment for both our staff and client.”
At Salon Visage, Gambuzza believes much of the success is because the core values include providing vision and opportunity. “We take our role as training people as something very important,” he says. “It is our responsibility to guide, even more than doing hair.”
When asked why some salons fail, Gambuzza shares what he thinks happens. “We get caught up with being great hairdressers. We think we should open a salon. What Jason said in the article was that the bulk of their money was coming from the outside with the bulk of their energy going to the salon. Before opening a salon you have to ask yourself, ‘WHY do I want to be a salon owner?’ You have to own it. You can’t be an absent owner and get the results you are looking for. There is always a price to pay. Being ‘owner present’ means you manage moments.” Gambuzza adds that managing moments also means that the owner is in charge of setting direction. “Say I have 10 champion horses and ask them to pull a cart. If I don’t give them an intentional destination, chances are they will choose their own direction. The result? That cart is not moving or it will be torn to pieces. We all must be headed in the same direction to win.”
To salon owners anxious since the announcement of the closing of the Ted Gibson Salon, Gambuzza says if you have been strategic with your desired culture, you should not be concerned. “If you are an owner, follow your passion. Make your salon ownership your passion. You’ve signed up to shoulder someone’s employment, and whether you like it or not, you are responsible for those employees. We expect them to meet our needs - and vice versa.”
Gambuzza has a separate message to the potential employee during that initial interview: “Spend as much time sharing dialogue so that you are finding a good fit. The interview is as much for YOU as it is for the owner. That’s why there is vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. There is something right for everyone.”
In fact, according to Gambuzza, the right thing for Ted Gibson and Jason Backe may not have been owning a salon but their celebrity work, training and their education program which IS their passion. "I just recommended them to bring their academy to a major training in Seattle," say Gambuzza. "I will continue to support them and our ever changing industry."