The Beauty Parlour
The Beauty Parlour
I was living on the West Coast of Scotland when the book Breaking the Mould was published.
The associated publicity resulted in a certain amount of curiosity about the process that was at the core of the stories in the book, essentially, when we stop telling people what to do, and instead allow them to take control of their own working environment, their performance becomes astonishing.
At about this time the wife of a friend of mine, Alice, was running a beauty parlour in Clydebank, a residential suburb of Glasgow.
She was ambitious and had great hopes for her business involving opening more parlours in the Glasgow area, but there was a problem.
Her main competitors were the parlours franchised to the large department stores in the city centre.
If her customers had any other shopping to do they would always head for the city centre and, when there, make use of the department store parlours.
What Alice was looking for was the competitive edge that would allow her customers to make her parlour their first choice.
We met at her store where she started to explain her plans and the ideas that she had for expansion.
Alice told me that she had six girls who worked for her, two full time and the others part time to fit around their family commitments.
We talked for some time and most of the conversation was around what she wanted to do and her search for the thing that was going to give her the edge that would allow her to do it.
Eventually she seemed to understand that I was not an expert in the beauty business and could not give her the thing that she wanted, but when I suggested that she already employed six experts she was initially quite dismissive, this was her business and her vision, what could the girls who worked for her possibly know that she didnt?
That was why she was the boss.
I pursued the idea that she could never know what her workforce knew unless she asked them and that only by asking could she ever discover what they knew.
I asked her to commit to making the time to talk to her staff in a structured way and showed her the sort of questions that she should ask to allow them to start thinking about their own solutions to the problems the she was facing.
I left the West Coast shortly afterwards but kept in touch with Bob, her husband, who told me that Alice thought my visit had been a waste of time and had resolved to struggle on until she found the thing that would make a difference.
Bob took his time and eventually persuaded her to have a structured meeting with her girls, Just to see what happened.
That was the meeting that changed her world.
The girls came up with a number of suggestions but the thing that convinced her to listen was when one of the girls suggested that the people who knew best about what would make them choose Clydebank over a city centre beauty parlour, were her customers themselves who used both.
She suggested to Alice that if they listened to their customers surely they would be able to tell them what it was they wanted.
This was the start that made the difference.
Bob told me that the girls had realised they had a captive audience while their customers were getting their treatments and decided that during every treatment they would ask their customers one question about the way they perceived the business.
The answers to these questions then formed the basis of Alices meetings which they used to figure out how they could deliver what their customers wanted.
Bob and I had discussed the book in some detail and he was able to help his wife through the next stage which was to allow her to understand the importance of the feedback that she gave to her customers.
I had explained to him that each idea that is collected has got a financial value, like the idea to put a second door inside the shop door so that heat was not lost to the street and, as an added bonus, the customer sitting next to the door did not get a cold blast on her wet hair every time the door was opened.
This idea had the merit of not only reducing the heating bills but also removing an obstacle to the customers enjoyment of the salon experience.
As I had explained to Bob, there was a third and even more valuable aspect to this idea and that was the way that the idea could be used to change the way that the customer felt about the Beauty Parlour.
By giving feedback to the customer it shows her that someone is listening and that makes her feel valued.
When the customer complained about the draught from the door it was seen initially as someone having a moan and not really worth the effort to respond or the expense to do anything about it.
But Alice was beginning to figure out the third effect and asked Bob to put the second door in.
The next time that customer booked an appointment Alice made sure that the girl who was giving her treatment knew that the second door had been her idea.
When she came in and commented on the door the girl was able to say That was your idea and thank her for it.
Everybody in the shop could see what a difference that feedback made to the customer and the next question was, How could they give more of it?
The big thing that made the difference for Alice was understanding how the feedback she gave to her customers changed the way that they felt about her business.
By relaxing her controlling grip she was able to listen to and use the ideas of her workforce, which in turn allowed her to listen to the ideas of her customers.
The ideas of her customers while improving the service she provided, also allowed the third effect which was to allow her customers to feel a sense of ownership about the business that they had a hand in developing.
The last time I heard from Bob, Alice was getting ready to open her third Parlour and the staff meetings to discuss how to implement her customers ideas were already a fixture.
Peter A Hunter