Beth Nilssen
December 29, 2017 / Great Advice

Walk in Their Shoes

It was an early Saturday morning in December. The temperature was in the mid-20s (which is balmy for a Minnesota winter). I was cleaning windows, sometimes cleaning the same windows two and three times. The streaks were driving me crazy, but I was determined to do a good job. After all, these weren’t just any windows. They were the front windows of the Shorewood Village Great Clips salon owned by franchisees Regina, Steve, and Jenny Finkelstein.

When the windows were cleaned to my standards, I moved inside to the front desk and helped check in customers. It took me a while to get the hang of it. I had to deliver the proper greeting to every customer, look up their name and number in the system, and quote estimated wait times, which seemed to change every 30 seconds at the busy salon.

At first, I kept forgetting to ask people if they’d checked in online. Since Online Check-In usage is so high at the Shorewood salon, I just assumed everyone used it. “Hi, welcome to Great Clips. Are you Bill?” It was pretty awkward when “Bill” looked at me and said, “Uh, no. Why do you ask?”

Clearly, I had a lot to learn. And that was exactly the point as I worked in a salon. I swept hair. I folded capes and filled water bottles. I cleaned the bathrooms. I answered the phone and greeted customers.

This salon shift was part of my participation in the Great Clips, Inc. Walk In Their Shoes (WITS) program, recently revitalized after a suggestion by Fargo franchisees Cary Schilling and Emily Wilcox. “If you just spend some time in our salons,” Cary said in 2014, “you’d know what we go through every day.”

The suggestion made sense. Some years ago, we had a limited version of the program, which had lapsed, so it was relaunched. The goal is that every year, every Great Clips, Inc. employee will work at least once either in a salon or in another department within Great Clips—although we strongly encourage them to choose the salon option.

It’s an effort to help every corporate employee see the business from a new point of view. From the home office, it’s impossible to know the day-in, day-out routine of running a salon. That’s why I feel so strongly about the WITS program, because it allows us to experience the salon from a place other than our office chairs. I believe it will help us work better together with franchisees and their stylists. And it is a great way to live our values. WITS is just one example of how we listen and earn trust.

What I learned during my time at the salon is that there are a lot of moments you just don’t think about when you’re not on site. There are nuanced situations you can only see and experience when you are actually in a salon.

Lucky for me, salon manager Michelle Jopp was cutting hair right behind me as I stood at the reception desk, so she could step in when I was about to flounder. She had an easy way about her, jumping in when a customer wanted to wait for a particular stylist, rather than the next one available. Michelle reminded the customer that we have their Clip Notes® in the system, so the next available stylist would do a great job. Most of the time, the customers gladly accepted Michelle’s idea.

I also was able to see Great Clips values put into practice. I watched a stylist who had a great way with kids, from the little ones to the teenagers. One father brought in a young boy who was clinging tightly to his dad. The stylist got him to sit in the chair by giving him a brightly colored kids’ cape, then joked around with him when spraying his hair with water, saying it was raining in the salon.

Another stylist talked about a planned vacation in Hawaii, which sparked a lot of conversation and laughter among stylists and customers. The place had a very “Cheers”-like feeling, with lots of smiles and positive energy. And yet the pace was fast and efficient. It’s a well-run operation, and it shows in the energy of the manager, stylists, and customers.

It’s a testament to the stylists at this salon and throughout the Great Clips system when customers feel valued and appreciated. What happens in the chair makes such a difference, and Great Clips stylists make all the difference.

However brief, my time in this salon helped me look at issues and situations from the perspective of daily operations, not as abstract concepts. It was a reminder that, in a world of conflicting priorities and limited resources, we all need to stay focused on the things that drive the success of our brand. When we can actually see it, and hear it, and feel it, it takes on a renewed sense of urgency. One streak-free window at a time.

Beth Nilssen By Beth Nilssen on December 29, 2017
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