Oyé Oyé: managers listen up

In the 16 years that I worked in the professional salon business around the world for L’Oreal (Redken, Kerastase…), I met a great number of extraordinary men and women who are hairdressers, several of whom I still count as close friends.  Social beings by definition, the best hairdressers have a high social intelligence quotient.  Being connected with hundreds of hairdressers around the world on the various social media networks, I can see how vivid the online conversation is… most social.

The hairdresser plays a number of roles: making people feel and look great, social glue for the local community, an artist and a business person. If the first three roles are largely well fulfilled, however, the fourth (business) remains frequently unsatisfying.  Like many of the artisan trades, a hairdresser doesn’t see him or herself as a salesperson and even less as a business person. And, yet, they are every bit the entrepreneur. If I had to point out the biggest failing of the hairdresser as business person, it is as a manager.  I mean management of people in the broadest sense: specifically, knowing how to hire, train and retain staff.

Pret a manger logo

Pret a Manger

People management skills

I read a New York Times article a few months ago about the great success story of PRET A MANGER (PAM), an English fast food chain, founded in 1986, that now boasts over $500 million in sales.  On the face of it, PAM is not selling an novelty: freshly made sandwiches.  The novelty, and that which makes the chain work, is that the sandwiches are made fresh every day, that there is no waiting, and (on balance) the employees are happy. The first two, if they do not sound original, are de facto experienced as different by the paying customer. The third trait, however, is the element that grabbed my attention: happy employees. The keys to success for PAM?

  • A great and reliable product, for sure: freshly made, tasty, mixed in with some nice new product offers
  • Service: the product is truly “ready to eat” as opposed to “ready to wait”
  • Exceptional people (and, therefore, service)
Pret a Manager (Pret a Manger PAM)

Are ready to manage?

High quality service and highly motivated staff — considering the generally low level of pay — is the exception.  PAM has introduced personalized bonuses, team bonuses and, above all, an intention to recruit attitude first.  Evidently, they also pay above the norm for the industry.

In researching this post, I particularly enjoyed this quote from Pret’s Communication Manager, Jay Chapman in Sam Lizar’s The Insider Blog (2008), “If you treat your employees well and involve them in the decisions that will affect them, they’re much more likely to be engaged in carrying out the effects of those decisions.”  Further on in the article, Jay says, “[Y]ou can’t hire someone who can make sandwiches and teach them to be happy,…so we hire happy people and teach them to make sandwiches”.

Brand as a service

Hairdressers, like baristas, are in the service business. They rely on the talent of their staff, but also on the alchemy and the ambiance that is created in the salon.  If hairdressers and baristas are obviously in the service business, brands should still understand that, even if they are selling products, the surrounding service is what makes for the true experience and will create long-term brand loyalty.  When brands are exploring digital marketing, the person behind the keyboard needs to find the energy, words and realtime solutions, and that takes what I like to call social attitude.

I think myndset is what it’s all about, surprisingly!  Your thoughts?

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