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Great Clips CEO Rhoda Olsen Shares Tips on Running a Hit Franchise
Running a successful company starts with treating corporate employees, salon owners and the salon owners’ stylists like family.

As the CEO of a billion-dollar franchise brand, Rhoda Olsen’s key to success isn’t what you’d expect it to be. In fact, it’s quite simple—just be yourself.

It’s a philosophy that’s worked. Since Olsen joined the Great Clips executive team in 1987, she’s steadily climbed the ranks. In 1998, she became president and by 2011, she was leading the charge as the brand’s CEO. During that time, Great Clips went through some remarkable changes, too—and it’s no coincidence. Under her watch, the haircare brand grew from 1,000 salons in 1998 to more than 4,000 in 2016.

Nearly 29 years later, Olsen’s genuine passion for the brand still inspires just about everything she does. Ask her any question about Great Clips, and she can quickly rattle off the answer. She can tell you how much the average salon in Cincinnati makes in a week. She can also tell you the names of any of the thousands of Great Clips franchisees (and the names and ages of their kids, too). She travels 200 days a year visiting locations throughout the country. She’s even made pancakes at homes of her franchisees. And Olsen wouldn’t have it any other way.

With the recent celebration of its 4,000th salon, one thing is clear—Olsen and her talented team know what it takes to run a thriving franchise. Recently, Olsen, along with Ray Barton, Great Clips’ former CEO and current Chairman (and Olsen’s older brother), shared their top four most important keys to success with MSNBC.

People are the heart and soul of the company

From the day the brand opened its first salon in 1982, to the opening of its 4,000th store, Great Clips has always put people first. They treat corporate employees, salon owners and the salon owners’ stylists like family.

“It’s hard for me to imagine a company that doesn’t understand that their people are the heart and soul of their operations,” Olsen told MSNBC. “If you don’t care about them, then nothing else makes sense. I hate the phrase, ‘It’s just business—it’s not personal.’ It is personal. The way that you care about and the way that you value people drives every aspect of your business. Yes, business today has gotten complex, but it’s not complex to let people know that you care.”

Barton agrees—taking care of your employees is paramount to success.

“When we train a salon owner’s stylists, we let them know how important their role is. They’re the ones who connect with our customers and interact with them on a daily basis. If the salon owner doesn’t ensure their employees are motivated, happy and well trained, how can we give the customers what they want?” Barton added.

Invest in technology to support human interaction—not replace it

Great Clips differentiates itself from competitors with technology like Online Check-In and Clip Notes, a global customer database that ensures customers get the same quality haircut at all Great Clips locations. No matter which Great Clips salon a customer visits,  stylists at all Great Clips locations can retrieve information on the customer’s previous haircut helping them give customers the exact haircut they want.

But even with this technology in place, the team at Great Clips firmly believes that nothing can ever replace the value of sincere human interaction.

“Technology can be a reminder. It can be a reinforcement. It can give you information to make your job a little easier. But it won’t ever replace the interactions customers have with the stylists,” Olsen said. “Technology doesn’t have a personality or a smile.” 

Be authentic

“When I got into this business world, I quickly realized how powerful it was to simply be me. We are who we are, and we’ve never lost sight of that,” Olsen said.

Admit your mistakes

“I watch companies who have these big data breach announcements, and you get seven paragraphs into the press release before you hear the CEO say they’re sorry,” Olsen said “Say you’re sorry. That’s the most powerful thing you can do when you make a mistake.”

Barton agrees that it’s easier for companies to be defensive, but it’s important to calm down and admit that things went wrong.

“It happens. There’s nobody in business who hasn’t made a mistake.”

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