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A Case Study on Creating Strong In-Store Culture: Sport Clips in Hickory, North Carolina
A Case Study on Creating Strong In-Store Culture: Sport Clips in Hickory, North Carolina

Effective management and a culture of communication and trust are building blocks to this store’s success and year-over-year revenue growth.

On Casey Lackey’s first day as manager of the Sport Clips Haircuts in Hickory, North Carolina, a precedent was set. Team Leader Patrick Hardy took Lackey out for a welcome lunch and he recalls their conversation, “She told me ‘You do your job. I will do mine. You do the numbers, and we will cut hair.’ And that is how it has been. Allowing her the autonomy to use her judgement and make creative decisions has been a game-changer in the store’s success.”

The store is a top performer in the Sport Clips network and has experienced strong year-over-year growth as sales and client counts continue to increase. It is clear to see this store has built a strong culture, one that fosters stylist retention and drives championship client experiences…so much so, they are coaching other stores in the area on how to create this in their own stores and helping them identify the individual roadblocks they may be facing.

The Hickory store hasn’t always been this effective. Opened in 2003, Hardy took over in 2011. The store was an average performer until Lackey took the reins in the beginning of 2012. After a year of transition and getting its bearings, the team hit its stride and hasn’t looked back.

At the heart of the growth and success, Hardy says, “It comes down to culture and community. If we create a place where people want to be, then we are on the right track.  The brand’s clearly defined company culture and values provide a foundation for building strong store culture.”

Hardy speaks from experience. He owns 25 stores and has seen a lot of store cultures develop. This is impressive, especially considering he still maintains a full-time day job. The effective, manager-led structure the Sport Clips' business model provides makes this possible. Semi-absentee ownership gives him freedom and stability, allowing him to scale his business while still working toward other goals.

Hardy goes on to say, “Managers are so important to this business. We have a great team in place, from stylists and store managers all the way to our area managers. The stylists are the key players here, without them nothing would happen. The store managers and area managers help bridge the gap between team leaders and stylists.”

He continues, “Sometimes when you are looking at the numbers on a spreadsheet it is hard to see where a problem lies. Sue Harris, one of our area managers, has this incredible ability to elevate the perspective and get back to what is important.”

With so many stores it can be hard to see which individual road blocks might be impeding growth, and this is where having strong managers comes in. When Harris and Lackey got feedback from their community about their location’s visibility, they immediately jumped into action.

Lackey says, “The store is not in a highly visible location. We often hear from clients, ‘I didn’t even know you were back here!’”

Harris describes their community marketing strategy, “We get out in the community. We do a lot of school and Boy Scout sponsorships. We get involved in community activities like parades and festivals. We are there handing out coupons at high school football games and community events.”

Lackey adds, “But a lot of our marketing is done from behind the chair. About half of our new clients come from client referrals and buddy cards.”

The success of their behind the chair marketing points to the strong in-store culture. The culture drives customer experience. Lackey says, “Happy stylists mean happy clients. Happy clients refer their friends and family.”

A key element in retaining happy, quality team members like Harris and Lackey can be attributed to culture. Lackey explains, “It comes down to trust and respect, and a lot of fun and laughter. You have to love what you do.”

The Hickory store is a tight-knit group. They have fun together in and out of the store. They enjoy contests and competitions and have instituted “dress up Saturdays.”  This December they are showing off their best ugly Christmas sweaters. Since a lot of the stylists have kids around the same age, they have family picnics and organize an annual Easter egg hunt.

Lackey says, “Our relationships with each other are something we have put effort and time into, just like you have to do with any relationship. At the end of the day, we all care and want the best for each other.”

She continues, “Because we have grown our relationships with each other, it makes encouraging and asking for help easier. When I struggle in a certain area, I will go to another stylist who is strong in that area and ask for help. Even though I am the manager, we are all equal here. We each have our own individual strengths and weaknesses. This diverse skill set is an asset. We are a team and we work to improve each other.”

The store’s high retention rate of stylists is a testament to this intentionally cultivated culture. This begins with hiring the right managers. Hardy says, “Identifying quality managers has become easier because I have seen what characteristics breed success in that role. Casey definitely has what it takes.”

Lackey, who leads the hiring in the Hickory store, adds, “Hiring the right people is so important. You are building a team and it shouldn’t be rushed. For this reason, interviews are usually a two-part process and team members other than myself are involved in the decisions.”

She continues, “Transparency is crucial. Besides getting to know the candidate, they also need a good picture of what it’s like to work in the store. They have to want to be part of our team. I also like to find out what sort of environment they seek out outside of work.  And whether they look for opportunities to grow outside of their comfort zones and challenge themselves.”

As Team Leader, Hardy says he understands how crucial stylists are to drive customer experience, “Stylists are the most important people in our industry. Their job is a tough job. They have to deliver high quality personal service in a fast-paced environment. It is easy to forget the importance of the human element. Stylists may see 20 clients in a day, but to each client, they are the only stylist they interact with.”

He goes on to say, “You really have to listen to the team members and determine their goals and needs. There has to be mutual trust there. I let my team know I have faith that they know their job. ”

Lackey agrees, “Patrick trusts my creativity. When I come to him with an unconventional idea, he trusts my judgement and gives me the freedom to make decisions. He does not micromanage.”

Hardy will tell you, “The success of this store has resulted from the growth and maturity of its manager, Casey. I had to get out of her way, listen and put trust in her.  After all, she cuts hair…I do not. This is the reason the business model is structured this way. We all have complimentary skills and we all have a role to play.  Follow the system and you will find success.”

Harris adds, “The team leader’s role is seeing that stylists have what they need to deliver the championship experience. Sport Clips provides a great support system that allows for personal and professional development for stylists.”

Lackey concludes, “Sport Clips is a great place for a stylist to work. The environment is fun and relaxed. The uniform is comfortable. You are not dealing with chemicals, and male haircuts are faster, meaning more opportunities for tips. The hours are good and allow for a good work-life balance. And there are plenty of opportunities for professional development and growth.”

For more information on becoming part of the Sport Clips team, click here.

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