Having a career as a computer design engineer that spanned nearly three decades may not seem as though it would translate well into an entrepreneurial role in the men’s and boys' hair care industry, but for Arif Taj and his wife Susan, the transition came naturally.
Before the couple decided to invest in Sport Clips Haircuts, a leading franchise that boasts more than 1,700 locations across the U.S. and Canada, the Tajs were already making a name for themselves in the franchising industry. Even though Arif was working as a computer design engineer, he was also involved with Baskin Robbins alongside his wife and parents. However, after 20-plus years in the food service industry, they decided it was time for a change. That’s when they discovered Sport Clips.
“In 1994, my wife and I broke into the franchising industry with the help of my parents. We bought some Baskin Robbins stores, which we owned for over 21 years. But after leaving my job as a computer design engineer, we decided we wanted to find a different franchise model that was better suited to our needs,” said Taj. “When you work in the food industry, you need to be engaged in your business on a day-to-day basis. We were at a point in our careers where we wanted to set up a business that we could then take a step back from. We spent a good six months looking into several different franchises, and chose Sport Clips, which was new to Southern California at the time.”
While Sport Clips only had about six stores in Southern California when the Tajs signed on to become franchisees in 2007, they immediately recognized the brand’s potential. Arif says it was the brand’s philosophy and values that resonated with him, along with the vision of how to grow the business. And for both the Tajs and Sport Clips as a whole, that growth has come to fruition.
Arif and Susan have seen Sport Clips grow from 400 units to more than 1,700. They’ve also seen their own agreement with the brand grow from three licenses to nine, with seven stores currently open in the Los Angeles area. For Arif, that growth stems from a strong understanding of what Sport Clips’ business model has to offer.
He said, “The structure of Sport Clips is such that if you set it up correctly and put in the effort to get your business off the ground, you don’t have to be in your salons every day for your business to run. It’s a simple philosophy — if you find the best people for your business and can keep them, your business will eventually grow.”
By staying true to their philosophy, the Tajs have gotten into a consistent pattern of growth that can be replicated by all Team Leaders in Sport Clips’ system. While Taj operates as a semi-absentee owner who doesn’t need to be in his salons every day, there are certain responsibilities he takes on every day to ensure the success of his salons.
“A ‘typical’ day for me can look very different depending on whether or not I’m in the process of opening a new location. In the beginning stages, I spend quite a bit of time during the construction process — or the takeover of a new store if it’s an acquisition — establishing our culture. Culture is a big deal — the difference between team leaders who are successful and those who struggle is how their culture is established in their business. That’s why we focus on culture first,” Taj said. “Once that culture is present and a salon is up and running, I spend the majority of my time out in the community building relationships between Sport Clips and local chambers and non-profits.”
What affords Taj the opportunity to be out in the community is a strong network of managers. Right now, the Tajs have one manager at each one of their salons. Taj makes it a priority to meet with them on a regular basis to ensure things are taken care of and help them enhance their careers in order to move up to the next level. That’s what encourages team member retention, according to Taj, which he says is essential in order to succeed.
“Culture and retention are two of the most important aspects of my business. We have the best retention in Sport Clips’ system, and I think that’s because we realize that this is a people business. That starts with your team members — find and select the best people you can and take care of them. By building those relationships, there will be a strong culture that’s evident to the clients who walk through your doors,” Taj said. “From there, if you’re following the system that Sport Clips lays out, you’re going to be successful. But if you’re following the system without having the proper people in place to execute it, it doesn't work. The two go hand-in-hand.”
Because the Tajs are so focused on creating a positive environment for their team members and clients, they were named 2018’s Team Leaders of the Year at Sport Clips’ annual Huddle. One of their managers, Jennifer Justis, was also recognized at the franchise system’s convention as the brand’s Manager of the Year for 2018. She’s been working alongside the Tajs for years. In fact, she was the second team member who joined their team and has been with their original store for over 10 years.
“Winning the Team Leader of the Year award was such a surprise! For me, this business has never been about me or even me and my wife. It’s always been about our teams,” Taj said. It’s a great honor that people recognize the contribution that we’re making to the Sport Clips system and we’re humbled by it, but that recognition goes to our teams. We would never have received this award without our great team and system.”
Going forward, Taj says he plans to continue growing alongside Sport Clips with the help of his strong support team and the brand’s support staff.
“What keeps people coming back to Sport Clips is the people. It’s the same way in the food industry — if you go to a restaurant with good food but poor service, you may not go back. But when you find a business that brings you a sense of enjoyment, you’re going to make it a part of your routine,” said Taj.