In the Cross Hairs

Make over your business from Tabatha's Salon Takeover.
by : 

Jacki Smith

April 1, 2014
In the Cross Hairs

Tabatha Coffey (Tabatha’s Salon Takeover), Gordon Ramsay (Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares), and Jon Taffer (Bar Rescue) are hard-as-nails business experts who make entertaining reality television. The swearing, frustration, and scripted drama all play into our need to compare our efforts with those of other business owners ... and to be reassured we’re doing better than those poor suckers. We love the sense of becoming an instant expert at the end of each show and going into restaurants, bars, and salons thinking our newly acquired eye of the tiger can spot trouble like a pro. After a marathon of Tabatha’s Salon Takeover, you can’t look at your stylists’ salons—or your stylists—the same way again.

Ratings, re-launches, and kumbaya moments aside, there is a business truth to these shows, a tried-and-true formula these experts follow to quickly pinpoint what to fix first: appearance + quality + attitude + skills + community = success. What Tabatha proves show after show is the lack of even one of these variables can be the downfall of any business.

Tabatha begins each show by looking at a place with new and critical eyes—and that is where the drama begins. By looking at your own business through Tabatha’s eyes, you, too, can spot where your store could use a makeover.

A stranger in your own store

A good place to start your makeover is by looking at your store with new eyes—a stranger’s eyes. When you walk into your store with your to-do list churning through your brain, you miss seeing bad habits that have been collecting in your aisles. You don’t see the dusty display, the disorganized back counter, the inattentive clerk, or the uninterested customer.

Try this: Bring a friend to your store and give him or her a tour. Make sure it’s someone you want to impress. As you move through your store, you will see with new eyes how your displays, counters, and staff look to others. Keep notes during the tour so you remember later what needs to be fixed. This is the beginning of an honest conversation with yourself about the status of your business.

When someone critiques your shop, it’s easy to shift into defensive mode. You see it on every episode of Tabatha’s Salon Takeover: the owner or manager insisting it’s not that bad, yet when put on the spot, she bemoans the fact that nothing can help fix her problems. You don’t want to be the business owner out to prove the world is conspiring to bring you down. That’s an owner who has already decided to quit and just hasn’t gotten around to putting up the closed sign. Be the owner who knows she has issues and, although uncomfortable, is committed to fixing what is broken. If by the end of this exercise you proudly realize you’re in great shape, congratulations! Caution: If your store is not performing to its potential but you don’t find anything amiss on your tour, you are not being honest with yourself.

Stepping outside your ego to give yourself some tough love is hard, and you won’t be perfect the first time around. Every business has bad habits born out of overflowing to-do lists, lack of knowledge, and burnout. Pull your staff into the process. Let them know you want their honest opinions, and they will have lots to offer. If they don’t, you have found one of your problems—employees who aren’t invested in their jobs. To up the ante, bring all your business partners, employees, volunteers, mentors, friends, and family into this process. They will feel part of your team and more invested in the business.

Start with the basics

In the first part of Tabatha’s show, she interviews the staff and gets them to open up about what they really think. She knows employees are able to pay attention to the basics because they aren’t burdened with running the business. Your staff is your best resource for uncovering the nitty-gritty issues that need to be addressed. Give them a checklist of the basic elements of a good store and have them rate each with open-ended responses (if you give them a 1-5 scale, they will choose “3,” which tells you nothing):

  • Does the front of the building entice you to come in?
  • What do you feel when you first walk in the door?
  • If you didn’t already know, what type of store would you think we have?
  • What products/services would you expect to find?
  • Comment on the cleanliness.
  • What is the first display that drew you in?
  • Comment on your product knowledge.
  • Do your fellow staff members have sufficient product knowledge?
  • What do you think is the biggest challenge for this store?
  • What do you say to customers when they come in?

Customers and sales are the point of every business, and both are driven by the first impression your store delivers. A bad or confusing first impression is the easiest way to lose customers—and the easiest problem to fix.

Because we’ve always done it that way

The minute you answer a criticism with, “But we’ve always done it that way,” STOP! This is the sure sign of a bad and comfortable habit. Tabatha rolls her eyes when a salon owner gets stuck in that place because she knows it will take a lot of digging to get at the root of why.

Negative reaction to criticism is about fear, and it’s normal. Mistakes can feel life threatening and make you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders. If you hired well, you have a team willing to bear some of that burden. Hanging on to all the burden yourself is an easy way to burn out and give up.

Instead of staying stuck, ask your staff if they know why you do things that way. Find out if any of them have a better solution. Breakthroughs, improvements, new technologies, and a changing culture you were unaware of before can emerge when you are open to suggestions and new ways of doing things.

To stay at the top of your game, you need to challenge yourself and your beliefs about your business. You also need to pay attention to changing customer needs and preferences. Narrowly focusing only on your own business is a sure-fire way to miss trends and changes in your community and world, which could soon make your store obsolete. Get your crew together and ask them what bad habits they see in your business:

  • What procedure or habit is considered sacred and untouchable?
  • What item or service are we missing out on in our store?
  • What items or services are outdated in our store?
  • What training do we need to better serve our customers?
  • What is the biggest change in our customers’ needs in the past few years?

None of the answers to these questions will matter if an owner has a negative attitude. As the owner or manager, you have to take a deep breath, put on your big girl panties (or big boy drawers), and relax. This reassessment is not a personal attack on you or your ability to run a business; it’s about you learning the next step. Owners who are open to criticism have a growing business; owners who defend their position, even though it is a failing one, go out of business.

Take the lead on leading

Tabatha fills the seats and watches the staff culture unfold. To get a good read on your staff’s true behavior, you have to turn up the stress—and that is what Tabatha does right out of the gate. She knows the employee culture of your business can be the thing that tips the scale to profitable or not profitable. It is also the thing that goes first when the owner and manager are under stress. When the importance of employee culture is ignored or not supported or there is no company structure, good employees can fail to live up to their potential.

Employees need to feel valued, they need guidelines, they need respect, and they need you to lead them. If you are not the alpha, someone else will be. The others will follow that lead, because without direction they feel useless. Help your employees fulfill their potential as great employees—and fulfill your vision for your store—by refocusing them on being productive members of your team.

Employee manuals are usually read upon hire and never referred to again. The dress codes and conduct codes that are referred to over and over again—even informal ones—are the real guidelines. Don’t be shy on setting these standards, even for yourself. The look and behavior of your staff is part of that important first impression. Inattentive, poorly dressed staff signal to your customers they are in for a shoddy experience. Even jeans can look good, so don’t be afraid to insist on a higher standard.

What a cute store! When did you open?

When did you open and why doesn’t that potential customer know about your store? Advertising and marketing is more than an ad in the paper and a Facebook page. Marketing is an overhead expense just like your rent, your phone, and your décor. Without it, people don’t know you are ready to serve them.

The next time someone asks if you just opened your store, ask them what newspapers they read, where they shop, and what circles they travel in. Ask your best customers how they found you and where else they shop. Knowing where your customers are shopping, looking, dining, and playing, and understanding how those places market themselves can help you discover more effective ways to attract the customers who are looking for you but don’t know it yet.

The Tabatha do-over

Everyone gets a do-over on television—give yourself one, too. (Keep in mind, TV shows get this done in two weeks with a big crew; it may take you a bit longer.) In the business makeover world of reality television, you see variations on the same basic do-over themes:

  • Team building
  • Staff and customer-service rules
  • A better attitude for the boss
  • New resources for productivity
  • A fresh look
  • A plan for debt

All these do-overs are just good business practices, and there are plenty of training resources out there for you to use. Although you have more than two weeks to accomplish your do-over, give yourself and your staff deadlines. Change that happens on Tabatha’s show looks like a miracle, but it’s only a Band-Aid for the long-term healing that is needed.

Set goals once a quarter and map out all the steps to get there. Put these goals on paper, involve your staff, and delegate what you can. Your do-over can be the thing that gives your business new life, but you need to feed and care for these changes or the old bad habits will creep back in and seriously undermine your progress.

Set some benchmarks: Where would you like to be in six weeks, six months, and by year’s end? Set a meeting with your staff to review your benchmarks together to make their actions (and yours!) accountable.

The big reveal

What we love about shows like Tabatha’s Salon Takeover is the big reveal—the miracle unveiled and the packed house ready to rack up sales! Why not do a facelift and have a grand reopening of your own? Who says you can’t? It’s a great way to spark the interest of customers who haven’t visited for a while and to reward your regular customers.

Getting a crowd to your grand reopening isn’t hard if you know a few publicity tricks. The producers of business makeover shows use social media, send out press releases, and hit the streets to tell people in person. In all honesty, you don’t have the advantage of pulling people in with the opportunity to be on television, but you have something just as grand: a community of supporters!

Every big event you host in your store—open house, anniversary party, trunk show—has the potential for a big reveal. If you don’t get it right the first time, try again. Learn more about publicity, read books, take classes, or hire a pro, but have a party, invite the town, and celebrate your makeover!

Jacki Smith is Founder and Enchantress of Coventry Creations and designer of the Blessed Herbal Candles. Jacki has a passion for small business (she owns three), has two books under her belt, and is a regular contributor to Retailing Insight. Contact her at