While working as a stylist in his mid-20s, Andreas Zafiriadis dreamed of opening his own salon. But to make this dream become a reality, he had work to do.
“I needed to take classes and become more educated,” Zafiriadis says. “When I did open a salon, I wanted it to be a place where my staff could grow and have a career in the salon—not just a job.”
He also felt strongly about creating a culture in his future salon, a culture that revolved around its stylists and staff.
“I wanted people to be heard,” Zafiriadis says. “I never felt like I was heard in the companies I worked for and wanted to really listen to my employees—that’s what makes up a culture.
“I also wanted to avoid a cookie-cutter environment, and encourage my stylists’ creativity with education.”
A Vision Becomes Reality
In 1999, Zafiriadis was ready to make his dream a reality, and he opened the doors to his first Salon Buzz location in Chicago’s swanky Gold Coast neighborhood.
The salon’s name was inspired by an article he was reading in Inc. magazine about creating a “buzz” for big brands.
“That was my intent,” he says. “I wanted to create a buzz in the city. But I didn’t want my name on the door, because I couldn’t do it myself—it’s a collective effort.”
Zafiriadis knew he wanted to surround himself with like-minded people, so right from the start, he made education one of the cornerstones of his culture.
“I started by training my own assistant, and then within the first year of opening, I developed a training program,” he says.
“I made lots of mistakes and sometimes hired the wrong people, but I learned as I went along and knew I had to persevere to create a strong culture if I wanted my business to exist for a long time,” he adds. “Because when you have a strong culture, anyone who comes in and is a bad fit ends up getting spit out.”
Defining a Culture
A few years ago, during a staff meeting, Zafiriadis asked his staff to put Salon Buzz’s culture into words. The staff came up with: “supportive, cohesive, talented, professional and progressive.”
“They came up with these words—not me,” he says. “They also helped create the mission statement and values. They have buy-in because they created it. I want them to be heard, above all else.”
Zafiriadis says his hiring process and excellent customer service are the other two elements he has focused on to create a successful business.
“Our hiring process is always evolving, but one key question we ask is—‘are you looking for a job or a career?’” he says.
During the onboarding process, Zafiriadis and his management team focus on relationships in addition to technical training.
“New hires spend one-on-one time with the general manager and another manager so they learn our values from us directly,” says Aldona Rackauskas, salon director. “We take them out to lunch and share the story of how we started and how we’ve evolved. We want them to feel comfortable coming to us with any issues,” she adds.
“About 45 percent of the people in our company have been with us for 10 years or more,” Rackauskas says. “They are deeply rooted in our culture and nurture new hires.
“We are very aware that with each new hire, we are forming the future of the salon, which is why, in every meeting now, we remind our staff that we are a big place and can be intimidating—so they should reach out to new hires,” she adds.
Zafiriadis says it all starts at the top with himself and the leadership team. From there, everyone falls into alignment, melting together, adopting one another’s ways, and becoming mentors to new stylists in the salon’s mentoring program.
Another element of the salon’s success is customer service. From assistants who are shampooing to master stylists, clients know anyone who touches their hair at Salon Buzz will do a great job.
“Everyone in the salon is trained to satisfy the client and build relationships with them,” Zafiriadis says. “I want our customers to feel they are getting a first-class experience, every time.”
Sustaining the Salon Buzz
In March 2002, three years after they opened, Salon Buzz was bursting at the seams. There was 100-percent occupancy in the chairs and clients were literally standing while they waited for service. The time had come for a second location.
The new location, in Chicago’s River North neighborhood, was bigger than the original space and allowed Zafiriadis to place newly trained stylists behind the chair and expand his brand in a new area.
But three years later, the original Gold Coast location was outgrowing itself again.
“That’s when the downstairs level became available and we were able to spread out onto two levels,” Zafiriadis says. “We were also able to design the space so it could appropriately fit our needs.”
The salon has evolved in other ways as well. Technology has helped Zafiriadis and his management team maximize their time with staff members.
“We do monthly meetings called ‘performance dialogues’ with each technician to give them constructive criticism and goal them towards numbers based on where they’re at,” Rackauskas says. “We set that goal at the beginning of the year, and with the help of our SalonBiz software, we’re able to talk to them every month about how they are moving forward and where they need to change their performance to achieve the goal.”
Benchmarks extracted from software are Zafiriadis’ lifeline to his business these days.
“I have numbers in my hand at all times so I can keep my finger on the pulse of the business. We go really deep and know what and why about everything in the company,” he says. “We also use technology to communicate with the team via texting or an internal Facebook page.”
However, one piece of technology Zafiriadis isn’t allowing on his salon floor is cell phones.
“My staff is not allowed to use their cell phones on the floor,” he says. “The customer sees that and it looks like the stylist is unprepared to service them. It’s not the luxury feeling we want to convey.”
Salon Buzz is buzzing around social media though. At the request of his stylists, Zafiriadis and his team recently created a Salon Buzz Instagram page with each stylist using their name @salonbuzz and hashtags provided by the salon.
“We wanted it to look cohesive and professional,” he says. “Again, we came together as a team to create a collective experience.”
With a sterling reputation, steady growth, and a team of stylists who are passionate about their careers, Salon Buzz continues to thrive in a competitive market.
“We’ve stayed true to our core vision,” Zafiriadis says. “Our culture is our immune system and lets us know how healthy we are. Our core values haven’t changed, only how we deliver them to clients and employees. Through these values, we’ve gotten stronger every year.”