Steve Smith of Cross Plains, Wisconsin has been a successful entrepreneur for years. While he has weathered some ups and downs throughout his distinct career that has included convenience stores, day trading and cabinetry, his inspiring, positive attitude and people-first philosophy have brought him to a point where he is ready to take his business to the next level with Sport Clips Haircuts.
At the young age of 20 years old, Smith entered the White Hen Pantries franchise system as one of its youngest franchisees and quickly became one of its top performers. Over the next 27 years, Smith operated multiple units profitably, developing managers and driving traffic to locations.
Smith says, “Owning a convenience store demands a lot of time and attention. The stores are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If something goes wrong at 3 a.m., you have to handle it. The owner/operator model is a lot of work.”
For this reason, the franchisor usually only allowed three stores per franchisee. Smith, being highly- competitive and industrious, owned an unprecedented six. “It was very unique that they allowed someone in their system to run that many. I hired managers for the stores. I found that even though I had to spend more per store to pay my mangers, I made more overall and worked less. I realized just how efficient a manager-led structure really is,” explains Smith.
Owning six convenience stores operating around the clock was very demanding, so after almost three decades in the business, Smith decided it was time to find a better work-life balance; one that offered him greater freedom and flexibility. He decided to look for a different kind of business ownership.
In 2006, he opened a high-end cabinetry store. Unfortunately, this coincided with the nation’s housing market crash, rendering his new business unsustainable. Less than a year later he closed the doors on that business and considered his next move.
A trusted friend suggested Smith look into Sport Clips. He immediately found alignment with the brand, saying, “I found the concept to be unique. The team-building and marketing aspects of the business appealed to me. The brand was a good fit.”
Sport Clips also appeared to be more recession resistant to Smith than his ill-fated cabinet business. “I felt the haircutting industry to be more economically stable than others. Everybody needs haircuts, and it can’t be outsourced,” he says.
In 2008, Smith made the decision to invest in Sport Clips. The slowing economy at the time only proved to him that he made the right decision, explaining, “Right after becoming a team leader the economy took a dip, but my stores continued to grow. I attribute this to the Sport Clips business model and the company’s leadership. They continued to grow in advertising and marketing. They invested in the system and we benefited from their steadfast commitment to our success.”
On any given day, you might find Smith vacuuming the floor or answering the phones in one of his two stores. “I try to be very involved with my stores. I am proud of the fact that I have a low turn-over rate in my stores. I take the time to develop relationships with my team and promote a family atmosphere and team culture. This comes from Sport Clips. This is the brand’s culture. I have had stylists come from other salons tell me that they never once met their store’s owner. To me that is sad.”
Sport Clips’ culture is also characterized by teamwork, and this has been a key factor in the success of many of Smith’s region’s team leaders. Smith agrees, “Our stores do better when we work together in both advertising and recruiting. Many of us have the same philosophy and work to grow together.”
“For example, when another team leader opened a location near one of my stores we decided to team up. Together we went to local events and handed out coupons. We both saw our sales double,” comments Smith. Through his work with the other Team Leader they were able to capitalize on the increased market share and show more clients the consistent commitment to excellence, which is franchising at its best!
Smith also appreciates the unparalleled brand support and detailed guidelines that team leaders receive from the brand. “Investing in Sport Clips means you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. You just open up the playbook to see what needs to be done. In the beginning I had no idea how to pick a site or how to get a store up and running. They have guidelines for all of that. I just had to check the next box and it gets done. The support has been great,” says Smith.
He adds, “They have a proven system and the experience to help solve the real issues a franchisee may come across. I remember standing in front of my store with Edward Logan, Sport Clips' president, complaining about how my store front was too dark. He suggested installing can lights and to divert advertising money for one month from direct mail to pay for it. My problem was solved without busting my budget. I don’t think I would have come up with that on my own. It just goes to show how dedicated to our success the leadership is. They are not just out for themselves, they want to do what’s right and put people first.”
When asked if he would recommend investing in Sport Clips, Smith responds, “I would promote the Sport Clips system to anyone. If I had it to do all over again, I would. I love Sport Clips today as much as I did when I first got in. My only problem right now is that I can’t buy stores as fast as I want to! There is not another business that compares to their offering.”
Hear more from Steve Smith on August’s Validation Conference Call.