Listen to your Customers: The Story of how Great Clips Changed the Salon Industry

ray-barton-headshotInterviewed by Donna Stone

Ray Barton is the Chairman and former CEO of Great Clips. I had the opportunity to talk to him about how he built Great Clips into the world’s largest salon brand. Here are some of the key takeaways from our conversation. You can hear more of Ray’s insights at the Compete Through Service Symposium on November 7th.

You have been very successful building a huge national franchise business. How would you describe your personal work ethic, and how has it been instrumental to the growth of Great Clips?

I have five sisters and we all learned very early that we had to work for what we wanted. That carried over to the business. It was easy for me to make the commitment of time and energy it took to build a business. Building Great Clips was fun–it never felt like work . . . it was always exciting and challenging. The work ethic came naturally–it was part of who we were.

What else would you attribute to your success in the service industry?

Great Clips led the change in the salon industry. We changed the way customers were served. When we started the industry was organized around the stylist.

Salons were open five days a week with very limited hours. Customers had to make an appointment. We changed that: we were open seven days, and 9AM to 9PM weekdays. Customers could walk in anytime, when it was convenient for them, and get a great haircut. We have a system designed to find out what the customers want and to make sure they get it.

We also changed the industry for the stylist. We were among the first to offer paid health insurance, paid training, and paid vacations. We provide an amazing career path, which can lead to salon ownership.

Most importantly, we had a great team. Everyone pulled together. We listened to one another, treated each other with respect, and worked together to solve problems. This built trust. We were a team, we supported one another cheered for one another, and celebrated each other’s successes.

Can you tell me about some of the difficult times you had along the way? Maybe things that you tried that didn’t work or competition was executing better at some point?

We’ve had many challenges as we built Great Clips. One was keeping our system simple and consistent. Today we have over 3,600 salons and 35,000 stylists.

To deliver quality to such customer requires we keep our business model simple, so it can be executed over 900 million times a year. This ensures each customer gets exactly what he or she wants.

Because we were different than other salons, people kept trying to change us, add services or products. We had to stay focused on what we did, haircuts, and get better at delivering a great haircut experience rather than change who we were.

To build a brand, we also had to stay consistent. Each salon had to look the same and carry the same products, deliver a great haircut every time.

I can see how it would be very difficult to have that consistency across the salons to get to that point. But once you have it, it’s a lot easier to maintain right?

We have a simple system, a common language, and a few measures to determine how we are doing delivering a great customer experience. This has been very powerful and led to 40 straight quarters of same-salon sales increases.

We are very focused. What keeps me awake at night is how we maintain our focus and keep our system simple. How do we resist changing what is working because we are bored with it.

How do we avoid changing who we are and instead work to get better at what we do? This will always be a huge challenge.

When forming your strategic vision, how much did you have to adapt to the market, and how did you navigate the unknowns in a changing customer landscape?

Our strategy was to listen to the customer. We want to lead and be different because that was what the customer wanted, that is what the customer demanded. We adapted to what the customer wanted. We were always very customer-focused.

Lastly, what advice would you give entrepreneurs entering the service industry today?

Understand what your customer wants- that’s job #1. Our industry was organized around the stylist, and we flipped it.

We had to motivate our teams to deliver what the customer wanted and to show them that everyone wins when you give the customer what they want.


Ray Barton joined Great Clips in 1983 as CEO. He led Great Clips from 4 salons to more than 3,500 salons and annual sales in excess of $1 Billion. Prior to joining Great Clips, Barton was a member of the professional staff of the international accounting firm Alexander Grant & Company (now Grant Thornton), Vice President and member of the board of directors for the North Central Region of Century 21 and Vice President of Quintex Energy Inc.

Barton serves on the boards of directors of TCF Financial Corp. and Scottsdale Lincoln Health Network., and is a Member of The Board of Trustees of the University of St. Thomas. He is a former chair of the board of Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota and serves on several advisory boards of private corporations. Additionally, he has served on the boards of directors of the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation, the American Association of Cosmetology Schools, and the Junior Achievement Association of the Upper Midwest. He is a longtime member of the Young Presidents’ Organization, World’s Presidents’ Organization, and past President of the Minnesota Chapter of the World Presidents’ Organization.

Barton has received numerous awards including the Minnesota Business Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Award, the John F. Cade Award, and the Minnesota Business Ethics Award, which recognizes Minnesota businesses that exemplify and promote ethical business conduct for the benefit of the workplace, the marketplace, the environment and the community.

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The forgotten asset – the crucial role of the employee in delivering great Customer Experience (CX)

BBS  Philipp Klaus 1A copyBy Phil Klaus

The employee, the forgotten asset? Forgotten is a day and age when the consumer calls the shots and consumer to consumer (C2C) interactions seemingly rule the business world (Klaus 2013a; 2013b)? Or, has the tide turned again, and managers do recognize that employee retention is crucial from both a primary (think cost of hiring, training, and possible loss of productivity by hiring a new employee), and secondary cost factor (e.g., disengagement, customer service and errors, and a negative cultural impact caused by high turnover)? Let’s start out investigating the ‘status quo’ of employees in today’s business environment, with a special focus on services. Continue reading

Differentiating on the Human Experience to Drive Customer Loyalty and Growth

DuffyBy M. Bridget Duffy, MD

In an era that challenges healthcare organizations to do more with fewer resources, patient experience is often considered an add-on. However, in an increasingly competitive environment, organizations can no longer solely focus on stripping out waste and reducing costs. A growing body of evidence points to the human experience as a key driver for employee and customer satisfaction, loyalty and performance.

Therefore, it is important to integrate traditional approaches to efficiency and quality improvement with strategies that transform the culture. The imperatives of this infrastructure include: Continue reading

Are all channels truly equal? How to design and manage a successful Multichannel Customer Experience (CX) Program

BBS  Philipp Klaus 1A copyBy Phil Klaus

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing insights from my research and consulting work in a series of posts, which will discuss critical aspects to delivering successful CX experience. You can read the first post, Demystifying The Black Box – How To Design, Manage, And Measure The Most Profitable Customer Experience (CX) Strategies, here. The series will conclude with a podcast with the Center for Services Leadership, where I will be answering questions from the CX community. I invite you to share your questions and comments through the blog or via Twitter (#CXquestion) and I’ll be happy to address them in the podcast. This is the second post in the CX series.

Social Media—a manager’s curse or blessing. To use the words of some of my clients, “As if managing offline channels wasn’t hard enough already?”
Managers worldwide, while almost evangelistically embracing the new multi-channel environment, are often left with very little guidance on: (a) how to take advantage of online channels, (b) how to develop a corresponding multichannel strategy, and (c) how to manage the multi-channel strategy in the best possible fashion. This, in turn, leads to frustration in the boardroom about both the benefits of online channels and the influence on the overall customer experience (Klaus, 2014a). Continue reading

Service Innovation – The Experience Is Not Enough

lance-bettencourtBy Lance A. Bettencourt

I just got off a flight from Indianapolis to Chicago. Checking my email, I see a survey from American Airlines. They want to know: “How was the flight experience?” I’m on a flight right now from Chicago to Montreal. Guess what will be in my email inbox when I arrive?

As a consumer, like you, I am inundated with satisfaction and service quality surveys. Get a repair done. Get a survey. Have a meal. Get a survey. Stay at a hotel. Get a survey. Many companies have clearly bought into the idea that it’s important to get feedback from customers on the service experience.

Though I applaud the effort to get customer insights, there is a problem with using such insights to guide meaningful service innovation. And many companies do just that. Continue reading

Profiting from Services and Solutions

click on the slide to begin the webcast

Leaders of product-based companies are under an enormous pressure to stay competitive by shifting revenues from selling goods to delivering services and solutions. Yet few executives realize the extent to which they must change their organizations to succeed in growth through services. In this webcast, Dr. Mary Jo Bitner, Professor and Executive Director of the Center for Services Leadership at W. P. Carey School of Business and Dr. Steve Brown, Emeritus Professor and Strategic Partner of the INSIGHT Group, talk about their new book Profiting from Services and Solutions: What Product-Centric Firms Need to Know, which draws on the authors’ years of academic research and consulting work with several Fortune 100 member companies.

In the webcast, the authors introduce “The Service Infusion Continuum” framework and highlight two of the six important success factors, Capabilities and Collaboration with Customers, that are critical for product-centric companies in their business transformation as they move along the continuum from products toward higher valued services and solutions.

Foundational research for the book was sponsored by the Center for Services Leadership at Arizona State University and several of its Fortune 100 member companies. Profiting from Services and Solutions: What Product-Centric Firms Need to Know is available on Amazon and Business Express Press website.

Our readers are invited to receive a special offer on the book from the CSL partner, International Society of Service Professional (ISSIP). The International Society of Service Innovation Professionals promotes the professional development, education, research, practice, and policy work of its member individuals and institutions working hard to improve our world’s diverse, interconnected, complex service systems.

To receive a special book offer from ISSIP, follow the steps below.

Show you care: initiating co-creation in service recovery

NLP-course-for-customer-serviceBy Dr. Yingzi Xu

Customers are no longer passive receivers of service offerings from companies, but rather value creators themselves. Companies realize that involving customers in service production and co-production is a cost-saving strategy and an effective way to satisfy customers. Co-production expands to co-design of new services as well as to co-recovery, which allows companies and their customers to work together to find a solution in the event of a service failure.

Continue reading