Fantastic Sams Franchise Review — Q&A with the Biggest Franchisee

Fantastic Sams Franchise Review — John Prichard explains what it takes to run 27 salons

John Prichard was the chief operating officer of a nationwide baking company before he became a Fantastic Sams owner in 2004. Over the past 10 years, he has become the largest franchisee in the country, with 27 salons in the Minneapolis area. He and his wife, Patti, run the business together, with their son J.P. providing mechanical and IT support for the businesses.

John was attracted to Fantastic Sams because of its strong business model, excellent support and the business opportunity. His success has provided jobs and has helped him support needy children an ocean away.

This is his story.

What were you doing before Fantastic Sams? I spent 24 years in a senior management position for McGlynn Bakeries, a national company, and I was part of a team that developed national distribution for cake decorating supplies and other products. I was chief financial officer for 12 years and then chief operating officer for 12 years.

The family who started the company was ready to exit most of the business, and I worked with them to sell the divisions. I knew it was time to move on, and I prayed about what I should do next. I felt a call to get into business to serve God, and when I met with Fantastic Sams, it made sense.

What got you interested? I was interested in a service business and wanted to get away from food. I also wanted to be part of a service business that I felt was stable. Fantastic Sams appealed to me because it provides a service that is always needed, and it is a full-service value salon, which provided an opportunity to serve the largest group of people. The value segment made sense as something that could thrive during good times and be stable in bad times. Having gone through the Great Recession, we have now experienced both.

You were a CFO. How did the numbers look? I looked at Fantastic Sams along with a lot of business models, and Fantastic Sams stood out. There weren’t strong upturns and downturns in the business. I did a lot of due diligence, talking to existing franchisees and going into a lot of detail with them so that I could get a feel for the profit-loss metrics and the cash-flow model — things that the franchisor is precluded from talking about. It was easy for me to come up with break-even points and see the upside opportunity. The financial exercise was key to me deciding to get into the business.

You are the biggest franchisee in Fantastic Sams. What has made you successful? I set out to open 15 to 25 salons over 10 years. It took us nine years to hit 25, and we have 27. We opened 17 and purchased 10. We follow the guest services model very closely, as well as the operational model. We are very active and involved in leading our teams and holding them accountable to providing a high level of guest services, and we also expect them to take advantage of training to develop their skills. We get great support from Fantastic Sams corporate, which offers a lot of coaching, mentoring and training.

How do you manage 27? My wife, Patti, oversees a team of seven staffing directors who oversee two to four salons each. The staffing directors are over the salon managers. Each salon has a salon manager who oversees guest services and often serves guests. The staffing directors spend most of their time managing, recruiting and hiring, but also spend about 25% of their time serving guests to keep their skills current and to give them time to train and coach staff. My wife and I, as a team, oversaw the first 15 salons on our own. It was busy, but we needed to achieve a level of mass before we could hire staffing directors.

What do you like about the job? It goes back to our faith. We really feel we have the opportunity to lead great people in the hair industry, and we also provide a great service. We like seeing employees reach their potential and seeing guests walk out looking great and feeling great. We also like seeing the business mature so we can use it for God’s purposes. For us, that means supporting missions, locally and internationally. We have friends working at Heshima Children’s Center in Nairobi, bringing dignity to special needs children who are raised in a slum. They provide nutrition and physical therapy. Most of the children they serve have cerebral palsy. We also support local food banks. We welcome opportunities to help the needy and hungry.

How have you helped employees grow? At one of our first salons, one of the people we recruited was an experienced stylist who was a little reluctant to come to Fantastic Sams because it was a new salon and a younger brand in the market. She took a leap of faith, and within a year she stepped into managing the salon. She and the team she has helped build have made it a Top 10 salon in the country in terms of sales revenue. Seeing someone like that stay with us and grow has been great. There is a fair bit of turnover in this business, and the people we’ve been able to retain are the ones who have embraced the model and the training opportunities. She is one of the shining examples. In another salon, we hired a young stylist who also quickly stepped into managing the salon, and today she is one of our staffing directors.

What sets Fantastic Sams apart from other hair franchises? Other franchises are “cutting salons.” They have a few extra services, but those services are pretty minor in terms of what they provide. The guest service and training and development model that we have allows people to come in and step into a full-service hair salon environment and be well supported and stronger than what I’ve seen from competitors. As we have more services, we also need to offer more training and education for those services.

How do the training centers work? When a stylist first joins my staff, there is a multi-day training program to teach them the guest services model, teach them techniques for offering additional services, and help build some confidence for up selling. There also is technical training to improve their skills with cutting and coloring and to introduce them to our color lines. The training centers then offer a lot of supplemental training. Maybe wedding season is coming up, and it’s a lesson in formal styling, or maybe there is a new hairstyle trend. The centers also teach advanced techniques and help stylists hone their guest consultation skills so that customers know how they can use products to maintain the finished salon look.

Is previous salon experience important for an owner? I think it’s more important to have management experience. It’s important to look at Fantastic Sams from a business perspective and understand the business model.

How much are customers willing to spend? We had kind of a crazy story happen just this weekend — a stylist in one of our salons did an exceptional job providing a family with hairstyle services — cutting, curling, coloring and hair care products. It was a mother and daughter, and they walked out having spent $400. The stylist offered an incredible consultation, but we were worried that she may have pushed too hard. Are we going to get an angry call tomorrow? This is a value-priced salon, after all. Well, my wife was at that salon the next day and the same mom came in with two more of her children and raved about the great experience they had.

Yes, we can deliver an inexpensive haircut, and we can also deliver the private salon experience. When customers find a stylist who is extremely skilled and can offer suggestions and services, they love it!

What does a typical day look like? In the morning I would look at the previous day’s operations and see how the salons performed. My wife is great about sending out kudos to staff when she sees that they did a great job. Sometimes you’ll spot an issue you need to dive into. So I look for both the good and the challenges to spot problems and opportunities. There are a lot of phone calls throughout the day to help with operational issues like staffing needs, which my staffing directors now mostly handle. My son J.P. gets calls on a daily basis for maintenance issues, like a water heater being down or a cabinet hinge needing repair.

Each week I look at marketing, analyze the regional marketing plans and plan my own product promotions. I reorder supplies. There’s almost always an ongoing recruiting effort to fill job openings. I used to be the one who did recruiting and interviewing. You have to move quickly because there is a lot of competition for staff.

You need to be an active owner. Your salon manager will be working behind the chair half the time, so they don’t have much time to do recruiting. That has to be done in support. With the pricing model, salon managers need to be behind the chair. It is hard to put too much administrative work on them.

Do you spend much time in the salons? My wife is in the salons quite often. It is very, very important to get to salons on a weekly or every other week basis. She tries to be there enough so there is a presence and the stylists know the owner is there and cares. It’s important for owners to be accessible and approachable, and to respond as quickly as you can to the needs your stylists have. Pay attention to the people side of the business. If you are there, you can pick up on possible conflicts. Maybe the manager isn’t holding people accountable as often as she should. You need to pay attention and nip things in the bud so that it stays a good place to work and is successful.

What does franchise ownership allow you to do that you couldn’t before? Because we feel strongly that we need to be involved and accessible, we have a 24/7 role, but you can structure it so you are not tied to it 24/7. We also have a tremendous amount of flexibility. My son J.P. has two daughters, ages 8 and 6, and my wife and I enjoy spending time with them. When there are opportunities to spend time with family, we can take advantage of them. It takes high energy, and it requires a lot of work, but depending on your goals and your purpose for being in business, it can be very rewarding.

Would you recommend a Fantastic Sams franchise? Definitely, especially if they are looking at the hair salon industry and the opportunity. We think the model is by far the best in the country.

Learn more about Fantastic Sams

Fantastic Sams is the oldest full-service unisex salon franchise in the nation, and we have grown to more than 1,100 units over the past 40 years. We offer customers current styles at affordable prices in a convenient atmosphere. Unlike discount haircut franchises, we serve more women than men, and we offer cuts, styling, color and facial waxing — which drives up our average ticket price. That means larger profit margins from the same level of investment you might make in our competitors’ salons.

You don’t need any salon experience to open your own Fantastic Sams salon franchise; you just have to be passionate about people and have good business sense. We’re seeking franchise candidates with a minimum liquidity of $60,000 and a net worth of at least $200,000. You can open your own Fantastic Sams salon for about $185,000. To start a conversation about this franchise opportunity, please fill out the form at right or call us at 855.371.3465. We look forward to hearing from you!

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