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Fantastic Sams Franchise Review: Laurie McGill of Rhinelander, WI

Former stylist finds longtime success as multi-unit owner of Fantastic Sams salon franchises

Laurie McGill has been in the salon game for over three decades, and she credits her success to a simple business philosophy: “I believe in quality over quantity. Quantity gets you a good paycheck today, but quality gets you a paycheck for a lifetime.” Having started out with an independent salon, McGill bought her first Fantastic Sams franchise in Rhinelander, WI, in 1994. Today, she owns four Fantastic Sams franchises in Wisconsin, with her other three locations in Antigo, Wausau and Weston. McGill’s husband, a retired photographer, helps out with marketing and maintenance, and she employs around 40 people. This is her story.

Laurie McGill
Laurie McGill

How did you learn about Fantastic Sams?
I had a private salon, an Aveda day-spa salon,in the early ’90s when the franchise walk-in style salons were more in big cities and just starting to expand into smaller markets. There happened to be an ad in the newspaper looking for someone interested in opening a Fantastic Sams in our area, and the rest is history.

What did you find interesting about the opportunity?
First of all, I don’t think this is normal but I did keep the independent salon for several more years. I finally sold it in 2006. Our town, Rhinelander, is only about 8,000 people, and when I saw the ad that Fantastic Sams was coming, my husband and I looked at one another and said, we might as well be our own competition rather than someone else’s. I wasn’t ready to give up the private salon at that time.

This helped us fill two different niches in the market. The Aveda salon was called A Cut Above. It was truly a day spa that offered massages and facials, and it was high-end for our market. So Fantastic Sams really hit another niche in the market. I felt it would possibly be a feeder salon, where we could get stylists fresh out of school and transfer them over. That happened to some extent.

When did you start adding other units?
One year later we added Wausau, then I purchased an existing one in Stevens Point, WI, about three years later, in 1998, and then we relocated that to Plover, WI. One day my manager came to me and asked if I would consider selling it, so I sold it to her in 2004. We were getting ready to open another Fantastic Sams salon in Antigo, and I really wanted to focus all my energy on my Fantastic Sams franchises. Our Antigo salon opened in 2006, and Weston in 2007.

What makes Fantastic Sams a good investment? Why choose Fantastic Sams as opposed to another salon franchise opportunity?
I like the direction Fantastic Sams is headed. Their acquisition by Dessange International was a good purchase by a salon company that really knows the business. Hands-down, though, the best thing I get out of Fantastic Sams is the support. When I look at the support I’ve had through all the years, the educators keeping our stylists updated and Gary Padfield, our Regional Operations Director, it’s great. At any given day or time, I can call them if I have a question. Just the support of our other owners, our friends we’ve made – we just bounce ideas off one another. Also, the marketing material you get is wonderful. As an independent salon, you can never afford to develop and print the kinds of marketing materials we receive as Fantastic Sams franchise owners.

The bottom line is the support you get from Fantastic Sams is the best. All you have to do is ask.

What makes Fantastic Sams stand out from other salons from a consumer standpoint?
The structure that’s behind it, especially compared to independents. The systems that are there have been tried and tested, and they work. If you follow the system, you can have a successful salon.

What kind of experience do you need to be successful with Fantastic Sams? What kind of person will succeed here?
You don’t need to be a stylist, although it is most definitely helpful. If you don’t have the technical background, you have to come up with a key person in your organization that you can rely on, whether it’s a manager or a GM. If you take back-to-school week as an example, I used to be a stylist and I have sympathy for our staff on those crazy busy weeks. Someone who hasn’t been a stylist doesn’t understand what a stylist goes through both physically and mentally dealing with our guests on a daily basis. It’s important to be able to relate, or to have someone in charge who understands what they go through.

What kind of management structure do you have in place to manage your salons?
I have either a manager and an assistant manager or co-managers at each location. I have two people in management at each one. I really have great managers and a great team. They make my job easy.

What are your five-year goals in terms of growth?
I’m happy where I am. I’m turning 60, my husband is retired and someday I need to be there, too. I don’t have any plans on the horizon to open more salons, but if I were younger, I sure would be adding more. I like where I am right now. I don’t ever want to get so big that I don’t know all my staff and all their families. I don’t want to be at a point where I don’t know their names and kids’ names.

A brick storefront with glass doorway is topped by a sign that reads, Fantastic Sams Cut & Color.
Fantastic Sams franchises offer an opportunity for entrepreneurs to invest in a growing industry with a stable, 40-year-old brand.

How did you first get started in the salon industry?
With my first salon, I worked there as a receptionist in high school and went back there as a stylist. My boss asked me if I would like to own the salon one day. And later, as I mentioned, I sold my that salon to my manager there. I have always hoped to sell each of my Fantastic Sams salon franchises to someone who has worked for me for a long time, so they could have an opportunity to own their own business. I hope that can happen.

I have one manager who has been with me for 24 years, and one who has been with me for 23 years. They know the business as well as I do.

What’s the most satisfying thing about being a Fantastic Sams franchise owner?
I tell my stylists, “I may sign your paycheck, but your clients are your boss. If you can be successful, then I will be successful as well.” That’s the truth. Develop your staff, and you will be successful. That’s the most satisfying thing in any salon.

What do you tell prospective franchise owners when they call? What kind of person will be happy here?
You definitely have to be a people person and enjoy working with the public and have some business experience behind you. My husband was a photographer who had a studio before he retired. It’s amazing the similarities between the businesses. We all love the artsy end of it, but you have to run a business, too. More than anything, you have to know that your stylists are you more important asset in the salon. Without them, you’re nothing. If you cannot gain and retain your stylists, you’ll always be battling to keep the business afloat.

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