Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The business of beauty

It's been a while since I wrote about Sally Beauty, but there were two stories that I thought were worth reading. First is a story from Forbes on starting a salon business. Sally got a mention as a supplier of salons, but what was more interesting to me was the advice to adopt a Whole Foods approach to employees. "In the salon world, the most precious resources are stylists, so keeping them around and happy is critical." The article suggested emulating Whole Foods' training program.

On a related note, Regis is dropping out of the beauty school business by merging most of its schools with Empire Education Group. The press release has more information including the suggestion that the need for IT investment was the reason for the merger. As you might recall, Regis was initially interested in buying Sally Beauty, but was rejected at the last moment because of operating weakness.

It seems to me that while the beauty salon industry as a whole resists consolidation, the supporting industries are successfully consolidating. Beauty schools and salon product distributors benefit from economies of scale, but salons themselves rely to a large extent on the services of talented stylists. Since talented stylists know they are an important part of the success of a salon, they demand a larger slice of the profits. There are dozens of professions with this dynamic including chefs, athletes, programmers, artists of all types, and so on. But unlike other professions, it's difficult for individual stylists to scale their work—they can only cut one head of hair at a time.

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