Fantastic Success: Balancing Faith, Family, and Business
Fantastic Sams franchisee John Prichard has never been a "growth for growth's sake" kind of franchisee. Until recently, the Twin Cities-based owner of 24 Fantastic Sams and two upscale Camille Albane salons wasn't even aware that he was the brand's largest franchisee.
"Never crossed my mind at all," says Prichard, whose company, Kingdom Business, Inc. is a team effort with his partner Patti Prichard--who also is his high school sweetheart and wife of 41 years. "I didn't even know until I was at the Multi-Unit Franchising Conference and ran into Fantastic Sams people, and they told me."
While Prichard may humbly acknowledge their success, he has always been serious about the value of hard work and strategic growth. "I understood right away that in franchising you need to have a strategic plan in mind on what you want to accomplish," he says. "My approach wasn't to be the largest franchisee, it was to have 15 to 30 salons and we will see from there. I was really focused on achieving that goal and having successful salons--not just opening salons to open salons."
As chief financial officer and later COO of a large, third-generation family-owned bakery, Prichard learned the art of strategic planning, annual goal-setting, and adjusting those goals when needed. And when the family wanted to get out of most of the business, he helped sell off the divisions and made his own exit after 24 years.
The Prichards quickly gravitated to the idea of owning a business themselves and liked the stability of the hair care industry, Fantastic Sam's solid business model, and the support the franchisor provided.
Founded with a "three pack" of salons in 2004, their company has evolved into a true family enterprise. While John focuses on the finances and the big picture, Patti focuses on operations, with their eldest son and daughter-in-law in strong supporting roles. Prichard says that learning to balance the family element of the business was a learning process. The key, he says, was "respecting our family and love for each other more than our results in business."
With Fantastic Sams now one of the world's largest full-service hair care franchises, the Prichards are turning their attention to growing their sister brand, Camille Albane, also owned by Dessange Group North America. The Prichards are the first and only U.S. franchisees of the upscale brand, with two salons open in the Twin Cities area, part of a five-unit development agreement.
The couple is also glad to share their experience with fellow Fantastic Sams franchisees. "We are very involved with other Fantastic Sams franchisees in the Twin Cities and around the U.S. to help position the brand overall as the top full-service hair salon brand in the U.S.," says Prichard. "There are excellent opportunities to grow the brand system-wide."
Prichard believes that hair care, in addition to being largely recession-resistant, is a vibrant and growing sector, where the people who work in it love helping others feel and look good. Providing proper, ongoing training to those service providers is a key to their growth, yet he says this is often a weak spot in the industry.
"There are a lot of people who get into this industry who are not coached, mentored, or taught how to be successful so they can stay with it," he says. "Not that we have it all figured out, but that has really been an emphasis. With that comes more longevity and less turnover with us than in the industry. I think in this industry in particular, that has helped us be successful."
Name: John and Patricia "Patti" Prichard
Title: Franchise owners
Company: Kingdom Business, Inc.
No. of units: 24 Fantastic Sams, 2 Camille Albane
Age: John, 63, Patti, 61
Family: 3 adult children (1 daughter, 2 sons), 4 grandchildren (2 girls, 2 boys, and twins expected in January)
Years in franchising: 14
Years in current position: 14
John: We both had our first real jobs at a Red Owl grocery store. I was stocking shelves at 75 cents an hour. Before that, I mowed lawns and had paper routes.
John: My dad passed away when I was 17, and that was the formative event that led me to my faith in Christ. Patti took that journey with me in high school, and it has shaped and influenced everything we've done since.
Patti: Accepting Christ in high school was a formative event, as was marrying my high school sweetheart. Together, we raised three children and started Kingdom Business, Inc.
John: Becoming the largest franchise business in the Fantastic Sams system has probably been the most recent key accomplishment for both of us.
Patti: Raising great kids, building the business, and staying married have all been great accomplishments.
Biggest current challenge:
Patti: Staffing 26 salons is a challenge. There are not enough hair professionals in the industry right now.
Next big goal:
John: We would like our business to be debt-free.
Patti: Beyond that, we would like to retire to a life of serving others and enjoying our grandkids.
Major turning point in your career:
John: Moving from being a CPA at a large firm to working at a local bakery company. I gained a lot of business and management experience in my 24 years at the bakery company, and I eventually became the chief operating officer. It gave me what I needed to go into franchising and operate my own business.
Patti: When I realized that I had the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of so many people. We currently employ more than 250 hair professionals.
Best business decision:
John: Asking Patti to join me in this business early on was absolutely the best business decision I've ever made. She is a great people person. She handles the operations side of the business, and she is a wonderful mentor for our employees.
Hardest lesson learned:
Patti: You learn to care and be a part of so many people's lives, but it is a career for all of us and they move on.
John: Our salons are open every day of the week except Sunday. When the doors are open, we're working. We have the flexibility to take time to be involved in our children's and grandchildren's lives, but we are also available all the time for our staff.
John: I have a Fitbit, and I try to get 15,000 to 20,000 steps a day. I don't always make it, but I always try! We both love walking and playing golf, and I walk when I play golf, so those steps count.
Patti: We also love to play pickleball! It's a paddle sport that's similar to badminton and table tennis.
Best advice you ever got:
John: Don't fear failing in business. When you have a passion about what you're doing, you can't fear failing.
Patti: Separate the behavior from the person. Their behavior is due to life, but the person is who God created.
What's your passion in business?
Patti: My passion is to help our employees remain passionate about their careers. We want to give them the tools to be successful.
John: We also see this as an opportunity to serve God. We named our business Kingdom Business Inc. to help us remember whom we are serving.
How do you balance life and work?
Patti: It is very difficult to balance life and work, but we make it happen. We plan family vacations and we get away for several weeks each year. Our positions allow us enough flexibility to be able to work anywhere. We try to make it to our grandchildren's activities because family comes first.
John: Junk food.
Patti: Sweets and Chico's.
Both: the Bible
Patti: "Mrs. Doubtfire."
John: "It's a Wonderful Life."
What do most people not know about you?
John: I'm a night owl. I love staying up late.
Patti: I struggle with depression. I give everything my best, and I am really hard on myself. When things don't work out, I take it personally.
Patti: People who talk with their mouths full.
John: Slow drivers on the freeway, especially in the left lane.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
John: When I was little, I wanted to be a professional basketball player. I wasn't any good, but it seemed like fun. By the time I was in high school, I knew I wanted to go into accounting and business. I had a passion for that pretty young in life.
Patti: I always wanted to be a wife, mother, and nana.
This summer, we spent a week at a resort on a lake in northern Minnesota with the entire family.
Person I'd most like to have lunch with:
John: I would love to have lunch with Jack Nicklaus. He's the best golfer ever, a successful businessman, and a good family man.
Patti: I'd most like to have lunch with my prayer friends. We have been together for 35 years. We laugh, cry, celebrate, mourn, and love each other unconditionally.
John: The only way to succeed is to create an environment where everyone can succeed. We focus on our staff and what it will take for them to be successful in whatever we're doing.
Management method or style:
Patti: I try my hardest to lead by example. Being a leader also means being a coach and a mentor. However, it's important not to get caught up in any drama while helping to solve problems. I'm just as much a coach and a mentor as I am a leader.
John: Finding the right balance of being a leader and giving our employees the freedom to do their jobs is an open-ended challenge. It boils down to hiring skilled people, trusting them, and holding them accountable. Part of the challenge for us is to make sure we're providing the tools staff members need to succeed and effectively motivating them to achieve their goals.
How do others describe you?
John: They hopefully see me as a very loyal and respectful manager. They definitely know I'm a man of faith. Those are the key things.
Patti: I'm described as a passionate and caring leader who goes above and beyond.
One thing I'm looking to do better:
John: This relates to our greatest challenge. How can we be better leaders to help our people be successful? That's what we want to do as a business. We also want to make sure we show our employees how much we appreciate them, beyond simply giving them kudos.
How I give my team room to innovate and experiment:
Patti: I try to give our leadership team room to share and give ideas. I am always asking our team members for their opinions.
How close are you to operations?
John: Patti runs the operations, while I provide the business strategy and planning. We work together on operational challenges to come up with solutions, and Patti executes those solutions with her team.
What are the two most important things you rely on from your franchisor?
John: We rely on Fantastic Sams for branding and marketing, as well as education. The corporation sets the branding message, and that influences how guests and hair professionals see our salons. There is a shortage of hair professionals right now, so we rely on our franchisor's brand messaging to be attractive to stylists. And although we have our own educator, it's important to receive education from the Fantastic Sams staff. That's imperative to help the members of our team grow and succeed.
What I need from vendors:
Patti: Our vendors need to provide marketing support, stylist incentives, and education. The vendors are important to help draw talented hair professionals into this great career opportunity.
Have you changed your marketing strategy in response to the economy? How?
John: We've changed our marketing strategy in response to the shortage of hair professionals. Now, our marketing isn't just aimed at attracting consumers--we also want to be attractive to talented hair professionals. There is less couponing and discounting and more brand awareness.
How is social media affecting your business?
John: Social media provides a good marketing channel for us. It also provides a platform to connect with and recruit hair professionals.
How do you hire and fire?
Patti: We have staffing directors who recruit and hire for us, and everyone gets a thorough orientation. On the other side, we have a five-step program that works everyone through a process before we let them go. We are all about believing in the person and helping them change the behaviors that would otherwise cause them to lose their employment.
How do you train and retain?
John: We have a two-day class for new employees and a full-time educator who consistently works with our stylists. Retention is built around ensuring our employees have successful careers and feel they can grow. We provide strong benefits, schedule flexibility, and advanced education.
How do you deal with problem employees?
John: We meet with them and try to work through their issues. We try to turn their challenges around to a success.
Fastest way into my doghouse:
Patti: Creating drama rather than solving problems.
John: Having a negative attitude and negatively influencing others in the workplace.
John: To see a 3 percent annual sales growth.
Patti: We would also like to better serve our employees and help them grow.
Growth meter: How do you measure your growth?
John: Through overall sales as well as individual salon performance metrics. That includes seeing growth in all of our services and product sales.
Vision meter: Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years?
John: Patti wants to have more freedom with our grandkids. From a business standpoint, we want to be debt-free, and we plan to keep growing.
Patti: In 5 years, I hope to be spending more time volunteering and on nana duty. Even more so in 10 years!
How is the economy in your region affecting you, your employees, your customers?
John: No matter the economic climate, it doesn't cause significant swings in our business. In good times and bad times, people still want their hair to look good.
Are you experiencing economic growth in your market?
John: Yes, and I think that's mainly because we have a strong, established brand in our market and we're a full-service hair salon.
How do changes in the economy affect the way you do business?
John: Sometimes we'll see a growth in our customer counts when the economy is down because we are a full-service hair salon with fair prices. When the economy is good, there may be fewer people entering the salon industry since they have more opportunities.
How do you forecast for your business?
John: We forecast each salon monthly and annually and we combine them. We don't have those significant changes in response to the economy, so our results typically match our expectations.
What are the best sources of capital for expansion?
John: In the banking climate, it is SBA-backed lending. It's fragmented outside of that. Some people may tap into personal lending.
Experience with private equity, local banks, national banks, other institutions? Why/why not?
John: I've done most of my lending with local banks, and most of that has been SBA-backed loans. It has been a good experience overall, and I think that comes from having good banking relationships and keeping them well advised on results.
What are you doing to take care of your employees?
Patti: We treat them like family. Our salons are closed on Sundays so everyone can spend time with their families and focus on their faith. We offer them paid vacation, health benefits, 401(k), advancement opportunities, and leadership training.
How are you handling rising employee costs (payroll, minimum wage, healthcare, etc.)?
Patti: We have had to raise our prices to cover our rising costs.
How do you reward/recognize top-performing employees?
Patti: We always want to recognize our employees for their hard work, so we acknowledge their successes and personal accomplishments on our private Facebook page and in our company newsletter. Top-performing employees are given certificates, bonus pins, and thank-you notes. We also have contests and incentives to encourage strong performance. And, of course, personal recognition goes a long way.
What kind of exit strategy do you have in place?
John: There really isn't an exit strategy. We're a family business and we see that continuing into the foreseeable future. We do have a plan in place for our business to continue if something happened to Patti and me.
Patti: I plan to find a replacement for myself in the next few years. My husband is a lifer--he doesn't plan on exiting until death do us part!
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