Growth Minded: Mark Kartarik Manages by Walking Around - A Lot!

Growth Minded: Mark Kartarik Manages by Walking Around - A Lot!

Two years ago, when Georgetown, Texas-based Sport Clips prepared to enhance its corporate team and boost growth it called on Mark Kartarik, a salon industry veteran. Kartarik had established himself as a top executive with Minneapolis-based Regis Corp., where he served for more than two decades as Regis expanded worldwide. At Regis, he served as executive vice president and president of its franchise division for Supercuts, Cost Cutters, ProCuts, First Choice Haircutters, Magicuts, City Looks, and We Care Hair.

Kartarik not only knows the hair care franchise business inside and out, he has a reputation for working alongside franchisees, listening to and learning from them to get a real sense how things are going, what they need, and what customers want. In fact, he is on the road constantly, visiting the brand's salons and says he's been to more then 500 in the past 18 months and may get even busier: Sport Clips expects to open as many as 200 stores in the next 18 months.

Technology is at the forefront of the brand's strategic initiatives. Kartarik says Sport Clips is in the midst of launching a new mobile check-in tool that should be fully functional by next summer. The new tool will give clients the ability to go online and check in using their mobile devices, tablets, or desktops, to view wait times, and choose their favorite stylist at the touch of a button.

"The technology allows our clients to plan accordingly and in essence wait wherever they choose," he says. The brand also is automating its in-store check-in and check-out process inside the stores.

Name: Mark Kartarik
Title: President
Company: Sport Clips
No. of units: 1,587 (U.S. and Canada)
Age: 60
Years in franchising: 20-plus
Years in current position: 2

Leadership

What is your role as president?
I'm responsible for overseeing our CIO Dan Miller, VP of Operations Gordon Edward Logan, VP of Marketing Martha England, and VP of Real Estate Greg Smith. I report to CEO Gordon Logan.

Describe your leadership style.
Calm, relaxed but intense, get the facts, make a decision, solution-oriented, strategic.

What has inspired your leadership style?
Great leaders I have worked with: Gordon Logan at Sport Clips and Gordon Nelson and Paul Finkelstein at Regis.

What is your biggest leadership challenge?
Communicating across a highly diverse, remotely located group.

How do you transmit your culture from your office to front-line employees?
We visit our stores on a regular basis. I have been in more than 500 of our stores in the past 18 months. We attend quarterly field leadership meetings for team leaders (franchisees), store managers, and assistant managers. In addition we have our annual huddle where we bring all our managers and team leaders together with the support team (home office team members) to a single location for three days of education, communication, team building, and motivation. Last year we were in San Antonio and next April we will host more than 2,700 associates in Las Vegas.

Where is the best place to prepare for leadership:
an MBA school or OTJ? An MBA is theoretical, even when you attend business school after some previous business experience as I did. OTJ is practical and not replaceable. The best combination in my experience is that one accelerates the other. Any sort of education is good for any executive, and I am a firm believer in lifelong learning and incurable curiosity. (I'm even curious about who left the "u" out of curiosity.)

Are tough decisions best taken by one person? How do you make tough decisions?
One person should make the tough decisions after consulting with the most thoughtful advisors and team members. Get input, make the decision, and take responsibility.

Do you want to be liked or respected?
I've learned people will tend to like the people they respect. I would answer both.

Advice to CEO wannabes:
Know yourself. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Learn to help and believe in those around you.

Management

Describe your management style:
Managing by walking around (MBWA, Tom Peters). People will tell you far more in person than they ever will in writing. Have high expectations of people. Expect they will do well and they usually will.

What does your management team look like?
Kind of good looking with really great haircuts. ;-)

How does your management team help you lead?
They are each far better at their respective jobs than I am and they lead their teams very well, which helps me immensely. They also give me feedback and information, which also helps guide everyone toward the same outcomes. They are all passionate about what they do as well as for their respective teams, and everyone wants to play on a winning team.

Favorite management gurus: Do you read management books?
Tom Peters, Jim Collins, Ken Blanchard, Gary Keller, Harry Nilsson, Simon Sinek, Malcolm Gladwell.

What makes you say, "Yes, now that's why I do what I do!"?
Helping provide a safe, fun environment for all stylists where they can make a good living with career options such as assistant managers, managers, area managers, technical trainers, business coaches, marketing specialists. It is so rewarding to hear "I love my job." I am also inspired by encouraging and mentoring those who are interested and have the grit to succeed.

Market

What trends are you seeing with consumer spending habits in your stores?
More attention to beards and beard oil. More awareness of men to new products and a willingness to spend to look good.

Has the economic recovery reached all of your customers?
We have been fortunate overall and the vast majority of our guests have weathered the storm, but there are still challenges in certain industries and regions of the country.

How is the economy driving consumer behavior in your system?
We seem to be in a sweet spot of a high-value, high-quality service in the affordable category. Our clients value our "affordable luxury," which is way more than "just a cut" at a really good price point. We have our team members to thank for that. And the economy seems to be making affordable cool.

What are you expecting from your market in the next 12 months?
We are optimistic our same stores sales will remain strong as we are doing very well, but there is always room to improve.

Are your franchisees bullish or bearish about growth and adding additional units?
We are projecting 160 to 180 North American units. This is in line with our steady growth plan.

Are commodity/supplies costs any cause for concern in your system?
All costs are a concern but this is an area we are managing well.

Personal

What time do you like to be at your desk?
As I mentioned earlier, I don't like to be at a desk. We are a people business, and when I am at the support center I walk around and continually check in. The rest of the time I am out in the field. My desk is a stand-up desk we found at an antique shop in Georgetown. It was originally in a railroad station in south Texas and was used as a ticket counter almost 100 years ago. Even they knew we should be standing up at the "office."

Do you socialize with your team after work/outside the office?
Many conventions include social activities, as you know, so I participate with my team there. We also occasionally will have a beer after work on a Friday at the local biker bar, Hardtails, which I renamed "Hogwarts." That moniker happened when I first arrived here and couldn't recall the exact name of the place.

Last two books read:
Big Data by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier and Contagious by Jonah Berger.

What technology do you take on the road?
iPad, iPhone, iWatch, Dell Latitude.

How do you relax/balance life and work?
I play guitar and write and record songs. I attend concerts and listen to bands and still have an extensive vinyl collection. A couple of years ago I accidently bought the remaining inventory of a record shop in St. Louis, so I have 8,000 to 9,000 LPs. I also don't believe balance is the right word. Today, with all of the technology in our lives, the best we can hope for is a healthy "blend" of our lives, and that is what I strive to do. More like blending a fine wine, not balancing on a seesaw. The problem with the seesaw is when one side is up the other is down. Therefore your life is set up to be win-lose with work and family on opposite sides of the scale.

Favorite vacation destination:
My lake cabin in Minnesota. (No, I don't fish.)

Favorite occasions to send employees notes:
I send a note when they need personal support or a pat on the back and it is important to them that I do it in writing.

Favorite company product/service:
Our MVP haircut service, including a legendary hot towel/shampoo experience, is the best anywhere. Experience is the last differentiator in the digital world. And it takes great people to provide great experiences.

Bottom Line

What are your long-term goals for the company?
Our goal is to continuously get better at what we do and continue to provide the best environment we possibly can for our stylists. We even have a fund that provides money and support to stylists who are going through difficult or extraordinary struggles as a result of sickness, hurricanes, tornadoes, or other personal or natural disasters. It is funded by all of us through donations and independently managed by a third party as a nonprofit. It is unique in our industry as far as I know. Living our values. As we get better, bigger will take care of itself.

How has the economy changed your goals for your company?
The economy hasn't really affected our goals. We see any challenge as an opportunity to be more competitive.

Is capital getting easier to find?
Finding capital is not a constricting variable for us. Money is attracted to well managed, predictable, recurring revenue streams that are not directly affected by Internet sales.

How do you measure success?
I measure success based on the positive impact we can have on those around us. If their lives are better, happier, more fulfilling in some way and I have helped to make that possible, then I see that as success. The short version: "Exceeding your dreams."

What has been your greatest success?
Mentoring executives and people who attain their dreams.

Any regrets?
Should have signed more leases in 2009.

What can we expect from your company in the next 12 to 18 months?
We are excited to be launching our new mobile check-in software/hardware package and plan to have it fully functional by next summer. The ability to have our guests go online/phone and see wait times, pick their favorite stylist, and get in the queue will be really good for our experience. Basically, if there is a wait we will be using the latest technology to allow our guests to plan accordingly and in essence "wait" wherever they chose. We are also automating the check-in and check-out process, including posting the queue on an in-store wallboard. In 18 months we will also be approaching 1,800 units in North America.

Published: November 17th, 2016

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