Know who you are and what makes you special. Part of being great is being confident in what you have to offer your customers and your team. Once you do that you will have an easier time attracting the customer and the team you desire.
Be ready to pivot at any time. Being a great company means when things change you have to lean into that change. Be open to change and be willing to create a new path if need be.
Be a leader that wants to serve others. The greatest companies I know and love truly serve their team and support their growth. I believe that as leaders we are not only meant to serve our customer but also to serve our team.
As part of my series about the “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nina Tulio.
She is an industry-leading salon business consultant, speaker, and educator helping salon owners and stylists around the world grow their business, while growing themselves. Nina’s unique approach focuses on encouraging her clients to grow through personal development and self-care, all while offering the tools needed to build a thriving, sustainable salon business.
Nina has 24 years in the industry and she has served in all facets of the business- 20 years as a hairstylist, 8 years as a chain salon executive, and 11 years as a successful salon owner. In 2016, Nina decided to sell her salon to fulfill her dream of creating her own consulting agency. This business was created simply to help owners and stylists not only grow their business, but grow their confidence. Combining her deep passion and care for people and her love for the industry, Nina has made it her mission to uplift the beauty industry and empower anyone that is a part of it.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I have always had a passion for helping other people. I was the first to sign up for the Cosmetology class at my Vocational school and instantly fell in love with the industry. I knew I wanted to be a salon owner and was fortunate enough to meet my mentors over 22 years ago. They changed my life. My journey in the business, running salons, and starting a small chain with them was my college education. I learned how to lead, how to run a business, and the importance of giving back to others. I am living my dream. I am so fortunate to be a part of an industry where people work from a space of passion and compassion and where the opportunities to grow are endless.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Oh yes! So many! When I was a new salon owner, I thought I had a great strategy on how to build and grow. But boy was I wrong. By the end of year 1, I had only 800 dollars left in my bank account and thought everything I had worked so hard for was going to come to an end. But I took a leap of faith and ran an ad in my local newspaper and with an error on their part, it ended up running full circulation as opposed to just a fraction and it blew up my business. I prayed for a sign. I was so sick and scared I would lose my business and after that article ran my business did a total 360. That was only the first time I thought I would have to close my salon business. The second time was in year 4. It was my fault and I made some horrible marketing and financial choices and I had to take accountability for it. But here is what kept me going- my mindset. I promised myself I would never give up on myself and my dream. I had an incredible passion and desire to be successful and no matter what, I would not quit. I dug deep and looked within myself and created a plan of action that was different then what I thought it would be and It was a constant pivot. But I finally got it right.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
My husband is in digital media and e-commerce and always has great ideas when it comes to helping me with my business. However, we discovered that trying to create a marketing piece on a Saturday night may not be the best idea. We clash sometimes when it comes to design so what seemed like a great idea and a way for us to bond, turned into a full blown conflict and a waste of a saturday night. Needless to say we never did that again.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think my business stands out because I am not afraid to be vulnerable. Yes, I feel like I know my stuff and have credibility when it comes to business and the beauty industry in general, but, I can relate deeply to other people. As an owner and leader it can get very lonely. But the life and business experience I share is very relatable. I made many mistakes in my business and I am not afraid to share them with other people. My transparency and authenticity is what, I believe, makes me stand out. People want to do business with people they know, like, and trust, and it’s important to show others you are a real person. That’s the ticket to building a successful brand and business.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
To be honest, I am still a work in progress when it comes to this area. But what I do know is this. You have to take time to check out, unplug, and recharge. Shutting down and having a complete day off is key. It is important to fill yourself and take the time for self care daily. I suggest carving out a designated time each day just for you. Preferably in the morning before the day gets started. I also know that we typically become burned out when we become disconnected from our why. The day to day routine of any business can turn you into a robot. Just showing up and doing the same thing every day. We can very easily lose sight of why we even started in the first place. Take a step back. Remember why you started your business. Think of what motivates you to get out of bed every day? What is the drive behind why you show up everyday? Work from that place. You will start to notice a shift. It’s almost like a kick start for yourself and your business.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I have been so blessed to have 2 of the most kind, smart, and giving mentors. I met them both when I was 19 years and I was very impressionable. They truly changed the course of my life. Robin was the owner of the small chain of salons I worked at. And Ray was the owner of over 200 salons back in the day. I spent almost everyday with them for 7–8 years and I can confidently say. I am who I am in business because they believed in me. They saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. They coached me and encouraged me to be the best I could be. And when I would fall, they would always be there to lift me up.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?
A “good company” will only do what they have to do just to get by. They are the company that may cut corners. They may look for the “quick route” to get to the top. A “good company” may be ok with not standing out. They are just coasting alongside their competition. A good company will be ok with winging it and might stray from their mission and vision for their company. When I was a salon owner I said to one of my team members, “ I don’t want my company to be ‘good’, I want it to be ‘great’. I want great for you too! And If you want ‘good’ we may not be a fit and that’s ok. But if you want to live a life of greatness, I am your person and this is your salon.”
A “great company” will never look for the quick route. They will be strategic and create a plan of action that is aligned with their brand and vision. They will not compromise their brand mission and long term vision just to fit in. Great companies will always go the extra mile on all levels. For their customers and their team. They strand strong in their core values and never waiver no matter how hard things become. Great companies have strong leaders that want to create other leaders. A great company will always show up with intention, passion, and purpose and work from that space every step of the way.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Be sure to create core value, ethics, and core morals and make every decision based on them moving forward.
- Be willing to ask for feedback. Great companies always want to hear how they can improve their guest experience.
- Be ready to take the long road. If things get tough there is no easy way out. There are no cutting corners to “make it”. Slow and steady wins the race.
- Know who you are and what makes you special. Part of being great is being confident in what you have to offer your customers and your team. Once you do that you will have an easier time attracting the customer and the team you desire.
- Be ready to pivot at any time. Being a great company means when things change you have to lean into that change. Be open to change and be willing to create a new path if need be.
- Be a leader that wants to serve others. The greatest companies I know and love truly serve their team and support their growth. I believe that as leaders we are not only meant to serve our customer but also to serve our team.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
People love to do business with other businesses that contribute or help others. There is something about making a purchase knowing that you will give back to others in some way. Purpose driven companies lead with their hearts. They have a way of connecting with their potential customers and drawing them in by telling a story. In most cases they create a sense of community. People want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They want to be a part of a community so this gives you an edge when it comes to hiring employees and attracting new business.
What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?
First off, this is totally normal. Even the biggest and best companies go through a standstill in their business. My biggest piece of advice is to sit down and evaluate what’s working in your business and what areas of struggle you are having in your business. With the things that are working, I suggest ramping them up a bit. Maybe it’s an area of advertising and marketing that went really well. Keep up with that and maybe even upgrade it slightly.
Now onto the areas that are your areas of struggle. If you notice that your overall volume is down and client retention is down from the prior year or two. Now is the time to dive deep into the why. Why are these areas down? And then create a solution to these areas. I suggest doing something different. Create a new referral program if you don’t have one. Create a VIP program for your customers if you haven’t done that before. I am really big on taking calculated risks in business especially in the areas you are struggling in.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Don’t ever lose sight of the big picture. That is first and foremost. I also suggest running your budget at least once a year and seeing where you can cut costs. Especially during a difficult economy knowing exactly what is coming in and what is going out is key. Keeping your pulse on your monthly expenses will help you see the big picture. When it comes to drumming up new business. I recommend looking internally first. What I mean by that is it can be very costly to attract new business. I suggest utilizing the clients you already have and creating a loyalty program, referral program, or VIP program so they can help you build your business. Keep in mind. You have so many customers that are already your raving fans. Allow them to help you and be a resource for you.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
I think the one area that is underestimated is budgeting. It is very easy to speed money and not keep track of your budget when things are going well. But creating habits that allow you to stay on top of your monthly profit and loss statement is key. In the industry I’m in, we are not taught how to budget money, what fixed expenses and variable expenses are. We have to learn as we go. I would switch up the focus from top lines sales and revenue, to budgeting and expenses and you will see a shift in your profit.
As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
I would focus on the 4 P’s of marketing
Product — Do you have the right product or service that is conducive to your target market.
Price- Is your price in line with the type of product you are selling
Promotion- Is the way you are promoting your product or service creating conversion. Are you using clear communication and the right channels to promote your product
Placement- Is your product being shared on the right Social platforms and at the right time. Is it creating buzz and a sense of urgency for conversion.
Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
The best way you can earn trust as a reputable brand is to:
1. Be authentic. Be willing to share your truth and wear your mission and your vision on your sleeve.
2. Tell your story. People love to hear the why behind your brand. They also love to hear how you got started. Don’t be afraid to share some of that story with them so they can feel truly connected to your brand.
3. Focus on building relationships with your customers. Make every interaction intentional and personal. Make the time to say hello and ask how they are doing. Especially in a service based business.
4. Clear communication. Keep the lines of communication open and very clear with your customers. Ask for feedback and keep them in the loop every step of the way with monthly email marketing campaigns.
5. Show appreciation. Take the time to show your customers how much you value and appreciate them, This is a great way to build relationships and also show them how much their support means to you and your business.
Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?
I believe what creates a “wow” client experience is how you are willing to go the extra mile for each guest. And not just the first time, but every time. You want to create loyal guests and a great way to do that is to make the customer experience very personal. In a service based business, like the beauty industry, saying the guest’s name upon arrival may seem small but really goes a long way by making the customer feel welcomed. Almost like they are walking into your home for the first time. One of the biggest things that worked when I was a salon owner was to send out hand written thank you cards to all new guests. It made our clients feel incredibly special even after they left. I also believe that creating a solid business culture allows for an exceptional client experience. If you have a team that believes in your brand, brand mission, and vision for the business, they will always go above and beyond for each and every customer.
What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.
Yes I do. And it weighs heavily on me at times. But on the flip side, we live in a world that is incredibly digital, especially this year. I also think as a brand grows it does come with a price of exposure. Yes, there is great exposure having your brand on a social platform but along with that comes scrutiny. It’s like being under a microscope. You do have to watch every word you say. Every message and image that is put out to ensure that it is totally cohesive and is in alignment with the core values and brand ethics. Although it can be difficult at times, I think consumers are looking to brands and influencers to take a stand and be a voice. I think being a part of that mission and voice is bigger than the risk it comes with.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
The biggest mistakes I see is they do not take the time to build and create a solid brand. You can’t serve the right people if you do not know who you are and who your target client is. This is something I struggled with myself. I felt a bit lost for the first few years in my business and thought because I had a passion for doing hair that clients would just come and sit in my chair. I would recommend creating an outline of your brand and ask yourself the following:
- Who do I serve? What is their age range? Hobbies? Profession? Where do they hang out?
- What problem do I solve?
- What is my brand voice and vibe?
- How is what I do differently than my competitors?
- How will I stand out?
After that I would come up with a marketing strategy on how to communicate your message and get it in front of the right audience with the right tone and message
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
My movement would be to lead with love and the rest will follow. A movement where everyone would be accepted, not judged. They would feel so comfortable showing up as themselves and no one else. To create a community where kindness and empathy are at the forefront and giving back would be the result of our efforts.
How can our readers further follow you online?
@ninatulio on IG
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!