Kids’ hair concepts aim to be cut above
Snip-its, above, Sharkey’s Cuts for Kids and Pigtails & Crewcuts are three franchise brands competing in the kids’ haircut space.
In the early 2000s, Wade Brannon was between jobs and helping raise his family after selling his 250-store ham business. His young son at the time hated getting his hair cut—until the Brannons discovered Pigtails & Crewcuts.
The Atlanta-based children’s -focused salon specialized in dealing with the unpredictable nature of kids. His son and twin daughters fell in love with the concept—and Brannon, the company’s president, ended up buying it. “I had young children at the time,” he says. “I loved the idea of it.”
His intention was to make a national brand out of Pigtails & Crewcuts. He still hopes to, but acknowledges the recession slowed his plans. He now says that was something of a blessing, as the company took the lean years as an opportunity to focus on unit economics and firming up franchise support systems.
The company is seeking quality business owners and training them on the culture and level of service necessary to succeed in this niche market. That starts with a four-day training session at the corporate offices and continues at each new location.
There are 50 Pigtails & Crewcuts outlets open so far in markets across the south and southeast with another 25 to 30 in the pipeline. He sees the credit market loosening up and thinks the time is right for growth.
Swimming with the Sharkey’s
Pigtails & Crewcuts is far from the only player vying for control of this market. At least two competitors with similar store counts are growing like, well, kids’ hair—and each has visions of cutting in on Brannon’s plans.
Sharkey’s Cuts For Kids has an automated system that makes it convenient for customers to book online or via mobile app, it’s got memorable seats for young kids in the shape of police cars, fire engines and jeeps, and it’s got Xbox games for older kids to play on 40-inch screens while they’re sitting for a cut.
The video games, says CEO Scott Sharkey, help keep the store cool to kids up to about age 14, which he says is an older client than other children’s-based salons are able to claim. “Our shops have a lot more bling than other shops,” he says. “We certainly have, by far, the biggest wow factor.”
But it’s not all flash. Sharkey adds his company spends a great deal of time working to find the right franchisees and right employees to actually operate the stores. He wants managers that are adept at working with people inside the store. And he wants easy-going franchisees who are not going to micromanage those workers once they are hired.
Westport, Connecticut-based Sharkey’s only hires stylists who have children. “They are much more nurturing than stylists coming out of cosmetology school,” he adds. “It has to be a good fit for the stylist.”
He and his wife got into the business after he sold a bar-coding company and moved to Greenwich, Connecticut, from Manhattan and realizing there were no kids’ hair salons in the area. A few years later he received a call from someone asking about buying a franchise. He’s been building the company that way since.
“Everybody that I’ve had, to date, that followed the system and really listened and does what we recommend and suggest they do—and then adds their special sauce on top of that—does well.”
Snip-Its cuts path
The chairs at Snip-its are a more standard salon variety. It’s easier on the stylists, says Kim Ellis, vice president of franchise development for Snip-its, an Eden Prairie, Minnesota-based chain of about 60 salons. But that doesn’t mean the décor is boring. Ellis described it as a cross between Disney and Dr. Seuss. It includes several proprietary characters—such as Snips, the scissors-shaped leader of the crew, and Curly Comb, the sports enthusiast character.
Each of the cutting stations has an accompanying chair for parents, so they can help coach their kids through the experience. And stylists are trained to coach the children on what they are going to do. “Kids feel traumatized sometimes,” she says. “They don’t understand what is going on with the hair cutting process.”
Snip-its seeks high-powered retail center markets with $75,000 household income levels and at least 15,000 to 25,000 kids. “It’s an upscale type of experience,” she says. “It’s a fun-filled experience for the child.”
The company addresses the staffing challenge by sending a specialist from corporate offices to meet with and assist franchisees with recruiting about three months before an opening. The higher income demographic also helps with retaining stylists, Ellis says, as they are receiving larger tips to augment their pay.
“Parents in higher income areas are willing to pay $3 to $5 more for a quality haircut,” she says.
The company has nearly 30 signed agreements with the likelihood of another 30 signed by year-end. Snip-its expects to sign another 50 agreements in 2017, she adds. “We’re looking at aggressive growth, but not beyond our capabilities,” Ellis says.
Snip-its also actively seeks out dialogue with traditional salons located in strip centers that may not be interested in cutting children’s’ hair in hopes that the two entities might start referring business back and forth, Ellis says. “They welcome us,” she adds.
As with Pigtails & Crewcuts and Sharkey’s, Snip-its believes it can be the national player that emerges from the kids hair market. “We hope to be that dominant player,” she says.
“We think of ourselves that way.”
While Pigtails & Crewcuts, Sharkey’s and Snip-its each is in growth mode, there are several other players in this hugely segmented market. Regis Corp. operates Cool Cuts 4 Kids, though recent U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings have not indicated much activity with the chain in recent months.
A quick search of Google pops up a couple handfuls of smaller players: There is Cartoon Cuts, a primarily company-owned chain of 17 salons based in Coral Springs, Florida.; Kids Hair, a suburban Minneapolis chain with about a dozen locations; and Kid Snips, a Chicago-area chain with eight salons. Then there are single-unit operations, such as Belles and Beaus Children’s Hair Salon in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
John Francis, a franchise adviser whose father started Barbers Inc. and grew it to 1,200 franchised hair salons under brands like Cost Cutters and City Looks Salons, says children’s hair care is a difficult industry for many reasons, including finding staff that is capable of working with children and, of course, the clientele’s frustrating tendency to outgrow the brand. “Those kids grow up,” he says, adding that when children reach a certain age, “they don’t want to go to a kids’ hair salon anymore.”
He suggests those who do enter the segment make it fun, with retail products and parties (Snip-its, Pigtails & Crewcuts and Sharkey’s all do offer products. Sharkey’s got out of emphasizing parties during the downturn to focus on a more economical store footprint.) “Make it fun to go there,” he says. “Get them in the door.”
For those that want to expand, he suggests keeping operations simple and finding franchisees who want to operate multiple units. “The guy who owns five is going to operate differently than five guys who own one. That’s the brand that will succeed.”