The key to being a business leader during a pandemic is to put people first.
So say two Chandler men who run 41 Sport Clips franchises in three states – Arizona, Oregon and Washington.
Val Hill and Jared Lee met during business school at Brigham Young University. They were both working for Intel when they decided in 2005 to put their education to work and start their own business.
“Going through the pandemic was certainly a difficult thing,” Lee said. “We didn’t know what the status of our business was going to be. “I would say one of the key aspects that helped us, is that we didn’t lay anyone off,” Hill said. “We continued to pay all of our people, and this was before PPP loan or any of that. We made the determination that our people are our biggest asset and we need to take care of our people.”
That meant paying them both their salaries and what they usually received in tips during the time the businesses were shut down, which was six weeks in Arizona and three months in the Pacific Northwest, without some of the help the federal government offered small businesses later.
The partners say they were able to do that because of how they managed their business before the pandemic: they were conservative and had enough money in reserves to be able to weather rocky times.
“I think what that helped us do, is that helped us get us reopen quickly,” Hill said. “Once we were allowed to reopen, … we didn’t have to go try and find people that we laid off.”
For those efforts, the two men were named Sport Clips Business Leaders of the Year for 2020. It is the second time they’ve won that award – and they looked at it as yet another recognition that leaving the corporate world to start their own business was the right call.
But choosing which business to go into was not easy.
“We looked at Subway, and Quiznos, and other franchises,” Lee said. “We looked at buying some land, and doing development, and building houses. We were generally in the market and looking around.”
It was Hill who suggested they look at Sport Clips. He said the fact that there was nothing else like it – a haircut chain that focused on men - is what appealed to him. He just had to convince his partner.
“What’s that, like video things for kids?” Lee recalled saying. He said his initial reaction was two dudes in the haircut business was not the right fit. Hill suggested they go get a haircut at the Gilbert location to check it out.
After enjoying that experience, and doing more research, they bought their first three franchises. They also now own that Gilbert location they checked out 16 years ago.
For the first five years they poured any money they made back into the business, getting more franchises. That’s how they reached the 41 they operate today.
They say the reason they can operate so many locations in three different states is because of the people they hired, and the entrust to run each location.
“The key to it all is you have to have good people that you work with,” Lee said. “We have an amazing group of area managers and store managers.”
“We empower our people to … run things,” he said. “The store manager views that store as her store. They’re empowered to hire and fire, spend money to buy what they need. We don’t constrain them much.”
Putting their people first has paid off, even during a pandemic.