“From the beginning, we knew we didn’t want to create a chain of salons, but rather a group that could each retain their own identity according to the local area,” says Lynden Mason, who co-founded Vivo with James Carlisle ten years ago. “It was the dream within us to build something different and create change in the industry.”
Fundamental to this difference was the idea that Vivo would always be privately owned. “Hairdressing is an incredibly fast-moving industry. What was trending yesterday can be outdated tomorrow. What a client wanted in their last appointment might be totally different in their next. We discovered very quickly that in order for creativity to thrive, and to maintain an ever-evolving approach to our industry, Vivo had to keep control firmly in the hands of where it belongs - with our stylists.”
So how does having a group that is not a franchise ensure the breathing space creativity needs? “What we saw at the time was that the franchise model did not allow for flexibility. As a franchisor, what you’re essentially selling to a franchisee is a list of processes and procedures that make your business operate the same way across the board. This is what makes franchise businesses very successful in industries like fast food. People want to be able to predict what they’re going to receive when ordering a pizza. They want a replicated experience each time they visit a restaurant. But hairdressing is essentially a personal, one on one experience each and every time a client visits a salon. It’s not ordering off a menu, it’s not about limited process and choices.”
Lynden and James discovered that in order to give a client what they want, they had to empower each salon individually to follow the processes and procedures that made their own independent salons thrive. “Because what a client wants in Invercargill can be very different to in Whangarei, and clients in all of our locations deserve to get what they want and need. Unlike in retail or hospitality, there’s no one right way to hairdress. Even though you’re in a company, you’re one on one with your client. We didn’t try and take an industry that had this individualisation and make it fall in line. We saw ‘this is how it’s done, how do we get the best out of it?’”.
Without rules, it would seem that keeping 700 hairstylists on track would be an impossible task. But Lynden disagrees. “Our stylists are guided by values, not rules.” Grow it, Love it, Own it, are the three philosophies that underpin how each salon operates. “Being values led, they’re not being told what to do. Instead, they’re asked to check in with their own selves to see if they’re being guided by values that will always lead to a positive outcome. Am I growing my skills and business? Am I loving my clients and team? Am I owning any mistakes or shortfalls? This creates an environment where we trust our stylists, they trust each other and they trust us. Then all of our staff are able to operate their salons with the individual flavour that works for them.” If there’s one thing 2020 taught us, it’s that change happens so rapidly. “Flexibility is a cornerstone of how we operate. What’s working and what isn’t? That isn’t a one off question but one we must constantly be asking and actioning in order to bring the best to our clients”.
Having an extensive amount of salons also comes with the assumption that there was a large amount in the pot in order to kick Vivo off. “To be honest we didn’t pay ourselves much at all for the first few years, all of our profit went into buying new salons.” Lynden laughs when recalling how many of his stylists earned more than he did for many years.
“But we are playing the long game, we had to hold on and believe in the dream. In the beginning, we bought salons and grew them by applying principles and finding a model where our team was feeling rewarded and engaged. People felt they wanted to grow with us and were achieving alongside us. When Vivo achieves, our team achieves. It’s not at the expense of our team.”
Lynden admits it can be frustrating when people call Vivo a chain or a franchise, as the implications of that go against everything he has set out to achieve for the hairdressing industry in New Zealand.
“We are not a rigid, no frills chain - we are the opposite. Ironically, it’s our size that allows us the ability to provide stylists with a unique hairdressing career because we take care of all of their admin, we pay for their training, we have established career paths into numerous aspects of hairdressing. We want them to achieve their personal goals, because in doing so the goals of Vivo are achieved in turn. It doesn’t work the other way around. What I want people to know is that there’s not just ONE way to be at Vivo. We don’t set individual rules - stylists can set their own pricing, timing with each client, they can work with or without an assistant. We encourage a work-life balance. Flexibility is the cornerstone. Stylists can do hairdressing their way, because ultimately that is the only way a person can be creative and personal with their clients.”
Headway March 2021 - Written By Tereze Taber