With over 20 years in corporate communications, Tammy Nienabar leads communications for Great Clips, Inc. She has the unique challenge of directing the communications company-wide which includes over 4200 franchisees across North America.

Chuck Gose: Thanks for being a guest on Chuck Chats Tammy. What you may not know is that I’m a “lifetime” customer of Great Clips. And by “lifetime” I mean close to 20 years.

Tammy Nienaber: We’ve been around for more than 35 years, thanks to great customers like you!

CG: As far as my son knows, Great Clips is the only place to get a haircut. Shout out to the Brownsburg, IN, location! Such a great group of people.  

TN: I’ll let them know!

CG: You shared with me earlier that you didn’t discover the communications field until you were in your mid-20s. . . so what, like a few years ago?

TN: I wish! I spent nearly a decade working at a hospital in Wisconsin before I finally settled on what I wanted for a degree.

CG: You’ve been at Great Clips for roughly 10 years, give or take. The business of great haircuts hasn’t changed. But what has changed when it comes to internal comms at Great Clips?

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TN: A lot, of course.

When I started at Great Clips in 2006, we were at about 1,500 salonstoday we have more than 4,200. Ensuring a consistent brand takes coordination of many folks, from local salon owners and their stylists to our corporate team. Technology advances have had the greatest impact, though.

CG: I only know Great Clips as a customer so pardon this question. Are the employees at the salons employees of Great Clips or is it a franchise model?

TN: Great Clips is 100-percent franchised. All locations are owned locally, so stylists are employed and managed by their franchise owner. This model is one of the reasons I love the challenge of leading communications for a franchise. It’s all about influencing nearly 40,000 people to represent the Great Clips brand the way it’s intended.

CG: On my podcast, I interviewed a communicator with Hampton Inn & Suites. They had the same challengedelivering a consistent brand experience to employees AND customers when those employees don’t work for Hampton. Your challenge seems nearly identical.

TN: We have to get creative when it comes to what messages we deliver, when, and how. 

We do speak directly to stylists through a few key channels, the most popular of which is a private Facebook group. It’s an optional channel and the stylists and managers who participate do so because they love the brand.

"The [Facebook] group has really helped us understand some key aspects of our brand and operations manual that are frequently misunderstood or ignored. "

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CG: Very interesting. I know for a lot of companies, private Facebook groups have proven to be effective. And for others, it scares the bejesus out of them.

TN: Our first priority is always to communicate direct to franchisees. We never say anything on the private Facebook group that their salon owner wasn’t already informed about. That being said, the conversations get interesting at times. We weighed the risks and decided it’s better to have visibility to what stylists are concerned about or misinformed about so we can better communicate those messages through official channels.

CG: Are there any topics or issues you can think of where the private FB group let you get ahead of something that could have gotten out of control?

TN: We have a robust online monitoring process in place and a team to jump on potential crisis situations, so it’s rare for us to first hear about something brewing through the channel.

That being said, it is a place where we do see chatter on potential issues that we’re addressing more actively.

The group has really helped us understand some key aspects of our brand and operations manual that are frequently misunderstood or ignored, though. Based on that, we started a video series to address common questions about brand operations. The first one was salon holiday decornot very exciting but surprisingly important when it comes to ensuring ALL Great Clips customers feel welcomed. 

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CG:
Those are challenges that I’m sure the company needs to be sensitive to from a customer perspective but also difficult given that the 4200 salons are spread all over the country, with varying demographics and geographies. 

TN: We’re also in Canada. Even our friends across the northern border have nuances we must consider.

For example, each year, we have a free haircuts for veterans campaign in the U.S. When we were first developing the campaign five years ago, we discovered that the Veterans Day freebies model would not fly in Canada.

November 11 (Remembrance Day in Canada) is more somber than Veterans Day in the U.S. 

 

CG: You shared earlier that you communicate first to franchisees before sharing anything with employees. Is there a regular cadence for this communication and what vehicles do you use?

TN: We reach our franchisees through a variety of committees, meetings and events, but that doesn’t cover everyone.

To ensure consistent delivery of information, we have an extranet that is the franchisee’s 24-7 access to our systems, processes, and news.

In addition to being able to deliver news on our extranet, we send a Friday email with headlines for the week and links to each story online.

We also have a systemwide email distribution list that’s reserved for time-sensitive, urgent, actionable messages. There are similar email distribution lists by country and market, so we can better target messaging when relevant.

In addition, we have an urgent voicemail blast solution for communications that are considered business critical. That platform is truly just a backup solution and rarely used, but it’s part of the mix.

CG: I’m always curious how the recent hurricane season impacted companies like yours. Any great or sad stories from those areas affected?

"Great Clips, Inc. contributed nearly half a million dollars to help stylists who lost cars, homes, or experienced other physical property damage due to the storm."

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TN: Hurricanes Harvey and Irma were tragic, but also a catalyst for something wonderful at Great Clips.

More than 200 salon locations were impacted in some way. The franchisees really rallied together asking how they could help their fellow salon owners. Through collaboration with a handful of Texas franchisees, our CEO, our President, and myself, we were able to implement a brand new giving effortthe Great Clips Stylists Assistance Fund. 

We collected donations from across the system and Great Clips, Inc. contributed nearly half a million dollars to help stylists who lost cars, homes, or experienced other physical property damage due to the storm.

We also partnered with the Professional Beauty Association to help stylists apply for grants to cover lost tips and wages.

We also gave every franchisee who closed a salon for three or more days $200 gift cards to give to each of their stylists. These disasters shone light on the strength of our Great Clips community. It was truly inspiring! 

CG: What an amazing effort in such a short time to really impact lives. And it shows the community that has been built.

"It's part of our culture to work together through the good and bad."

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TN: Great Clips has an amazing leadership team, solid values and a strong community. It’s part of our culture to work together through the good and bad.

CG: Let’s talk a bit about the culture there, either at corporate or at the franchisee and salon level. What are the other words or phrases you’d use to describe life at Great Clips?

TN: Our vision starts with the words, “Working together…”. We do that in many ways, both at the corporate level and out through the system. 

Two of our values that are especially relevant to culture include the phrases“We Listen,” Earn Trust,” and “We are Kind.” These values play out in many ways. I mentioned earlier that we communicate with franchisees through committees, meetings and events. One of our key committees is a group we call MARC (Marketing & Advisory Review Council). The MARC is an elected group of franchisees who represent the broader system. These 15-20 salon owners meet with our leadership team at least three times per year. During those meetings, we share updates, talk about the future, and collaborate on solutions. Because we listen and earn trustand are always kindwe’re all able to challenge each other respectfully and make better decisions. 

"Because we listen and earn trust—and are always kind—we’re all able to challenge each other respectfully and make better decisions."

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CG: I usually ask communicators to talk about something they are particular proud of in the last year. And given what you and the rest of Great Clips did to help those affected by Irma and Harvey, I’m sure that’s at the top of the list. Anything else from the past year you look fondly back on?

TN: In addition to leading internal communications for the organization, I am the lead for our brand giving strategy and programs. 

In 2017, we partnered with American Cancer Society (ACS) to implement a Clips of Kindness training program with key ACS folks in the midwest. Clips of Kindness is a complimentary clipper cut that we offer to all customers who are facing hair loss due to cancer treatment. It’s a small gesture in the big fight against cancer, and we’re pretty proud of this program. 

 

We first launched Clips of Kindness in 2013, but are looking to expand awareness to this free service available at all Great Clips salons across North America. ACS has been a great partner and in 2018 we’ll be training their national patient navigators about the program at their conference in Atlanta.  

CG: As a former communicator with the American Cancer Society, big tip of the hat to you and the team there at Great Clips.

There’s one word that keeps coming up in your comments that I want to call out: kind.

I love that word and it’s something we all need more of. 

TN: No doubt! It feels great to wake up each day and know that I work for a company that truly cares. 

CG: Other than the partnership with ACS in 2018, what else are you looking forward to next year?

TN: I’ve been working with my internal communications team to rebrand our group internally as a centralized resource for video communications and to refine what we do to stay focused on high-impact communications with measurable business results.

"From desktop capture videos for how-tos to executive messaging and campaign kick-offs, video has become a key part of the communication mix."
                              Click to Tweet https://ctt.ec/7s29a 

CG: So more video in 2018?

TN: We’ve found video to be an important component of our communication strategy. From desktop capture videos for how-tos to executive messaging and campaign kick-offs, video has become a key part of the communication mix.

CG: As it should be. So let’s wrap up this chat the way we always do. Describe your thoughts about internal communication but in emoji form.

TN: 🎯  We aim for direct hits! Thanks for chatting with me.