Case Study 

Solutions in practice 

By Cassandra Johnson

Lean manufacturing a hair salon

The first Paralee Boyd salon opened in Southfield, Michigan.

For many women, getting their hair done means waiting weeks for an appointment, spending hundreds of dollars and sitting in a chair for a few hours. Michigan-raised Dana White was all too familiar with this scenario.

"As an African-American woman, when it came to getting my hair done, my hair controlled my life," she said.

She had spent many years as an international businesswoman and wasn't as active as she really wanted to be. For example, she explained, if she thought of doing anything active like swimming, she thought about her hair first.

So when she moved to New York after spending years working in international labor relations, White was elated to discover Dominican salons that touted a different way of styling hair, a way that was faster and often cheaper. The first time she visited, she made an appointment and was in and out in under two hours. She even traveled to the Middle East for work and found a hair stylist there who used a similar method.

This made it all the more frustrating that she often would stop over in New York to get her hair done before heading home to Michigan.

The turning point came in 2009 when her aunt made a hair appointment for her and her daughter but needed to move it one week earlier for a special engagement. White listened to her aunt attempt to negotiate with her stylist – someone who had done her aunt's hair for more than 10 years – trying to get an earlier appointment. Her aunt even offered to complete part of her daughter's service herself.

Still, her aunt received a "no can do" response.

"In the 20 minutes they spent negotiating with the stylist, in New York they would be almost done (with a hair appointment)," White said.

That was when White concluded that she needed to leave international business and open her own salon.
The second Paralee Boyd Salon opened in Detroit. The salon chairs were placed in the center of the space for maximum process flow and to create a more relaxed environment.

White started talking to her engineering friends who were working at Chrysler and Ford at the time. She explained her concept of a walk-in only, seven-day-a week hair salon.

She told them how the idea was used in New York, but most of the New York salons were not deliberate about processes and usually had one or two stylists working at any time. So whenever customer volume increased, so did the wait, while customer service decreased dramatically.

Her engineering friends told her she was talking about lean manufacturing, so she sought lean advice from them. After gleaning ways to increase efficiency in a salon setting, White opened her first Paralee Boyd Salon in 2012 in Southfield, Michigan.

The salon, named after her grandmother, was already set up in the traditional way with four salon chairs. She found that in trying to revolutionize the way women with thick and curly hair receive services, she needed the customer focus to be on the business rather than the individual stylists, as it is traditionally in the industry.

In her focus on process, White spent time at the Dominican salons in New York and timed every stylist she encountered. She then adjusted those times based on the condition of women's hair in Detroit. As the Dominican way of styling hair is different in New York than in Michigan, so too are the textures of customers' hair.

Dana White, owner of Paralee Boyd Salon, sits in front of a portrait of her grandmother, Paralee. White dedicated her business to her grandmother.At her salon, it should take customers less than three minutes to check in, so she implemented software to make the process efficient. In the traditional conditioning process, stylists dip their hand into the container of deep conditioner. Instead, she has her staff parcel the deep conditioner into cups so that the stylist just reaches for a cup and applies the product to the hair. White's stylists also use calibrated pumps for shampooing. When the customer enters the salon, every part of the process is timed to about 15-to-25-minute increments.

She also started paying her stylists an hourly rate without commission. White said that process creates consistency for her stylists and customers alike.

She has implemented a training system called the "Paralee Boyd way," which includes 30-, 60- and 90-day reviews. Employee growth is monitored on a tier system. Blue means the stylist is qualified and able to train (a lead role); green indicates a stylist who is trained; yellow means a person is trained but needs more assistance; red is a person who is not trained in the Paralee style.

White said the ratings affect how she schedules the hair stylists.

"We (usually) have a blue with a red," she said. "Somedays we have just blue. We never have just red."

All these process improvements were part of White's effort to get the customer in and out in under two hours. So far, the metrics have shown that depending upon the service, it takes anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half.

The salon has a fixed list of services that are performed, a list that is uniform throughout all locations. White has implemented a customer service process with a goal of making sure customers never feel like they are a part of a standardized process. She has even instituted a 24-hour satisfaction guarantee.

"Although we don't keep you in the salon for long, it's very important to us that we enact a sense of community that has been the (staple) of black salons," she said.

White received funding from the Michigan Technology and Manufacturing Center, an organization dedicated to helping Michigan's small- and medium-sized businesses grow, to provide further training for her employees on lean principles, including Kaizen. She has received additional state business grants since then, which have helped her expand.

She recently opened a second location in the midtown area of Detroit, which included a redesign with help from a Detroit-based design company called M3D experiences. M3D provided the CAD model for the floor design.

In the newer layout, White and the M3D team added one more chair to ward against overflow and breakdowns in the system.

"According to the process, a stylist works faster and better when a blow-dried head gets into her chair," White said. "There's almost a breakdown in the system if my stylist has to blow dry hair."

In the new salon the team can double capacity and double the output as a result. Customers have told her that spending less time on their hair appointments has allowed them to make changes in their lives. Beyond healthier hair from better maintenance, they have the freedom to take on more active lifestyles.

White is working with a Michigan-based product development company called Newfoundry to create a "back-of-the-house technology" customer database that tracks appointments from beginning to end, serving as a virtual process management system. By using iPads, the team will know what customers need before they sit in the chair.

For repeat customers, the database will store past services, creating a seamless customer service experience by eliminating all breakdowns in communication between employees and customers. White also plans to create an app for customers and further expand to major airports across the nation.

"I think Paralee Boyd is disrupting the haircare industry because it is applying technical processes through lean manufacturing to haircare," White said. "It's putting the power where it needs to be by upholding and servicing the customer."

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