Steve Hockett rose from a failed franchisee to president of the nationwide hair-care company.
Great Clips President Steve Hockett is what CEO Rhoda Olsen calls a ‘‘bouncer.’’ Someone who spent time with Great Clips but left and subsequently bounced back.
But Hockett has bounced higher than most: from a failed Great Clips franchisee to, in January, the Bloomington hair-care company’s president.
“It’s interesting how you circle back to where you should be, and that’s my story with Great Clips,” Hockett said. “I told Rhoda when this opportunity came up: ‘I’m never leaving again, I’m here, I want this, you’ve got me, we are going to keep growing Great Clips.’ ”
The Great Clips concept — including its no-appointment-needed policy — is doing well. Last year, systemwide revenue topped $1 billion for the first time. The company now has more than 3,500 franchisee-owned salons and boasts 37 straight quarters of same-store sales growth.
Hockett was working at what was then First Bank System (now U.S. Bancorp) when he realized banking wasn’t the best fit for him. He knew one of the first Great Clips franchisees, Roger Ledebuhr, and ended up buying one of his salons. Hockett became one of the earliest Twin Cities franchisees in 1988, running salon No. 155.
“I was young, undercapitalized, my salon was not successful, but I loved the business,’’ he said.
Pat Stevens, a longtime Great Clips franchisee who now owns 15 salons, knew Hockett when he was a franchisee.
“Steve is sometimes a little hard on himself,’’ Stevens said. “Basically what happened was road construction took place right in front of that store for about six to nine months. Most of us who got in the business early, we didn’t have the kind of capital to survive something like that.”
After his salon failed, Hockett stayed in touch with Olsen, 61, and offered proposals to help support new franchisees. Impressed with his ideas, Olsen hired Hockett in 1993 as a marketing manager on Great Clips’ corporate staff just as the company was starting its first big expansion across the U.S. and Canada.
Hockett helped open new markets during that time and stayed with Great Clips until early 2002.
“I was traveling a lot. I had young kids. I had been here awhile and decided I needed to take a step back,” Hockett said. He joined a franchise consulting business called FranChoice where he was president for most of his four years there, and the company grew into one of into the largest franchise consulting networks in the U.S.
At FranChoice, Hockett helped match people with a variety of franchise concepts. That experience convinced him that Great Clips was one of the best-run, small-box retail franchise systems in the U.S.
“I saw that; I knew that when I left,” Hockett said. “It was confirmed when I got out in the broader franchisee world.”
Anxious to get back into franchising himself, Hockett became president of Rapid Refill from 2006 to early 2008. As president of Rapid Refill, which refills ink and toner cartridges, he took that concept from 30 units to 100.
But he still maintained his contacts with Great Clips. In May 2008, Hockett bounced back to Great Clips one more time, becoming vice president of operations and eventually chief operating officer by 2012 before being named president in January.
Said Olsen: “He never really totally left Great Clips.”
As president, Hockett will continue to focus on the brand and franchising.
“Our brand understands the customer, we are focused on the customer. We’ve developed it in a way that allows the franchisees to grasp it and the salon staff to grasp it.” Hockett said.
There is no shortage of competition in the hair-care market from upscale salons such as Regis to single-chair barbershops. But franchisees of Great Clips today get access to a slate of services and products to help them succeed.
The company’s new online check-in system and smartphone app are examples. And they are driving sales. The app, which has been downloaded 2.2 million times through the end of January, maps Great Clips stores near the user and even posts waiting times for a haircut at each store. From the app you can put your name on a waiting list before reaching that salon.
“If you need a haircut,’’ Hockett said, “you still need to put your hand on a door handle and walk in.” The real-time information helps bring in new and old customers alike. “It really opened our eyes to how we use technology and embrace the digital world rather than fear it,” Hockett said.
The online check-in system was developed with Great Clips’ long-term technology partner, Innovative Computer Software of Eden Prairie. Hockett has a goal of getting 3 million to 5 million downloads of the Net Check In app.
In December, 15 percent of Great Clips customers used online check-in, and Hockett hopes to get 25 to 30 percent of business through the technology.
Mark Spriggs, an associate professor at the University of St. Thomas, Opus College of Business, teaches a class on franchising. Spriggs says one of the keys to the success of Great Clips is that the company sees itself as partners with their franchisees. Spriggs said their thinking is: “If we make the franchisees successful, we will be successful. Not everyone [franchisers] thinks that way.”
Patrick Kennedy • 612-673-7926