Tabatha Coffey, Business Advisor
Television indeed defies the law of physics. It seems that the more channels included in your local cable provider‘s package, the fewer the number of worthwhile shows actually exist. Reality TV has become the standard fare, and from a business perspective, it makes sense: low production costs, little risk to a channel’s brand (so many are awful, what is one more tasteless flop?), and an endless stream of resources--defined here as folks who are willing to endure the possibility of searing humiliation for a few minutes of fame or a few thousand bucks. One reality show, however, provides good lessons for business owners both large and small. The show has its flamboyant and bombastic moments, and appears at first thrive on drama. But Tabatha’s Salon Takeover, in its third season on Bravo, is a great example of Management 101. Tabatha Coffey backs up her sharp tongue with a strong record: she rose through the ranks to become a talented hair stylist and successful salon owner. Her barbs are darted in equal measure to both salon owners and wayward employees. But her tart words, however, are in fact sweet nibbles of wisdom. In the end what she preaches appear to be relatively simple in practice, but can quickly elude us: leadership, customer service, accountability, and balancing time with money. “How do you think the salon is doing?“ Tabatha often asks disgruntled employees the morning after she melodramatically takes over a salon. Quite often, the employees are clueless in their response. One lesson Tabatha repeats show after show is her insistence that workers need to manage up. Too often we think of management as a top-down affair, and because most of has have that intuitive notion to respect authority, that appears to be true. But no matter how limited, or even tyrannical, one’s manager may be, each of us is accountable for how we conduct ourselves in a salon, office, or shop floor. The key to steady success in business is learning how to communicate with your manager or boss--hence the necessity to learn how to talk with your manager and understand the context from which he or she comes. That boss of yours who may appear to be micromanaging or unreasonable may in fact be withholding information from you that can explain such behavior: high overhead, an imperious or demanding director or VP to which he or she reports, or a lack of resources. When dealing with your boss or manager, it is not just about doing what your are told to do: your job is to make is his or her job easier. “That poor woman was waiting for a service, for two hours, and then (expletive) after she left, the receptionist chased her to the parking lot and demanded she pay for a service never delivered!“ Ah, the secret cameras Tabatha has planted in the salons while presumably she watches, always appalled, in what may as well be an FBI van. Another reminder that appears in show after show is Tabatha’s insistence on good customer service. As far as “green” businesses go, too often I have walked into a store selling “green” products that are disorganized, have ambivalent staff--or workers who are condescending. Just as a storefront in the “Rodeo Drive” of any city does not automatically attract and retain high-end clients, selling green products does not mean products sell on their own or that customers should not be treated with respect. At a time when just about every product can be vetted or reviewed on the web--fairly or not--customer service and engaging customers is more important than ever--especially with the commoditization of just about everything on the market. Stellar customer service absolutely is a business differentiator. “That wasn’t the question . . . The question was . . . “ Pity the poor stylist who fumbles for excuses when Tabatha berates him or her for a filthy work station. Finally, accountability is too easy to toss aside. “Sustainability” consultants should not expect to have good work done for free (often defined as “interning”), and employees or contractors should be paid a fair wage. But employees are also accountable for their work product and how they carry themselves on the floor or in the cubicle. No matter how difficult a situation can be--and during economic downturns working conditions are often even more strained--you are responsible for your integrity, diligence, and creativity. Plenty of other lessons exist, which I will address another time. The outcomes, however, are consistent on Tabatha’s show: employees and employers must understand each other; marketing has to be a strategy, not a desperate tactic; a first impression can be a lasting one; and proper training is a worthwhile investment. Didactic episodes aside, the show is admittedly a guilty pleasure. At a time when most reality shows only offer fodder for Josh McHale’s The Soup, Tabatha Coffey’s show engenders more improvement than complacency. Speaking of which . . . here's a snippet of Tabatha pushing an owner to shred her salon's desperate and ridiculous coupons--which she later turned into some pretty cool recycled art.