When old college buddies Val Hill and Jared Lee took their first official road trip as new business partners almost 20 years ago, they were more than a little bit surprised by what they found when they arrived.
“Val and I were expecting to roll up to the corporate office and see a three-story, glass office building in an office park,” Lee said. “Instead, we rolled up to a little, 2,000-square-foot stone house in Georgetown, Texas with sign out in front of it that said “Sport Clips World Headquarters.”
The two had just plunked down $150,000 to buy their first Sport Clips location in Gilbert, a sports-themed hair salon with lockers and mock scoreboards on the walls and lots of televisions tuned to various sporting events.
Lee, a Gilbert resident who is building a new home in Queen Creek, and Hill had traveled to Sport Clips’ HQ to get the lay of the land, figure out how to become successful franchise owners.
The pair had been talking about quitting their day jobs and becoming franchise entrepreneurs since their college days.
After looking at various business opportunities, which included developing land, fast food operations and other things, Hill approached Lee with an idea that was a bit out of left field.
“He had to do a little bit of cajoling, but he convinced me to go check it out,” Lee continued.
“It was different than other places guys at the time could go to get haircuts …because you weren’t sitting next to somebody reading Redbook or Family Circle magazine,” Lee chuckled.
“They had sports on TV and it’s kind of a guy’s place and we were impressed with the concept. It was a place where a guy could go and get a little bit of pampering.”
In addition, Sport Clips is perhaps best known for the hot towel service at the end of the haircut.
From taking a chance on that first location, the old college buddies have grown their business into a chain of 65 stores across the western United States. They own 37 of the 45 Sport Clips locations in the Valley.
The location at the corner of Queen Creek and Ellsworth roads, where Jasmine Stefaniuk is the manager, just won the company’s most prestigious national award.
It beat out over 1,900 Sport Clips locations across the country.
“It’s called the Logan Trophy and it’s named after our founder Gordon Logan,” Hill said. “Basically, it recognizes the store of the year. It’s kind of the pinnacle of achievement for Sport Clips at the store level.
“A lot of the credit goes to Jasmine.
She did a great job of guiding and managing that store since its opening in 2020,” he added.
The award is based on total sales, the total number of customers who visit the location, sales growth, customer growth, the number of retail products sold, such as hair products and accessories, and the percentage of upgraded services the location sells.
The competition is stiff. There are almost 1,900 Sport Clips locations nationwide and the Queen Creek store claimed what Hill called the company’s most prestigious honor.
“We love our customers in Queen Creek, Hill said. “It has been an awesome city for us. The clients have always been fantastic for us. They have supported us.
“I would say Queen Creek is kind of the heart and soul of the locations in the Phoenix area honestly. Our best stores are located in Queen Creek.”
There are currently three locations in Queen Creek, including the award winner, and there is a fourth on the way at Riggs and Ellsworth roads.
Hill and Lee met and became friends in business school at Brigham Young University in Utah and went to work at Intel – Hill as a contract and procurement specialist and Lee as a software engineer.
Operating the Sport Clips franchises turned into a full-time job for Hill and Lee in 2014. Because the stores are locally owned and operated, their clients are supporting a local business – which the pair says is sometimes not what people think about when patronizing national chains.
Having done their homework, which started with that road trip to Texas, the pair started the venture with realistic expectations.
“We went into it with our eyes open. It takes some patience and persistence,” Hill said. “A lot of times peoples’ expectations are ‘I’m going to be profitable in 6 months.’ And for many businesses that’s not realistic.”
“And so, you need to be able to have some staying power and some persistence. You need to be able to do all the little things. There are very few businesses where there is one magic silver bullet that’s going to take you from zero to hero,” Lee explained.
Hill added that most successful franchises require owners to consistently deliver on 15 or 20 different elements of the business at a high level. He credits attention to detail, perseverance and patience for their success.
“You bust your butt to drive clients in the store, hire people, train them to provide a great service and you just kind of keep at it,” Hill said. “We did not make money in this for the first five years that we owned our business.
“You have to have tempered expectations. I would say you need to plan on losing money for about a year before you build up your client base to the point of making money.”
He said many people have the impression that investing in a franchise is like playing the lottery: you spend money and hope for the best, which he said is the wrong way to approach it.
“They kind of look at it like buying a stock. I’m just going to plunk some money in here and then look in the paper every day and see what the price is,” Lee said.
“This is more of a hands-on, actively involved kind of business. Those franchisees who choose to kind of sit back and just let things happen are the ones that in the end kind of wind up being disappointed with the results.”
The pair say hiring and retaining quality staff is the biggest challenge.
But they have countered by offering higher benefits, including health insurance, a retirement plan and paid time off – which is often difficult for small businesses and franchises, especially in the early days of operation.
“A stylist can work for us and get every benefit they can if they work for Intel or Wells Fargo,” Hill said. “We’ve been able to make this a place where people that are passionate about the hair industry can come and have a career, not just a job.”
To set themselves apart, Hill and Lee have also adopted a service mission for their Sport Clips locations: giving their clients a “20-minute vacation” when they come for a haircut.
“If you’re going for your big job interview, you’re going to meet your girlfriend’s parents, you’re going to graduation, you’re going to get a haircut before that,” Hill said. “
That puts our team members in a great position to be able to have a positive impact on people and make people feel good about themselves.”
Lee pointed out a few occasions on which stylists have noticed abnormal skin lesions on their clients’ necks and encouraged them to visit the dermatologist. In at least one instance, the customer was treated for stage 3 melanoma.
“I want to thank my stylist,” Lee recalls one customer saying, “because they essentially saved my life.”
20311 S Ellsworth Road, Queen Creek
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