Thirty Hair – A Salon Doing it Right!


“Years ago we had a bunch of entitled hairstylists who had “their clients,” wanted to charge whatever they wanted, book how they wanted, and, heaven forbid, pick up a broom or fold a towel.”

Sarah McGee Mariman is the owner of Thirty Hair in Columbia, MD, winner of the 2020 TBP Business of the Year.

A long-time coaching client of Strategies, Incubator graduate and Team-Based Pay company, Sarah has had quite the journey from the fiery pit of hell to an amazing success story.

Sarah attended her first Incubator in 2008, after what started out as a great vision to build something special, turned into a cultural and financial nightmare. 

Neil: Sarah, what was your salon/spa like before going to the TBP business model?

Sarah: Team-Based Pay (TBP) to me is more than just a pay system. But it doesn’t come without hard work and leadership. 

Years ago, when we started TBP, we had the classic salon situation. We had a bunch of entitled hairstylists who had “their clients,” wanted to charge whatever they wanted, book how they wanted, and, heaven forbid, pick up a broom or fold a towel. 

Six years ago, my original salon/spa shut its doors. When I told my team we had to close, I promised them their client list. My plan was for my dad and I to rent a suite together and figure out our next steps. My spa team took the news, said okay and left. 

When I told my hair team, I was truly taken back when they said, “Sorry, not sorry, we aren’t leaving you, so figure it out.” 

We were in debt up to our eyeballs with IRS, credit cards, our landlord — you name it. We messed up payroll, bounced checks, got behind on bills, and even had the electric company shut off our power. We were in over our heads and living our worst nightmare

I pulled my head out of the sand, assessed the situation and found a salon that would let us rent space while I searched for a new salon location. 

We ran our front desk out of the basement of my small rented townhouse. We worked split shifts, sharing two chairs for five stylists. 

We finally purchased an existing salon from two owners that were close to retirement. Yes, we worked a holiday season inside another salon working the craziest weird schedules to keep us going.

When we reopened in our new location, we rebranded and started fresh with a renewed, focused approach. 

The two previous owners stayed for 10 months. We quickly saw how chaotic it was having them in our space, disrespecting our culture, values and structure. It was time for them to move on, and they did.

We certainly went through some ups and downs. We filed bankruptcy and settled many old debts. But through it all, we only committed to things we could afford, never opening a credit card (to this day) and overall, working the systems to provide growth.

While in transition, we were doing about $26,000 in sales a month. Six years later and pre-COVID, we were running about $66,000 a month. After the shutdown, we are doing about $60,000 a month. 

Neil: Sarah, describe where Thirty Hair is today?

Sarah: I used to be someone who followed TBP but didn’t always commit to it 100%. I’m definitely guilty of doing quarterly performance reviews once a year. 

Going through the fiery pit of hell, losing damn near everything, and struggling in our comeback, taught me so much about communication, accountability and finances.

Because of COVID-19 and the 50% reduced capacity, we had eight stylists with only four hair stations. Work schedules were adjusted so we still had the same number of sellable hours. It wasn’t ideal, but it allowed our team to manage their home/work life balance while allowing our salon to grow during a pandemic

The benefits we offer help us attract and retain employees. We offer paid health insurance, life insurance, maternity leave, paid time off (up to three weeks), fully funded education, and a strong bonus program. 

Our bonus program gives team members the ability to add an additional $1 to $2 an hour for the whole month. Our pay is highly competitive. Our culture expects the highest levels of teamwork and productivity during work hours. We want our employees to work efficiently while in the salon, so they can relax and enjoy themselves when home

Neil: How have you grown as a leader and business owner?

Sarah: I learned how to approach tough conversations around performance, attitude and how to lead beyond just focusing on the numbers. 

I learned that this journey is tougher than I realized, but with the right structure and leadership, anything is possible

Six years ago, I was in the worst hell of my career and life. I knew there had to be a better way, and with hard work and accountability, we could get there. And we have.

Prior to opening Thirty Hair, we were constantly spinning our wheels. I would preach pre-book and retention, but would get bitching, complaining and only partial buy-in. 

Today, my team expects, and wants, to see our numbers, wants to see their growth, and asks for help setting goals. They love getting education, they strive to hit our salon’s monthly goal, and mentor each other — no matter how many years they’ve been doing hair. 

Prior to 2014, we’d be lucky to even come close to our monthly goal. Since 2014, we’ve hit our monthly goal at least 84% of the time. 

We’ve grown every single critical number, including increasing our average retail purchase from $6 to our current average of $18. 

Because of our no-compromise commitment to our team, systems and culture, our revenues have grown 30% in each of the past two years.

Neil: What’s this about you moving to a larger space — and doing that during a pandemic?

Sarah: We desperately needed a larger salon. Never in my wildest dreams did I see myself in a position to sign a lease for a new larger salon — with terms that fit our cash flow. Because I learned the hard financial lessons, and live my cash-flow plan, I’m able to fund the buildout out of cash reserves without incurring any debt!

Watch Sarah tell her inspiring story in this exclusive Strategies video interview.

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