David Stanko Interview with Nick Arrojo

David Stanko and Nick Arrojo

David Stanko: We have Nick Arrojo here on Stylist Voice; one of our amazing interviewees. How are you Nick?

Nick Arrojo: I'm doing really good David, how are you doing?

DS: Good. I'm so glad you're able to do this with us! We put together a few questions and I think the readers will be able to extract some key points for either their salon or their brand or just their own personal development.

NA: Sure, I hope so.

DS: Just off the top of your head what's the 30-second elevator pitch that sums up the Arrojo brand?

NA: Well, I'd say that Arrojo is a true hairdressing brand that encompasses all of the things that a hairdresser does.

For example, we are a hair salon first and foremost with over 1,000 clients a week. We're an education center, where we have our cosmetology school for people who want to become hairdressers and we also have our advanced academy for constant education after your license; we offer more than 20 classes. We have our own haircare line, which we distribute across America through a direct distribution model. We've tied all of these things together and that's something that I'm obviously very proud of.

DS: Yeah, that's fantastic. You know, you also have a reputation of producing really beautiful, clean – "runway work." I've seen some of your presentations and it really stands out in terms of the fashion aspect. Do you have a favorite fashion designer?

NA: I'm aware of the fashion industry but I don't follow it so heavily. On a personal level, there are a few designers I like [Costume National]. It's more that I think fashion is everywhere and I'm more inspired by what's going on in the street – I live in New York City. I think we have to be aware of what's happening and I also think we have to influence what's happening. But I'm really focused on the hair side of the business. That's my goal is to be the hairdresser and, again, not to be a slave to the fashion industry

DS: I have to say that's probably one of the best responses and the most honest response ever.

NA: We created our own hairdressing blog called Style Noted and we post at least five inspirational/aspirational images from online that we think are cool. All the hairdressers contribute to the blog too. We're very aware of what's going on but we don't chase it.

This is what we teach: when a fashion designer thinks about clothes, or a new season of clothing, they don't think about what the clothes are going to look like. They think about the overreaching theme – who's going to be wearing this outfit? Who is the woman of today? What is the influence of this woman? Where does she get her inspiration? Where does she hangout? What does she eat? What does she drink? What does she do for a living? What does she do at nighttime? – They think about it from a whole perspective.

DS: Wow, the two things that stuck out for me was the blog you have called, Style Noted, and also the awareness of fashion and then integrating it. Do you have any sort of vision for where you see cut and color headed this fall/winter?

NA: Absolutely. Everything that we do with hair has texture to it. I'm aware that texture is what's happening now and what's going to be happening in the future. Of course, we're always going to have an influence of straight, but there's much more of an acceptance of texture; there's much more of an acceptance for wash and wear.

As far as color goes, we're not doing foils. Of course we will always have a clientele that will have highlights all the way down to their roots – but we're doing more block coloring, hair painting, we're doing hair toning (tonal changes) – it's a lot more creative and it's not about getting color at the roots for young people; it's more about creating that essence and it's more individualistic.

We're also seeing different color tones, not just the naturals, but actually starting to see more and more of the pastels and colors on the fashion level, like a baby blue, a teal, even pinks and washed out tones that are more primary in the pastel form. And this is the most interesting part about it: it doesn't look strange or weird. If it's done well it looks super modern – and young people are prepared to wear that.

We also have a product that we've been focusing on, our texture product, called Arrojo American Wave. We're pushing that service that was once called a perm in a different way that's giving it new life. We certified over 250 salons in America, and it's a grassroots movement that's starting to catch on. The under 30 crowd will never have a perm, but is interested in American Wave – and whatever the under 30 crowd is into, the over 40 crowd wants, trust me.

Now is the time if there was ever a time for us to rebirth the texture model. And it's great for business in the salons too! You have to create innovation in service, you have to offer something new to your clients. And it's not about money, it's about creating something really great that we can stand behind that's different.

DS: Great. You know, you mentioned you have some products with your own namesake on it. What is your best-selling product right now?

NA: I would have to say right now Refinish, which is our dry shampoo texture spray. As well as our Shine Looks family, which is a shampoo/conditioner, and we have a brand new Shine Looks Oil which is just flying off the shelf.

I'm passionate about bringing out new products so that hairdressers can actually turn retail into an area that can make money for them. We're also empowering hairdressers to understand that it's a big piece of their business and they've got to get it right.

DS: I bet it's fun with the staff that you have to say, "here, take this and let me see what your interpretation is." And really allowing them to play – once they own it, they retail it.

NA: The most important piece is teaching them how to retail it. What we've found and what we believe is what's measured will improve, and we have a new class dedicated to retail in my advanced academy every month. It teaches a 12-step system and if you follow the steps, you're guaranteed to actually have a client make a purchase. It's something I'm really proud of and something that's been missing from our industry for a very long time.

DS: Yeah, that's key, I can't wait to see how that unfolds.

Speaking of the younger salon pros and those that you see within your cosmetology school, what's your response when you get a sense that a new stylist wants to get out of school and make $100,000 a year immediately?

NA: I think it's absolutely brilliant. I think if someone has ambition, we should capture it and teach them how to do it. Now, they may not be able to make it in a year or two, but the last thing you want to do is slow somebody's ambition down; you want to invest in their ambition. You want to help them, give them the tools and show them the path.

I personally believe every hairdresser can get it to six figures no matter where you are in this country, no problem. And we break it down, basically how many clients you have to do, at what price, how much does each ticket have to be, how many tickets do you have to do in order to generate that kind of revenue. Once you break it down you realize how easy it is.

You know, you can't get a full book overnight. If you want to make a six-figure salary, you have to go above and beyond; we're in the reputation business.

The first thing to do out of school is find a place to continue their education so they become a master of the craft. And remember, this is a craft - not a get rich quick scheme. It's going to take you about five years, so you have to work in a place that's going to give you the right kind of education.

DS: What attributes do you look for in a new prospective employee?

NA: Ambition, ambition is important. A hard-work ethic, which is very hard to know. And someone that's got a vision, a vision to be successful but the most important thing I'm looking for is personality- are they nice? If you're nice and ambitious and you're prepared to work for a team, then that's what we do.

I hire people with no quota. I hold initial interviews every two months in an open house. If there are fifteen that are great, I'll hire fifteen; If there's one that's great, I'll hire one. It's three interviews, usually over two weeks to get a job at Arrojo. I'm just looking for people who are going to give their all, they're going to work for it, and they want to be part of the team and a leader in our industry.

DS: You made a comment that there's three interviews roughly over a period of two weeks. During those three interviews, who is the person interviewing with?

NA: Me. It's really important for me to hire everybody. It's my business, I want to know who's on my team, I don't want to entrust people with the hiring. I think one of the biggest challenges you have when it comes to hiring people is you just don't know what you've got until you've got them working for you. I never spend too much time doing interviews. You can interview someone for three hours – you can go on a date with someone, spend three hours with them and then think this is the most wonderful person you've ever met. Then three months later, you're thinking to yourself "ugh, this girl or this guy is crazy". So that's a huge commitment in the interview process. Can you imagine how little you know about a person when you interview them? An hour isn't going to tell you much more.

My process is very simple. I do a group interview and I talk about what I'm looking for, the brand and the business and I encourage everyone in the group to ask questions. Then I will do one-on-one interviews for two minutes. Two minutes is all you'll get. After the two-minute interview I'll look at the resumes for the first time and after that if I think there's a chance, then I'll invite them to come in for three hours' work experience. They come in, I will be in the salon but they may not talk to me apart from saying "hello". I always tell them, they need to interview me as much as we're interviewing them. There are plenty of times when they come in, spend three hours and then decide it's not for them. After the three hours work experience, if we think it's going to work then we invite them back for a second interview. I also – on the work experience – I give them what's considered their "training contract" because we invest so much in their education, and we also give them our no-compete clauses in reference to when they decide not to be working with my brand. So they kind of have an open disclosure on what the expectation is. Then they come in for a second interview and we decide if we offer them a job or not.

It means that I get to see them three times. I get to see what they wear three times, I get to see what their hair looks like three times and I get to ask them questions three times. I look at this interview process in a very distinct way. In the 1980s when I worked at Vidal Sassoon it was a group interview process. Nothing better than a group interview, you can see how people interact with each other; you can see the ones who are engaged with you, you can see the ones that look good, you can see the ones that you know are prepared. That's how we kind of do it. I think you can learn more in that kind of a process, that's how we kind of do it. So far it's worked.

DS: It sounds as if you have some pretty solid systems in place in many of the categories of the business.

NA: You have to have systems because they are your infrastructure, if you don't have it you have to rely on individuals and you can't rely on individuals because individuals are individual [laughs].

DS: Right, left to interpretation?

NA: Yes.

DS: So, speaking of the beauty biz, would you agree that the landscape of the beauty biz has changed over the past three to five years?

NA: I think it's always changing. The biggest change that I see is more booth rental, more independent contractors. Most people want to be independent because they can choose when they come to work, when they go home. They want to have that autonomy, to collect the money for themselves, and I understand the reasons behind that.

I also see more experts using viral tools that are not hairdressers. I think the Internet and the communication aspect is really changing it – it's so easy to do research now, before you couldn't do any research. The other thing is the consumer can actually damage or promote your business instantly and hairdressers can promote their business instantly. It used to be you worked at that salon, you left that salon and no one knew where you went; it was kind of like a secret. Today, you type in a person's name and you find out where the person is.

I think as long as you embrace change, you can come up with ideas to help you maximize your potential in whatever capacity you want to work in.

DS: I think what is amazing about a few of the comments you made is regardless of your status in the industry, the common principle remains the same: you have to look good, do some research, and have some awareness and not be crazy and flake out and run yourself like a business.

NA: Well listen, I started in this industry as a hairdresser. Once I got my education, at Vidal Sassoon, what I wanted to do was become a successful, busy stylist. So that took a few years to build a name and reputation in the salon.

My career is constantly changing, my destination is constantly evolving and I'm very aware of what's happening in the world today. So I can see where the opportunities are going to be. Clearly, the super power of the world is America. But the second super power and the one that's evolving the most is the East. You have China, you have Korea, you have technology over there. I know that the Japanese admire Vidal Sassoon, Sassoon is a company that has changed and evolved over the last couple of years. Maybe there's a chance there will be more of an educational draw from the East.

Looking at these things, I'm constantly thinking, ‘how am I going to remain relevant five years from now? Ten years from now? Twenty years from now?' And I think that it comes down to that ambition. I am the guy that started as an apprentice at Vidal Sassoon.

You know, I'm kind of living my dream. If I can do it, I always say, anyone else can do it. You have to have that vision and that desire and you have to work hard.

DS: You have just summed it all up. Your last few statements will not only provide inspiration to people and the can-do attitude, but really the discipline necessary to move forward in their own career. You are a mover and shaker in the business.

NA: Just like you.

DS: Well, thank you for that. I am thrilled I had the chance to catch up with you, you're a busy man and you've got lots of things going on so I want to say thank you for taking the time to chat with us.

NA: It's been nice spending time with you, thanks a lot David.