The Greatest Showman With Shears: Making Hairdressing An Unforgettable Experience With Robert CromeansJan 24, 2021
You don’t have to be Morrissey’s hairdresser on fire to be successful in this business, especially in this time where we’re seeing drastic changes that can make or break your salon. The greatest names in the industry know for a fact that the secret lies in making hairdressing an experience, not just a service that people come to get and then go. It’s all about the quality of care, not the quantity of hair. In this exciting episode, Ryan Weeden gets to speak with the legend himself, Robert Cromeans. Known all over the hair community as a brilliant entertainer, Robert knows like no other how the power of entertainment can change your business even in these hard times. Listen in and get invaluable lessons from one of the best and brightest minds in the hairdressing universe. Also, stick to the end for what may be one of the funniest epiphany stories you will ever hear.
Listen to the podcast here:
The Greatest Showman With Shears: Making Hairdressing An Unforgettable Experience With Robert Cromeans
I am excited. I am seriously fanboying here. I've got somebody that takes no introduction as far as I'm concerned, and many millions of people in the industry. He's a legend. I asked him how he'd like to be introduced and he's like, “Whatever comes naturally to you, go for it.” He's somebody that inspires me, millions of other hairdressers, and people around the world daily. Robert Cromeans, welcome.
Thank you, Ryan. What a beautiful intro. That wasn't so hard. When I've been in the business, I used to have to suddenly do my own intro. It's one of those things. We talked about listening to me as a kid. I made 3 or 4 series on DVD. I remember a friend of mine used to make it on a cassette. I said to him, “You should go to DVD.” He looked at me like I was crazy. I had made a couple. I started off with one called The Art of Making Money and it was hugely successful.
It's a lot of the things I discovered at the beginning of my career. How to make a living, increase prices, and work with assistance if that was your game. I elevated the game from a $25 experience to a $50 experience and so on. For me, I then went in and made another one called a Belief System. I heard you talking about Anthony Robbins on your last podcast with Gina. I used to do Anthony's hair for 5 or 6 years. His wife at the time used to be in San Diego, so I worked a lot with them.
He has such a dynamic effect on people in the way that he put style out there. I used to listen to a motivational speaker called Zig Ziglar. I listened to his shit so much. I could recite it. I could hear it like an Elvis song and know what came next. He had a beautiful rhythm of humor and points. I picked that up as a kid. I think of myself as a comedian but it's not about the joke. It’s about what I can make you think about.
My favorite selling t-shirt was a joke. It was about household hair care and doing your hair color at home. I said, “Quit your bitchin’, you did it in the kitchen.” I sold quite a few of those, Ryan. It's using a bit of humor. Not to ever take Anthony down but to make a big point of what we are as hairdressers. As educators, and you bring up entertainment, I'm probably one of the most entertaining guys you'll ever see on the stage. Vidal Sassoon told me so. He didn't mention I was a great haircutter. That is not the game I play.
I do lots of amounts of hair. If I do six, you're going to like one. The reality is everybody's got a different skillset. It's important to have mentorship and listen to things like podcasts. Gina gave us a shout out on the last podcast because she listened to me while she was in school. There was a lot of basic systematic stuff that people can reinterpret through their vision of their role in the industry, however way they want to play the game and there's merit to it.
I can't stop thinking about Gina, but she made a comment that I want to disagree with and I agree with everything she said. Getting back to the real thing, I love it more than anything would ever know because it's my element. When you're at a show and if I build a show for you to come to attend, there are many distractions for you. From when JP walks in the room, you know something's going to happen. There's smoke. It’s about to go down and hairdressers are all over the place.
They can't focus on one thing. Send us up to 7 or 8 chairs doing it at one time, they're going to explode. The great thing about a podcast is when I used to do a lot of this stuff, I would talk about colorblind incidentally because I know you're color minded. I invented the Color Bar. That came out of my little pea brain. When I think about the concept of it, it was about celebrating color and making a bigger deal about it than that supermarket. By mixing in front of a client, you showed them that they couldn't do this at home. There was a real concept behind it.
It became an industry reality. When I did it verbally telling people, “Here's a Color Bar,” I tell a story, everybody would visualize their own interpretation of it. When I started showing mine, which is this 3,000 square feet Color Cathedral, people were like, “I don't have one of those.” It was about having an open-air dispensary, a conversation that led you towards color. Many years ago, in the ‘50s perhaps, women would go behind the curtain to get their hair colored because they didn't want to be known as people who color their hair.
The commercial companies came out with, “Is she or isn't she? Is it natural or isn't it?” Nicholas French's father did it first. He brought it out and let people see it. People have seen it but more. That's why I make a big deal about color, Color Bar, in the point of how we present color turns into an average ticket. It was shadow brook, topcoats, overlays. It's all a case of what do you want to do with it. To me, the way our minds work is incredible and so is the visual.
If I show you my salon and you go to my salon, it will look like that. If I tell you a story and you let your brain imagine yourself in that environment, what it says to you is more important. I love hairdressers. We're visual, but nothing is more powerful than sitting down and listening to the crap. It's the opposite. Watching movies with no volume will teach you more about movie making, what you’ve seen, and what this music bed can make you feel, or dialogue for that matter.
A lot of people can learn from that. I am verbal, but I can also do a show silently to music that will blow your mind because I'm used to editing movies. I work to edit. It's all fine in the pulse of how people learn. I would say for hairdressers podcasts, it’s probably great to get everything out of your peripheral to hear one thing. You'll be amazed at what your brain will come up with in conclusion to that. You're doing a beautiful thing and it's a great way to learn. I don't think people do enough of it and maybe more because they've had downtime.
I've never had time to listen to you. Now it's like, “I’ve got time for the whole industry.” The industry has slowed down through no fault of their own and I would take numbers as drastic as 50%. In this situation here, we've taken clients for granted to some degree. Fifty percent of them are not returning in some level, way, or shape, so we’ve got to make a bigger deal about each and every guest. Fewer clients, more meaning. A thorough consultation. Most people put color on them and they leave.
Fewer clients, more meaning.
What is this? Is it a color service? Is it an experience? To me, if you're going to put a 45-minute processing color, I expect to be entertained for 45 minutes. That's the type of bedside manner. We only need 100 clients to be successful if we break down the boundaries of what we used to do with stacking and racking. You didn't know their names. You didn't do a great consultation consistently. You didn't recommend products and you didn't talk about the next visit.
He did six clients and you dropped the ball seven times. What if you did three and you never dropped the ball? Every client who's risking their life to sit in your chair right now matters. My wife has a brilliant young hairdresser. She hasn't had a decline in her business. She's producing an average ticket that's quite astounding and she already had one. We've seen all of our staff increase $50 to $75, so then it’s a $100 gain per client. Not by increasing COVID prices, but by honoring the menu, working on the menu, slowing down, and being more accurate with the purpose for each and every guest.
Fewer clients, more meaning. When I coach hairdressers how to speak on stage with fewer words, more meaning, it's a case of narrowing down which 100 clients make you happy. Now you can go through a list. If you’ve got 112, there are twelve that are driving you crazy, you can delete and recommend to a friend. At this point, if we want the ideal lifestyle with the right balance of our life and our businesses, we’ve got to be very focused on what that business can do. That's why Gina is such a powerful example of how to work that ticket up and do something no matter where you live. In my Paul Mitchell school, if you're playing your game right, you can work a ticket up to $80 to $100 with take home. These are incredible times.
You bring up so many points, but what I wanted to touch on was when I think back to when I started, I graduated in 2003 or 2004, right around there. I had The Art of Making Money on repeat. I listened to it all the time. You were one of the first people to talk about making hairdressing an experience. That's what people are paying for, whether you're going to be entertaining them or you're going to be glorifying the shampoo experience. I remember you used to call it sex in the sinky.
I even hold back from that. That's where I'd be. Everybody should speak their mind, but be clever with it. That's all. Little things and little ways of saying things to get people to remember them. Children learn through rhythm and rhymes. I'm always looking for ways to put a jingle to it to make it heard and people laugh. I would do seminars, Ryan, and I would hear me when I said the bit on stage a minute exactly what was on tape. It was like listening to your favorite albums.
It’s because people were in their cars or whatever they were doing, people listened to it a lot. People would say to me, “If you fall off the stage, I got you.” That's a beautiful thing. It's another way to learn and we all have different learning skills. The other thing that we have in common, back to Gina, she represents us all, is we all sucked in skill more or less. With Instagram and such, we are going to get more intelligent, hairdressers coming in that have other options and see the art we do and say, “I want to do that. That looks like more fun,” because they don't know what we do.
We've all come from a place where the world of IQ mattered more than AQ. The reality is AQ is what I'm good at working with people and working with guests behind the chair is my expertise. What I do on stage is easy compared to what magic I got to create with every guest experience. Is it memorable or forgotten? Ask yourself that question. Was it something that they will remember? If they do remember, it's going to affect your frequency of visits.
In the trend of what we're seeing numbers-wise throughout the industry from the millennium with my software partner, Mevo, from 25,000 salons, the frequency of visits is slipping. This is one of the biggest numbers that hurt our industry. If you dropped from 6 to 4, your business would be reduced by 40%. I usually teach people how to take it from four visits a year to six to increase you by 40%. I'm just saying through the natural reality of COVID, people are slowing down their appointments.
One, if they are coming in, you want to celebrate them and give as much time digital consultations. It’s a whole new world because we're not passing out business cards on the street. The reality of this new world that we're being brought into, in my opinion, is going to make us better service providers and better servants of the heart. These people are isolated. They haven't had much contact and they're not going to get it from a bartender. When they're sitting in our chair, that becomes something else.
The touchpoint and the human factor, we started a GoFundMe page for our guests to contribute to our staff who are on the third shutdown. People look to me like, “You’re a gazillionaire, Robert. What's this for?” I'm like, “First of all, don't believe everything you read on Wikipedia. Years ago, it said I was worth $52 million, and in 2020, I'm down to $10.1 million, according to them. I put every penny like you have into your business. I didn't do this for the dollar value. It's not the game I play.”
As the end result, when I see my staff waiting in the car pulling up and every one getting an envelope, I see a rainbow that they will have faith that their clients love them. My clients on some days tipped me $150 as much for the cost of a haircut on top of that. These are retired skilled teachers. What I do when they're in the building is different from just a haircut. The fact that I can take a lady who's retired and make her float on slippers out of the door, that's the game we play at the end of the day, whichever way you want to interpret that.
There's something to be learned from the data on the board. How we can make a bigger difference per guest, have fewer of them and still hit the financial goals we had, and get down to picking the ones we love and building the ideal clientele. My boy’s name is Reid. He got to build a business and I said, “You don't want clients who walk in the door. You want to build a group of clientele that are friends like you and with interests like you so that when you look at your column, you're like, ‘This is fun. This is an interesting day.’”
A lot of hairdressers get caught in the trap of doing everybody's hair, and then end up hating the job. I'm saying this is the time to pick your ideal clientele, how many days a week you want to work, and then figure out a way that you can make every experience the most memorable thing in the world. With those fewer little moving parts with the love, joy, and attention per guest, you're going to prosper while other people are going to have a hard time.
I would say no matter where you live, Ryan and type of company if you work at Supercuts or Sport Clips, whether you're in Beverly Hills, this is the way I would play. If the traffic is slower, slow down on purpose and be more efficient, be a better caretaker in general, and serve the people. It will serve you in the end because we've been over pacing. I made a video for our clients to tell them, “I'm sorry. We were overdoing it.” We've seen many people and we didn't know their names. You go beyond.
Nobody said when we said the shutdown and go, “How am I going to make a living without triple booking?” I said, “It's a surprise to me you couldn’t make a living without triple booking because your retention was slipping. Your average tickets to everything goes wrong. Slow it down a little bit and see if you can get more enjoyment out of it, more quality, and more experience with the client. You'll see a whole difference in the way you play the game.”
That's the reaction I would have if you're being affected by this. We could have talked about this before COVID, Ryan. I hear, “I'm just going to be a triple booker.” Squeeze another one in. I can prove it to you with the service ratio. If you're doing 1.2 service per guest, you’re doing six. If you were doing a two service per guest ratio, you only need three. My wife is an example of it. A lot of our employees work the ticket. We have another store that is young-minded and they still do it in proportion.
Even a $35 haircut, they're getting to an $85 to $100 service ticket. This is the way to measure and know that you're doing it right and fewer clients making your dream happen is what you should be focused on. Something happened and it’s like a snow globe. Sunday shift could happen. Here you go. There are going to be many shifts, closures and opportunities. We're starting to recruit as a company because we see the value. There are people who are unemployed and they've been laid off.
There are people in the freelance world, which I have worked for many occasions. This is a statement I make cautiously. If you were doing $2,000 a week, your rent was $400 and you dropped down to $1,000, your rent became 40% of your business. If you've got a part-time clientele, what you may need is a part-time job, not a full-time rent. When I look at it from my scope as a salon owner, as a team type salon that we pay people that through this whole thing, at least they've been getting unemployment off in their tips are included through their pay system.
They even got it to the highest level because the gratuity was recorded. In a way, what they hated became a reality of the benefit. I see shifts happening. We're paper-free now. We go into a call center type reservation, so there's nobody at the desk and self-checkout. We used to have an assistant program, which we pass off to people and now we don't. One guy, 29 years working for me is selling shampoo for the first time. He’s doing his own shampoos and he's falling in love with the product.
Product isn't about selling it. Everybody is like, “You're the Paul Mitchell guy. Here comes the product that is truly about retention.” If they don't buy into your product recommendations, they're not coming back, to be honest with you. Believe it or not, a client leaving with that product is an indicator better than Yelp that they are coming back to you. Education and information is vital and how you bring it alive. Don't leave it for the internet. They can't bring it to life.
Let you touch it, sniff it, try it on, put it in your hair, work it through your hands, and see the result, we got that. We’ve got to demand more as hairdressers that professional say and recommendation should dream up a 40% reality than that because that's the reality. If you're in a high street salon, you're paying high street retail rent and you're selling retail. Imagine Bed Bath & Beyond, they're going out of business. If you pay rent or an overhead, you may as well commit to what it would take to get your retail numbers to 20%, 30%, 40%. What incentives would you need if you're self-employed?
I know a young lady who pays her rent annually, which is $400 a week through the profits of retail sales. Reimagine your world and how effective you can be. This is a great time to pause and start. While we were closed down, we put in Mevo on your software. While we pause, we change to paper-free and cash-free and all these things. The closure helped us. There's a silver lining to it in many ways. The adjustments we have to make will not be the business as usual. Everything before COVID is off the table as far as coaching goes, in my opinion.
I could listen to people’s salon stories many years ago and now I want to hear people that are in the business because everybody's struggling. I'm part of a worldwide network, Ryan. I’m talking to hairdressers in Australia, the UK, and all over the US. These are indicators that I don't just have a hunch on. This comes from the reality of what I'm seeing. This is the time. If you love the industry, let's find the clientele that you can show up to a minute. Instead of saying you love it, but your face doesn't say so.
It's easier at a party to go, “I love being a hairdresser. I've come to work every day,” but your face says otherwise. Mean it. My son got to assist me for the few months before we closed and he said, “Dad, I can take a picture of you anytime with a client in your hands and they're lit up from every aspect of it.” Being on stages and being on a platform. Every single guest is a stage performance. It's how you set it up and it should be systematic.
I know you all resist structure but through the structure, you increase your performance so you become more consistent, which is what a client wants. I don't care what type of hair they want. You want to be a consistent service provider. I’m not good on Wednesdays, Friday, or when you get your paycheck. I’m good all the time and that's where the structure can come into play. These are all things that are critical for a hairdresser to succeed now. You're in California, right?
When I found out how many licensed professionals that were in California, I knew why it was so hard to build a business in California. There are too many of us. They need to restrict how many salons open, like how they limited how many Hackney Camps Drive in London because there are too many and most salons don't have the right workforce. The reality is however many hundred thousand there are in California, this is quite a substantial adjustment that people have had to make.
Find the clientele that you can show love to and mean it.
As I say, salons are closing so I'm not saying, “Go close your salon,” they're doing it. It's happening. Having fewer salons may be good for the industry. There are many more people available for the workforce and more to make the world go around, so salons are busier. It’s hard to have overhead. You can't justify it. In California recognize this. We were open for a duration of time. We're about 1/3 done, we closed again, we reopened and now we’re about 2/3 done. I'm saying we're not seeing the numbers going the right way here.
As we look when we open again, we're not expecting it to let it rain. We're expected to have to work every inch of it to build it back up from getting new clients because we've seen an increase in that. It’s because of the safety protocols, we made a big deal about it. We over-manage them. We do it like how platform artists would cut hair. We emphasize that we commit to it. It's not something like a party or coming over to, and I've seen you clean the house.
I want you to see me scrubbing the station, wiping it, and sanitizing it. These are all things that give the client the perspective that they're in a safe place. What’s more important is people are yelping about us. We're seeing new traffic coming in the door because we've had great reviews of people saying how safe they felt. This is a beautiful way to build a brand-new business. Most people are starting out whether you're in the career in the beginning or you've been in it for years, you've got some rebuilding. That's a fact of it. That comes best with reputation and experience, not from an ad in the yellow pages. You may be dazzling on Instagram but that's not the only medium, but it is a vital one. You've got to put your mind to it. It won't happen because Jesus loves you.
We're in the third shutdown in California which is unprecedented for stylists and salon owners are facing. What advice would you give to stylists now in California or those that have had their businesses impacted elsewhere in other states and countries? What should they be focusing on now? I guarantee a lot of them are sitting on their butts, probably watching the news and waiting for the day when they can go back to work.
They haven't made it the shutdown as much as you'd expect from different points of view. There's been a lot of time off lately. When we open up, somebody’s like, “I need my vacation.” You had three months off. There are certain salons out there like what my wife and I are asking ourselves. Moving forward, does the business model work? If it is, it is not a salon, it's a business. That’s one thing. I will say for all of you out there, there's no judgment here. You've gotten out, which you've never had before because if the airlines are going to lose $200 billion in 2020 and you look at other like-minded businesses are dropping out there. They’re bigger than ours in many ways. There's nobody too big to fail here.
This has been a time that no one can give you crap over saying, “During COVID, I decided not to continue.” For hairdressers, that's happening too. They're going, “I don't want to wear a mask at work.” “I don't want to work with people. I don’t want to put my family in jeopardy.” This is all understandable, Ryan, but for those of us that are going to continue on in whatever shape or form, we’ve got to adjust and pivot. When you're trying to have a team meeting and tell people we're changing roles, the resistance is overwhelming. When the government did it, things got out of our control. That's a beautiful place to come from.
In this new territory, everybody's willing to move in a direction of newness and try different things but some people say, “Protest the governor.” That's not where I'm coming from here. There are a lot more fractures. There's home hair happening and it’s bigger than ever before. We're seeing it. It's showing up on time. We’re seeing it show up in so many ways. When people break habit cycles, things change. I'm saying that the reality of what's going on in the industry is a shakeout that’s beyond the closure.
If you're going to continue, what's going to be different? If somebody is going to risk their lives to come and see you, what's going to be unique about the experience and who you are? That's the part people need to justify and use their imagination to build up what that looks like. Everybody throws that word brand around the internet all day. Define your brand by the experience you're going to offer, not how cool you think you'll look on the internet. Please design it by the details you put in the way you handle your guests and that will become the word of mouth traffic that takes you over the top. These are simple equations.
For me probably talking every day on it and as much as it's about California, it's about the community. Worldwide hairdressing has been affected and distribution has been affected. We've all been trying to get to a digital platform and now we have to and this is the big realities that we're dealing with. For me to send my wife and I had to go to North Dakota to a show for 1,000 people would take 4 to 5 days of our life and now with a well purpose Zoom call, I can make a Zoom call as entertaining as a hair show because I understand what movie we're watching.
The reality is if you look at it from a time, life, efficiency, cost point of view, there's no reason for us when this is over to go back to the old way. I know everybody's missing hair shows but there are certain aspects of it that were not positive and not educational. I grew up in the hair show world but we don't have to go back to what we were doing. When we visualize digital worlds, I'm not trying to create the show I used to do.
I have bigger advantages now. I have a captive audience. I've got you on a frame. I can call out every person in the audience name if I want to, which I couldn't do on a live show. There are many tricks you can play on it and it's a fascinating way. You put it on the internet and 100,000 people see it. I was in a school in 2019. Somebody made a video. I can't remember if it was my wife or not but I saw it accidentally come up on my memories. I had 97,000 views. I've reposted it and it picked up another 10,000. For guys that do what I do on stage to get 10,000 viewers. I do shows with 10,000 and 12,000 people but to get to 100,000, I have a clip on IGTV with 2 million views.
I've traveled for more than 35 years and for 7 million or 8 million miles and that would be the sum of my whole career in one little video. To talk about being able to put it out there and get it in the places. What a great way to build a following to create a voice and this is a fascinating time. I'm excited by it. Typically a guy my age wouldn't be but I find it fascinating. What it brings to me, Ryan, I get to get visibility. The industry in the 1980s and the era that I lived up and was the King of Rock and Rolling had a real hard time getting information.
The only way to get it was that hair show. That is not the new way. Hair shows will be redefined, reclassified, and probably less about the real audience being there. It’s almost like the spectators to go more and about the televised version that goes home with people. The thing I love about Zoom, when we get on these calls with our own team, I see them with their children, feeding the baby. To have a salon meeting before, everybody had to get up and start glamorizing, drive downtown, and now we can do it all.
Whether they're walking the dogs, whether they're working out, I don't care what it is, this is a great new way to communicate that we have to embrace and get good at because some of the digital offerings so far have not been good. They feel limited because they missed the old way but there are ways to use the technology and creative ways to put it into a length that can be as entertaining. Some of the TV shows have done it already. I’ve done the hair at the Billboard Music Awards. They did a pre-run premeditated and it ran on time. MTV did it and it is beautiful television. It's a much more controlled format and there are ways in which we can communicate better. If I go to a show like BTC, have you gone to that show yet?
She builds beautiful showrooms in the world. It also sits empty a lot. The reality is, that show is built when I'm up there. I’ve got to fill the crowd and other people too, but a lot of times some people don't have the crowd. People don't know who they are. This platform has that ability to go further and I don't know how much Mary spends on her stage but at least a couple of million. You don't have to do that so I'm saying it becomes a fascinating viewpoint that I have on the future in the beauty industry.
Like the revolution we've had with Instagram, we're about to see another level of it, which is this digital learning including hands-on, which again, seems like the hardest but because we have skills, we’re in that moment. Every skills got installed in these remote control cameras in the ceiling. They pick up whiskers, their remote control load in, one operator, and no camera crew needed so it’s efficient. This is becoming a reality world here.
You said it, you weren't the kids many years ago but as you do this job a lot, we get good at it. That's why I’m a good platform artist. I used to do four shows a day over three days. If you do a lot, you get good at it and that's where we have to embellish in this technology and figure out, “What's the best way to get people in? How do you involve an audience even though they're on the other side?” That's the trick and it can be done. It's done every day when you're glued to the television. It's done every day. I don't think you'd like to watch an episode of your favorite TV show being made live. Editing is the magic.
What I love about show business is creating misdirection and being able to speed up how quickly you see things. If it's about live trickery, you've got to eliminate what's irrelevant. This is going to be a level in which my wife and I already do a lot of the Zoom education but I can make people feel like they're on a train like I do on a show where it's going and you never know what's going to happen next. It doesn't need to be live. It can be pre-segmented, pre-bits, pre-filmed, all these bits that you get to create your own little TV show in a way.
I feel that the way people learn and all this stuff is going to become a whole new thing. I know a lot of it instinctively from your experience of what I'm trying to do when I build a theater or when I take a show on the road. What buttons do I have to hit, what ta-das do I have to have to create surprise. A lot of people don't understand the element of surprise. It's like a jack in the box. To me, in one little show, I’ve got to make nine buttons pop. I’ve got to get a reaction from the audience, whether it's laughter, applause or something.
These days, it's iPads and photographs. You don't get applause anymore. You get all the cameras surging forward. That's the modern-day applause there so you know you're onto something and that's what you've got to refine into it. By premeditating, you can edit it down to these wonderful, spectacular moments and not only you live hoping your haircut is even. Some companies did a big color point of view, and you have never seen a finished result.
In a video, I can show you the end result first, get your buy-in that this is important, and take you on a journey. As a busking platform artist and a guy that does build shows for 12,000 people and participates in shows of that size, I feel I'm so excited for my team and all the guys that work at Paul Mitchell to take that journey and help them be the masters of it. That’s the reality when people are craving for education and I wonder when I see all over the internet for free, it's everywhere and yet still people are saying, “We’ve got to have an education.”
It's going to get redefined here and we've resisted it before COVID when we all moved towards going all this electronic way but not until this did we all realize how important it is. When are we going back to the old way? I hope never. There's no reason to. We’ve got to reform a whole new way and that’s going to happen. I want to launch products. I want to do shows I want to do tricks on camera. I cut hair with forks, I do hair with balloons, helium, or fans. I do some crazy shit and I'm always in my mind looking for more stuff.
I did a great trick that you’ll love. Shrinking hair. A girl comes down, she's there and the hair shrinks up with the thing. The girl comes out on stage and her hair flips into a mohawk. Nobody's her or nobody's near her. They are like, “Oh my God.” To learn the trick, I started off on the dress. I do the girl's hair and she would walk out. Her dress line would rise up automatically. I get down there with hairspray and I spray it with a can of hairspray. People thought the hair spray made the dress move. It's trickery.
To me, that’s what I'm into. Everything's got to have a point. It's not doing something to be a jackass. It's got a point to it so the fans we use on photo shoots make hair come alive. I cut hair on my last big show with three of those. Three dancing boys to the beat and I did three haircuts. The first one blows all the hair up in the top and with a razor double clipper, I take the top off of it so it's that square layer and that girl's done.
I take the next girl, I pick boys behind her and they blow the hair to me. Double clippers in the front, I knock out both sides at once. The third girl is in A-line bob so we reverse her. They blow her front hair back to me and I get it from behind so 2.5 minutes and three haircuts, people are like, “There’s no way you do that.” The three sciences of haircut are recognized in that three jumps piece. If I could have somebody hold all the sections up and cut it, it's the same thing. I'm using wind to create the elevation. The trickery and the other thing, because you'd have such an influence, taking a risk is an important factor. I will take the risk, even if it doesn't work, and my audience will love me for it but I see too many too calculated and not enough risk-taking, whether that's in your communication, or whether it's in the risk of what you're doing.
Don’t look for the old days to return. Look forward for the good days ahead.
When people want to see live hair, they want to see a bit of risk. They want it because we're fearful. We're all fearful, we’re all shitting our pants when we cut somebody's hair off. For me, when you see that risk being taken, in our company, we often don't do a lot of pre-done hair. Almost everything we do is live because to me, that's the element. If you're a slower cutter and everything else, you could do a little pre-work on it. I can live with that, but most of the team understands that timing is a placement in people's minds that you can't replace.
If it takes you 45 minutes to do an updo, and I can get you to a place you could do it in three minutes. You're going to have such a crescendo in those three minutes so it's a case of thinking of what you can prepare in advance that is in there. As you're doing and dropping, it comes alive the quickest and the further away from the action of finish, the audience forgot even what model you're working on. Add in a couple, 2, 3 more chairs, hairdressers’ heads are spinning.
I'm saying that this is a beautiful opportunity for the whole beauty industry, myself, my young son, and others around us to inspire one another digitally and figure out these new frontiers if you will like we did in the old days with platform artistry and shows that we do. It's got to be cracked because it's not going to dissipate. I'm not going to close my salon down for a class, the governor took care of that so now I want it fed in differently. It's not going to be a gathering at the salon anymore. It’s not like, “Let’s have a gathering.” Nobody's craving this thing and I want to get it all out of your minds. It's an Etch A Sketch. Give it a shake. We're starting over. This is exactly where we're at.
I was listening to an interview that you had with Anthony Mascolo. You had mentioned the time that you're on stage and you've made a mistake and you owned it. You grab a can of what you thought was hairspray and it was shampoo or something like that. Can you tell me about that and how important it is to maybe not take yourself too seriously and roll with it?
Try to be honest with it when it does go wrong. It was one of my first shows. It could have been the first weekend of shows, we had a three-day show that was slightly private. It wasn't a trade show but I'm up there with a legendary rock star that worked with Paul Mitchell. Her name is Jeanne Braa. She can do anything with hair. Her dexterity finger waves cut hair, perm hair, put it up into pins, honeymoon hair, she called it with one pin. She was a magician.
I became this second kid to her and a lot of what I did in the early days was help her call models and find models. I would help her. I would work the platform with her and while I'm on the platform and think of this as playing tennis with somebody better. While I'm doing whatever I'm doing, I could have set myself on fire. Nobody was watching the chair. That's how talented this lady was. Overtime working with her for ten years, eventually, I was able to hold the power of my own.
The reality on the first show of the second day I'm up there and we're doing this stuff. I'm doing finger waves and at the time, we didn't use a lot of blow dryers. I'm doing this finger wave set. The product we use is called Sculpting Lotion. I salt and pepper on it, that's what you're supposed to do. I dredge the hair with it and I start combing it through and combing through like you would. I would over comb it because I'm a platform artist, that's all I knew how to do.
I noticed my hands were lathering. I realized that all the bottles are black and white, especially in those days. They didn't have any characters. I had lifted a bottle of shampoo one and not sculpting lotion. It sounds like a long story but it's happening in seconds of time. I sheepishly look at the audience and I see that some people have caught on in the front row that I got a problem. It's not that I can hide from it so I call it out. The audience laughed so hard and remember, this is my new boss.
We come offstage and I get backstage with her. I said, “I'll never do that again. I made a mistake. It was an honest mistake.” She goes, “Robert, that was hilarious. Do it on the next show,” and we did. We put it into the show. We nailed it. Even if you don't do it again but you tell the story, “The last time I did this, I did this.” Suddenly there's laughter. Where there's laughter there's learning. Many people take themselves too seriously on a stage.
In the interview you mentioned, he's a brilliant hairdresser. To me, he’s one of the greatest of our generation. I'm a showman of a different nature and I can pull a crowd like nobody's business and sometimes that gets in Anthony's way because he's not that guy and it's not who he is. He's one of the greatest hairdressers I admire but I have a gravitational pull with an audience. It's one of those things that’s daring me to do it. I do it in countries where I'm not famous. People are saying, “It's because you're Robert Cromeans.”
I can do it anywhere. Trust me. It's a dynamic. People want to watch me cut hair. They want to see the risk I'm going to take and they notice those differences. Artistically, I can't criticize the guy at all. He's one of the best you'll ever see. For me, that's recognizing what you're good at and get honed in on it. If you're not the spokesperson in the company, get a good job where you’re involved in it or tell the story visually with edits in words. There are many ways you can do it.
I work with Fern The Barber. He's not a big talker but he can cut some hair. Everybody can do it in their own little way. If you're verbal like we are, go for it in a verbal way. Even for me, sometimes, when I'm doing a presentation, especially at a big show, like a Paul Mitchell gathering, I'm going to hit something in two minutes. I'm going to give you everything you need in two minutes. You’ve got to know how to bring it down to the ball bearings of the essence of what you're trying to say. Hairdressers tend to talk too much during the consultation and when they're with their clients. We’ve got to bring it down and hone it in and that's a beautiful science to learn.
As I say now we're coming off across, what makes people learn is what I'm excited about and I've learned so much in the industry being a teacher from watching an audience not responding. The thing I love again about laughter, I can tell at any point if I've lost the audience because I'm dropping little one-liners all the way and I'm hearing crickets, it's not that it's not funny. I'll take even an “ugh” over laughter, at least I know they're still listening. The human mind is fascinating that there are many ways to get information into people's heads. It's not going through the format. I did the class. What did they learn in the haircut? Can they do it themselves? If the answer is no, you're not the teacher you think you are.
An example, and think about this, you must have seen it once or twice. You see somebody up there perhaps cutting hair and they say, “I'm going to pull it over here, instead of over here because what I don't want.” Why are you telling people what you don't want? To me, the human mind can only take, “What do you want?” All you’ve got to say there is, “I'm pulling the hair here because I want this.” That's teaching. Telling people what you don't want, telling people what you've done or what you're going to do is also irrelevant when it comes to the live-action of the sport of demonstrating hair and getting as close to the camera as you can. I watch a lot of kids frame themselves up and the model and the whole time, I see no hair.
There's a science to it like the way we build a show and a photoshoot. The great thing for a lot of your readers is it's out there. Go look at the machines. Look at the things that turn you on, look at the people that are liking a lot. I'm saying that it's a beautiful way to research it, which is ripping off other people, which I love. That's what research is. It’s taking an idea from many. It's one of those things and I don't know how I did my job before I had all these visual tools, meaning a storyboard, a video clip, an idea I’ve got and we're going to do this. Sometimes I can only get the communication across through visuals. I used to have to buy twelve Italian Vogue for $1 million, now it's everywhere and the people I follow. Stuff feeds into me every day. Every day, I'm getting a new idea from somewhere. It's the most generous resource that I've ever been given.
I shame on the young industry who don't use it. I shame on you people. It's not about being followed. It's about what you get access to and whether it's you stumbling upon me. You're getting access to stuff and that happens to me in my world a lot. I'm often the wild card at that show in Italy. They're like, “Who's that crazy looking guy?” “Come see.” This is a whole new world and I'm pretty passionate about it. Even though I've been doing it awhile the old way. If anybody wanted to lock down on what we're going to miss about the good old days, it would be me because I had the most charmed life in the beauty industry. It’s all because I got a license but I am not looking for the good old days to return.
I'm looking for the good new days and looking forward to seeing a whole new way that is less fatiguing. Half the platform artists in the world are alcoholics because we have a routine. I don't drink that much I find while I'm home. It's a tradition from trade shows meeting us and after the show, “I'll see you in the bar.” For my poor liver, I’m like, “This is a whole new way for Robert Cromeans to do business.” We have a beautiful young team at Paul Mitchell so I can help them on some of the edges too to take some of that showbiz world through. I love the beauty industry and I'll keep pushing forward and open my big mouth.
I have a voice I don't take for granted. That was one thing that was quite humbling about our GoFundMe page. I built it for the clients because we heard from them three times during our shutdown. We're talking to him for 30 minutes at a time and they all say, “What can we do to help?” That’s what motivated me. It's for the clientele, but once we put it on the internet, it turned into a global thing. I’ve seen donations from Iceland and Germany. Salons are doing things. I have a buddy in Texas, Visible Changes. He’s got 500 people involved in it. It spun further than I thought and further than the team thought.
Being loved by the industry is important to me. When I'm on stage, at the end of the day, when I think of every hairdressers’ emotion, what we want to be is loved. Love from the guest in the chair and love from our audience. It's a thing we need and there are ways to get that with the technologies available. When we do get a chance to be together, it will be even more special. I talked about in an interview the roaring twenties, which is when we come out of a pandemic, not quite COVID but there was a party after that, and we do believe in celebration. It will get to that point but I don't think it will ever swing back to what it was. That's all. For those fewer people attending, it's going to mean more.
I'd been at a dining table with six people and one of them is Vidal Sassoon and if I list up the other five, it will blow your mind. You get into these intimate situations and I've also been in a room with Vidal with 4,000 people watching him. Even though I felt he was talking to me, he's talking to the rest of the people. These are situations that are going to bring quality. If you were buying a ticket, before it's going to cost you more, but you will be in a royal feeling and that's going to be awesome. Meanwhile, let everybody build their brand and now that I've seen your following, I'm going to tag you every time I force it. Not a hand painter, more of a house painter.
As I say I have a tie to the color. I help hairdressers make a living selling color things like the Color Bar. That will increase your revenue. If you imagine building a salon from scratch and if you put 50% of it as bathrooms, there will be bathrooms. If you build 50% as a Color Bar, 50% of your business and some will be color and that helps frequency of visit and other things. I've much been a pioneer in helping people make a living. Color is the greatest way to build loyalty and everything else. I've always been into it even though I'm not known as the guy that's up there showing you pantones. I work on a lot of highly colored hair and crazy to some degree. We like it funky and crazy.
As a showman, that's not what I do in the salon. As a showman, that's what people like and that's the great part. It shows you a lot of what we're doing now. We're not producing 30 girls deep so we're a little starved for that and I'm excited to bring some of that to the table with Paul Mitchell. We're going to start doing our type of hair show and unlike trying to build a two-day program virtually is mind-blowing. From music to costumes to everything, I can build it out in bits and off that one goes. I do the next one to get even more focused on it. There wouldn't be a scene I've ever built that I didn't think I could do better on if I had more time and now to take the time with it and make each one a beautiful and entertaining learning experience that you can't wait to see in the next episode. That's where my mind is going in my old years.
Where is Robert Cromeans going in the future? Since everything's pivoting toward virtual, I can see The Robert Cromeans Show on YouTube or somewhere. What's the plan?
I've had a couple of opportunities, maybe a show built around the premise of me emceeing and more talent that I would say, “Come watch these people. These are the good stuff right here.” A lot of the trade shows are having a hard time building value in what they used to do because they took away the main stage. They didn't have the talent to provide it. I advise a lot of these companies what to do. I said, “First of all, without BTC and a hair brand, I would find a big section like Disneyland. That's hot dogs over there.”
Use what the industry is into and don't be so prehistoric in your thinking. I've always been an enthusiast of talent. My whole career I've always been surrounded by talent and quite a few have become quite famous. I believe in that threshold of diversity and I think of it from an audience point of view. I cut hair crazily but if I'm up there with maybe Angus Mitchell who his son trained, I've worked in the past with DJ Muldoon, he used to work on my wings.
The reality of that is the diversity though you may not like what I'm doing but I love what DJ does. I also worked with a young gentleman called Takashi who was a freak of nature. Either way, your taste level was hit and that diversity is what people need. That's moving forward where we’ve got to go. I’ve got that question like many of you. I plan to keep working. Paul Mitchell planned for me to keep working even though I'm not doing shows now. That's what I've been doing. They see a future for me which is guidance, still doing a bit of performance, emceeing but building a show around a show.
Slow down, diversify, and get an education. You’ll be amazed at what it can do for you and your business.
I love working with a barber scene. It's nine barbers. John Mosley and Fern The Barber. Incredible talent, the most talent you could get on a stage. I can emcee through and what I do is interpret hairdressers’ reactions to barbers. I like to develop talent and take it to the industry as well, because there are kids out there that are doing incredible stuff that I see on Instagram and I'm like, “If I could put those kids on a stage and get them the audience they deserve, it could be great television.” I got to many different shows around the country.
I'm going to ask my wife this question, “What's the one in Italy, the magazine?” It’s called the Tribute show. We each get 30 minutes. You're allowed one pre-done and one that you do live and it can be prepared as far as you need it to be. Mark Hayes goes first, me, then it's Tim Hartley. Tim goes through a tough time after I'm done. I don't do pre-done. I do two live haircuts, one with a fork. Trevor Sorbie is in the audience but I love the format that was restrictive and poignant. These are things that I would like to produce in the future to where I go, “This person to me is what you should be watching. You get to see him and I see him.” You have to trust him like somebody recommending good wine that the show you're going to see is only going to have the best goods in it.
I don't see this necessarily being from a purely manufacturing point of view. It would have to be based purely on the skillset of what I know they possess and if you want to cut hair, this is where you should be watching cut hair now. It could be multiplied in each of those categories, like color or whatever. I've been watching the world and I know where the magic is, let's put it that way and it's all over the place. That would make a great show to have that. BTC has the ability. They bring in the people that are the most in-demand now. That's what makes the show quite relevant that some of the trade shows don't quite have that same magic for.
There was one story that you told a long time ago and I'm sure you've told it several times over the years. It touched my heart but it made me laugh too. I can't remember the movie that it was. There was a movie about the power of hairdressers and this was early on maybe mid-2005 or 2006. I can't remember the name of it. It was awesome but you told a story about how your parents were in restaurants. They tried to get you to do that, you didn't want to do that and you became a pizza delivery boy because you didn't know what you were going to do with your life. You had an epiphany in that job. Can you tell me about that? It’s the funniest story ever. No pressure.
It's JP’s favorite story. He loves it when I tell it and I tell it a lot when we work at our school events because the struggle is real. I had been forced by my family to get into one side of business. When I came to the States, I was like, “I'm going to fulfill my dream. I always wanted to be a hairdresser.” They didn't support it so I went straight to beauty school. I went to Memphis, Tennessee, and to pay the bills and be able to go to school full time, I took up a pizza delivery guy job. If you don't know me, it's going to be hard for you to understand but you know the image that I have, the persona I have. Can you imagine me in a red Domino's shirt or whatever company it was, wearing the hat? You’ve got to think of it, I hated wearing the hat and now I'm known for wearing hats. It’s a full circle living. I’ll do it as soon as I get out of the pizza place. I took the hat off when I was delivering it.
I'm working through school and people that did not understand where they've gone a day or night school. There's a struggle there to make things meet and go through. I have been delivering pizza, making some tip money, trying to pay our bills, eating some ramen. One night we got a call for a large pepperoni pizza. I stuffed it in my bag and off I went. I had a 1973 Ford Torino. It was a piece of junk but that's what I was delivering. I had a little sign on top. I went to a neighborhood I've never been to before. If you deliver pizza, it's awesome when the people are outside waiting on you because you don't have to find the apartment or the hotel room.
I see a guy and I go, “There's the guy.” I pulled over the car, I jumped out, I'm holding the pizza, and came running up to the guy. I said, “I’ve got your pizza.” He goes into his jacket and I thought he's going into his wallet. He brings out a gun. I moved from Scotland. I've never seen a live gun. When he started to move the gun at me and pointed at me, I made a little shake, a little wriggle, a little jingle and I thought to myself inside, “That's not a real gun.” He said, “Give me the pizza.” I only worked for Domino's so I gladly gave the pizza. He said, “Give me your money.” Everything I had except maybe $5 was their money. I said, “Alright. There it is.”
The third thing he said was, “Take your pants off.” I said, “No.” He hit me on top of the head with the gun and I could feel the weight of a magnum 357. What I realized was the gun was real. As I lay on the ground with no pants on, I thought to myself, one, I'm going to make my mother happy. I wore underwear. That was a bad idea even though it was trendy. The other was to make beauty school pay off. When I go back to that occurrence, because this is a true story, when this guy said, “Take your pants off,” what do you think is going through my mind is about to happen to me? He's using it as a way to determine that I wouldn't chase him. This guy is going to try and have sex with me.
I'm like, “I moved to America. What a country this is. I don't know how this is going to work out.” It was to stop me from chasing after him. I do believe a few days later these guys were caught because they kept doing the same crime to pizza parlors. As you’re lying there and you think you're about to lose your life, what's most important? I wanted something out of the beauty industry. I wanted to honor my teachers more and I still got in contact with one of my teachers in beauty school, which is many years ago now. She said, “Robert, I knew you'd become this on the first day of beauty school.” The times in our life, it's already coming through us. The things that I've been able to achieve and enjoy through the beauty industry are even a surprise to me.
Sometimes I'll watch shows I've done and I’d go, “There’s no way I did that. I don’t even know how to do that.” Oftentimes, I do so much hair on stage, I get to a point I don't have to think about it so me doing one haircut is too much pressure, me doing 5 or 6 using a fork or using whatever trick I want, I am more comfortable with that as a presenter. The reality of you don't know when you get into this business world can happen.
The fact that the relationship I've had with the people I've met from the relationship with Paul Mitchell. We tell the story about beauty school. While I'm in beauty school, a DVD is played with JP and Paul. It's my first time seeing Paul Mitchell. He was a Scotsman, a platform artist, and he spoke his mind. He wasn't scared to use the F word and I don't mean frizz. He was his own person. He had grown up much as I did in the trade show environment so he had a great ability to connect with an audience. He cuts hair with a curve comb and curved scissors.
He was the guy that inspired the balloon trick for me because he sat her on balloons and would pop the balloons and comb out the set. He was a showman. He used gadgets and bits and tricks so I got to become who I am by the first three months of school through a life-threatening moment where I nearly lost my life. Also being inspired by a company that I've been with for more than 37 something years, loyal to the same brand. It's quite an accomplishment because many are freelance people. They can work wherever they want. I've been loyal to the brand and feel proud of the fact that I've made a contribution to things like Color Bar, Wash House, and taken-home. It's in every one of our schools.
I was in Michigan with a school owner that finished a brand-new build-out and he didn't know me that well. His wife is the hairdresser. We come walking in and I see the Color Bar up in lights, I see the wash, and I see all these things that come up my little head and I'm like, “That touched my heart.” He's like, “Why would that touch your heart?” I was like, “These are concepts. These were ways to look at our business in a different way.”
What you've got to look at as a visionary is what you leave behind. Without pioneer precision haircutting, we would probably be the last to take credit for it and would never be upset that it was ripped off more than anything else has ever been. As a visionary, you do that. It's being humble, being gracious, moving ahead, and when you see kids doing well, give them a shout-out like how people have done for me.
I didn't become Robert Cromeans overnight. I’ve got a lot of encouragement and you get to a point. As I say I'm proud of what the industry is doing. I’m thankful for technology. It's going to change our whole world. For the other side of COVID, when the vaccine and all this stuff gets worked out, we're going to go back to a different way. My wife's been doing hair for more than 25 years. For the first time in her career, she marched herself out for lunch on her book. It's not fair to be going hungry, having not gone to the bathroom, or not had a drink of water. Take a walk out of sight because you're going to be wearing PPE anyway. Slow it down, become a little more effective and dangerous with it would be the message.
If you are slower, diversify, get an education and get into other things. I'm fortunate that I do multiple jobs and that would be I wish I'd have my son who's starting out. Do a bit of this, get into some videos, do some clients, surf a bit, do whatever you want. Carve out the lifestyle you want to have. If you're a parent, and you want to spend more time with your family, that's awesome. If you want to get an education or you want to start skating the roller board and whatever it is.
Find the balance of life and you’ll care more about each client and about everything you do. You'll see the difference of revenue will blow your mind of what we're talking about now that this is the secret sauce that people don't talk about, that we've talked about forever. From the art of making money all the way through, it's always about this memorable experience. Even though you may have heard it before now more than ever, you've got to create this habit. If you can create it, you're going to see success. These numbers don't lie. It's not a hunch.
I know this is the behavior that makes you successful. A lot of people pick their mentors. I can be a great example. You may want to pick me as your mentor, but don't try and run a marathon you're going to die. What the industry needs in a couple of ways is to get more female representation or any other agenda than males because the reality is, that's the biggest majority of the industry. My wife's day-to-day story is remarkable in the things she does every day to be successful from 35% take home, high ticket $330 a guest and not losing clients. She’s having a beautiful relationship with these people.
In fact, when we put the GoFundMe page up, the first client I saw was one of hers and left $500. I'm expecting these clients to throw down a $5 or $10. It's amazing how appreciated they are. I've always felt this is a platform. I learned that through building my first salon and starting to make a little bit of money behind the chair. I would spread that love through knowledge. It's hearing that story for the reality of what it is. There's a lot of illusions on the internet of where you think you're visualizing on, “This person is a rock star. I want to be them.” They go in and sleep in the back of the car.
Pick your mentors wisely and you can be inspired by people you'd never get to know or thank you. It’s the same token. If finances are what make the world go round, why not focus on a couple of people that can help you financially to get the idea of how you can sustain your career with this thing called doing hair? This part where people wake up every day and realize they went to beauty school and never asked the question, “How do I get paid?”
They never asked it and now you're asking it and saying, “I can't do it.” It’s a little late now but the reality is, there is a way to set yourself on the pendulum. My wife is a great example of somebody who knows what she's doing with it. It's basic stuff in certain degrees, but she's the master of it in our organization. More people need to see that in action like how we complimented the hair doctor. She’s a great example. That's why I support her so much because she's what the industry needs. She is so outspoken and she's on point when she talks about money.
Thank you so much, Robert. This has been such a memorable experience. To think that I was watching you on stage and you inspired me many years ago and I get to chat with you. I'm living in San Diego too. I would love more than anything once it's safe to come down there and buy you coffee. I hear you drink a lot of coffee and so do I. I would absolutely love that opportunity. In closing, Robert, how can people watch, support, and say hi to you?
Probably on my Instagram. I work on my own accord. I get up early in the morning so I can play with it. It's a game. That’s the best way. DM me or whatever it is. If you don't know who I am, have a little look at the feed. It's usually a little more hair centric. It's got a bit of hair on it but it's got other stuff that we're talking about like California and other points but all that goes into the same thing. We're in a heartfelt business.
It’s touching people's hearts and souls. I'd also check out my wife's, which is Mary Cromeans @CuomoCromeans. She must have known she was going to marry me so she had that thought in advance. She's a profound educator. Keep an eye on her. She's always doing beauty tricks out there. We stop by on Facebook because it's a longer format and I have a couple of pages up there. You can't get on the internet and dodge me.
Thank you so much for being here and I can't wait to chat again.