Episodes of The Sport Clips Haircuts Hall of Fame Podcast - Arif Taj

Red Banner with HOF Episode

In this episode recorded in August of 2018, we interview Arif Taj, reigning Team Leader of the Year. He discusses his experience in franchising (with Baskin Robbins) prior to Sport Clips, what drew him to the opportunity, and what it takes to create a culture that attracts and retains the best talent. Also joining the podcast is special guest, Shamaila Taj. Shamaila won the #mysportclips contest for generating the most engagement for her social media video highlighting her Sport Clips journey.


Episode Air Date Guest Name Guest Title Topic(s)
August 29, 2018 Arif Taj Team Leader Creating a winning culture that attracts and maintains the best stylists.

Each episode of the Podcast is also available on iTunes and the Google Play store. 

Listen on Apple PodcastsListen on Google Play Music


Chad Jordan:                Hey everybody, this is Chad Jordan from Sport Clips with another edition of our Hall of Fame Podcast so pleased to have you joining us. And today, I've got actually two special guests. So I'll start with the first one here who will introduce himself.

Arif Taj:                        Hi Jordan, my name is Arif Taj and I am Sport Clips team leader in Southern California. And we have six stores, started this journey in 2007.

Chad Jordan:                Awesome. And next up.

Shamaila Taj:                I'm Shamaila Taj, I'm part of team Taj since 2016 and I'm the marketing director for our team.

Chad Jordan:                And it's no coincidence that they have the same last name, Shamaila is Arif's daughter. So we're going to talk a little bit about that dynamic today along with some other interesting topics, I think you're going to really enjoy this.

                                    For those of you that were at our national convention, we call it Huddle, their name got read off because they were team leaders of the year. And so they got to come up on stage in front of 3,000 of their closest friends. Arif can you tell me what that moment was like. Was it out-of-body experience, do you remember it? What was going through your head?

Arif Taj:                        Actually, I do remember it very distinctly which is kind of funny because we were just sitting there and roll calls were happening and people were getting awards and Southern California had gotten a couple of awards so we just sat there and say, "Okay, we did our part." And we were all together. And then everybody started yelling and screaming around us. So I was looking down at that time because I was looking at a friend of mine that had just gotten an award, one of the team leader store. So I looked around and said, "Why is everybody yelling and screaming?" And then they're all just cheering and say, "Get up! Get up! Get up!" And I'm going, "Get up where?" So I turned around, looked at my wife and then I looked up and our name was up there. And it's people that who know me know that I'm never at a loss for words. And my whole being was shaking at that time so Susan goes, "Let's go." So we got up and-

Chad Jordan:                Susan, your wife.

Arif Taj:                        Yeah, Susan my wife.

Chad Jordan:                Okay.

Arif Taj:                        So we both got up and made the journey from our table all the way up to the stage. And I don't know what I said to Gordon or Edward, I don't remember that, but I'm sure I mumbled some [crosstalk 00:02:22]

Chad Jordan:                I do. And there are some, where I got to talk about off air because some of those things ... No, I'm just kidding. It's kind of like one of those Oscar moments where you win and, "Oh, I didn't have a speech prepared."

Arif Taj:                        Speech prepared, exactly. But it was really surreal, it just really was. I had not expected that but once it was over and we came down, even then it didn't seem real. So it's one of those things that you probably will never forget. And the best part is that it was the 25th anniversary.

Chad Jordan:                Oh yeah, how special.

Arif Taj:                        So you'll never ever forget. "Hey, when did you get your team leader of the year?" And it's like, "25th anniversary."

Chad Jordan:                You know, that's why I got married in the year 2000. I know how many years I've been married, 18 years. I just have to count up from ... And I'm going to get back to you Arif in a second but Shamaila, you also won something at Huddle. You won the My Sport Clips Challenge. Can you tell us a little bit about that? It was a social media challenge and exactly a little bit of that process.

Shamaila Taj:                Yeah. When you had announced that that challenge was available, my team, I know we all got really excited and a couple of us did them together and I was encouraged to do my story and my version. I just talked mostly about my passion and my love for the brand and the team and the atmosphere of working for a company that cares. And it was a lot of fun. It came from the heart, definitely. It was genuine and I felt that that resonated with a lot of people. And it was nice to be able to share my story. So I love the opportunity and I was ... Again, it was surreal that I won because so many great stories came out of that.

Chad Jordan:                We're going to talk a lot about social media, especially with you later on. But the importance of using that to help with recruiting, retention, team building, culture, all that fun stuff and you got to display that with your #mysportclips challenge. So got thousands of views. If you haven't checked it out, make sure on Facebook, Instagram, whatever, search #mysportclips, I think you'll like what you see. By the way you know that, I'm telling all the listeners that.

                                    So, Arif I want to get back to you. I want to talk a little bit about your Sport Clips journey essentially. Where you've been, where you are now, where you think maybe things might be going in the next few years. So first and foremost, can you give me a little glimpse into your background, when you started with Sport Clips, what you did? BC, and AD, what you did before, and then after the decision, that'd be the AD, not after death but after the decision for Sport Clips. So what were you doing, I don't know, 10, 15 years ago?

Arif Taj:                        So real quick background, I have a math degree. I graduated mathematics and physics as my background. Didn't know what really I wanted to do and got into a field that at that time was, this is back in 1979, aging myself here, and got introduced to computers at that time. Didn't know what they were or what they did but learned it. Went to some extension courses at different colleges and got my logic background. So did that for 27 years. Started as basically a tech and ended my career with Unisys, which is the company I worked for as a director of engineering for an R&D division.

                                    So that journey started in '79 and ended in end of 2006, early 2007. But before that, we had decided that we wanted to get into some kind of ... My family has been in business for a long, long time so-

Chad Jordan:                Family, extended family, friends, cousins ... Okay.

Arif Taj:                        My dad had a business, my grandfather had a business and that business was established 200 years ago. And they continued that and-

Chad Jordan:                Speaking about dating yourself, I mean, man alive, all right.

Arif Taj:                        So it's been in our blood. We all have some kind of professional degree. My dad was a lawyer but never practiced and went into business with his dad and same thing for my cousins and everybody. Most of them got back into business. So at some point we were thinking about it and my family was already in Baskin-Robbins at that time. They had started in the late '80s as franchising.

Chad Jordan:                So Baskin-Robbins is your first taste, literally, pun intended, of franchising, right?

Arif Taj:                        Yes, it was. And that was in 1994. And it's a funny story because even though my family had a bunch of stores, I mean, I first ... And we lived in Orange County and so I wanted to get into Baskin-Robbins. So we found a location, said we're going to build a brand new store. And this sort of ties in later on why this is important, this little anecdote. Is that we found a location, we got the lease going and then Baskin-Robbins came over and says, "Hey, wait there's an existing franchisee here that has multiple stores. They want this location so we can't give it to you." So we did all the work but they got the store. So we were kind of bumped about it.

Chad Jordan:                What you didn't know is they were following you around when you were doing all this stuff and they were just waiting for ... Making you do all the hard stuff and then they were-

Arif Taj:                        So we did that. So we got that experience and then we said, "Well, what should we do?" And they said, "We'll buy an existing store." So that way some ... So we found a store here in West Covina, which is about 50 miles from where I lived but it was a store in distress, but it was one of the original stores that Baskin and Robbin themselves ran. It was a number [crosstalk 00:07:50] store-

Chad Jordan:                You're kidding me.

Arif Taj:                        Yeah, in their system. So we said, "Okay." And it was really run down, it was in bad shape. It had been there for 50 something years at that time. So we said, "Okay, we'll buy it." So we bought it. The guy that was running it really didn't take care of it. It was literally in bad shape. But the good part of the story is that we got in there, we changed everything around, we built it. And the best part is that the first year of operation, that store, and still the record, went from sales of 125,000 which is what he had reported, I don't know if it was true or not, but we took it to 475,000 in the first year. And it was the biggest turnaround in Baskin-Robbins' history at that time. We got awards for that of all kinds. So we were really excited. And then we ended up ... That became one of the best stores in Southern California. And then we ended up buying a bunch of other stores.

Chad Jordan:                And another lesson learned, if you're going to open an ice cream chained kind of franchise, do it in Southern California where people will eat your ice cream year round instead of Minot, North Dakota or something like that.

Arif Taj:                        It just sort of ties in. Then that's how we got into the franchise business. Always had the passion for business but also had the passion for people. So it was just a good fit. Kids were my passion anyway so-

Chad Jordan:                I know, we have Shamaila here. How many kids?

Arif Taj:                        I have three.

Chad Jordan:                Okay.

Arif Taj:                        I have Shamaila and then two boys.

Chad Jordan:                Who have sworn off ice cream at this point in their life because that's probably what they had for breakfast, that's a dinner for many-

Arif Taj:                        They actually kind of grew up and work in other stores, them and their friends. So it was kind of fun.

Chad Jordan:                Oh, that's neat, yeah.

Arif Taj:                        So they all got to learn. I mean, even though it was two or three years kind of work for them but they learned how to be team players, how to provide guest service, how to take care of issues. And also we all learn how to be in an environment where you're expected to do certain things. So it's a good learning experience and [crosstalk 00:09:54]

Chad Jordan:                And I bet culturally too, and we'll speak a little bit about the Sports Clips culture, why it's a cut above, again, another pun intended, in terms of delivering a client experience. Nobody walks out of Baskin-Robbins with a frown on their face. I mean, everybody's happy, unless they drop their ice cream on the floor [crosstalk 00:10:12]

                                    So to parlay that into an experience like Sport Clips where we want the same thing, we want the same experience where a client walks out with a smile on his face. And not just 'cause he got great haircut, but because he felt valued as a human being, he loved the experience watching the sports and interacting with the stylist. So great that you had that experience.

Arif Taj:                        Yeah. So from Baskin-Robbins at that time, and then when I was leaving my company, I had to make a decision. And then reason were varied but at that time we had to make a decision as to, "Hey, do we continue growing Baskin-Robbins and make that our future or do I go back into consulting or do something different?" And at that time, my company had provided me with an opportunity to sort of explore because I was at a pretty high level. So they gave me a package which allowed me to explore different options of what my future's going to be like. So I went through the franchise process, there was a workshop and we looked at ... There's almost 2,000 franchises of one company or the other.

Chad Jordan:                Yeah, I've seen. By the way-

Arif Taj:                        It's [crosstalk 00:11:20].

Chad Jordan:                I used to be in sales and my job was to sell to franchises. And my company gave ... It was like a, for those of you that will remember what a yellow book or a phone book look like, of franchise companies that I would have to cold-call from a to z. And you're right, there's thousands of 'em to choose from. So that leads us to the question, how did you choose Sport Clips, especially, what, 10, 11 years ago when there wasn't a lot here in California?

Arif Taj:                        There was maybe six stores in all of California at that time. Because I think the first store opened in 2006 sometime, I don't remember exactly when but early 2006.

Chad Jordan:                Here in California.

Arif Taj:                        Yeah, here in California. But it's a great story because ... So I narrowed it down. I kept looking and I wanted a model that allowed me ... The reason I wanted transition out of Baskin-Robbins is 'cause Baskin-Robbins is a great business and you do need to own multiple stores to make it work, like any other franchise business. But it is a more hands-on business where you have to be present because you're dealing with a lot of product, dealing with-

Chad Jordan:                Perishable product at that.

Arif Taj:                        Perishable product, a lot of equipment and also dealing with high school kind of kids. So you have to be present to guide them and sort of nurture them and get things the way you want.

Chad Jordan:                Are you saying high schoolers can be prone to distraction and if you're not actually there 24 hours a day monitoring them, they might get to no good?

Arif Taj:                        Not maybe 24 hours a day but a good portion of it. So we were looking at that and say, we're at an age where we want a system that we can set up and work on the business but not in the business. And so, that why we narrowed it down. And it actually is kind of interesting I narrowed it down to three and I visited all three of these businesses. One was a consulting business, which I back to where I was but I was tired of wearing suits-

Chad Jordan:                Boring. Yeah, okay next.

Arif Taj:                        Suits and ties and travelling overseas, I said, "No, this is not going to work for me." Even though the investment was very little at that. The other was a high end dry cleaning kind of a business which was really, really good in California because people do very well with that. And then the third one was Sport Clips. So I did visit Sport Clips headquarters in 2007 before I made the decision. And at that time, Clete Brewer was there, he was president I think. And then of course Gordon was there and it was one building there in Georgetown. I went-

Chad Jordan:                Update, now there's five.

Arif Taj:                        Now there's five. And so I went in there and in the morning ... I got there the night before, went in the morning. We were supposed to meet for an hour and a half or something like that. So Gordon was there and Clete was there and we sat down and talked in that small conference room that's still there.

Chad Jordan:                Yes, yeah.

Arif Taj:                        And it ended up being almost the whole day kind of a meeting because Gordon and I sort of hit it off.

Chad Jordan:                News flash, Gordon's a talker, yeah. They did tell him some stories and ...

Arif Taj:                        We told stories and he was interested in my background with Baskin-Robbins and then I had some questions that I wanted to ask him. The best part was he was so genuine, he was just like as it is, nothing, no pretension, nothing. I felt like I was home. I was sitting with a buddy of mine and just having a conversation and the best part about ... I still remember a couple of things that we distinctly talked about. One of my questions was, "Well, how are you planning," because at that time there were no stores in Southern Califo ... Very few stores in Southern California. So I said-

Chad Jordan:                It was an emerging market for sure.

Arif Taj:                        Yeah, emerging market. And what are your growth plans and how are you going to do that? And I still remember Gordon's words, he said, "Hey, we have a plan, we want to grow the business obviously. But we don't have anything set, were going to find the right people. Hoping to find the right people as team leaders. That's how we're going to grow our store." And I loved that answer because there was no like set numbers. Like we got to do 50 stores, no matter what it is. Well, we'll do 50 stores if we find the 50 right people or 10 right people or whatever. So that was a great conversation we had. And then of course the other one, the value system. That's who I am, that's how I treated my Baskin-Robbins' team members because even though they were high school kids or college kids, we still did all of the things that we do with our Sport Clips franchise. And we had learned that at that time so we were all into it. It's like, "Hey, take care of the people."

Chad Jordan:                Same core values that were 10 years ago they are still on the wall today. Okay.

Arif Taj:                        Still on the wall today. And when I looked at that and I could see from Gordon's conversation that that's who they are, that's who they believe to be and that's what they're going to be no matter what happens.

Chad Jordan:                Do what's right, do your best, treat others the way they want to be treated. Core values. Yeah.

Arif Taj:                        That's it. I am in. So once I walked out of there, I went home and talked to Susan and said, "Well, we found what we're going to be doing for the next [crosstalk 00:16:04] years."

Chad Jordan:                I like how you slid that in, we found, even though it was you. Trust me, we found.

Arif Taj:                        We do make decisions together and it was a funniest thing because once ... And she got into it, she was, "I get it." And then we had a conversation about, "Why are we doing this? What is the reason for this [crosstalk 00:16:25] I mean, people generally think we're in the business to make money or earn money. Our thing was no. We certainly need money, money is very important. That's how we going to grow our business and make things happen. But we're in this so that we can make a difference. And that's their core values. We want to make a difference, we provide the experience. Every business is the same but at the bottom of it, it's all about people. And who are the best people or the most important people? They're you're team, and that's how Gordon treats his team and most of those people are still there. They started with him at one store and they're in positions of-

Arif Taj:                        They started with him at one store and they're in positions of making decisions now for him, and because they are vested in the system, and in Gordon himself, they do their best every single day. And you see that, and that transitions into ... And then he ... Of course he takes care of the people, because the journey is not his alone, it's everybody coming together.

Chad Jordan:                It truly is amazing when you, especially as a team leader, when you treat your team well, and you treat your manager well, right? Julie Vargas, first ever Sport Clips manager 25 years later, she's been treated so well by Gordon and she's contributed so much, she's still here. So, you've got a team ... You had ... You were team leader of the year, and you have the manager of the year Jennifer, Jennifer Justice, right?

Arif Taj:                        Correct.

Chad Jordan:                Store CA6-

Arif Taj:                        630.

Chad Jordan:                630.

Arif Taj:                        That's our first store.

Chad Jordan:                Okay, your first store ever. So how many years ago was that, 10? You're the math guy here.

Arif Taj:                        2008, April, [crosstalk 00:18:04]-

Chad Jordan:                Okay, so over 10. So 10 years plus, let's just put it there. And she's still there.

Arif Taj:                        She was a second hire.

Chad Jordan:                Oh my gosh.

Arif Taj:                        Out of ... There's another interesting story there, too. Pleat came out when we were talk ... I don't do interviews. I have conversations with people that want to be part of our team. And I, even today, I spend that time upfront. We'll talk about that a little bit why that's important about recruitment and what you do. So, it's a get, keep and grow, right? Get the best people you can. Do your best to keep them, and then if you do those two things you will grow. There is no question about it, right? So when we were sitting ... So Corner Bakery was open. This was a brand new location. It had just been built, and there's a story behind that too, with Gene Boothe how we found-

Chad Jordan:                And what city are we ... What city is this?

Arif Taj:                        This is in Glendora.

Chad Jordan:                Okay. Glendora, California. Okay.

Arif Taj:                        [inaudible 00:18:55] They were building the second phase. This center has everything. It's one of the premier centers in this area where everybody goes. It's a destination. We wanted a corner store that was very visible. It was all glass. So we had to cover all those things up with European style, you know ... Sport Clips on it, and we had to get permissions to do that.

                                    But, when we were talking to people and we were at Corner Bakery, which was next door, that's where we went and did our conversations. And Clint was out here, and we were sitting there, and there was three applicants that day and he said, "Oh, I wanna sit with you and see what we do, how we do this." So we sat down and there were ... two out of the three were very good potential people that we could bring on board. So, [inaudible 00:19:33] was, like, "You know, bring 'em on board." I said "I'm gonna give them my card, and I'm gonna let them think about all of the things that we talked about, and we'll talk about what our foundations are and how we do that."

                                    And then, so ... we will talk about that, and there's a lot of conversation that is happening ... And me, I want them to go home and think about it. Talk to this, and if they can bother whoever they trust, and see "Are they that person?" And if they wanna come on board. And then tomorrow they can call me. He says "I'm sure you're gonna lose them." I said no, if I do, that's okay. But, if they really want-

Chad Jordan:                And this is your first store you're doing this at?

Arif Taj:                        This is the very store we're doing this. Because we had learned from the Baskin Robbins experience, right. So we had some experience in that. And of course, in my position at Unisys, I had 300 people that worked in my division, so I knew ... And that's the story too, I learned from there. It's like ... before, when I used to hire engineers, I was looking for the beset engineers with the best degrees, the best qualifications, all that. And I found out it never worked. And then I went through Caltech to learn some management courses ... took some management courses and all that, and found out that you're not looking ... necessarily looking for the best degree person, or the best engineer. You're looking for the best person.

Chad Jordan:                Nice.

Arif Taj:                        That has a great degree and has ... Because skills can be learned, but personality or your behavior or who you are, your core value, that's not something you can really learn. I mean, you can make an attempt at it, but you're really not-

Chad Jordan:                At that point, yeah, they are already pretty set where they are.

Arif Taj:                        So, they're set, yeah. They are. So, when I started hiring the best people, I had one of the highest success rate in bringing products to market in my division ... in my company. So [crosstalk 00:21:01]

Chad Jordan:                And so you translate that into Sport Clips, yeah.

Arif Taj:                        And I said, you know, even though they are ... it's a different environment, they're not engineers and all that, but they're still people. So, Clint said "Really?" And I go "Yeah." So we walked away and then the next day two of them called us, and one of them we brought on board and the other one we didn't. But Jennifer was the second person that came on board, and ... we knew that she was gonna be a superstar. She was the assistant manager at that time, we had different manager, because we had hired the manager first. And that manager was with us about for a year, and then Jennifer took over and she's been the manager since two thousand and ... End of 2008, till now. And now she's the manager of the year ...

Chad Jordan:                Yeah, and she's on blast, too. 'Cause she's gonna be interviewed for the Sport Clips Hall of Fame podcast, so, Jennifer, just a heads-up, we're coming for you. I do wanna talk about a little bit ... So, I love that. I love that tip that you're giving other team leaders, or even prospective franchisees. You're looking for the best fit, the best person, not necessarily the right ... Filling out all these [crosstalk 00:22:06]

Arif Taj:                        You're not looking for the best stylists. I mean of course you want great stylists, 'cause that's what we provide as the service.

Chad Jordan:                But you also want someone that's coachable. Someone who's willing to learn.

Arif Taj:                        So, let me share with you what we're looking for when we do our ... when we have our conversation. So, the first thing that-

Chad Jordan:                So you don't even call it an interview?

Arif Taj:                        No.

Chad Jordan:                It's a conversation.

Arif Taj:                        It's a conversation. I let them know right up front "Hey, this is not an interview, we're just gonna get to know each other." [crosstalk 00:22:32]

Chad Jordan:                And that probably defuses it a little bit, too, makes it a little less tense.

Arif Taj:                        If I'm not used ... Most of them are not used to that, but, there are ways to do it, and I don't put a time limit on it. I ask them "Do you have a time limit?" And say "No, I'm open." I say "Okay, great." We'll let the conversation go where it goes. It can be a half hour, it can be 45 minutes, can be an hour and a half, it's up to you, right? So we're just gonna get to know each other, because at the end of the day we're gonna be together more than you're gonna be with your family. In our teams and everything else, right? So you're just spending-

Chad Jordan:                And this is on location at a Sport Clips or are you at a Starbucks or-

Arif Taj:                        Typically we go wherever the closest thing is. Corner Bakery, Starbucks, whatever is there. Sometimes we do it, you know, in a location that's more ... quiet.

Chad Jordan:                Okay, but they're not coming into the equipment room or the back office of the store.

Arif Taj:                        No, no, no. You don't wanna do that, cause that's [crosstalk 00:23:19]

Chad Jordan:                Yeah, where you're here in the vacuum [crosstalk 00:23:19]

Arif Taj:                        You don't wanna do that. So, we ut them at ease and let them know that we're just gonna have a conversation, get to know each other. And then at the end of the day, if we find that you know, it's their choice, and our choice, whether we wanna be team members together. And we want a long term commitment, not a short term. So, we start the conversation very relaxed, and it sort of flows the way naturally it can flow. We don't artificially do anything, cause we're trying to figure out who they are, not ... Because we know they already have a license. We know if they have worked in other franchises, they know how to cut hair. And those are skills that you can even teach when they come back, right? But we're trying to figure out who they are and how do they fit in our system, right?

                                    So the first thing we wanna talk about is what are the things that are non-negotiable for us, right up the front. What is our building block, how do we do this? So the first thing we talk about is ... I ask this question "Do you know what honesty and integrity is?" And are they different, are they similar. In your words, not the clinical definition. What do you think they are to you? So they will give me several different ... And there's no right or wrong answer, I let them know. There are no right or wrong answers, you just tell us what you think they are. So they will tell us what it is, some will say it's the same thing, some will say different, but then I have a very ... My favorite quote is Martin Luther King's quote, it says " It's always the right time to do the right thing." That's integrity.

                                    So, people can have ... Can be honest. But they may to have integrity, but people who have integrity are always honest.

Chad Jordan:                Yeah.

Arif Taj:                        Right? So, it's just as simple as that. So we talk about these things. And the reason is because that's our building block. We don't watch our team members, we don't ... We have cameras for security reasons, but we never watch films. We never look over the shoulder, because trust-

Chad Jordan:                You're not big brother.

Arif Taj:                        Trust is the foundation. If you lose that, it's non-negotiable, even if it's a small thing. And in ten years there's only been one instance where we had to let somebody go. It was a small thing, but they knew it was-

Chad Jordan:                Ten years across many stores?

Arif Taj:                        Many, many stores, and many, many people. But the thing is, the reason it is very important is because we want them to be free, we want them to be able to make decisions, we want to empower them. Mistakes are alright, because we learn from that, and we don't repeat them. If you make decisions. If you make a mistake that's okay. We'll correct it. But, if you do anything that's knowingly not the right thing to do, we're done at that moment. There's no second chances. So they know. Second thing we talk about is team, what their definition is. We put 'em in scenarios, you know, if you were the team leader or if you were the manager, what kind of people would you wanna surround yourself with? So, we get an idea of what their values are. What do they consider important?

                                    So, once they do that ... And then team is the second things that's non-negotiable. If you do anything to interrupt the team, we're done at that point. Either it's a guest, we call them guest, we don't call them clients or customers, because it brings a different image in mind. Guests are people that you want in your store, clients are somebody who's paying you to do some things, so it's a little different mindset.

Chad Jordan:                Yeah, but you're really ... You're setting that expectation up front. Like, this is Sport Clips, so being part of a team matters.

Arif Taj:                        Yeah.

Chad Jordan:                And as someone ... I coach club soccer for my daughters. No individual person is greater than the team, but we need every individual person to comprise that team. So, it's kinda setting that up front, is [crosstalk 00:26:34]

Arif Taj:                        Setting that expectation, because that's the most important part. So people ask me "Why do you spend so much time doing that?" Because we may do six or seven of these conversations and not hire anybody. But I said that six or seven hours is the best hours I've spent, 'cause I don't have to anything at the backend of things.

Chad Jordan:                Yeah.

Arif Taj:                        We did all of that on the front end. And now we don't have those disruptions and all that, right? So. We have these conversations, then we get into things like, you know, we'll talk about how do we find out what somebody's ... By that time they're very relaxed, because there's no negativity, there's no questions that are kinda tricky. It's like "No. No right or Wrong." If you don't know the answer, and some people ... We're looking at their body language at that time, you know. How comfortable ... Are they still laughing, is the context still good ... Are they relaxed? 'Cause out stores get very busy, we want somebody who can handle that pressure, right? 'Cause it is pressure when you're sitting there asking to be hired onto a team, and we have a reputation here now, so people do wanna be ... so we have lots of applications, right?

Chad Jordan:                That's what ... I guess was gonna be my next questions in the recruiting portion, is ... You're talking about these conversations. How do you find the people to have these conversations with? Are they just popping up out of the blue, coming out of the woodwork, or are you running Craigslist ads? What-

Arif Taj:                        We do all of those things. I mean we sometimes, when we are like "Hey, you know, we really need to get some people in there." You know, Shamaila will step in, and then she will run a Craigslist ad, and she will do Facebook, all the social medias, we'll even ... But the best way we get them is word of mouth, you know, referrals. That's the best way. So once a team member comes on board, loves what they do and how we treat them, they want their ... And that when we get the people that they wanna be with, we don't get anybody that ... So, it just works that way. So-

Chad Jordan:                Word of mouth, though, is that now, also, in this digital age, social media? So your team members, are they saying things on Snapchat, Instagram ... "Hey, we're looking for ... somebody to join the team."

Arif Taj:                        Some of it is that, some of it is just their friends, you know, they're people that they've worked with in different franchises or different places. And typically we through that process, you know. So we have referral bonuses too, obviously, you know like everybody in Sport Clips does. Well, I hope everybody does.So that way its a little bit of an incentive for them, too, to bring in the best people. Because, you know, they wanna work with people they wanna hang around with. So, it's kinda fun.

                                    But the conversation goes that way, and then one of the things that we talk about is ... There's a question that I ask, which is very important to me because I wanna see what their ... What happens to them when they're under stress. So, the question I ask is, you know, anybody can learn anything ... I ask them "Do you think anybody can learn anything?" And sometimes they will say yes, sometimes they will say no, whatever. But then I tell them there's one thing nobody really can learn, you either have it or you don't. And then I sort of let it hang out there and say "Tell me what it is, that you think it is that people can't learn, or they have it or not." And then I give them some hints about ... These are people that you wanna hang around with, these are people ... And then they'll say, well, their passion, and then they'll say this and that. Not at all a good way of describing it, but that's really not what I'm looking for. So I let them hang there for a little while, 'cause now they're under stress. Now you get to see what happens when they can't think on their feet right?

Chad Jordan:                Right, right. Well, these poor people, you've set them up. They were so comfortable by the way you front-loaded everything, and now you bring this in, and they're ... but ...

Arif Taj:                        Yeah, so now, it's like ... So, sometimes they will struggle through it, sometimes they will come up with the answer, and other times ... And then I give them hints along the way, it's like, you know, this, that and everything else, and then sometimes, it's like they will say "You know what, I can't ..." And that's great too, because we wanna know if they don't know the answer. They'll say "You know what, I really can't think of it right now, but tell me." And that's great too, because they're honest and up-front about it, and their body language hasn't changed, they're still smiling, they're still laughing, they're still having a [inaudible 00:30:16], so you know that they're genuinely who they are, because by that time they've forgotten about being in a place for an interview or anything like that.

                                    So the thing that, really, it is ... And I haven't found anybody that can actually learn it, you can pretend to be that person, or you can fake it for a little while, but you really can't ... That's enthusiasm. You either have it or you don't. 'Cause you can't turn it on and off. People who are enthusiastic, and that's about 10%, 15% of the population that really is like that ... but that doesn't mean they're loud or they're bubbly, it's just their core value that they have. They're just enthusiastic about things. And that's what we are looking for, people who ... And they will learn anything, because failure is not an option for them. And then when you put them in an environment like we have, our culture ...  We're very big on culture, I do a presentation to my teams about culture, and I've done it actually for some team leaders too, I've done it for the Chicago region, John Kohler invited me to do that, and I did that. And Gordon was there too, actually, sitting in the background [inaudible 00:31:11] I was very nervous about [inaudible 00:31:12]

                                    So, but, he loved it. So, I have done that at the ... a mini version of it at the Huddle, too. Two years ago I did that.

Chad Jordan:                Well, here's what I wanna do, time wise. I'd like for you to give me a couple snippets on culture. And then ... Do we have time to do a second podcast where we talk about marketing stuff? Are we good? Think we can do that?

Arif Taj:                        Yeah.

Chad Jordan:                By the way, I'm recording this live, so if they tell me no, then I'm just ... I'm in trouble. But ... Because what I don't wanna do is feel like we rush through all the topics and try to cram them all in, so ... We ended up spending such good quality time talking about recruiting and retention and the great team that you've ... And the process that you've set up here ...

Arif Taj:                        We've only scratched the surface. We just learned about how to get people, but how do you find them, and then how do you keep them?

Chad Jordan:                Yes.

Arif Taj:                        That part we haven't even talked about yet.

Chad Jordan:                That's the part that's ... On this podcast I'd like to transition to, if you allow me to. So ... Because ... The 1700 stores across 50 states, when you started 10 years ago, 10 plus years ago, to be exact, there were 3, 4, maybe 500 stores, so the-

Arif Taj:                        There were 476, I think.

Chad Jordan:                Okay. And now there's that many in Texas alone. But we're evolving, everybody's growing as is ... But we still, across every state, where we have Sport Clips, and in Canada ... What can we do to retain, what can we do to recruit ... That we want the best team. We want the best team members. So, it seems like you didn't stumble on to creating this culture, you've ... you might have refined it, you might have kinda whittled it down to something that works for you and your system in your stores. So, I'd like to kinda propagate that and spread it throughout the brand here. So, team leaders that are listening, maybe managers out there, or prospective franchisees that are wondering what is it about culture that you guys have found success in, and is it replicatable elsewhere? Or is it just in Southern California, where, you know, the sun's always shining, and there's fires in the hills and you know, all that...

Arif Taj:                        And it's always bright.

Chad Jordan:                Yes, one way or another.

                                    So give me a little understanding on the best way to create culture and to sustain it.

Arif Taj:                        So, like I said, I have a whole presentation that I do, and its an hour presentation.

Chad Jordan:                Okay, well, we don't have an hour, so [crosstalk 00:33:57]

Arif Taj:                        So we gotta, sort of, pick on it. So it's, again, we talked about it a little bit ... Is, like, we wanna get the best people, right? So how do you find the best people. We talked about it a little

Arif Taj:                        It is, like, we want to get the best people, right? So how do you find the best? We talked about it a little bit. And then, you know, how do you become an employer of choice? It's because of your reputation. Because one thing is for certain, if you're having difficulty finding people is, what is your reputation as a team leader out there? Everybody talks to everybody. They're on social media, Snapchat, Instagram, whatever. So your reputation is there, whether it's good or not so good, you need to figure that out.

Chad Jordan:                So, if you're having high turn over, it might be, you'd better get a mirror, look into it, and think, uh-oh, what am I not doing right? Why are all these people leaving? And I'm not getting a lot of people wanting compensations right now, because-

Arif Taj:                        That's the flip side, right? Yeah, but the front end of it is, why am I not even getting applications? Why are good, quality people not applying for our stores? Why are we only getting the leftover kind of people who didn't get-

Chad Jordan:                Who bounce around, yeah.

Arif Taj:                        And that's why the turnover's so high, right? Because it all goes hand in hand. It's just about people. At the end of the day, it's really about those people, right? So, if you're not getting those people, there's a reason, so better find out what it is, your reputation is out there, either positive or not so good, right? So that's the first thing.

                                    And now, culture is ... Every organization has a culture, whether you have your culture there or it's organically growing in there, and you may not ... I call it vulture. Right? So, it's feeding itself inside. So, if you don't have your brand-

Chad Jordan:                And you said vulture, like the bird. Okay.

Arif Taj:                        Yeah, like the bird, because it's eating itself inside out. Right?

Chad Jordan:                I see what you did there. Clever. Insert tongue-in-cheek emoji right here, if you're watching the transcript.

Arif Taj:                        So, you need to create your culture, but how do you do that, right? So, it's a difficult thing, but it's the only thing. It's the right thing to do, right? So we talk about it all the time.

                                    So, when you share your vision ... So, when [inaudible 00:35:51] and I talk about it, it's like, what are we going to do with Sport Clips, our vision is to make a difference. We want to make a difference in our team members' lives, hopefully make it a little bit better, you know, we can't do everything for everybody, but we can do it for ...

                                    There's a story that I tell. You know, there was a guy standing on the shore and he was, and there were thousands and thousands of star fish that were all around him, and he was picking one up and throwing it into the ocean, and a kid walks by and says, "Hey, what are you doing?" And he goes, "I'm just throwing starfish." And he says, "Well, you can't make a difference. There's like thousands of them, you're just one person." He says, "Okay." So he bends down and picks up another one and throws it into the ocean, right? And then turns around to the little kid and says, "Made a difference to that one."

Chad Jordan:                Yeah.

Arif Taj:                        So, you know, that translates into we can't do everything for everybody ...

Chad Jordan:                You do for one what you wish you could do for all.

Arif Taj:                        And then that sort of ... It's like throwing a pebble in the pond and the ripple goes out and you don't even know where they end, right?

                                    It's a similar thing. So when you start building that culture, and you set your vision what it is, it's always about the people. And then you have to be genuine. You have to be consistent. You can't change when things are ... Sometimes, my team members come up to me and say, "How can you be so even-keeled all the time?" Things are breaking down, or something has happened even. The air conditioner, right? It's a hundred degrees in there, right? I walk in there and I'm still calm. I says, "You know what? I'm gonna do the best I can. I'm gonna get the guy, if he can't come in an hour, I can't do anything about it."

Chad Jordan:                Right.

Arif Taj:                        So, I'm not gonna become all agitated and panicked because now people around me become that, and then that's what they become.

                                    So, our teams have become very stable because I try to stay as calm. I don't do it ... But, mostly, when I walk into the store, I make sure I have a smile on my face, I'm walking through there, I'm greeting them, I'm talking. I know every single person's name.

Chad Jordan:                How often are you in your stores?

Arif Taj:                        Not very often. I have a set meeting every two weeks with my managers, where we don't necessarily just talk about numbers. We talk about what do they need? What is working? What isn't working? And then, and sometimes we do talk about numbers. Like, hey, you did great over here, but what's happening here? What can I do to help? So there always is about an atmosphere of where they're empowered. We don't do anything negative in our stores. It's just the way I am, right? We find positive things and we reinforce that. And the end product of that, it's kind of a cliché thing to say, but it does, it diminishes the negative behavior. We don't even call it negative, it's opportunities.

                                    So, it takes how you create that mindset. So, we will talk about things that we can empower people with. We will not talk about things that are ... Of course, if it's gonna hurt somebody we're gonna address that, but if it is, we'll ignore it, because everybody wants to have sort of an attention, kind of a getting thing, a pat on the back, whatever. And if you're not paying attention to things that ... All kids, when they throw a tantrum, and if you keep paying attention to that, they'll throw more of them, right? But if you start behaving in a way where, when they do good things and you pay attention to that, they will do more of that, because they want the attention. It's the same way with people. There's nothing different.

Chad Jordan:                I feel like, the role that Shamaila plays, I know it's marketing, right, but I feel that what I see on social media is that you are involved in some of this culture building for the stores, and then I see it on social media, which is very important for recruiting and retention and all that stuff.

                                    Can you speak quickly here, not quickly, but this is kind of, we're winding down the culture piece of this podcast. Can you tell me a little bit about your efforts, both on social media, but in the stores to create this culture throughout all of the Taj-owned stores?

Shamaila Taj:                Yeah, one of the biggest things that we like to do is just continue reinforcing a feel-good attitude, no matter what's going on.

Chad Jordan:                That even keel that Arif was talking about.

Shamaila Taj:                Yeah. I'm usually also very smiley and very, when I walk in, I get really excited, I'll always talk to the guests who are waiting and ask them how they're doing.

Chad Jordan:                Very important.

Shamaila Taj:                Yeah, so they know that I'm not just ... I never just walk back straight into the equipment room. But I also don't stand and chit-chat and bother the stylists while they're working. But, no matter what, no matter if I'm in there and if there's a transition from a guest into the showers, I will always vacuum, but that was something that I didn't necessarily just do as soon as I got onboard. I sort of watched from example. My dad kind of did that, and I was like, well, that's really helpful, and any little bits and pieces we can do to make their day a little bit easier, it kind of goes hand-in-hand.

                                    And when it comes to a lot of what I do with, like, the digital presence that we have, I hashtag teamtaj on everything. I think it's important.

Chad Jordan:                Probably too much, if I'm being completely ... No, I'm just kidding. You cannot too much anything hashtag.

Shamaila Taj:                Says Chad Jordan.

Chad Jordan:                King of hashtags, right.

Shamaila Taj:                You have seven Facebook friends today. But it's good, it's important, and if it connects to somebody, it connects to a guest who brought their kids in for the first time, and we happen to be there and catch their first haircut. That's a huge deal, so we like to capture those moments and those memories and really share them and promote this feeling of celebration. It's all about the celebrations. We really, we recognize our teams for their birthdays, their anniversaries-

Chad Jordan:                Yes. I love that.

Shamaila Taj:                I try to stay really on top of that, because it's important, and it's their special day, and I think that it's great to be, to recognize and know that and understand that people like to be, to have that sort of sense of empowerment.

Chad Jordan:                Well, it goes to that Maya Angelou quote that I always over-quote, but that people are gonna forget what you say and what you've done. They're never gonna forget how you make them feel.

                                    And, we know, one day a year, somebody feels like a king or queen, and that's their birthday, and we can either contribute to that or ignore it all together. And so, when you do the little thing, I mean, it sounds little, but when you do the little things like balloons or bring 'em cake or whatever, decorate their station, whatever, that blows their mind.

Arif Taj:                        You know what the best part about that is? Because when you decorate that station, everybody that's walking in, every guest that's walking in, sees that, and you know what, their tips [crosstalk 00:41:59].

Chad Jordan:                I was gonna say the same thing. "Oh, we've gotta tip extra today, because it's their birthday."

Arif Taj:                        It's amazing. And it's a feel-good, and then everybody else sees it, and it just ...

Chad Jordan:                So we gotta find a way to have at least one station decorated every day, rotate it, whether it's a birthday ... We gotta be celebrating something.

Arif Taj:                        As long as it's an anniversary or a birthday.

Chad Jordan:                I think that's a compensation thing that we can raise the bar on somehow. Create these, you know how there's always a fake holiday, National Peanut Butter Day or whatever. We gotta do something.

Arif Taj:                        But we've gotta be genuine, and we've gotta be consistent.

Chad Jordan:                Yeah. So, I'm gonna wrap it up here, this potion here, in one minute, or maybe longer, but I like, I believe, if the rumors are true, that you do some pretty cool stuff for your teams when they hit marks. Can you help me wrap my head around what it exactly is that you do, and what makes you aim so high?

Arif Taj:                        You know, this came back to before we even opened a store. We had set all of this. This is our culture. So, when we talk about culture, we had actually consciously for three months thought about how we're gonna do things. And one of the things we said is, like, "We're gonna set benchmarks." And that time, we're talking about 2007, there were ... I don't think there was any store that did $10K. Right? Not even Groton stores at the time. But we've set benchmarks of $10K, $15K and $20K, at that time.

Chad Jordan:                Coming in, cold turkey.

Arif Taj:                        Cold turkey. I said, because if you're gonna do this, we're gonna be the best that we can be. And why not? We put artificial limits. There are no limits. It's when we put the limits, that's when people stop achieving more, right?

                                    So, we said we want wealth in there, and when we had our first team meeting, I stood up there and I says, you know, "This is our vision, this is what we're going to do. We're going to take care of you, we're gonna do all ..." At that time, they didn't believe it, because we had no history. But once they got to know, they all believe in it now. So we said, when you get to $10K, and it's sort of, their eyes rolled over, and I go, "We are going to send the whole team that was part of that quarter for the average, we're going to send everybody, including the coordinator, to Hawaii." And they were like, okay.

Chad Jordan:                Whole team, not just the manager.

Arif Taj:                        Not just the manager. And then we said, "When you get to $15K, we're gonna send you to Europe or [crosstalk 00:44:10]," so they said, okay. And then we said, "When you get to $20K, we're gonna get a car, a leased car for everybody, that's wrapped in Sports Clips film, but it's gonna be, you know, 15 cars or whatever, we're gonna lease that." Because, if you're doing consistently $20-plus-K, you can do that, right?

                                    So they all sort of nodded and didn't believe it, but my first team went in their third year. My second store even did it faster, they went after their second year. So two of my teams have already been to Hawaii. My first team is now getting ready to get all-paid vacation ... They want to go to Latin America, because they don't want to spend too much time on the plane, so they don't want to go to Europe. Just pay everything for us, and we're gonna to a resort, and we're gonna spend the five days. So we send them five days, all expenses paid.

                                    How do we cover everybody's shifts and everything? Our other stores. We borrow from our neighbors, our other team leaders, and they come in and do that.

Chad Jordan:                Nice.

Arif Taj:                        And we decorate the store when they hit the goals. It's like, our guests made it happen. We always make sure that our teams know that they are empowered and they say, "Well, you did this." No, you did this. They did it. They worked for it. They earned it. Nobody gave anything to them. And we share that with our guests, and our guests then get involved in it, and it's just a good feeling in the neighborhood. A lot of people come to me and say, "When is your team going on a second trip?" And now they are ready to go on a second trip.

                                    So we celebrate everything, every small benchmark. Like, right now, our newest store that we just acquired, it has actually doubled in sales in less than four months, right? It's a store that we took over, it was a year-old store at that time.

                                    And the fun part is, when we reach our benchmarks, every single small benchmark, we go out, either have lunch or dinner. So now they hit two benchmarks in a row, so now we're gonna go out and have a really nice dinner.

                                    So, we celebrate everything that we can. Sometimes, it's with just coffee, but we do something. When you do something, reward yourself, because that's the purpose of [crosstalk 00:46:03].

Chad Jordan:                And you celebrate it and you post it on social media, and you blast it out. And, I love to see when stores or team leaders or directors of marketing post it, yes, on their personal page, but also from the Sport Clips Facebook page or Instagram account ...

Arif Taj:                        And the Southern California account.

Chad Jordan:                All of that.

Arif Taj:                        And, you know, that's where Shamaila has been a huge help, is like, you know, when we started growing, you know, it maybe if you do another podcast we can talk about that, is like, how do we now start to manage, you know, what everybody is doing, how do you know everybody's calendar, so Google has been a big part of it. She brought that into the stores, and now the managers are getting very comfortable with this. And now, everybody knows what is happening everywhere. It's just amazing.

Chad Jordan:                I love where you went there, because what we can do is use that as a teaser for next week's episode. And so, what we'll do is we'll end this one, and then we're gonna pick it up talking about just that, and some of the marketing initiatives that you guys do. We're here, sitting in a chamber of commerce conference room, I want to talk about what you're doing with the chamber here, locally, which is so important with the community. So, we're gonna do that.

                                    Here's what I want to do. I'm gonna wrap up. Usually, I ask 10 questions, 10 random, non-follow-up questions at the end of a podcast. I'm gonna split it up, five and then five.

Arif Taj:                        Okay.

Chad Jordan:                Okay? So, and I'll point to whoever I want answering that particular question. Okay? I'm gonna ask her this first one. Which super power, Shamaila, would you most like to have?

Shamaila Taj:                Out of any super power?

Chad Jordan:                Yes. Or you can create your own, it doesn't even have to be an existing super power.

Shamaila Taj:                Oh, goodness.

Chad Jordan:                The ability to create Google calendars could be a super power, you know, with the snap of a ...

Shamaila Taj:                A super power that I wish I would have is flying.

Chad Jordan:                Flying?

Shamaila Taj:                Yeah. Definitely. Because then I could go to each store ...

Chad Jordan:                Yes, and bypass the L.A. traffic, which I was in this morning. Okay. What is your personal motto?

Arif Taj:                        My personal motto is "If you want to find yourself, lose yourself in the service of others." That's Mother Teresa.

Chad Jordan:                Ah, I love it. Let's stay with you. Other than where you live right now, where else in the world would you most like to live?

Arif Taj:                        Boy, I would like to live in New Zealand.

Chad Jordan:                Ah, ever been there?

Arif Taj:                        Never been there. That's my goal.

Chad Jordan:                But you're a big "Lord of the Rings," fan, so you like that ...

Arif Taj:                        That, too, plus, I love the culture there. And, of course, I love cricket, and they're a great cricket-playing nation.

Chad Jordan:                Nice. Let's go to Shamaila on this one. Who is the celebrity you'd most like to meet one day? Being here in L.A., I mean, sheesh.

Shamaila Taj:                A celebrity I'd like to meet one day? Alive, or?

Chad Jordan:                Mmm. Yes. In this world. Yes.

Shamaila Taj:                Oh, gosh. Obama.

Chad Jordan:                Obama? Okay.

Shamaila Taj:                For sure.

Chad Jordan:                President Obama. We'll tag him in this and see if he ...

Shamaila Taj:                Shout out, Barack.

Chad Jordan:                Let's see. And, let's go ... Oh, I know what I'll do. I'm gonna ask Shamaila this about Arif. You ready? Which words or phrases does he most often over-use?

Shamaila Taj:                Literally?

Chad Jordan:                Literally?

Shamaila Taj:                Yeah. But he says it differently. Can you say it?

Arif Taj:                        Lit-rally?

Shamaila Taj:                Lit-rally.

Chad Jordan:                Lit-rally.

Shamaila Taj:                You know, I lived in England for a while, so I have a British accent, and where I grew up, I learned the Queen's English.

Chad Jordan:                Alright, so we're all talking funny, and you're the one talking ... Anyways, alright. So, we'll have to go back to the transcript and see how many times he says that in this podcast, and then I can make fun of him later. But, for now, that wraps up the first edition of the Sport Clips hall of fame broadcast with Arif and Shamaila Taj, and next time, we'll conclude the conversation when we talk about marketing and some of the community involvement that they have here.

                                    Thanks so much for joining us for this one, guys.

Shamaila Taj:                Thank you.

Chad Jordan:                Thanks.