What can we learn from this inspirational innovation?

Many businesses around the world operate on a niche marketing strategy, by targeting one specific customer segment. When you combine such a niche approach with a mindset of incremental innovation, you get a proposition that your clients simply love, and will always remain loyal to. That's the key lesson we need to pick up from the inspirational story of Snip-Its.

When Joanna Meiseles took her 3 year old son for his first haircut, she was both excited as well as worried. Excited because it was going to be his first haircut - a moment many parents capture on videos and treasure for years later. Worried because she was sceptical about how he would react, whether he would get accidentally hurt, and so on. She knew many mothers who think of taking their children for haircuts as an extremely stressful experience. Its not really fun for a kid to sit in one place without moving, and have a pair of menacing looking scissors come dangerously close to your face and head to chop off your hair. Kids protest in the way they know best - by howling, throwing a tantrum, and generally making their displeasure known very clearly to all concerned. This then turns out to be a hugely stressful experience for the mother, who not only has to manage her kid, but also throw apologetic glances at other customers at the salon who see this entire episode as an avoidable nuisance.

At the end of a rather uneventful first hair cut where the salon, much to her disappointment, treated her son's first hair cut as just another haircut, she came away with the germ of an idea developing in her head. Why not create a salon that only caters to kids? Why not create an environment where kids love going to this place rather than being dragged there kicking and screaming by harried mothers? Could this become a viable business opportunity?

A great example of incremental innovation

In 1995, Joanna opened her first Snip-Its salon close to her home, in Framingham, Massachusetts, USA. She hired a designer to create a fun interior look, with bold colours, cartoon character themes - a place that would instantly draw a kid in. Joanne treated her first salon as a prototype, learning and innovating all the time, until she was satisfied that she had a complete solution that genuinely delighted her customers.

  1. Toddler straps for safety were among the first things she introduced at Snip-Its. But kids were not going to sit still merely because you strapped them in. So, every styling station was equipped with an entertainment console, to keep the kid occupied, while a specially trained kid stylist would take care of the hair cut.

  2. She personally trained her stylists to know how to navigate safely when confronted with a "moving target" - as kids rarely sit still and allow a stylist to go about her job as efficiently as she would have wanted to

  3. Seats were converted from the mundane look to animal characters - kids could decide whether they want to ride a pony or mount a tiger for their haircut

  4. The biggest fear for kids usually is the menacing pair of scissors that is brandished around their face and head. To take away this fear, Joanna introduced the Snip Its cartoon characters - people who would get into giant scissor shaped costumes, and walk around, play with the kids and make them comfortable with the friendly pair of scissors

  5. Kids don't see the point of a haircut, while the mothers do. In order to address the question "what's in it for me" for the kids, Joanna came up with another simple innovation. Kids could trade in at the end of their hair cut, a lock of their hair at a Magic Box, for a surprise gift. This could be a soft toy or a temporary tattoo.

  6. The first hair cut is usually a moment that mothers treasure. Joanna understood this very well, and made sure that she made it an event that mothers would truly cherish. When a mother brings in her toddler for the first hair cut, the event is captured on video, a photo is taken and handed over to the mother, the first lock of hair that was cut is put into a case for preserving and a certificate of bravery is ceremoniously awarded to the toddler at the end of the event.


The rewards of incremental innovation

While she kept innovating and delighting her customers, the financial aspect wasn't looking great. She started off pricing a hair cut at 10 dollars, but she was losing money at that price. She was worried whether customers will agree to a 20% price hike to 12 dollars. One of her colleagues gave her the courage to simply do it, and to her amazement, not a single customer batted an eyelid when she announced a 20% increase in price. Today, Snip-Its charges between 20-25 dollars for a hair cut, and no customer is still batting an eyelid. They love the experience and are happy to pay the price for it.


Business profitability in turn has enabled Joanna to expand the Snip-Its franchise. In 1997, she opened her second location, in 1998 the third, in 1999 the fourth and in 2002 the fifth. Operating 5 locations gave her the confidence for the next big step - franchising. In 2003, she started her franchise model, and now has 66 Snip-Its salons spread across the length and breadth of the US. Her next aim - how about 100 locations? And why not take a shot at the UK? Her specs for suitable locations are very clear: any location that has more than 20,000 kids and where average household income is above USD 75,000 is a great place for a Snip Its salon.

Joanna's sharp and continuing focus on incremental innovation has ensured that Snip Its continues to delight its customers, is able to charge a premium price for its highly specialised service, and is able to always stay a step ahead of competition.

What can we imbibe from the Snip-Its story?

Here is just one thought on what we can learn from Snip-Its. Why not create a specialized service that focuses only on senior citizens? Create an exclusive senior citizens lounge in your office. Pay attention to every detail of the layout, the type of flooring (anti-skid), the special grips and supports that are always so helpful for seniors. Have hard and soft back sitting areas - seniors are sensitive to back rests and back supports. In short, think through all the aspects you have observed from seeing seniors in your family and among your friends, and ensure that you create an environment that is truly comfortable for them.

Train your team to interact very differently with senior citizen customers. You need to have chatty conversationalists who are trained to be respectfully friendly while at the same time able to take on an advisory stance with confidence, when explaining aspects where they are subject matter experts.

Create a series of "events" at your seniors lounge to draw in prospects and customers. Many seniors would love the idea of interacting with other seniors, widening their friends circle, and generally spending quality time with other seniors. If you succeed in making your seniors lounge a "hang out" spot for seniors in your locality, you are on your way to making this a very attractive proposition for your business as well as for your senior citizen clients.

There is of course a lot you can do in terms of delivering quality advice to them, in terms of helping them understand why bank FDs are a losing proposition for them, why SWPs from hybrid funds are a far more sensible option to help them fight inflation and preserve the purchasing power of their savings, and so on. The key however is to package this well into a seniors account that you will create. Marketing material should clearly articulate a comprehensive range of investment solutions that are offered by your firm within the umbrella of the seniors account.

The lesson we can learn from the Snip-Its story is to first put yourself in the shoes of your customers, think of everything that is going on in their mind, and then find intelligent solutions to address each of these issues. A razor sharp focus on incremental innovation in your seniors lounge and your seniors account will help you build a very promising business vertical for your firm - one which you can then think over time of expanding beyond just one office - just the way Snip Its did.


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