Regina Lillie is a hair-salon owner who has never snipped a tress herself. She's
been a businesswoman in Spokane for 20 years, but only has lived here since 1993. She's a volume dealer in an industry that's full of sole proprietors. Lillie
business partners, who are family members, own and operate 19 Supercuts and Cost Cutters salons in the region under a corporate umbrella called Sisbro LP.She works full time in the business. Her
salons employ 165 people and serve 27,000 clients a month.Even among Supercuts franchisees, Sisbro stands out; nationally, the average number of salons owned by franchisees in that system is four, Lillie
can walk into one of her
Spokane salons and greet every employee by name, she
cultivates a hands-off approach to management.
"I'm so unimportant to the company," she
says, adding that she
role is to provide people with good jobs-which offer health and retirement benefits and an employee-stock-purchase plan-then let them succeed. Absentee
Lillie's approach to management mirrors Supercuts' former approach to franchising.
Initially, the businesses were marketed as ideal investments for absentee owners, which was just fine with Lillie
, who at the time she
became a franchisee was a reservations agent for United Air Lines
in San Francisco.Supercuts was founded in the mid-1970s by a beauty-school instructor as a place where men, women, and children all could get a good haircut for a low price in a convenient location, Lillie says. Her
brother had invested in some Supercuts franchises in Austin, Texas, which proved "very successful," she
says, and suggested that Lillie
get involved, too.
"As they say, the rest is history," she
matched up the cities where Supercuts franchises were available with United Air Lines
' flight routes from San Francisco, and chose Spokane because it would be "very easy for us to travel back and forth and check up on the stores," she
In 1982, with a $150,000 investment, she
partners opened their first Supercuts location here, on North Division at Empire Avenue.
Things went smoothly for the first two years, Lillie
says, then in 1984, Supercuts' parent company at the time mandated that franchisees raise the price of haircuts to $8 from $6, she
Those higher prices gave competitors an opening to undercut the salon chain, and "all of a sudden, we really had to manage these stores," Lillie
has opened a new location here roughly every other year, Lillie
didn't move to Spokane until 1993 when she
decided to "ramp up and blanket the market with our concept."
Aside from Spokane, the largely rural Inland Northwest market might not seem ideal for a business that depends on high volume and low prices to make money. Sisbro
, however, had great success with its first small-market salon, which opened in Coeur d'Alene in 1986, and Lillie claims that the outlet became a model for such stores within Minneapolis-based Regis Corp.
, the parent company of Supercuts since 1996.
It's been her
experience that what smaller markets lack in size, they make up for in loyalty, she
says.To this day, the Coeur d'Alene Supercuts is Sisbro's
most profitable location, Lillie
Currently, in addition to Spokane and Coeur d'Alene, Sisbro
owns Supercuts franchises in Yakima, Wenatchee, Ellensburg, Kennewick, and Pullman, Wash., and in Lewiston, Idaho.
Two years ago, the company was asked by Regis
to take over several outlets of another franchised salon chain it owns, Lillie
says.Called Cost Cutters, salons in that chain offer "chemical" services such as hair coloring and permanents, which Supercuts outlets do not.
"We had to regroup and relearn, but we felt the challenge would be fun," she
now operates Cost Cutters salons in Wal-Mart stores
in Post Falls and Sandpoint, and independently in Hayden, Idaho, and Clarkston, Wash., she
Lillie's salons typically have about 1,500 square feet of floor space and are located in strip malls.Each location has eight to 10 stylist's chairs and about 10 stylists, she
says Sisbro likely will take a break from expansion for awhile.Although the company would have the first right of refusal to open a new Cost Cutters franchise in any new Wal-Mart stores that come to the area, she doesn't plan to expand that brand here, she says. She
believes the market for hair salons in the Spokane-Coeur d'Alene area is "saturated," and that adding more Cost Cutters would confuse things.
Plus, "20 locations right now is a very workable number," she
‘Orientation to action'Lillie has been active on several business and philanthropic boards over the years-including serving as one of two Eastern Washington delegates to a White House conference on small business in 1995-but says she's very selective about those commitments.
In middle age, she's
"well past the point" of worrying about how her
affiliations look on a resume, she
accepted the invitation earlier this year, however, to join the Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce's board of trustees for a three-year term because she
wants to make other business leaders more aware of her
industry and of the contributions of female business owners, Lillie
Rich Hadley, president of the chamber, says Lillie
was tapped for the position because of she
could bring to the board-which includes representatives of some of Spokane's largest companies-several perspectives, including those of a small-business owner and a franchisee.
"We knew that she
would bring a good background (to the job) and that she
has an orientation to action.Those are a couple of key things we saw," he
says that in her
view, "Cosmetology as a career is not at the forefront of people's minds and it should be."Salon managers can make more than $40,000 a year, yet, "they don't get the respect they deserve," she
What's more, Spokane has a "conservative element" that may not be giving female business owners the respect they deserve, she
time on the chamber board-indeed, during her
says-"I want to make sure my contributions change that notion in whatever way I can."
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