Wade Brannon of Pigtails & Crewcuts

    We Spoke to Wade Brannon of Pigtails & Crewcuts About How to Build a Successful Service Business

    had the pleasure to interview Wade Brannon. When Wade’s children first visited Pigtails & Crewcuts, they immediately fell in love. Brannon had retired from a successful career in the franchise industry a few years before so he could spend more time with his family, but saw great potential for the concept to grow with the increasing demand for services that cater to families with young children. He also saw it as a great opportunity to create a business that would allow its franchisees the family time that seemed to be missing from many existing opportunities, and knew there would be owners who desired the same thing. Brannon was ready to head back to work in the franchise industry, and as fate would have it, the original owner of Pigtails & Crewcuts was ready to sell the salon. Brannon’s first experience with franchising at Heavenly Ham positioned him well for this opportunity. Brannon and his business partners led the single retail store in Hilton Head, South Carolina to become a franchising giant with more than 230 locations across the nation between 1984 and 2002 before the company was sold to its competitor, HoneyBaked Ham. Brannon purchased the franchising rights for Pigtails & Crewcuts in 2004. Understanding the importance of growing with integrity, Brannon brought on Michelle Holliman and Theresa Underwood. Holliman and Underwood both have backgrounds rich with experience in the franchise industry, which has played a significant role the growth of the Pigtails & Crewcuts franchise. Holliman and Underwood are working moms, so their input was tremendous in creating a business that catered to work-life balance, as we know that is a core value that many investing in franchise opportunities are looking for.

    Thank you so much for joining us Wade! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

    After college, I moved to Hilton Head Island, SC and took a part time job with a new company called Heavenly Ham; a company selling spiral sliced hams. The owners intended to build it into a franchise company so my eventual partner and I were charged with setting up systems to offer to prospective franchisees. When we were starting out, we really didn’t know much about the franchise business but we had a good product and were trying to figure out how to get it into as many homes as possible. We ended up buying the company and built a nice business with a few hundred franchised locations across the US. After 20 years, we sold it to our major competitor HoneyBaked Ham.

    I was looking for my next opportunity when I came across Pigtails & Crewcuts. A lady had started it in Atlanta and I had taken my children there for haircuts. They loved it and I found it to be a great alternative to the old school barber shop I had been taking my son to. I ended up acquiring the concept from the founder with the intention of building another franchise brand.

    I had found with Heavenly Ham, and have subsequently found in building Pigtails & Crewcuts, that I love the franchise model. I love sharing our concept with entrepreneurs and giving them an opportunity to have a successful business. I love that the support we give them, in terms of pre-opening and ongoing assistance, gives franchisees a much greater opportunity to succeed than they might have, had they started a business on their own. That really is the point of a franchise business and is what excites me every day.

    Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

    At Heavenly Ham, one successful way we used to solicit new franchisees, was to place business classified ads in local newspapers. In 2005 and 2006, when we had all the systems in place to start franchising Pigtails & Crewcuts, we started doing the same thing. We would place ads in local papers, suggesting that persons looking for a business opportunity contact us about opening a Pigtails & Crewcuts. I was shocked that we just weren’t getting the amount of response I expected. We had a great concept and I thought everyone would be lining up wanting to jump on board after seeing us in the newspaper.

    Fortunately, I have some smart and younger people on my team and they let me know that people really weren’t getting their news from a paper any longer but were using their computers and cell phones. Needless to say, I quickly realized that I needed to surround myself with sharp and innovative minds. Technology is constantly changing the way we conduct business and live our lives and I’m just trying to keep up as best as I can.

    Once a franchisee is established and has two or three years’ experience operating a Pigtails & Crewcuts, what further support from you the franchisor, is required? The operations, and marketing stay reasonably the same. How do you validate a continued franchisee fee, other than contractual?

    We lovingly define the stages of a franchisees life in three ways: The first is the “Infant Stage” when a franchisee is brand new and totally dependent on the franchisor for help with everything. Then there is the “Adolescent Stage”, when the franchisee embraces their independence and believes that they can do it all by themselves. Finally, and thankfully, a franchisee reaches the “Adult Stage” when they recognize that the franchisor does bring value and that a happy co-existence is best.

    Certainly, when franchisees have reached the adult stage the type of support we provide has changed. We have mostly moved on from simple operational training to more business management support. How can we help franchisees maximize their return on their investment? How can franchisees market their services better? What new technologies can we utilize to improve operations? These are the types of tools a franchisor should be bringing to the table in order to warrant ongoing royalties.

    A franchisor is in a better position to attend conferences, conventions and learning seminars to pick up new ideas that can be useful to a system. It is the franchisor’s job to take innovations in the business world and figure out how to incorporate them into their franchisee’s tool chest. The franchisor is also in the unique position to see all the mistakes made previously and to help future franchisees avoid making them.

    What single characteristic is critical for success as a Pigtails & Crewcuts franchisee?

    Our business is a service business and as such, our owners have to be interested in serving their community. As such, the most important trait is to be a “people person”. An owner has to have the skill and personality to be able to relate to all types of people. They have to attract, hire and retain employees. Building effective relationships with employees helps owners overcome the most challenging part of the business. Our customers expect to deal with friendly and knowledgeable employees and to a certain extent, our employees take on the personality of the owner. If the owner is a “people person”, it is reflected in each daily interaction with the customer. Also, I am a firm believer that potential customers want to know and relate to an owner of a small business. It gives them a sense of business ownership and will lead them to promote the business much more than they otherwise might. If a franchisee loves to be a part of the community and to interact with their current and potential customers, they’ll have a leg up on any competitor.

    Does Pigtails & Crewcuts provide a support service for investors who want to own many franchises? Do you pair investors with potential franchisees seeking funding? Has this ever occurred?

    The Pigtails & Crewcuts model lends itself to multi-unit operation. More than half of our salons are owned by people who own more than one single unit. Because of that, we tailor our support to those people a bit differently. Certainly assistance with funding is a part of that. Helping them move from a single unit to a multi-unit operation requires different management techniques and we support that as well. To this point we have not had any investor groups buy into a franchise other than in a partnership type of arrangement.

    Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?

    When we started, my vision was really two-fold: First, it was to create a children’s hair salon that provided excellent service and was fun for children and parents alike.

    Then, at the franchisor level, our purpose was to build a national brand of franchisees who want to operate Pigtails & Crewcuts children’s hair salons and provide the level of support needed to maximize the value of our franchise owners’ investments.

    What do you do to articulate or demonstrate your company’s values to your employees and to your customers?

    We have articulated five Core Values to all of our stakeholders. They are:

    • Work with integrity and respect
    • Build positive relationships
    • Be fun, enthusiastic, & compassionate
    • Deliver consistent quality
    • Give back to your community

    We start meetings with a recitation of them, put them on pins for our stylists to wear and generally try to keep them front of mind. We also want our customers to know what they are, so if they feel we are lacking in any area, they can be comfortable pointing out our areas for improvement.

    Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?

    Aside from the Core Values, I try to treat everyone I come into contact with, business-wise, with a positive attitude. Business, as does life in general, throws you curve balls, provides problems and challenges and tests you every day. I believe that if you approach all those challenges with a positive attitude, business is simply more enjoyable than otherwise. I share a quote about the value of a positive attitude, from Charles Swindoll, with all of our franchise owners as they come through training. He has defined the importance of attitude more eloquently than I ever could so it might be worth looking up. The franchisor/franchisee relationship is a unique one, and I believe that if each party approaches all its challenges with a positive attitude, the outcome will be exponentially better than if one comes to the table with a sour approach.

    Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

    As I mentioned, we started franchising in late 2005 and early 2006. Things were going well and then the recession hit in late 2007. We could see that something was coming but had no idea the extent of the downturn. Pretty quickly, we realized that our ability to sell franchises and grow the brand through more locations was going to stop for a while. Lending dried up and people were simply not in a position to invest in a new business or were unwilling to make a commitment.

    We instead, shifted our franchise development efforts to helping our franchisees increase their sales and profitability. We always had focused on that but we were able to put all our energy into that when the sales spigot dried up. It actually ended up being great for us. We learned new marketing techniques, improved our operational prowess and improved our financial management skills. We were fortunate to have double digit growth throughout the recession thereby validating our belief that even in tough times, parents will want to provide the best possible goods and services for their children.

    I didn’t consider giving up but it sure felt great when we reached a point that we were no longer banging our heads against a wall! Our motivation came from our franchisees. They had invested in us and a fledgling concept. We had to help them survive the challenging times and knew that if they survived, we would too.

    So, how are things going today? How did your values lead to your eventual success?

    Things are great today! We have a fantastic group of franchise owners who are committed to building Pigtails & Crewcuts into a national brand. They help us, but more importantly, they help each other. They truly believe that they have a responsibility and play a part in helping every franchisee be successful. It is very heart-warming to see.

    I also have a great team of people who support our franchisees. I have been fortunate to be able to attract and retain a group of like-minded people who will do anything it takes to help our operators have success. They give so much of themselves and are so smart that we are poised for rapid growth.

    Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a very successful service based business? Please share a story or an example for each.

    1. Understand the financial model of your business. Too often I see business owners who let the economics of the business manage them vs. the opposite. Pay attention to daily, weekly or monthly financial metrics and be prepared to act should performance require it.
    2. Define your business and stick to your guns. You can’t be all things to all people and you shouldn’t try. Early on, in your business development, you will meet financial challenges. It is easy to consider wholesale changes to your model in order to generate additional revenue. Focus your energy on growing your business as opposed to altering it. Too much change can only confuse the customer as to what service you are really providing. Restaurants come to mind that open with a certain type of food and early on, they add more and more different menu items, taking away from their core business and possibly no longer doing anything exceptionally.
    3. It is imperative in a service organization to manage your customers’ expectations. In our business, we have wait times on busy days. We wish we didn’t but it is just a fact of life. Our customers tend to come in at a lot of the same times resulting in their having to wait for a cut. If we are doing our job, the customer knows about how long they’ll have to wait or hear less busy times should they not be able to stick around that day.
    4. Treat your employees and customers like family. Of course, only do this if you like your family! In a service business, your employees are the face of your business. If they are treated well, perhaps they’ll treat your customers better. They will know how you make them feel; appreciated, valued, and trusted and they are more likely to do the same with your customers.
    5. Have fun! You spend a lot of time at work and it should be fun. Make it enjoyable for everyone. You should serve as the “Chief Fun Officer”. Fun will create loyalty and loyalty is the key to growing a service business. Work hard but have fun doing it!

    None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

    Wow! This is a question that could go in so many directions; parents, professors, my supremely talented wife, etc. In my case, I was fortunate to have three exceptional partners in the Heavenly Ham business. We each brought different talents to the table but learned so much from each other. We were of a like mind that our first objective was to help our franchisees be successful and our success would come from that. We each had different talents and pushed each other to be the best we could be. They were each very smart and taught me so much about not only business but life in general. Two of them are investors in Pigtails & Crewcuts and continue to offer support and push me to be my best.

    You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

    I have this wacky theory that people don’t talk enough to each other in today’s world. I think that if we all made an effort to say “hello” to the people we come in contact with, the world will be a better place. I get out of my car each morning, walk to my building, ride the elevator to my floor and try to speak to the people I pass. I’m sure some don’t understand why I’m talking to them, but it is also amazing how many conversations start up. I find out what people do, have discussions about the weather, build friendships just because I said “Hello”. It makes my day brighter. So, my movement is the “Say Hello” movement. Let’s see if it catches on!

    How can our readers follow you on social media?

    Readers can follow us on Facebook at:

    Linkden at:

    Instagram :@pigtailsandcrewcuts.

    Each of our salons have their own personal pages as well, so visit the locations page on our website to find the salon nearest you!

    If you are interested in more information on franchising, you can contact us at