Neal Courtney, CEO of Cookie Cutters Haircuts for Kids, says simple operations have helped the brand reach 100 units.

Neal Courtney’s daughter “was an absolute nightmare when it was time to get her hair cut,” he says, and the 3-year-old “hated” going to the salon. That changed when Courtney and wife Alexis brought their daughter to a local Cookie Cutters Haircuts for Kids shop in suburban Salt Lake City.

“She immediately picked out a hot pink car and turned on ‘Dora the Explorer,’” he recalls, noting there are small TVs at each chair. The Courtneys later bought an existing location and eventually opened five more before founders Larry and Cookie Shelton approached them about buying the brand in 2014.

“I did a full bore competitive analysis and saw a lot of blue sky,” says Courtney, and so they jumped in, acquiring Cookie Cutters when it had 26 salons.

The brand’s 100th location opened earlier this month in Highland Ranch, Colorado, and No. 101 will open next week, growth Courtney attributes to a simplification of operations and an intense focus on quality lead generation.

“Literally all of 2015 we just sat in a room and figured out how we’d do this,” he said of franchise development, noting they tried some portals but “that’s the black hole of franchising.” They also “tried the whole party thing,” hosting birthday parties where kids could get their hair styled, “but the cost-benefit ratio wasn’t there,” says Courtney. “And our staff hated it.”

Now Cookie Cutters is the “Great Clips of the kids haircut industry.”

“We do exactly what the sign says: We focus on haircuts for kids,” he says. “We stripped it down and kept it very simple.”

Not only are stylists happier but the simpler operations have also made it easier to attract semi-absentee owners and more multi-unit franchisees, which have fueled unit growth, according to Courtney. He also decided to outsource franchise sales, along with accounting, legal and creative services so that he and Alexis (she’s the COO) could focus on marketing and operations.

When a qualified lead comes in the candidate gets a one-on-one discovery day, which Courtney says provides a “black car, VIP-type feel” and has resulted in a 94 percent conversion rate from discovery day to franchise agreement signing.

Like most business owners, Cookie Cutters franchisees face staffing challenges and Courtney says some are getting creative by offering retention bonuses and incentive-based pay. They also created a committee “solely focused on hiring” that discusses best practices and shares advice with the entire system.

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