What I learned from sweeping up hair

Picture_2 I’ve worked many an odd job during my illustrious career but the one that gets the most raised eyebrows was my job as the Jack of All Trades at a beauty salon.  Mostly, I did clean up, hauled heavy boxes, stocked the hair dye shelves and swept up a whole lot of hair.

I was about 14 and couldn’t get a "real job" yet so I took this one for cash under the table.  The salon was a throwback to the 50s, where ladies came to get their hair done weekly and gossip.  While the job itself left a lot to be desired, there were some real life lessons (and marketing truths) among the tendrils.

Being noticed matters:  While some patrons took notice of the teen-aged boy in the all woman territory, most didn’t.  In fact, for the most part, I was invisible.  They might absentmindedly lift up their feet as I swept around them or hand me something to throw away, but I was just the clean up kid.  They didn’t really take notice of if I was tall or short, blond or dark-haired, or what my name was.

For those few ladies who actually took a moment to greet me or ask me about my work, I was immensely grateful.  Being invisible stinks. 

Marketing truth:  Our clients/customers feel the same way.  Being ignored or invisible is actually worse than getting bad news or bad service. 

If you listen to a group of people with something in common, you’ll be stunned what you learn:
  Okay, so the one advantage of being mostly invisible is that I could listen in on the patrons conversations without them paying any attention.  It was quite an education for a 14 year old guy! 

Like all hair salons, the chairs were close.  So pretty soon, 5-6 women between the stylists and the customers, would be knee deep in a no-holds barred conversation.   They quickly  drove the conversation to those things that were top on their mind.  When given the opportunity, they talked about what mattered to them. 

Marketing truth:  You can gain incredible insights if you create an environment that allows people to be themselves and share their thoughts.

In the end, people are hungry for approval:
  Many of the women who came to this salon were very wealthy, had everything they could want and yet, they still stood a lot taller once a clerk or stylist complimented them.  People, no matter how successful, all together or intelligent still crave being noticed and appreciated.

it didn’t just change their posture — it changed their entire demeanor.  You could see it in their eyes and how they interacted with everyone around them.  There was a bounce in their walk as they left the salon.

Marketing truth:  It is a brand’s ultimate success if being associated with it says something complimentary about the consumer.  If owning a Harley says I am cool, bravo to Harley.  If being an Apple fanatic says I am creative, high five to Apple. 

Why am I sharing this, you wonder?  It’s part of an on-going writing project started by Robert Hruzek.  Ironically Marcus Goodyear had started a very similar project.  (hat tip to Robyn for finding this project.) And I believe that in every experience, we can learn a little something about marketing.  If I can learn some marketing truths while sweeping up hair…I know you’ve learned a thing or two along the way.

Okay, I shared my weird odd job and what I learned…your turn!

13 comments on “What I learned from sweeping up hair

  1. Wow, very nice set of lessons, Drew!

    I really like the point about being invisible. There’s nothing more insulting than taking a walk through an entire establishment and being completely ignored by the sales clerks gabbing away in the corner! I’ve seen it happen more often than not. Even a nice little “bewitcha’n’aminute” is better than not acknowledging someone at all.

    Hey, thanks for joining in the fray this month!


  2. Robyn says:

    Drew, what fun to picture you sweeping up hair at the ladies’ salon!

    You are a maestro at the connections you make between what you learned through sweeping up hair and marketing! No one wants invisibility – especially customers.

    Because I was shy when young, I tended to be invisible to many – to teachers, for example. They missed getting my “creative juices” flowing. [On the other hand, maybe they couldn’t deal with that!]

    I think in writing this piece you dug deep enough to see the “invisibility” many firms miss when it comes to marketing. Loved where you took this one!

  3. Drew, how fun that you participated! I have your 99.3 Random Acts of Marketing right next to my desk. Good stuff.

    I also like your observation that we should “create an environment that allows people to be themselves and share their thoughts.” For me, that’s partially what this odd jobs writing project was all about.

  4. Cyndi Wiley says:

    I loved hearing about your odd job and what you noticed. Thanks for sharing that.

    I have learned the most about customer service from my very first job working at Hardees (fast food restaurant). I also learned how to work as part of a team, the importance of showing up on time and working to the best of my ability.

    I have a greater appreciation for those that work in the service industry because of that job and make a point to ask the person waiting on me how their day is going and make eye contact.

  5. Robert,

    It was fun to think about. I’ve had some strange jobs, so it interesting to ponder. It’s funny – -we all know people don’t like to be ignored and yet businesses do it every day.

    Thanks for starting the meme!


  6. Robyn,

    I’m sorry that you didn’t get your due when you were in school. I think it is a rare and wonderful teacher who can spot the kids who tend to let themselves blend in to the background.

    How did you overcome your shyness?


  7. Cyndi —

    You know, I try to do that too — to catch the service person’s eyes. But have you noticed that they rarely actually look you in the eye?

    I often wonder if that’s because they’ve been treated so badly so often or bad training.


  8. Marcus,

    It was a great idea that you and Robert both had. It’s always fascinating to learn about people’s early roots. And for me, it was interesting to think about that early job and realize that, at least on a subconscious level, I really did learn some lessons.

    Glad to hear you’re enjoying the book! You’re kind to mention it.


  9. Sonja,

    So…did you hear back from any of those customers? Learn anything worth acting on?

    I agree about the horses. Another to add to your list — if you shout at them, they get spooked and take off. Customers are skittish when they think they’re being sold.


  10. Sonja,

    It worked — excellent. Thanks so much for coming back to tell us! How’s the prognosis for the relationship?

    And yes…I learned how to ride very young and it was something my dad and I shared for many years. I love the smell of a horse barn. So…that tells you where my heart is!


  11. Sonja,

    You very right. Just like we want to be cared for as a human, not a number with a wallet, so do our customers!

    My dad and I rode together for years. He had a Morgan and I had an Appaloosa. It was really cool. My daughter likes to ride but didn’t take to it like I did. Maybe one day I’ll have another horse. Now that’s the way to unwind!


  12. Sonja says:


    I love Morgans! My daughters ride and show American Saddlebreds…plus we have two trail horses to goof around on.

    My 17 year old has her own business taking care of people’s horses when they’re on vacation and giving private riding lessons to a few students.

    She’s learning the three most important lessons in business:

    1) How to go out and find customers

    2) How to charge (and receive!) a fair price for her service

    3) How to keep her customers happy…or else she loses business fast

    Just like in the “real” world! She even made up a brochure I think you’d be impressed with!


  13. Sonja,

    Your daughter sounds like a natural marketer! Good for her. She has already learned one of life’s most important lessons. Combine what you love with how you make a living and you’ll be content!

    My dad’s Morgan was 18 hands tall, if you can believe that. He was appropriately named Big Jake!


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