By: The Hair Society
The Hair Society
It is not often that you meet someone with such high standards and morals. Virg is that man, he not only “talks the talk” but also “walks the walk”. Virg Christoffels is a man of integrity and faith and his passion for his craft, his family and his staff have brought Virg to where he is at today.
Virg has spent his entire career serving his community, he has helped countless individuals who have experienced hair loss and has mentored his family and staff every step of the way. But don’t think for minute this goes to his head. Virg is a very humble man, and is very gra
teful and thankful for all of those who have impacted his life.
Virg’s story starts as one of six children raised on a dairy farm in South West Minnesota. Virg saw the value of hard work and even saw the struggles demonstrated by his parents. They worked hard, long days and by the time Virg was in 4 grade, he was getting up at 5:30 a.m. to milk cows, then go to school and was home again at 4:30 p.m. to milk more cows and do his share of the chores. He did not participate in school sports because there was always work to be done.
Virg and his wife Cheryln were high school sweet hearts. In 1971 they were seniors in high school and Virg gave Cheryln a diamond ring for her 18th birthday (the ring cost $180), that was a lot of money to a young high schooler. They graduated in May and Virg started Barber College a week later. Cheryln and Virg were married in December of 1971 at the young age of 18, while he was in a nine month barbering program and Cheryln was in nurses training. Today Virg and Cheryln have been married 44 years, have two grown children and six grandchildren.
After working in a barbershop for 4 years, Virg bought a little one-chair shop in 1976 for $1,500. At about the same time Virg started losing his hair.
HS: When did you begin your career in the hair restoration field?
V.C.: When I started struggling with hair loss, I started to look for options and the only thing available was a hairpiece that was taped on, but it looked pretty good by the standards of 1976.
H.S.: Why did you choose hair restoration over just hair in general?
V.C.: Because I wore hair myself, I was able to market myself as the hair replacement expert, use my own story and pictures in advertising and eventually gained a reputation as the place to go when experiencing hair loss. It was then that I decided to learn all I could to become a full time hair replacement studio. I knew that being a hair loss specialist would set me apart from other hairstyling and barbering salons.
H.S.: Is there one person or persons who have inspired you in this business and why?
V.C.: My first big inspiration was attending an all day Zig Ziglar seminar. I took in every word he said, bought every book and tape he had and I set a goal to one-day do hair replacement full time. I started going for training and would meet people like Arnold Zimmerman, Andy Wright, Leigh Gardner, Leon Emmons, Denny Van Scoy, Chris Webb, Lew Hutchinson, and Lance Centofanti and many more who coached me and made me see the reality of one day specializing in only hair replacement. When I would go to the conferences I networked with other individuals who had a business model of specializing in hair loss and I wanted to do the same.
H.S.: Tell us about your staff?
V.C.: My staff is the best! Without their commitment and dedication I would not be where I am today. Their hard work and willingness to adapt to the culture of our business has played a huge role in who we are today. They always strive to give each client the “Ritz Carlton experience”.
H.S.: Of all the hair replacement and restoration solutions options, what if any stand out to you and why?
M.N.: When we started getting away from the traditional tape-on hairpiece and started applying the thin skin, semi-permanent grafts, the industry went from a product to a service. We are now able to attract a whole new client who wants to solve their hair loss problem, and also look stylish and live an active life style.
H.S.: In the years you have been involved in the hair restoration field, what advancements have you seen come along that has in your opinion “changed the game” and why?
V.C.: I feel there are three things that have impacted our business the most. One is changing from the traditional hairpiece to the thin skin grafts that are applied for an extended time period. Second is the multi-therapeutic approach to treating hair loss, specifically the nutraceuticals and low level laser therapy, and third the new procedures available in hair transplantation.
H.S.: What have been or continue to be some of the business challenges you have faced when expanding your salon?
V.C.: The biggest challenge is to communicate to the potential client that it is OK to do something about their hair loss. There are so many other cosmetic procedures that people have done that are totally acceptable, but for some reason there is a bigger hang-up when clients are considering hair restoration. I feel the reason is found in the lack of good technology fifty years ago when hair replacement looked bad whether it was a surgical procedure or non-surgical. It’s hard to educate people that there are new options that look natural and stylish.
H.S.: Let’s switch gears a bit and talk about business first lets talk about marketing and advertising. Your studio offers complete hair restoration and replacement services and has grown to be one of the prominent studios in the US, how important is it to you to promote that in your local market and what would you say is the most important business decisions you have made as it relates to advertising and marketing that have brought you to such success?
V.C.: So much or our success is because of ideas and information that we have been able to learn from other studios and marketing experts. Because we offer hair loss treatment, surgical hair and non-surgical hair replacement, we are able to market ourselves as leaders in the hair restoration business. To accomplish this in a market the size of Sioux Falls is unheard of but it gives us the opportunity to add credibility and integrity to what we are doing. We have always expanded our advertising budget as the business grew. It has become imperative for us to use all of the different medias to get out the message of who we are and what we do. Digital marketing has changed the way we advertise but network TV and radio are still a must.
H.S.: How important is it to your business to include PR, and always keeping your current and prospective clients up to date via your website, social networking etc?
V.C.: The value in P.R. is the fact that it is coming from an outside source and is unbiased, therefore adding credibility. Tying P.R. into our website and social networking is a must.
H.S.: Lets move on to mentoring, you have a very loyal staff, many of which have been with you for years. How much of this is related to your mentoring of them and ongoing education, and what would you say is the key success factors to having such a cohesive work environemnt.
V.C.: We always try to express how thankful we are for our staff. We understand that without them, we don’t succeed. We have held our staff to high standards and expectations and are willing to invest in their training and personal development. We have developed a culture that expects everyone to work at their level 10 but also recognize that none of us are perfect and we are always learning. We have provided Dale Carnegie training for every staff member and they also need to participate in at least two personal development opportunities each year. We will never ask our staff to do something we wouldn’t or haven’t done ourselves. We look at our staff as an extension of us in what they say, or how they say it and in what they do in or out of the studio. They work as a team and do whatever it takes to give the clients the experience they expect. Each year we also do a number of team building and development events out of the office. Some are for technical or personal development and some are just fun. To sum it up, we have a fantastic team.
H.S.: Lets talk about the work place. Your studio has a reputation within the industry as being a “model” as to how a studio should be run, from layout to general business practices. You have seen many other studios in your career, what do you think makes yours different and so sought after and successful?
V.C.: Our business model has evolved over a period of 40 years, from a business that sold hair peices to a business of hair restoration services and solutions. Physically, we started with 400 sq. ft. and now have 6,000 sq. ft. Because of the desire to keep up with industry changes and business growth it was important for us to embrace the changes and to keep updating and improving our studio along the way. One of the advantages of moving the business four times, always allowed us to improve our facility to adapt to the industry changes and allow for us to offer the latest technology and products. The larger space allows us to offer privacy for clients and a full menu of treatments, transplants and non-surgical hair restoration. Our business model is more clinical looking rather than a salon feel. The staff dress professional and stylish and it is very clear to our clients that we are in the appearance business. The workspaces are clean, organized and free of clutter. We also use the latest software and computerization for scheduling and record keeping. We have a very private, professionally decorated space which reinforces the culture of the business.
H.S.: It is no secret that you have employed your family over the years and that your Daughter is your protégé, how have you made this dynamic work so well and what advice would you give to others who may be thinking of employing their family members?
V.C.: When our two children were old enough to be in school all day, Cheryln started working in the office and took care of the financial end of the business. As our children grew they were always required to work in the business, cleaning or whatever they could do. When Sara came into the business she had been working for I.H.I., one of our manufacturers. She still talks about the high expectations that were placed on her by me when she started. The first six months working with me were spent just observing and watching all aspects of the business. With the help of business coaches and mentors we were able to really focus on building a business and not just creating a job for myself. To this day I start out every year with a new business plan and budget, which keeps me focused rather than just shooting from the hip. Six years ago Sara decided to become a partner and eventually own the business. She has been blessed with the skills and personality to eventually take the business to the next level. In three years she will be the majority owner giving me the opportunity to step back. I realize how fortunate I am and how blessed I am to have Sara. I have the privilege of being her father and mentoring her in the business and retain a great relationship with her as a daughter.
H.S.: What advice would you give to someone who is entering the hair restoration business?
V.C.: To start today you have 2 options. You could buy an existing business or it could be possible to have a hair salon that would over time transform and focus on hair restoration. It would be mandatory to have a business model to follow and a mentor to work with. The better the plan, the easier it will be to work smarter and not harder.
H.S.: If you had to do it all over again, what would you do different if anything?
V.C.: If I was starting again I could have benefited by taking business classes that would have taught me at the start how to write a business plan. Maybe the biggest thing is that I wish I would’ve worked with an advisory board. I thought of doing that early on but was afraid to be transparent. A board could have offered a lot of guidance and would have strengthened the business. I had people in my life to go to with questions and ideas but it would have been better to select a group of people from different back grounds and use them as an advisory group.
H.S.: What is your least favorite aspect of this business?
V.C.: It’s never fun to have to deal with an unhappy client, and as good as we think we are, it still occurs. It usually comes down to us not meeting their expectations.
H.S.: What is your favorite aspect of the business?
V.C.: The best part of the business is to see a happy client, to have a client give you a hug or to see them with tears of joy because we changed their life.
H.S.: What are your feelings on continuing education?
V.C.: Things change so fast in our business. There are new products and techniques coming out every day. The only way to keep up is by seeking out education opportunities, manufacturers, and suppliers as well as other studio owners who can offer ideas and input on how to better serve our clients. I feel it’s important to continue personal development and to stay motivated and excited about what we are doing.
H.S.: You have traveled to many locales in your illustrious career in search of better techniques, products, and of course to network with other like minded and not so like minded individuals within your trade. what have you learned by doing so and how has that helped you in your business today?
V.C.: I have been to many conferences and seminars, and even to Asia. I feel the best education comes from networking with others in the business while attending the organized functions. These are the people who have tried and tested what can become my new business model. The willingness of other professionals has helped us become more successful.
H.S.: Like many industries, the hair replacement and restoration industry has its share of bad eggs, there are products that make false claims that have come and gone and so many consumers become confused when reading competing claims for similar services. How do you overcome such adversities.
V.C.: Overcoming adversities starts with our personal message, what we say, how we say it and how we act. This is exactly why it is so important for our staff and us to be consistent with what we say, in and out of the office. It takes a long time to gain the trust and confidence of our community but that trust can be compromised quickly if we forget about the culture of our business and our personal values
H.S.: Many styles have come and gone when it comes to hair. Do you find it more of a challenge to cut in styles versus styling someone who has all natural hair? If so, why?
V.C.: There are people in the industry with awesome technical skills. We have had these people come in and train our staff. Yes, I feel some styles are more difficult than others but cutting natural growing hair can be a challenge also. As they say “ if it was easy everybody would do it.”
H.S.: You have helped countless people regain there youthful looks and have restored the confidence of so many with your techniques in hair restoration, is there any one individual that stands out from the rest that you are the most proud of and why?
V.C.: There are many people we are proud of helping, but I will use two examples. One is a 40 year-old female who had male pattern hair loss. During the consultation I could not get her to look at me. She made the decision to move forward with hair restoration and you should have seen the joy in her face. She is a different person today. The second story is of a 50 year-old man who had a bad transplant years ago and he was wearing a full wig to cover it up. We were able to custom fit him with a semi-permanent replacement. Again he felt like he had his life back.
H.S.: Many of your colleagues, have said your style and artistry is on a level all its own. How does that make you feel to be singled out in such a competitive industry by your peers?
V.C.: I am very humbled to be recognized for excellence by my peers. God has blessed me and my family with an opportunity to change lives. I have such a passion for what we do and I recognize that I did not get to this level of success by myself. Thanks for the compliment.
H.S.: You were recently recognized at the Hair Visions International Expo with a lifetime achievement award… How does that make you feel, knowing you have created such an indelible legacy.
V.C.: This is the biggest honor in my career. I feel there are a lot of individuals as deserving of this award. To be recognized by your peers is a high honor and with that comes responsibility and a higher standard. I only hope that I have made a difference in our industry as well in people’s lives.
H.S.: If you life and its achievements has been a book, what does the next chapter look like?
V.C.: The next chapter for me is Transformation. I’m in the process of transitioning the business to Sara over the next three years. After that I hope I can still be of value in an advisory role to her. And then I would enjoy mentoring and consulting with other studios.
H.S.: Is there anything you would like to add before we conclude this interview?
V.C.: I would like to add that my goal has been to raise the public perception of hair replacement That is going to be the future of our industry and with the manufacturers and studios working together Sara and all the others will have a great future.
Virg is truly a man of integrity, he truly believes in what he does and it shows in all of his efforts both professionally and personally. I have had the distinct opportunity to know Virg and he is in so many way larger than life. He has built an indelible legacy in this specialized field and if ever there was a man so deserving of a lifetime achievement award, Virg is that man.
|3300 E. 26th Street
Sioux Falls, SD 57103Tel. 605-334-7026
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Thursday: 8am – 8pm
Friday: 8am – 4pm
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