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How Do You Innovate a Barbershop? Ask Great Clips Franchisees. The franchise is focusing on a digital-first experience.

By Brittany Shoot

This story appears in the January 2018 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Courtesy of Great Clips

Bryan Bitticks has been a Great Clips customer since 2000, but it wasn't until 2009 that he and his wife, Tamara, searching for a recession-proof side business, started buying Great Clips salons. And in 2016, Bitticks, a former engineer and marketing manager at a semiconductor manufacturer, left his first career for good to focus on managing the couple's 10 locations in Los Angeles and Portland, Ore.

Related: 8 Mindset Shifts to Build Your Business on the Side

Coming from the tech industry, Bitticks has a particular appreciation for what has been powering Great Clips' growth -- not to mention its first-ever spot on our top 10 list: It's the brand's technology. "Online check-in is the single biggest thing that's transformed our business," he says. The salon's front door has been virtualized; customers can look at wait times online or on a mobile device and be added to a waiting list, enabling Great Clips owners to better reach young customers accustomed to a sleek, digital-first experience. More than 30 million customers across North America now use the service, and that number grows between 5 and 6 percent a year.

Great Clips has structured itself for this kind of innovation. It doesn't operate any corporate salons, freeing up the lean executive team to focus on improving core products like the online check-in system and Clip Notes, the global customer database the company launched in 2014. And it does all that while keeping many prices the same as they were when newly named CEO Steve Hockett first came onboard in 1988. (Most haircuts still cost between $13 and $17.) Hockett says that focus on technology drives overall revenue and burnishes the company's bullish outlook; last year, operating cash flow was up 60 percent from 2010. "We've been growing [same-store sales] nonstop for 13 years, quarter over quarter," Hockett says. The company plans to continue its steady march by bringing more locations to Canada and the coastal U.S.

Related: 5 Affordable Franchises You Can Start for Less Than $10,000

All of this helps Bitticks, the franchisee, feel like he made the right career change. "We don't deal with offshoring risks in the hair-care business," he quips.

For more on franchises, check out 2018's Franchise 500 list.

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