Sharkey’s Puts Kids, Franchisees In The Driver’s Seat

Quick: Westport is world headquarters for which companies, in these 3 fields: heavy construction equipment, hedge funds, and kids’ haircuts?

That’s easy! Terex, Bridgewater and, um, well, I mean…

Many Westporters – especially those with boys and girls looking for a wash, cut and blow-dry, plus fun chairs, toy cars, game stations with Xbox and PlayStation, balloons and lollipops – know (and love) Sharkey’s Cuts for Kids.

Sharkey's logoBut plenty of grateful moms have no idea it’s a flagship Sharkey’s. More than 40 others are franchised worldwide.

Owners travel great distances to our Post Road salon, to learn everything they need to successfully emulate this one.

Sharkey’s is the brainchild – and namesake – of Scott Sharkey. A Long Island native who moved to New York, his first career was in the family business: bar code printing.

Scott Sharkey, in his Westport salon.

Scott Sharkey, in his Westport salon.

When the company was sold, he and his wife Linda moved to Greenwich. As they wondered what to do next, she thought about her son Jack’s kids’ hair salon in New York. It was always packed.

They convened a few focus groups. Sharkey’s Cuts for Kids was born.

The 1st one was located in Greenwich. The 2nd — in 2003 — opened in Westport’s Home Goods plaza, near the Southport line.

Two years later, a Pennsylvania man asked for a franchise. Sharkey invited the potential franchisee up — and the concept took off.

In 2006, the Sharkeys moved to Westport. They sold more franchises. In addition to the 40-plus in the US, another 32 are in various stages of development. Sales are up 32% over last year — and growing.

People notice. Last month, Entrepreneur Magazine named Sharkey’s to its Top 500 Franchises list. It’s the only kids’ salon there.

It’s also the only one Scott and Linda own. That makes it, he says, “the most important of all.”

Sharkey's Westport salon is a prototype for the franchise: a kids' paradise.

Sharkey’s Westport salon is a prototype for the franchise: a kids’ paradise.

It’s where they test concepts like new software, or selling shampoos and other hair care products.

It’s also where they introduce potential franchisees to ideas like donating a percentage of each cut to charity. (Kids get tokens, then choose their favorite charity from an ever-changing list like the Humane Society, Make-a-Wish Foundation and St. Jude Children’s Hospital.)

Folks with serious interests in franchising spend a day observing the Westport operation. They stay across the street, at the Westport Inn.

If they like what they see (and sign a contract), they come back for 4 days of training in how to run a salon the “Sharkey’s way.”

By their 2nd day, they work the front desk. If they’re lucky, they’ll see a kids’ party in action.

Franchisees learn how important it is to hire staff who have their own kids. And to pay them more than the industry average.

The Sharkey's staff loves kids. And the kids love little touches, like the cars they can sit in.

The Sharkey’s staff loves kids. And the kids love little touches, like the cars they sit in.

“We’re in the ‘mom business,'” Sharkey says. “We don’t hire right out of cosmetology school. It’s easy for young people to say ‘I love kids’ — but when they really see them, and try to cut their hair….” He shakes his head.

“We want people who are more nurturing.”

The reaction of franchisees, Sharkey says, is often “Wow! There’s so much going on you can’t see in a video.” (They also see the salon’s ubiquitous “sharks.” Get it?)

Lookin' good!

Lookin’ good!

From its Westport headquarters, Sharkey’s Cuts for Kids has a worldwide presence. But every so often, Sharkey is reminded the world is still a very small place.

The other day, a couple who are new franchisees flew in from Tuscany. Sharkey took them to Tarry Lodge for dinner.

The wine list included a bottle from their home town.

Sharkey used it to toast their upcoming success.

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