Boldness, big dreams and concensus at Vietnam’s largest hair salon chain

By Hoang Huong - Mar 13, 2024 | 10:46 PM GMT+7

TheLEADERBui Quang Hung, co-founder and chief marketing officer of 30Shine talks about how the country’s largest hair salon chain is repositioning itself to capitalise on the burgoening hairdressing industry.

Boldness, big dreams and concensus at Vietnam’s largest hair salon chain
Bui Quang Hung, co-founder and chief marketing officer of 30Shine

When we were small, the world didn't need to know who we were

Why did 30Shine suddenly reposition its brand from Vietnam’s largest men’s hair salon chain into hair salon of modern trends despite the old marketing tool still yielding good business?

Bui Quang Hung: We began brand repositioning at the beginning of 2023. With the goal of reaching 1,000 stores by 2028, becoming the largest men's hair salon brand in Vietnam and subsequently in Southeast Asia and aiming for an IPO, business repositioning helps build the core foundation to achieve our goals.

For the past nine years, we have operated like guerrilla warfare. When we first started, we didn't have much resources, distribution points or sales points. Our goal at that time was simply to exist.

Thanks to trend-setting ideas, marketing and communications methods, we have become known to many people and quickly gained a prominent position in the hair industry. However, now luck is not helping us grow.

When we grow or have a larger vision, the question "who am I" becomes very important. Therefore, we need to understand more about ourselves, position ourselves and direct our businesses towards the best versions.

The hairdressing industry is highly fragmented. There are many hair salons in the market, but each salon is owned by a different individual. Hairdressers in Vietnam have high skills but lack management and systematic thinking, making them difficult to expand their businesses.

When opening a store, you have to manage personnel, not to mention opening multiple stores makes management even more challenging.

One of the fortunate things about opening 30Shine is that we chose the right industry because the workforce in Vietnam's hair industry is excellent. Not only in Vietnam, but Vietnamese people in other countries such as the US, Canada are also very skilled in industries such as hairdressing, nails. That also encourages us to expand the model to foreign markets.

During that "guerrilla warfare" stage, 30Shine continuously applied new marketing ideas. Besides bringing certain developments to the business, what were the negative impacts of this approach on 30Shine?

Bui Quang Hung: Ideas are based on perspectives, often neither right nor wrong. Some of our ideas may be applied correctly but not effectively overall, thus not leading to success.

In the previous stage, 30Shine operated as some other typical Vietnamese startup models, full of enthusiasm and countless (self-proclaimed) good ideas, constantly experimenting, failing and adjusting.

However, the problem with applying this approach on such a large scale of over 2,000 employees is the need for constant changing. Every idea had to be implemented immediately, which sometimes confused customers due to the brand's seemingly incomprehensible innovations.

We once experimented with a very unusual idea: combining haircuts with car washes. 30Shine aims for cleanliness, brightness and sophistication. So when a customer gets a haircut, they not only brighten their hair but also their car. It sounds great, but in practice, there was something off about it.

Customers felt odd. Why would a hair salon offer car wash services? Conversely, if we were at a car wash and offered haircuts, would it make sense?

In Geoffrey A. Moore's book "Crossing the Chasm," he mentions the trap between growth stages, especially between the early adopter and early majority customer groups. Many startups fall into this trap and struggle to grow.

The reason is that products of early-stage brands often have low maturity, unstable quality and the market of early adopters has already been accessed. To serve the mainstream group, it's necessary to develop deep, stable quality products and reach customers who demand reliable services.

In reality, customers' minds are simple, they need what they need. While they may have other needs, not every product or service can be cross-sold.

Therefore, in business, besides generating many experimental ideas, we also need to consider customers' minds, avoiding overserving or underserving them, which may lead to dissatisfaction.

Nowadays, while still being innovative, we are innovating based on the foundation of business positioning as " modern trendy hair salon”.

Modern, in terms of customer perspective, refers to men who have income, are financially active, care about career and family development. Modern appearance signifies youthful elegance, providing confidence in communication and work.

Modern, from a business perspective, involves applying superior modern technology compared to industry standards, optimizing productivity and customer experience, providing services suitable for modern lifestyles and having modern, clean design styles.

In Vietnam, 30Shine is the only hair business having an R&D department. We not only research technical hair cutting, washing, steaming, drying but also study new hair technologies with advanced techniques applied worldwide. Our goal is to provide the best and most suitable experience for customers.

Boldness, big dreams and concensus at Vietnam’s largest hair salon chain
30Shine is radically changing hair industry

Over the past nine years, did 30Shine have a clear expansion strategy or was it simply aiming to open as many outlets as possible? Brand repositioning is closely tied to corporate culture and how has 30Shine defined its corporate culture?

Bui Quang Hung: Brand repositioning and defining corporate culture are two sides of the same coin. Rushing into repositioning without truly understanding corporate culture can make the positioning vague, often borrowing positioning from someone else that doesn't truly reflect us, so after a while, we might even forget our own positioning.

Therefore, clearly defining culture is a prerequisite before building positioning. During the free time amid the Covid-19 pandemic, we sat down together and explored our culture. The culture - core values of 30Shine are: Innovation - Care - Eagerness to learn - Sincerity - Encouragement of development.

Positioning and corporate culture are similar in that businesses or brands face many issues, even unacceptable ones, what keeps the team together? The bigger the problem, the deeper the love must be. Finding the right kind of love leads to lasting relationships. The 30Shine team sticks together during tough times because of these five corporate culture values.

Can you share a typical challenge that 30Shine has faced in the past and how the team overcame it?

Bui Quang Hung: When I received this question, I realized that I couldn't find a typical challenge or a typical crisis. Because we face challenges regularly and every time we do, we dive into reading research, reports, surveys, books... to find solutions.

Anything that feels unclear, we'll learn about it, and that vagueness has helped us learn many things. Don't fear vagueness, it's an opportunity. For example, choosing a business location, where to rent premises, how large the premises should be suitable. All these seemingly small things are what we learn and research.

Every problem has multiple solutions. No two problems are the same. However, theory is only correct if it's put into practice. Every time we finish our research and surveys, we choose a plan and take a chance to see if it solves the problem. It's through experimentation that we find the best solution for us.

The bigger the dream, the greater the stakes

Regarding taking risks, you once shared a story in the media: "During the time when parody and comedy videos were very popular on YouTube, while the company was still in its infancy, 30Shine took a gamble: investing VND2 billion - a very large sum at the time - just for advertising. And that was a successful bet." So, what about 30Shine's recent gambles?

Bui Quang Hung: That was around the years 2017-2019, when YouTube was booming in Vietnam. At that time, investing tens or hundreds of millions in advertising on YouTube was a big deal, and at that time, no one in the Vietnamese hair industry was doing it. That was one of the times we took a risk and succeeded greatly. That big success saved us from many small failed bets before.

At that time, we had nothing to lose and doing nothing would lead to failure. We couldn't grow anymore, so we did it, with high risks came high chances of success. For us now, that VND2 billion is still a large sum, but not as large as before. Because compared to our dreams, it's normal.

Is the growth limit a motivation for 30Shine's leadership to pursue big dreams?

Bui Quang Hung: When a business reaches a certain threshold, challenges become fewer. At that time, some team members may feel they have no further opportunities for development, so they leave to find more potential elsewhere.

That's also a motivation for us to pursue a big dream, not to keep our team members with us, but to create an environment where they can develop further. There they can continually solve difficult problems and unsolved problems are what we eagerly await.

Moreover, the business way has only two directions: up or down, there's no going sideways. Going sideways means we're going down. So, growth limits are signs for us to go up.

While dreaming big, how will 30Shine manage risks? Aren't you afraid of losing your achievements?

Bui Quang Hung: This doesn't mean that we don't manage risks. When considering experimenting with an idea, we'll evaluate whether the rewards and risks of that experiment are high or low? If the risks are too high, we shouldn't go for it.

However, it's not the case that we say a certain decision has high risks without clearly stating what they are. That just shows we're too worried to the point of not truly dissecting and evaluating those risks.

When an idea has a big enough reward, we assess the risks and find ways to solve them, then we bet on what we do. Like a football game, before stepping onto the field, we calculate all possibilities and believe in our team, giving 100 per cent effort and accepting the outcome. If we don't believe in ourselves, success is unlikely.

There's no situation where we don't believe in a decision made by the team, see the risks but stay silent,and only speak up when things have gone wrong. When we are in doubt about a decision, we provide input to our team to evaluate and find ways to mitigate those risks until the idea becomes feasible.

Consensus is needed to be a team. If one person in the team doesn't trust the decision, they'll tend to act differently from the rest in execution. Even due to lack of belief, subconsciously, that member may wish for the idea to fail to match their own prediction, and this could very likely lead to collective failure.

Boldness, big dreams and concensus at Vietnam’s largest hair salon chain 1
30Shine aims to open 1,000 stores

Corporate culture must be simple to apply

So how has 30Shine spread that culture, especially on the current scale with 2,150 employees in 108 stores and later with 1,000 stores?

Bui Quang Hung: I believe the most important thing here is that the leaders should be open-minded and sincere, to listen and not to just enforce orders. Some people are always able to make the right decisions for the team, but I'm not comprehensive in that aspect, so I just follow my team.

In our office, each of us is responsible for different areas and there's almost no hierarchical structure, no bosses and employees. Everyone feels comfortable and free to share their opinions.

Of course, the farther away the branches are, the harder it is for people to perceive the culture. Therefore, in the new branches, there's the old principle of ours in scaling up. When expanding, we enforce corporate culture through training and monitoring the implementation of regulations, combined with sharing and empathizing. These regulations include keeping the store clean according to the 5S rules, treating customers according to our standards.

Practicing corporate culture can be described through the broken window effect. This effect can be explained as follows: when a window of a house is broken and not repaired or replaced, people will consider it an ownerless house and continue to break other windows.

Similarly, in the hair industry, if someone enters a chaotic, cramped, dirty, cursing environment, they will gradually form similar behaviors and habits. Therefore, implementing and strictly monitoring regulations is crucial in scaling up.

Furthermore, for businesses wishing to expand in scale, the culture needs to be simple enough to be easily applied. Openness, sincerity, no contradiction, then everything will be easier to solve.

By combining training, monitoring, sharing and empathizing, employees will gradually become accustomed to the cultural manifestation and gradually imbibe the spirit of the business. Gradually, practicing corporate culture will become an essential part of their lives.

In this brand repositioning, I learn that 30Shine aims for the sustainability of the business and contributes to the overall development of the country. Thus, what are the sustainable factors and contributions?

Bui Quang Hung: When sharing about sustainable and long-term business development, I'm talking about building a business for future generations. One day, we ourselves may become the growth limit of the business. In that situation, we should leave for the business to grow.

Therefore, positioning and exploring corporate culture are aimed at building a solid foundation for future generations.

When positioning the brand, we have a big dream, which is to become a national brand, aiming for export, while raising the hairdressing industry in the region and in the world, creating jobs for more and more employees.

Setting a big goal, aiming for a big dream where everyone benefits, will be more challenging, more worthwhile, helping us to harness the resources of the entire society. Meanwhile, setting a big goal just for oneself is narrow.

Therefore, we aim for a prosperous future for everyone in the journey of realizing that big dream.