While she didn't win the main prize as a contestant on Bravo's hairstyle competition show "Shear Genius," Tabatha Coffey won an even bigger prize - her own reality show on the popular cable network. Now as "Tabatha's Salon Takeover" readies for season two, salon owners may regret asking for the help of the opinionated and direct Coffey, who literally takes over struggling salons and has a week to whip them (as well as the owner and employees) into shape. Our Jim Halterman recently talked with the Australian Coffey about the new season including how therapy plays a role in what she does, changes from the first season and why tough love is the best approach to get results.
Jim Halterman: How did you get started in the salon business to begin with?
Tabatha Coffey: I started hairdressing when I was 14 and I really just wanted to be a hairdresser. I actually worked for a year for free, all day Saturday, during my school holidays and they couldn't afford to pay me but I really decided if I was serious about it I should make sure I really wanted to do it so I volunteered my services and then I started my apprenticeship.
JH: Even back in those early days, did you have a good eye in seeing the wrong things that people were doing in the salon?
TC: Oh, no. At that point, I was too young and I was a sponge. I guess there were always things that naturally you kind of wanted your own way but at that age I didn't want to go in and take over people's businesses. I just wanted to learn as much as I possibly could.
JH: What you do on your show is about the business but also has a dash of therapy thrown in. Would you agree?
TC: Yes, sure. I think that's part of a business owner's job in a way. You need to be sensitive... I'm not sure if that's the right way to put it... of the people that you have working with you. But definitely in the hairdressing industry there is a portion of it that is a little bit of therapy. Clients come in and they tell you a lot of secrets and things that they probably wouldn't tell anyone else and so you're definitely privy to that and you have to be respectful of that so that kind of therapy comes into it. Also, the business owners are going through a lot because their businesses are failing so that's putting a lot of pressure on them and sometimes they don't handle it very well.
JH: In the new season coming up, what are the changes viewers will see?
TC: It's business as usual in the sense that we are going into salons that are struggling and we're taking them over but I think what you'll see that is different in this season is a lot more diversity. You'll see a lot of different salons. Some of them are larger salons and a lot of them have stakes that are a lot higher. Some of these salons have doors that literally are about to close and that's putting a lot of stress on the business owners and the employees, who might not know what's going on. Their partnerships are falling apart and failing and that really is dragging the salons down and dragging the owners and employees down.
JH: Since you've been doing this for a while now, is there anything that genuinely surprises you when you first go into these salons?
TC: I'm always surprised. I am. I probably shouldn't be and this season you will see things that I have to tell you on a daily basis that I still think about it and shake my head and can't believe it actually happened.
JH: From the clips for the upcoming episodes, it looks like you actually walk out of one of the takeovers. Are there times when you just have to throw up your hands and leave?
TC: Yes, there are and it comes from frustration. I really do want to help and I'm really trying to do the best that I can to help the staff, help the salon owner and turn this salon around and change things for them. When I feel like people are kind of making fun of that or don't take me seriously it's really frustrating to me so sometimes I just need to give myself a timeout, which is what I did when I walked out.
JH: It must be tough when the salon owners are the ones who come to the show for help and then fight you on the changes you try to make.
TC: Some people do and I get that. I get that it's emotional for them and I get that they're struggling and they feel like a failure and they really do want the help. But it can be hard for people to process when I come in and point out all the faults and what is actually going wrong and it can be really difficult for them. A lot of these people are living in denial because they don't want to say so or the problems upset them. I can understand that it can be hard for them sometimes but ultimately I am there to help them and they have asked for help so it's coming from a good place and, again, that's where my frustration comes from when they're not coming on board.
JH: And do you find that the tough love approach is the best approach? You do get results even when people who work in the salon have some not-so flattering things to say about you.
TC: Look, I think it's an honest approach. I am tough and I take my job very seriously and when I walk into that salon it's mine for a week and I take that very, very seriously and I want to help them. I don't have a lot of time to walk around and maybe hold their hands. Obviously they have problems and that hasn't helped so I think it's important to be tough and be strong and be really honest with them because if I'm not then it's not going to help them in the end.
JH: Besides the new season of the show, what else are you working on?
TC: Today, I'm working on staying out of the rain. [Laughs.] I'm in my salon everyday so I work on clients all the time and I work on my business when I'm not out traveling or doing the show. Hopefully down the road I will get a little bit more involved in doing some education for hairdressers, which is one of my goals for next year.
"Tabatha's Salon Takeover" starts whipping salons into shape tonight on Bravo at 10:00/9:00c.