When Michael Portman moved to Austin, TX, he asked his lifelong friend Jayson Rapaport to recommend a place to get a haircut. In that moment, the duo imagined an update to the old-time community barbershop—an authentic, affordable, and welcoming space that respects its people and celebrates individuality. Ten years, eight locations, and 150 employees later, Birds Barbershop is a fixture of the Austin scene. “Every day, we get the opportunity to make a positive impact in the communities where Birds Barbershops are located,” says Michael, Birds’ co-founder. “Best of all, we get to do it countless times a day while growing a company that employs a lot of people.” How did they do it?
“Our uniqueness has really contributed to our success,” says HR director Hania Ostrowski. Each Birds Barbershop features art and murals by local artists. Musicians play live on Birds’ in-shop stages—from rapper Dizzee Rascal to indie rockers Sons and Daughters. And patrons of drinking age are offered a complimentary Shiner beer with their haircuts. “Whether you’re coming in wearing a suit or after a run or you’re a little bit punk rock, everyone’s welcome, and everyone has a good time,” says Hania. “I think that really comes from our employees.”
Beyond beer, music, and art, a salon or barbershop is really the sum of its stylists. Unfortunately, the industry tends to suffer from high turnover—as much as 40% annually. But while Birds has had staff move or go back to school, they don’t have the typical turnover problem. “We realized early on that if people were going to come first at Birds Barbershop, then HR needed to be one of our first departments, says Michael. “Jayson and I have both lived through layoffs, so we take our people’s quality of life more seriously than most.” Continues Hania: “We hire people who are positive, and we encourage them to really be themselves. People really want to work for Birds.”
And people really want to get their hair cut at Birds, too. To keep up with demand, the popular barbershop has recently been opening 1-2 new locations per year. To keep the shops staffed, Birds Barbershop hires and onboards new employees with Zenefits—saving Hania over an hour of work per employee. “Zenefits onboarding is just a dream,” says Hania. “It’s really easy. New hires can now finish onboarding in 15 minutes on their own time. They come into orientation having read the handbook, and they’re ready to get down to the more job-relevant stuff.” Adds Michael: “We’re always hiring great people, and Zenefits shortens the time between when someone is hired and when they actually start working.”
“When a business is built from the ground up, so are its policies and procedures—an ad hoc jumble of forms and ways of doing things created over many different formats,” says Michael. “We looked to Zenefits to offer a digital solution that gave employees one easy source for HR information.”
Birds’ employees appreciate the ease of using Zenefits anytime, anywhere, and Hania has received positive feedback from employees not just on onboarding, but also benefits signup. Using their dashboards, employees can view plan summaries and compare benefits. Enrolling in health insurance takes only a few clicks—and requires no paper, a bonus because papers tend to get lost easily on the busy floors of a bustling small business.
Before taking on the HR role, Hania had heard talk of how much HR paperwork there was at Birds, pre-Zenefits. Initially, she feared the new ACA requirements would mean a return to all the dreaded papers in folders. But Zenefits covers compliance without killing trees.
“Compliance is the most challenging part of the HR position,” says Hania. “Zenefits has been great about keeping us in the know about compliance, especially the ACA reporting. Since Zenefits has been around, we feel more confident about our compliance.”
The onboarding time savings and compliance peace of mind open up room for Hania to do more meaningful work. She now has time to meet one-on-one with employees and build culture at Birds Barbershop’s eight Austin locations. “Zenefits allows us not only to be confident in our compliance, but also to keep our employees happy, do more fun stuff in the community, and expand into other cities.” With Birds’ ninth location opening in Houston—165 miles away—is Hania concerned with the addition of long-distance HR? Not at all.
“The thing about moving to a new city is I can’t be there at the drop of a hat to meet with someone,” says Hania. “But, the great thing about Zenefits is that it’s all online. Zenefits really allows me to continue what we’re doing in another city.”
Michael continues: “We think Birds will work outside of Austin, and we’re starting to test what the rest of Texas thinks about that.” With Hania able to focus on people and not paperwork, the possibilities seem endless. “I’m really excited about bringing our culture, philosophy and vibe to a new place,” she says. “Bringing a little taste of Austin to Houston can’t be too bad. It’s our first try, and diving into the unknown is the best way we work.”