Great Clips, Inc. was established in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1982, when Steve Lemmon and David Rubenzer opened the first location near the campus of the University of Minnesota. Lemmon and Rubenzer sought out a third partner, Ray Barton, for guidance on franchising the company. The following year, Barton and his wife Mary Lou opened the first Great Clips franchise in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, along with their friends Roger and Marylu Ledebuhr. The first franchised location opened on July 16, 1983.
Great Clips grew quickly during its first several years after becoming a franchise. After having just four locations in 1983, Great Clips had 144 salons by 1987.
In 1987, Lemmon and Rubenzer took a step back as partners, and Barton became Chairman of the Board. Three years later, having witnessed the company's remarkable growth in less than a decade, Barton introduced an ambitious goal of 3,000 salons by the year 2000.
In 1993, Great Clips became an international company with its expansion into British Columbia, Canada. Great Clips went on to reach the 1,000-store threshold in 1997. While the company ended up falling short of Barton's goal, it finally eclipsed the 3,000-salon mark in 2011. As of 2015, Great Clips has more than 3,400 salons.
In 1998, Ray Barton stepped down as president and handed over the reins to his sister, Rhoda Olsen. Olsen had initially joined Great Clips as a part-time consultant in 1984. She was promoted to Vice President of Human Resources in 1987 prior to her promotion to president the following year. Barton remained Chief Executive Officer until 2011, when he stepped down and Olsen took that role.