My Life As A Hairstylist

Salon owner, hairstylist, educator, product maker, photographer

How to Survive and Thrive as a Hairstylist and Salon Owner


As a hairstylist and salon owner, I have had some really great moments and some crushing experiences over the last 25 years. If you are interested, here are some of my observations.


  • Work your ass off. This means in every way. On slow days, help clean. Contribute.  And always pick up after yourself. It takes a second and shows you respect your co-workers and the assistants. You were an assistant and likely had to pick up after some stylist that could have done it themselves most of the time. Respect the assistant version of you that swore you would not be a diva.
  • Act like a successful stylist right away. Dress the part, act the part and be the part right from the beginning. This means asking for pre-bookings from the first day you are on the floor. Asking for referrals, promoting yourself, retailing, assisting the busier stylists rather than hanging out in the staff room, or as we like to call it, the “minimum wage room.”
  • Nobody is going to do it for you. Make things happen for yourself.  But people will want to help and be a part of your success if you contribute positively to theirs.
  • Say “YES” to virtually every opportunity the salon offers you. It shows you are motivated and put your career and your company first. You will likely be promoted and given amazing opportunities eventually.
  • Be nice and take care of people. You are in the service industry. You’ve chosen a career where you are supposed to put others’ experience ahead of your own.
  • Don’t bitch to other people until you have given your boss the chance to explain things. Your employer is (for the most part) a normal, nice person. He or she doesn’t sit at home at night thinking of ways to make your work life shittier. If you have an issue, communicate and express yourself to the owner and only the owner.
  • Give an amazing massage and learn to finish hair beautifully. These skills are much easier to master than haircutting and colouring is. You will fast-track your success this way. The best way to mentally approach this is to…
  • Be empathetic. Put yourself in the clients’ shoes. How do you like to be treated? Do you love a great shampoo service? Would you want your hair to look like this? Be present, aware, and sensitive to your client.
  • Focus on looking for every opportunity to exceed their expectations. You can only do this by committing yourself to their experience and their hair. Eye contact, listen, be present. Your client is always giving you cues. But most stylists ignore them. These can be retail and referral opportunities, or areas where they are not as happy as they could be; things that can be fixed and addressed before the client leaves less than thrilled.
  • Keep your work simple and make it repeatable. Develop mastery of foundations and an understanding of what happens when you do certain things. Learn from your own work by cutting a section and evaluating what it did when it fell back into place. Don’t come at your client with 5 colour bowls unless absolutely necessary. And always make your work pretty. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
  • Work with intent, be present and focused on your work. It is much more satisfying when you are involved rather than going through the motions. Get down so the hair is at eye level. Stand back and check your balance and weight distribution. Put your hands into the hair and move it around. Sculpt. But remember…
  • You are not an artist. Certainly we have artistic integrity and we must have an understanding of what is flattering, but you are a service person first and foremost. It is almost never carte blanche, you are being given limitations by the client and it is your goal to make the client look and feel beautiful. And most hairdressers who see themselves as artists are generally assholes…
  • Don’t be an asshole. There is no room for ego in this business. We do hair for a living. Get over yourself. Perspective. Obviously if you are great at what you do, enjoy and celebrate your success. But don’t throw it in people’s faces and don’t put other stylists down or judge their work negatively. Let your work and your success do the talking. If you have to say you are, you probably aren’t.
  • Use your success as a foundation to greater success. If you are lucky enough to become the “hot hairdresser” in your town, enjoy it but don’t let your ego get in the way of your long-term career.  Eventually you will get older and another hairdresser will become the go-to in your city and the cool people will go elsewhere. So enjoy being “it” but understand it is fleeting.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously. The important work you do is to make people look and feel beautiful. It’s about giving. For educators, it’s to enlighten your students and help them to have better careers and lives, which is also all about giving. Snobbery in the fashion business is just dumb and boorish. So don’t take yourself so seriously, but absolutely take what you do seriously.
  • Your employer is not taking half your money. If you make 50% commission, the owner might be able to make, at most, 10% profit from their investment. Most are making between 3-5%. It is a very expensive business to run, and unless the salon is always packed and is very large, your owner is likely under a degree of financial stress. Don’t feel sorry for them, but don’t make them out to be some greedy jerk who sits at home counting Benjamins.
  • Never forget where you came from. You sucked at one point. Someone supported you and took a chance on you. Respect the people who did. You worked hard to get there and you are responsible for your success but most likely people had your back along the way.
  • Be a mentor. Your support for a younger stylist is incredibly powerful. Too many people leave salons or the industry because they feel jaded by it. We all remember the people we looked up to along the way, who helped us and inspired us. You can be that person for someone else. And they will forever hold you in high regard, which is pretty cool.
  • Do photoshoots, fashion shows and take classes. Go on inspiring or educational holidays instead of relaxing ones, especially at first. Clients love to hear your stories and they love to talk about you to their friends. If you never have anything cool about your career to talk about then it’s a guarantee your growth will be slower. So skip the beach and go to New York or London and take a class. Go to Paris and tour salons and make connections and new friends.
  • Never let a client leave unhappy. Never tell them to wash it a few times and it should fade, never tell them to live with it and then call you on Tuesday. If she goes into her weekend hating her hair, you better believe she’s going to be talking about it and you all weekend to her friends. And she will not tell them that she asked for the level 4 she pointed at in the swatch book, only that you made her hair “black.”

Salon Owners

  • If you are opening a salon, think big, even if you are small. Have a plan for growth. If your goal is for a 4 chair salon, then you are guaranteeing you will be a slave to that business for the rest of your life as the owner of that salon.
  • Don’t invest a lot of money in opening your business. A good location is more valuable than a spectacular renovation, and clients care about accessibility and cleanliness more than décor. Use quality, replaceable materials/ components and a floor that is easy to keep clean. Walk-ins and retail sales can make a huge difference to your bottom line so consider spending a little more to be on the right block so you don’t have to spend on trying to get people to walk in.
  • If you already have a salon and you don’t have a tiered system, create one. You should always be training and developing new talent. It keeps you sharp and means you always have people ready to move into roles that will inevitably open up.
  • Create a culture. It starts with creating a manual. Write down every aspect of how a customer is going to be treated; on the phone, in person, what they experience when they open your doors etc. The rest will go from there. If you want to get your staff to buy into it, get them involved in the changes by having them help write your manual.
  • Communicate with your staff. You avoid the rumours and back-room gossip about you. They will still think you are evil but have an open door to any questions and issues that they may have. They won’t talk to you unless you are receptive and respectful, and if they don’t talk, they will eventually walk.
  • Before implementing new policies, consider them from the employee’s experience. Be empathetic. And NEVER mess with their money. They already think you are taking too much of it and living the good life from their hard work.
  • Don’t be an asshole. Don’t screw over another salon owner by trying to lure away their staff. It’s disgusting. And if you build your business on the backs of stylists who have walked out of another salon, I promise you it will happen to you too.
  • Don’t open a salon for the sake of opening a salon. Unless you have a vision and a plan to be better or different than your competitors, what’s the point? This business is tough. What’s your reasoning for opening a salon? If it’s money, understand that most owners don’t really make any. You might be better off having a good investment adviser and working hard for someone else or being independent. That way you can relax on time off and you will sleep much better. Trust me.
  • Never stop sharing or giving. You will get your heart broken in this business. People you trust will lie to your face while they are stealing your only real asset, the client list. But you can’t become jaded and you can’t stop giving to people.
  • Create service systems for your success so that you don’t have to rely on extraordinary people. Certainly there are some amazingly special stylists out there, but with strong systems, everyone can be great. Make your success come from who you are as a company, not from the outstanding performance of one or two people within your company.
  • Salons generally have a life cycle. Most older owners are plugging away, likely not living the life they thought they would be 20 years ago. If your salon is the current spot, you will eventually not be the spot, so you you will need to work hard to stay on top, and develop a plan when things inevitably start to slow.
  • Have a plan and be prepared to survive the inevitable walk-out. Can you pay the rent on your own? Do you have new talent looking to move up in your company? Never stop hiring and developing new talent. This is where the tiered system comes into play.
  • Don’t truly ever get in bed with a product company unless you have no interest in your own branding. That is fine for some, but if you want to create your own brand, use the product company simply as a vehicle to help drive your own success. Be loyal only to your own company. Take advantage of what a product company can do for you but make sure building your own brand is your priority.
  • Treat your team the way you wanted to be treated when you were an employee. All owners worked for someone we resented at some point. Yet often, the same mistakes are repeated. It’s kind of like how we often parent the way they were parented, despite swearing we never would. Respect the past-employee version of yourself.
  • Delegate. People want to have more responsibility. Give people the opportunity to shine and to take ownership of projects and your company.
  • People want to be led and they want to work for someone and something they can believe in. Be an inspiration and have a cause.
  • You will say 100 wonderful things to someone but they will remember the one mean thing you said to them that one time. It’s human nature. It isn’t logical and it isn’t really fair but it’s the truth. Watch what you say. I’ve learned this the hard way. And I’ve also been driven to greater success by a few nasty comments another owner once said to me.
  • Look outside the hair business for your inspiration. The fact is, most salons aren’t doing well. You would be shocked if you saw their books. Owners lie to each other about busy-ness and success. Look at successful restaurants and hotels to see how they create systems for consistency in product and service.
  • It’s easy when things go well. Your business is defined by how you handle the mistakes. Never let a client leave your salon unhappy. If a client is unhappy, fix it right then and there. If she leaves hating her hair and you’ve told her to came back in a few days, you are giving her an opportunity to involve friends, or worse, Yelp. Intervene if you hear a stylist saying those terrible words, “go home and wash it a few times, it should lighten up.”
  • If you open a booth rental salon, much of your success comes from the misfortune of some other owner. You are a landlord, not a salon owner. And your need to fill an empty station means you are luring someone away another business. That someone else may have sacrificed a lot to help that stylist get to the position where they generate enough that they can rent a chair. If you build your business off the backs of others who took all the risk, you are a leech. Many rental owners don’t fall under this, but most do.
  • If you are always looking for a “stylist with clientele,” you are not a success. You need people to bring you business. Why would they? What kind of business owner puts themselves in a position where they are relying on people they barely know in order to be successful. If this is your current strategy, this cycle will never end, so stop it! Start developing your own talent from within. BUILD something great.
  • Have fun. Don’t stress out too much. Don’t develop an ego when things are good and don’t get too down when things are bad. It is a roller coaster.

    Salon ownership is a marathon, not a sprint. You can speed things up by doing things right, but know that you will make huge sacrifices to build something lasting and great. If it happens overnight, that means it will likely disappear quickly as well. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so avoid the temptation to rent chairs or hire from other salons and start at the beginning of this column.

262 thoughts on “How to Survive and Thrive as a Hairstylist and Salon Owner

  1. Good story..thanks for sharing..I have been in the business since 1980 ….things will get better

  2. Great blog and covered just about everything

  3. Hello Michael,

    Just a thought, but after reading the many comments and seeing how many of us were impacted by your wisdom, I am wondering if you’ve considered heading up some sort of salon owners association? Somewhere for all of us support one another, unite as a group and impact our industry for the better?

    • I’m so flattered Suzanne. But I don’t work that well with groups. The local association wants me to run for their board, and I know it wouldn’t be long before everyone hated me and I was drummed out.;)

      • A member of my team sent me over your blog saying she thought everyone in our salon could learn something from what you have written ,,, she was absolutely correct . So I just wanted to drop you a line to show my appreciation for your honesty and openness as it has greatly inspired me and at least one other member of my team . I wish you great prosper and happiness for 2014 . And again THANKYOU x

      • Thanks James. I really appreciate this.

  4. I’m sorry to hear that you had a rough year. Hopefully things will turn around for you. This was well written and every bit true. Thankyou for sharing this.

  5. Dear Micheal
    Found your blog so interesting, giving perspectives from all positions within a salon team, to help all stay grounded and respectful of other people.
    I too have recently been subjected to the arsehole scenario, and wondered about becoming one myself, if you can’t beat em join em.
    So glad to read this today.
    My strategy for the future has now to brush myself off, hold my head high and have the best salon in town,and get rid of any doubters.
    I would definately be interested in an owners forum.
    Joe Parkes

    • Awesome Joe! I agree a forum would be great. Perhaps it exists on Hairbrained. I’ll check it out.

    • This is exactly what I needed! Question, as a salon owner/stylist how do you make your stylist work and attend events that the salon is doing? It’s a boothrent only salon. I advertise and do big back to school events, I can’t make them want to be a part of it. Help !

      • Hi Cheri,

        Your issue is that your salon is booth rent but you want to control how your tenants behave outside of the salon.

        You are not their boss. In fact, they are kind of your boss. You are the landlord, they are the tenant. If the owner of the building you rented wanted you to do things unpaid, you would say no.

        Moving forward, get some employees and start training them and molding them into the types of stylists you want. Move them into those chairs as your renters leave. Create a company and surround yourself with people you find positive and inspiring.

        Some rental salons do have a team atmosphere, but most don’t.

  6. Wow, I found this piece yesterday, but saved it until I knew I had some quiet time to read it, and fully enjoy it.

    I am so impressed that you took the time to write this, with so much thought and reflection. I wish these guidelines were implemented at the salon I first worked at – I might have still worked there…

    For the past 3 years I have worked in my own salon, a 2 seater, all by myself. I have enjoyed the fact that there aren’t egos or assholes in my salon, and feel I can better meet my clients’ needs this way.
    I do however dream of opening a bigger salon with staff, that I can build a great team.

    I sometimes miss the interaction of other stylists, but for the past year I have been a part time technical consultant, so I now get that interaction, and get to share my knowledge with others.

    All the best for the future of your business.

    Cape Town – South Africa

    • I totally understand. I never planned on anything other than a 2 chair salon with my wife. We now have 50 staff and 4, soon to be 5 locations. I really love the energy I get from my team.
      All the best!

  7. I enjoyed the article, and I do agree with most of what you delivered. However, I consider myself an artist, as I knew from an early age that this was my calling. I remember telling my mom that her shoes did not belong with her outfit. Tweezing her brows and my friends brows at age 12. Assisting my neighbor who had a salon in her house with a wedding. The feeling of euphoria when I transformed someone and they left feeling like a million bucks. I never looked down on other stylists when their book was empty. Instead I asked them if they wanted to help me and I would show them some tricks to help them develop their skills. A lot of times there is a cattiness in a shop with many females. Usually I get along better with the men. Less jealousy and just more fun. I love what I do….. can’t imagine being anything but a Hair Artist. No two stylists are ever the same…and during my younger years, I learned plenty from the older more experienced associates. It’s. really all about the drive and love you have for the business.
    Hair Artistry by Amanda

    • You sound pretty awesome. Call yourself whatever you want, no judgement from me. I wrote it based on my experiences within my company.
      I love your passion for the craft and what we can do for people through hair.

  8. A lot of good advice, and also a lot of bitterness.

    The client list is a co-creation of the salon and the stylist–you can’t “steal” clients that willingly follow you and seek you out because they value and trust the relationship you, the stylist, created with them over what the salon is offering besides your services.

    And other salons and booth rentals aren’t thieves stealing talent and client lists–they are providing alternatives to stylists who may have very valid reasons for leaving their current environment. The stylist is not a commodity. The stylist is a hard-working human being that also has bills to pay, skills to sell, and happiness to pursue, and if there is a better deal somewhere else, be it pay, work conditions, environment, etc., the stylist’s only obligation is to herself and her clients. If the author of this article is experiencing yet another walk-out, perhaps he/she is not providing a healthy, fair environment in which the stylists can thrive.

    Hair is a very unique business that can’t always be run just by the numbers. A stylist that provides an experience that their clients want may be hugely successful even if they aren’t the top performer in their salon.

    Finally, stylists on commission are paying top dollar for the owner’s assistance, so salon owners better be sure they are doing everything they can to make it worth that money. Maybe the owners aren’t getting rich, but if you looked at the economy over the past six or so years, a 10% return isn’t nothing.

    • No bitterness, I’m sorry if it reads that way.

      That’s cool, you don’t have to agree. But anyone who owns a chair rental salon absolutely drains the industry rather than makes it better. I get wanting to rent. Not everyone wants to follow rules etc once they’re established.

      Without owners like myself and many others, chair rental salons couldn’t exist and they would eat eachother up fighting over the finite amount of stylists capable of renting.

      Salons like mine are constantly developing the talent that become renters. Rental salons are not interested in developing talent and creating legacy. They only want the upside with none of the work. That’s fine, but I call it what it is.

      And I absolutely agree about clients having rights and choices. Owners who lie about the whereabouts of former staff are idiots. But when the employee contacts all the clients behind your back before they’ve even quit (which perhaps would open them up to a lawsuit) and lie about a situation and only tell one side of a story, the clients believe them and won’t give the salon a chance to win them back. Social media makes it even harder.

      You clearly have never owned and had employees so you have an uninformed opinion. I respect it, but it is wrong. I had an opinion like yours once. I learned better. And 10% is extremely rare. I might be at 3.

      This blog isn’t meant to be everyone’s truth. But it is mine.

      • Spot on Michael Levine!

      • Wow, sounds like bitter to me. Sounds like you do not care much about the stylists as much as profit margin. Telling someone that their opinion is wrong is not fair. That’s why it’s called an OPINION. You should be proud that you give stylists the skill set to be able to branch out as a renter. It’s a large industry with many different opportunities. Who are you to say what stylists choose.

      • Hi Markie,

        I’m definitely bitter about people who came to me with a hand out asking for help, telling me they were on board, lying to me, and stealing from me and my family.

        I will always do things ethically. Most stylists who leave a salon don’t.

        And an opinion must be based on education. An opinion absolutely can be wrong. If it’s not, then your views on something will never change. We all know they do.

        Understand this: I have walked in most hairdresser’s shoes. Very few have walked in mine. This means I have a more balanced, less self-driven view of hairdressing than a lot of other people.

        I totally understand wanting to rent and owning a rental salon. The current model is clearly broken and needs a fix that allows stylists and owners to have a relationship that allows both to make money and respect each other.

        Where I live, there isn’t a single rental salon doing things legally. Not one. I have to compete with business working illegally where I have to follow rules.

        I only want a level playing field. And what I want most of all is a return to salons competing for clients, not for established stylists. It’s backwards and shortsighted.

        And if you knew anything about me, you would know that I care way more about my team than I do about margins. But it would be nice to be profitable as well. The two things aren’t mutually exclusive.

        I respect your opinion as well. But it’s wrong.

      • Michael, I’m not sure what you mean when you say that other salons are not acting legally…Is this another attempt by a commission salon to paint renters and rental salons as tax evaders? If so, it’s just so much nonsense…I know many commission salons and have known many through the years who are responsible for cheating, the idea that rental salons do it and commission salons don’t is just not so. If I’m wrong about yout meaning of ‘legal’ then please elaborate?

      • I totally agree with you Earl, there are cheaters on both sides. I will say this, employees cannot cheat and renters can. And I know of a very large, 2 location rental salon where nobody takes credit cards or debit, and there is a cash machine next to the front desk of each location. Why do you suppose that is? There are a huge amount of renters under-reporting. While they may talk about how much more money they make, I would love to see proof of what is claimed to the government.

        But this isn’t what I am referring to at all. In Canada, particularly in BC where I am from, there isn’t a single rental salon operating legally. They are not allowed to share resources, or use a receptionist, or use assistants that are employed by the salon and many other issues. The only way truly legally where I am from is to do things like a loft idea, with your own basin and separate hydro metering.

        The rule is if it looks like an employee and acts like one, then it is one. I have to pay EI benfits for my staff as well as Workers Compensation. This alone is about $20K each month. The rental salons operatealmost identically to commission salons but avoid these fees and added expenses of running their businesses the way the law says they should. And there are almost no circumstances where renters and commission can work in the same salon here. But almost all do.

        That is what I mean about illegally. I do believe there are a lot of renters who under-report income. I would likely do it as well. But that isn’t my gripe at all. I just want rules followed so we have a level playing field.

      • I totally agree with you Earl, there are cheaters on both sides. I will say this, employees cannot cheat and renters can.

        With all due respect Michael, that statement is simply incorrect. obviously I’m not going to go into the ways that employers and their employees may collude to cheat but believe me they are doing it as we speak.

        And I know of a very large, 2 location rental salon where nobody takes credit cards or debit, and there is a cash machine next to the front desk of each location. Why do you suppose that is?

        It’s not my affair to tell anyone how to run their business, there are many reasons why some prefer not to accept credit cards, it’s a bookkeeping expense and a hassle just to name two, many don’t accept personal checks, many do. Many salons don’t want to pay the high % to the credit card companies. There is a cafe next door to my salon which has a cash machine by their checkout, it’s up to the business owner to do business as they see fit, not for me to judge them.

        There are a huge amount of renters under-reporting.

        Perhaps what you mean to say is the you suspect that they are doing so? You have no proof that they are, you say as much in the next sentence. As I said above, there are many ways for commission salons to cheat if they want to, it seems that you are suggesting that your competition cheats, but you don’t, because you can’t. I believe you if you say you don’t… but if you wanted to, you very well could.

        While they may talk about how much more money they make, I would love to see proof of what is claimed to the government.

        Perhaps you’d publish your own business P&L statement first as a good will gesture to encourage them to follow?
        A renter with a clientele does make a lot more money than an employee, for one thing their rent is a tax deductible item, as is their product, tools, health insurance and other expenses, one drawback is that they have to pay 100% of their Social Security tax, which, as an employee, the employer pays 50% of for them.

        But this isn’t what I am referring to at all. In Canada, particularly in BC where I am from, there isn’t a single rental salon operating legally. They are not allowed to share resources, or use a receptionist, or use assistants that are employed by the salon and many other issues. The only way truly legally where I am from is to do things like a loft idea, with your own basin and separate hydro metering.

        Almost no renters use nor need a receptionist today Michael, they have a cell phone with message center and make all their appointmants themselves by text and e-mail, for many the phone never rings any more, it’s all done electronically, sometimes by web-based booking apps too. I guess what you’ll have to get used to is the changing landscape of the business world, including the salon business…the old ways are being left behind, it’s just a matter of time until chair rental is the norm and it will be sooner than later.

        The rule is if it looks like an employee and acts like one, then it is one.

        The same rules exist in the US, it isn’t stopping the vast majority of hairdressers from being renters today. it’s the way of the future no matter how much some folks don’t want it to be.

        I have to pay EI benfits for my staff as well as Workers Compensation.

        Sure, I understand, it’s why I decided decades ago not to have employees, those taxes were killing my business by eating away my profit margins and despite the fact that in 10 years I never had one single claim on my Workers Comp. insurance, the price of the insurance went up continually.

        This alone is about $20K each month. The rental salons operatealmost identically to commission salons but avoid these fees and added expenses of running their businesses the way the law says they should. And there are almost no circumstances where renters and commission can work in the same salon here. But almost all do.

        It will and should change…there is no reason for government to make rules to prevent a business and/or workers from creating the business model which works best for them.

        That is what I mean about illegally. I do believe there are a lot of renters who under-report income. I would likely do it as well. But that isn’t my gripe at all. I just want rules followed so we have a level playing field.

        Life isn’t played on a level playing-field Michael, you can fight or switch, up to you to decide but don’t look for the old ways to hang on to, it’s 2015 not 1980.

  9. Pingback: I’m not Bitter | My Life As A Hairstylist

  10. Wow what a refreshing read. I have been in the industry for 30 years and a salon owner for 25 of those years. In that time I have seen many industry changes and staff changes. You are absolutely correct in saying you can’t take it personally. Our staff as wonderful as they are are not our friends and as salon owners we need to remind ourselves of this constantly. I Have thought about writing a book on staff……boyfriend break ups, theft, client information stealing. bitchiness. back room gossip, hangovers. unwanted pregnancies you name it we all experience it as salon owners. Then we have amazing staff who help us believe we can continue down this path of madness where we as salon owners are constantly riding that roller coaster. Well hang on tight and get ready for the ride of your life as 2014 is just beginning. Wouldn’t change a thing as I just love what I do.

  11. Nice piece Michael…While I don’t agree with every point, it’s obvoius that you have been around the block in the hair business and have a good grasp of the realities. The most important point that I do agree with is that it’s not art, it’s a craft and a business and at the end of the day it’s only hair-bending, nothing very important in the big scheme of things, so relax, be cool and enjoy!

  12. So articulate to frame the entire work experience of a stylist and an owner. As Horst would say “you’ve just experienced a cleanse”. The last 12 months most likely seem like a huge setback, in time I hope you experience like many of us that have had similar experiences that it’s a really good thing. The only thing that’s worse than people that quit and leave is people that quit and stay? Thanks for this literary gift to the industry

    • I am absolutely humbled David.
      Thank you so much for taking the time to write. And for all you do and have done to raise standards and show us what a salon company can do under great leadership and vision.

  13. Insanely great writing.I have been an owner 30 years and it has made me rich.Many stylists here have half a million in their 401/k. Many have quit because they feel the owner owes them for zero effort.20 years in the industry and they can’t fill 2 days but it’s my fault.RIGHT! They always quit and in a few years work as a waitress at a bar.Just had a bunch of fools walk out because they thought they knew better.They are all broke now.We have retained 50% so far.This should be required reading for anyone who wants to do hair.As for 1099 rentals they are scum of they industry.Absentie landlords.No vision.Tax cheats.Ban all of them to the IRS.

    • Dottie…why the bitterness?
      I was a commissioned-salon owner for 30 years and was constantly having to find new hires to replace stylists who were happy to take my training, advertising and promotion, friendship and support and finally my clients, to other salons which promised higher commissions, more walk-ins and whatever else (as well as to rental salons who had no clients of their own to offer but promised them more money in their pockets if they brought my clients along with them)…
      I’m neither scum nor an absentee landlord nor a tax cheat, (after more than 50 years in the trade I’m still behind the chair) and why you would denigrate other salon professionals who have switched to another more modern business structure is disappointing…Perhaps the vision that you seem to crave is simply an out-moded concept of the salon trade, commission-based salons are dying and rental salons are thriving, it’s the 21st Century way. Hairstylists, like other people want to be their own boss, self-employed small-businesspeople, the backbone of American business, why are you angry about that, it’s what you are too, just because they choose an alternative and don’t want employees is no reason to put them down as scum?
      Name-calling won’t help any of us.
      I have a renter who is enjoying her own small-business in my salon and that’s fine with me too.
      I know very few hairdressers who have half a million in a retirement account, how old are these stylists and how much do they contribute annually to have that much saved and more importantly, do you, as their employer, match their contributions? If so, good for you, if not, why not?

      • Earl, I totally agree. I am absolutely not calling anyone names other than the owners who open a salon and try to lure staff away from other salons. It is a scummy thing to do. The people that do it are true assholes and I wish nothing but bad for them.

        I am about giving back and growing talent. I won’t hire from another salon because I don’t need that negativity in my world. I’ve built a real business where I don’t need someone else’s hard work to benefit me.

        That being said, the current rental/ commission thing is broken and there needs to be something else. I know of a few salons in the US who combine things and it works really well. But that isn’t legal where I live. So in order for me to adapt, I would need to break the labour laws, which I am against. It’s important for me to develop talent and offer a place for young stylists to work and grow. But then I would need to offer them a rental situation if I want to keep them longer term , and that’s a challenge for me. But I absolutely agree that it’s an old system.

        I have been working on a blog post about this exact subject for a few months. It’s a tough one to write and I keep going back to it. There are so many things to discuss within this one subject.

        Anyway, sorry if this offends you. Nobody has to agree with me, but I appreciate you reading and taking the time to comment.

  14. I’m beginning to reinvent my salon and so agree with what you’ve written. Thanks for getting it down into digestible form!

    • Good luck with the reinvention!

      • Trying to implement assistants doing blow dries but a few stylists only want themselves to take care of the client and a couple of clients feel they pay too much to have an assistant blow dry their hair. I am going to trust myself on this one because I see how it will benefit me and my stylists in the long run , but I am so tired of having to defend the new ways of doing things. Any thoughts?

      • I have this issue as well. It’s not worth fighting over so ignore them and just allow the rest of the team to start making more and more money by not have book backs and only booking an hour for chemicals.

        For this to work, make sure the assistants are doing awesome work. But the stylist needs to spend a few minutes at the end doing the final finishing.

        The flip side is that they could raise their prices. It’s the charge more or do more thing. Ted Gibson does all his own shampoos and blowouts.

  15. This commentary is the truth and the whole truth it should be a manual for schools to let them know what is really about. Thank you Michael for this truth

  16. This message came right on time as I am venturing into the next level of my salon as a owner. After boothe renting for almost 5 years i agree the salon has its ups and downs. I believe you must stay ahead of the curve and never get boring. Continue to sew into people and it will be returned! Feeling inspired. Going to start following this blog!

  17. Your post mirrors the last 2 yrs for me. I just had a mass walk out and it has crippled my business. I am so tired of dealing with employees and their crap that I have decided to close my shop and rent a chair at another salon. At least I will have money in the bank! Lol

    • I’ve seen too many people hang on too long and then leave with nothing. I feel you. This business is often a killer.
      Good luck!

    • The business has changed from even 10 years ago…the rise of chair-rental and the ‘salon-suites’ has doomed commission salons, it’s a thankless task for a salon owner to hire staff, pay wages, teach, promote and advertise workers, because once the worker feels that they have enough clients, they will simply leave and go down the street and rent a chair, taking as many of ‘their’ clients as possible with them.

      The cost of Worker’s Compensation insurance, State income tax and Social Security taxes that an employer has to pay for California employees has crippled the salon trade in this State…

      It’s almost impossible to find an entry-level salon job today, unless it’s at a quick-service chain offering only low hourly wages, no commission and no opportunity for advancement. There are very few salons offering any guaranteed wage at all, most simply offer ‘commission’ but unless they have a flow of clients with which to feed the worker, many hairdressers earn nothing for a day’s work.
      The average earnings of a Cosmetologist or Barber in the US in 2012 was less than $30,000, about the same as home-cleaners, child-care workers and waitresses and none of those workers needed a trade-school ‘education’ like Barbers and Cosmetologists do. Cosmetology school is costing between $15,000 and $26,000 today…why would anyone pay that much to get a job which pays an average of $30,000 a year?

      • This is so true and well written. Thank you.

        The chair rental end of things is absolutely destroying the business. As an owner, why do I want to invest in people only to have them go rent once they generate enough?

        I’m not sure of the future but I have found a degree of balance in my company. The issue is that the balance is not allowing any growth, just stagnation. And that is eventual death in business.

      • Times and business models change…The business-model of building a salon from scratch with one or two good stylists who hire assistants whom they train and eventually promote to the salon floor, then hire more assistants and repeat the process so that the business grows, is not practical today for most salon owners… It’s not the 20th Century any longer, the Millennials and Gen-Xers don’t ascribe to the old business models either, they aren’t like previous generations who stayed in the same job or location for decades and they have been raised to believe that they are all winners. The quick-service salons changed the whole nature and ethic of the salon trade because their concept is to compete on the basis of price, not (necessarily) quality and not to encourage the staff to build individual customer loyalty. The early versions used to charge more if a client ‘requested’ a particular stylist.
        In big cities like LA and New York, salons open without a single client but with money backers, they simply recruit busy stylists from other salons by giving ‘sign-on’ bonuses in the thousands and tens of thousands of dollars to create a busy salon overnight…it’s sometimes a successful tactic too but those who can be bought can also be ‘bought-away’ again too…

    • Tim, how’s the transition. Are you content?

  18. Reblogged this on miketssc and commented:
    Well this just about covers everything well write well done ! Mike

  19. I liked this article but the artist thing…no. if you want to limit yourself as just a service person the is fine. But to go above and beyond and having vision takes an artist. All of the most successful hair stylists are for sure atrtists. But you probably just arnt an artist and this is why you don’t understand it. Because not all good stylists are artists. But you can only learn and train so much it takes a real artist to create new trends new hair color techniques nd haircuts an d updos. Regular stylists need artists

    • Kaitlyn, it’s not so much about not being artistic. It’s about not thinking of yourself as an artist. As a hairdresser, obviously the good ones are artistic, but we are not artists with hair. We don’t have total control of the work. People bring us photos or give us their wants. You could consider yourself as a commissioned artist, but real artists who are artists for their careers have freedom to create. We generally don’t.

      And know that the few who are truly artists rarely make a living in hair other than through education. And the ones who think of themselves as artists usually aren’t successful and the ones that are usually are assholes. It’s true.

      I am a lifelong musician, and award-winning photographer, have educated thousands of stylists and have performed as a platform “artist” for the most prestigious company on the planet. I charge $200 for a haircut where the average is about $50. And no, I am not an artist. I am a hairstylist- a master of my craft and a provider of great service.

  20. I’m starting Hairstyling College in two months as a almost twenty-three year old and this article has made it that bit exciting, than it already is. I know I can come to this article if need be, to get tips and it’s just a great read.
    Thank you for this! And hope that you’re well.
    I hope to be an amazing hair creative.

    • I am well Coral, thanks! I’ve just retired from hairdressing and am focusing on the salons.

      Good luck with your career. Go out there and kick ass for the first few years and you will have an amazing career after that. Don’t waste even a second in the beginning.

      • Thank you very much, I appreciate it! I cannot wait to kick-start it. I actually did a cut on my Dad’s hair yesterday without my Mum’s supervision. Obviously before, she was their with me but this time I did it on my own and she observed the cut… She passed it as good!
        (It was a grade to his already shortish hair… It was a grade 2, with the cap on the graders and then without the cap and then scissors to clean it up around the ears etc.)

        Uh-oh! Well at least it is still on the Cosmetology side. Good luck with that, Michael!

        Yes I will kick arse, I’ll be going for it.
        The only thing I’m slightly anxious about is that as well as studying at College, I’ll be working a little at my work place and also have a boyfriend that I’ll have been with for 10 months… At the moment we live two hours away form each other, so my time will be minuscule.

        Do you have any suggestions?
        Have a great day!

  21. As a salon owner, and not a stylist. I’m am offended that my stylists are constantly asking the clients for their information after I have all clients fill out a new client form at the front desk.
    I feel this gives the clients a negative impression of my salon. And, that the stylists are up to no good. I give the stylists a print out of their schedules each day with each clients name on it.
    They can get further client info at end of day if they need it by asking me.
    Any salon that I have been at, the front desk has only asked for my information, and not again by the stylist.
    I don’t ask for their color formulas since I had a few stylist who created a war over this in the past. I decided to let it go. But, it leaves me vulnerable if I don’t have a client’s formula when a stylist calls out sick or leave me and the client wants to know we have their color formula. I just have to trust that my all my stylists can create that formula. Which I make sure when I hire and test their knowledge of color formulation.
    I would love some feedback on this topic of stylists taking client info behind my back.
    Does any other salons doe this?

    • This is a huge no-no. Do you have a manual? This is in my employment contract. And all colour formulas are to be entered into the computer, no records of this information is to be kept anywhere other than the salon equipment.

      A judge has recently decided all this information is the property of the salon.

      You need to have clear guidelines set out for client information and what your policy is going to be when staff leaves regarding what you will say to the client.

      I tell staff I will always attempt to retain the client but will also give correct information as to where the stylist has gone.

      Get a reasonable non-compete and then an employment contract in place. You are going to have some issues here making this change but in the long run it’s the right move.

      • Thank you Michael. When I first opened my salon, almost 4 years ago, it was with some really bad seeds in this industry.They came to me. I thought they would be good for my new business since they had some followings which gave me some business to start with. They were in the industry over 10 years. Which I thought would be good for any new stylist to learn from seasoned stylists like them. Boy did they learn!!
        They learned how not to respect ownership!
        But, I was so new to this industry at that time. And, I was very overwhelmed with opening a new business. From everything to design, building, management, etc. And they knew and could see I was. They were such smooth talkers who promised to help me with the transition of opening a new salon in this town with all their experience in the industry. That being said, it seemed like it would be a good fit/beginning for my new business.
        I gave these people nothing but respect and trust for their experience and time in the industry. And, in the end they worked against me constantly trying to get everything in their/ stylists favor by using the fact that I wasn’t a stylist against me all the time.They fought me on every issue. That in order to keep a staff at all, I had to pick and choose my battles very carefully. And, allow them to do get away with things for the sake of keeping business.
        Luckily, the location I chose is on a very busy main street with a dally high % of new walk in business. I realized I didn’t have to rely on these horrible people for their followings.
        So, I had to clean out house and get rid of the toxicity they created. It was very hard.
        But, once my existing staff knew that this group was stealing from the business and constantly trying to steal their clients. They were happy to to see them go as well. I had the girlfriend of one these bad stylists working at my front desk. She was constantly feeding him all the new clients with every excuse under the sun why he should get them. She was a bully, and I didn’t know how afraid my staff was of her and her boyfriend and, yes, even her sister. I know!! I will never hire a related group of employees like that ever again!! Big mistake on my part!!
        I also found out around my town that these players told many people, that they owned my salon. They got away with it because in the beginning I wasn’t there as much as I should have been.
        It didn’t take long for the rest of the staff to realize how much new growth with new clients and retention they had gained after these people left. A good portion of the staff has stayed with me. But, to undo all the bad habits of what that group did, has been ongoing for me still.
        The ongoing issues I have been left with is that of some stylists still constantly asking clients for information behind my back after I get it at the front desk. And, still not giving color formulas.
        What state did the judge rule that all information is property of the salon?
        If there is a site I can go to to retrieve some info on that, I would appreciate if you can pass on to me.
        I can’t tell you how good it feels to be able to express all of this to another salon owner who understands and can share and who has offered me honest advice.
        Thank you again!

  22. This is absolutely beautiful and brilliant all at once. Thank you for sharing. I completely agree with booth rental.

  23. Great article! I’ve been searching a nice blog like this. thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  24. u are great
    thank u so much

  25. I’m 26 years in!!!!everything you said…right in point..I started as stylist/booth I am an owner 23years in…having a hard time transitioning with being booked solid for two weeks to booking 8 to 10 clients per week now.Im doing a total do-over.Retail is priority one.A lot of clients are returning to their natural roots…I only serviced chemically and color treated hair.Now I’m back in school!!!Not literally, but I’m doing research to reinvent myself and my business. To stay on top of this business we need to stay educated and keep up with this revolving world.I truly enjoyed reading your articles

  26. This is the best article I love it thanks for teaching and expressing, sometimes that’s what we have to do, and teach other people while were going through, God bless have a good night 🙂

  27. Love your blog! It is all so true and so genuine! I’ve owned my salon now for seven years, I can totally relate to what you are saying!! Thankfully we started as a four chair salon and moved almost a year ago to a bigger space with 9 chairs! Definitely doing the tier system, no other way to grow organically. I have a couple questions for you. I’d be so grateful for advice.
    We are converting our old paper appointment book to a beautiful Mac desk top and Ipad for employees to update their color formulas, once we enter in all the client data base. We want everyone’s cooperation with making the necessary updates, whether it be writing on paper and passing it along to our receptionist or their assistant to update into the Ipad etc. Technically they could enter it our software through their phone, but I feel the business should provide them with that.

    What are your thoughts on once your business is “computerized”, asking the employees to keep formulas in the computer so everyone can access them? We want a clean, modern look with out the clutter of “color boxes and books”, while also retaining records for us to have in the inevitable event that one decides to leave. It would also run more smoothly when a colorist is sick and someone else needs to apply the color on the client.

    With the software for salon now, we can do everything from our Ipads, Iphones and laptops, no need for the stylist to have a formula book, (but for their own back up), which I totally get, and being a stylist myself, would do to protect myself.

    So my question is how do I explain to them that their color boxes and books need to be out of sight, and all formulas need to be logged into the salon’s new system, without them becoming defensive about it?

    sorry this is obnoxiously long! but any feedback would be awesome!!



    • Hi Teresa,

      This is an interesting one. Are the staff renters or employees? If renters, obviously you just leave them to do their thing and try to get the new renters on board. It’s hard to totally change something.

      But if they are employees then your contract should state that all information is the property of the salon. They were hired and paid to do people’s hair so formulas are to stay in the salon on the new filing system in the computer. You have to be very careful here though. It’s emotional, and I would guess that most people have their client’s contact info in these files. First you need to have a meeting and tell them this is what you want to do and ask them what their resistance and or concerns are. Then make sure you address the issues.

      I would put a computer on the colour bar or away from the desk so they can access the formulas. Make it fun for them and explain how they will look more professional to the clients. More professional means that we all make more money.

      Just make it easy and so that they see it makes sense.

      • Thank you so much for your response. I greatly appreciate your advice. We have employees, not renters. Am I understanding you correctly when I say that you are suggesting that after the formulas are entered, any files and info they have they should keep home and out of the salon? We feel that is how it should be, is that too harsh?
        We have no issue with them keeping their own copy of a formula if/when they modify it for existing clients and new clients. We would, however, prefer that they don’t, ask new clients for their personal contact information. Is that too restrictive? What is your policy and thoughts on this topic?

        We had a meeting yesterday the many reasons we are excited about the software and system. We talked about having a better system for tracking inventory. Since changing color lines recently, we’ve had issues keeping enough color in stock. (Getting used to a new color line and which shades are used more etc.) I am hoping this new software will help with the constant inventory shortage. If everyone cooperates with entering the formulas it will be a lot easier for us to track usage, not to mention the staff being happier that the color they need is there.
        We told them all of the reasons entering as much data as possible will benefit the salon as whole i.e.. less mistakes on scheduling, not having a product in stock, being modern, more fun etc etc.) . We are providing an Ipad for them to use at the color bar to access their formulas and modify them as needed. We got resistance from them, mostly insecurities and concerns that us having the formulas would allow us to tell the receptionist to book their clients with another stylist if they couldn’t accommodate them, another was “what if I get fired?” (ironically this comment was made by one of our top performing stylists who works her ass off and I’d never dream of firing, so really what she meant was “what if I decide the grass is greener”). After the meeting was over they said they understood, however my business partner and I felt uneasy.
        We are moving along with the plan in place to make this a more modern and hip place to work where the business is run smoothly and everyone is successful.

        What is your opinion on how we handle this if moving forward they are not cooperating with the data entries and would you allow your staff to ask their clients for their contact info moving forward? My major hesitancy is the clients feeling an disunited, disconnected team. Again, sorry for the novel entry. You are awesome and I want to book a workshop up there with my staff sometime soon. Thanks again!


      • Hi Teresa,

        Sorry this has taken so long. I’ve moved and been renovating.

        I will respond properly to this next week when I have some time. Great questions.

  28. Love this! I can see myself from every point of view mentioned in this blog. I have been a booth renter, worked for corporate, worked on commission and now own a salon that is almost 4 years old.

    I have had many ups and downs with staffing, keeping stylists happy and what not. I finally have a system in place, but the stylists are wanting more commission. I have a tiered level system in place in my small 6 chair salon, offer paid vacations after 1 year, bonus for product sales (10% commission and $50 extra for every $500 product sold), have high walk in traffic (84 new guests came last month) and still seem to struggle keeping stylists happy and not wanting to leave.

    Any suggestions?

    Also, what is a good way to implement a handbook and non compete contract when there hasn’t been one set in place previously?

    Thanks! Keep up the great articles and advice!

  29. I’m interested in starting a very large salon with stylist, barbers, manicure, pedicure, Color Bar etc. My thought is to open with new stylist (recent graduates) and newly licensed personnel and build from there. I want to get them a lot of training as employees. My goal is to be like a warehouse establishment. What’s your thought?

  30. What a great read, I hope you don’t mind I printed this and handed out at my last staff meeting, every one of my stylist loved it, one of the girls even stole some lines and printed them off, framed them, and hung them at her station 🙂 Thank you, I as the owner learned so much from this.

  31. Thanks for the article, I am sharing with my staff today! You make so many great points!

  32. I absolutely agree and love every word you wrote!! Been in the business for 40 years and salon owner with 4 stations for 37 and have experienced it all! Happy New Year to you and hope this is your best year ever!!!

  33. A lot of truthin your statement,thankyou for sharing Michael.looking forward to your 1000 hairstyle’s

  34. Wonderful. I can’t wait to share this at work.

  35. Great blog. Very informative.

  36. I’ve been in the industry 26 years,as a full time stylist. These tips are spot on. I’ve got clients that have been coming regularly for that entire time. One thing I’d add is to give a fair chance to a new place. I’ve been in the same salon for 23 years,and only one other salon prior. If you’re not getting or retaining clients,the issue is most likely you the stylist,not the salon or location….reread these tips and start over! Great article!

  37. This is a manifesto that could serve as a foundation for hiring stylists and assistants. Along with the education I’ve received and direction from some of the most amazingly talented stylists, the words here are just as valuable. Thank you for the clarity that leaves no questions unanswered. This IS the approach for the modern hairdresser to keep moving forward.

  38. Great read , super informative ! I’m a sponge to this Blog!

  39. Great blog !!!
    Have you heard about team based pay ??
    I have been in the industry for 22 years and have owned my salon for 9 . I recently survived a flood and lost everything . My salon was closed for 3 months and I ran my salon out of plastic containers in my cousins salon . Thank God for
    Her .
    I lost.a Lot of clients and am staring over . I lost my staff for various reasons . Most of them made career changes . I have also survived a partnership breakup that happened in the beginning of my business .
    Yes it is a rolercoasternride .
    I hve decided to start to give presentatios in schools . I am passilinate about teaching and I love new talent . I have grown my own since day one and practice team based pay . I am down to one full time hairdresser and a part timer who recently retuned .
    I am going to continue to grow my own . It’s all about serving . We serve our employees and our clients . It’s not about me . I want to give back to the industry . I so grateful to still be in business after what I endured in 2014 .
    Great blog !!

  40. Thanks for the great read Michael! Also thank you for taking the time to write and share. I know as a business owner it helps to get things off our chest where there may actually be others who understand our struggles. I’m right there with ya and your information is also great for ANY service business.

    I started out in the hair industry 35 years ago and transitioned to a spa owner 12 years ago thinking it would be different. It’s the same one even worse than owning a salon. It truly is a roller coaster ride and not for the weak or lazy. Although I have had a few good staff members over the years, most have treated me with such disrespect and hostility its a wonder I have lasted this long in this industry. It doesn’t seem to matter how hard we work at creating a great place to work, most employees and renters alike will eventually view us as devils of an evil empire, rolling in piles of cash and just waiting to screw them over.

    We are mearly humble servants to beauty, striving to be the very best, to bring joy to our guests, by creating an environment which allows others to share in our passion to serve others. We perform our craft out of love for others and the beauty and happiness we can create. We are overworked, overwhelmed, underpaid, under appreciated, over taxed, passionate and driven.

    We will continue to run across others who are jealous or envious of what we have created. They see their own inadequices and try to compensate by hurting others. It’s important to spot these people as soon as possible and replace them with people who want to be part of your culture and help the company grow.

    Find your truth, whatever that may be and surround yourself with like minded individuals. There will be bumps in the road, or even brick walls being hurled at you. Try to enjoy the journey and get out of it if your heart and mind are suffering too much. It’s not worth sacrificing your health.

    If you have never owed a business, especially a salon or spa, you don’t have a clue as to what your boss is going through and your opinion probably means very little. They have sacrificed everything, taken all the risk and mortgaged their life to the hilt to create a place for you to work and an industry where you can have a career. So cut him/her some slack, be giving and gracious, put in some hard work, be humble and thankful and don’t expect that the world owes you a living. If you are not busy, and complain all the time, look in the mirror. You create your own success. Do you think your boss sat around feeling sorry for themselves, no, they worked their butt off so you would have a place to work.

    You choose your path, if you cannot walk it with happiness and gratitude, find a different path.

  41. Wow, I thought I was reading out of my own journal. Here’s to those of us, who have suffered great losses yet have come out stronger and better for it.. I myself had an anguishing past year and now I am actually enjoying my salon again, the negative energy is gone, there are new stylist who are eager to learn and whom the clients love, the phone is ringing off the hook and I see a bright future ahead. Thank you for sharing ur story and letting me see I am not alone in the way I think and conduct my salon business, for it is very much the same as a lot of your points.

  42. Great article. So truthful I fall under the few booth rental salons that doesn’t rely on the work of other salons. Never have we tried to lure anyone. We have great stylist and they love our salon because we love doing hair and making people happy. You are correct we are just landlords and our income is made behind the chair. Good thing we are so passionate about our work:)

  43. Thanks so much for sharing this!!! My Co owner and I just bought the salon we were working in as renters and oh my. I’m going to share this with him and our stylists. I needed to read this. Thanks again so much for sharing this.

  44. Great article
    So true!!

  45. Loved your Article!
    Thank you

  46. You actually make it appear so easy along
    with your presentation however I in finding this topic to be really one thing that I think
    I would by no means understand. It kind of feels too complicated and very
    broad for me. I’m taking a look ahead to your
    next publish, I’ll attempt to get the hang of it!

  47. Michael, Great story, as a 20 year distributer salon consultant. You left off a very important message. The salon owner needs to have a great relationship and partnership with their distributer consultant. I help my salon owners plan, reach their goals, get the education into their salon to not only motivate the staff but to inspire and help them make a better living. i know that not all salon consultants parter with owners the way i have over my career, but if you find a good one they will be more beneficial to your business than anyone else outside your salon.

  48. Pingback: See You In New York! | My Life As A Hairstylist

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