My Life As A Hairstylist

Salon owner, hairstylist, educator, product maker, photographer

It’s a Hard Lesson for Hairstylists



You’ve heard it before and it’s a wonderful ego stroke; your clients praising your genius and telling you they will follow you to the ends of the Earth.

“I can’t live without you, I will follow you anywhere.”
“Nobody has ever done my hair as well as you.”
“I need you to come live with me and do this every morning.”

And then suddenly you realize it’s been months since her last visit and she isn’t booked for anything upcoming. You stalk her Facebook page and see she doesn’t have roots. Maybe she even unfriended you.

You did her wedding hair, you were with her through the tough times, supported her through the break-ups, did her baby’s first haircut. You were a part of all her major milestones. She was more than just a client. What happened?

There are a lot of reasons clients move on. And it is usually something small that we aren’t even aware of. But often it comes down to a couple of things:

  • If you are always running 10 minutes behind, she eventually got sick of it and started walking in already expecting to be frustrated with your lateness. And you probably delivered.
  • Someone somewhere along the line didn’t treat her like the valued customer that she deserved to be treated as.
  • The parking became more trouble than it was worth.
  • You were too hard to get in with or your schedule changed.
  • You were no longer delivering on the hair.

But there is a common issue that confuses most of us, given the relationship we thought we had established; you became too familiar and too casual with your service.

Maybe it started with you telling her to help herself to coffee, or making a small crack about something you thought would be OK but for her was off-limits. It didn’t happen right away, it had built up to a point where once you could do no wrong, now you could barely do anything right. In her mind. It might have been that she was just having a bad day and there was one tiny thing that set her off.

Here is a list of things you can do to try to retain your clients for as long as you can:

  • Never become too familiar. Always treat them like a VIP. You may make jokes but be incredibly protective of their experience with the salon.
  • Pre-book your clients. It protects you from her co-workers and friends trying to lure her to their stylist.
  • Have a plan for her hair. For the same reason as above. But even more importantly, a plan means you are always making her hair priority number 1 during visits. And this is where we often fail with longer-term clients.
  • Sit down each visit and have a consultation. Shut up and LISTEN.
  • Good hair is not enough. Everyone expects good hair or else they wouldn’t go to you. To make someone a raving fan, you have to go way above and beyond a good haircut or colour.
  • Be enthusiastic about her appointment. When you see certain names on your book you get excited to see that person. Tell them.
  • Mirror their energy. If your client is up, be up. If she is quieter, be quieter.
  • Always finish her hair. Even if the assistant or another stylist does 99% of the blow-out, get in there and apply some product, tweak the look, fix the bangs up and do a little dry cutting.
  • Try to stay on schedule at all times. If you are always late, fix it.
  • Raise your prices. Yes, raise your prices. For me, it makes sure I am always performing at the highest levels. You can’t raise your price without improving service. So set yourself up for a few months by performing at the highest level you can. And then raise your price.
    And understand that for a client to see value at your $70 haircut price, you have to give a $100 service. For this, if you don’t know what that looks like, go to the Four Seasons and have lunch or dinner. You will see the difference. But raise your prices for new clients even more, so that your older clients are still rewarded for their loyalty.

I have lost clients I have gone way above and beyond for, who have begged for favours and to be squeezed in repeatedly. My wife has lost an entire family she adored and thought she was very close with because they found someone a little closer to home a $5 cheaper.

We are therapists, shoulders to cry on, part of a select few they share their darkest secrets with, yes. But ultimately we are their hairdressers. They have a lot of options out there and eventually will find themselves in someone else’s chair. Maybe they will come back, maybe they won’t. So we keep giving great hair and being whoever they need us to be at that time. And it’s OK to love them. I currently have several clients I feel so strongly about. I absolutely love them. But I know at some point I will likely lose them for some reason or another.

Never forget, clients are where your living comes from and we are where their professional hair services come from.


Addendum: A quick story about how I lost a long-term client.

2 years ago my father was in the hospital and given 6 days to live. Leukemia. He had battled cancer and had been in remission for the 3 months prior to this so it caught us off guard.

I was visiting him every night after work but never missed a day. I never miss a day.

My long-term client “Brenda” had been incredibly high maintenance for years. She was funny and dramatic and always needed to be squeezed in because she always had an “event.” She was shallow, exhausting and kind of awful but fun for a visit every month.

On Tuesday my wife calls me while I am doing highlights on another client. She has been in a car accident with my 2 young boys. She’s about 2 miles away. I pass off the client to another stylist and go straight there. It’s a bad accident but thankfully nobody is badly hurt and the kids are fine but scared.

We deal with the paramedics and police etc and I take my family home in my car, about 45 minutes away. I had decided to cancel the rest of my day as it would have been another 45 minutes back to the city and I was kind of emotionally drained at this point. And it was only 2 clients and I would squeeze them in throughout the rest of the week. One of those clients was Brenda.

Later that night my wife told me I should go see my dad. I didn’t want to but decided to. I spent an hour with him and he was in completely different condition than he was the day before. He died a few hours after I left.

I had to cancel my week for obvious reasons. I was suddenly in charge of setting up a funeral, dealing with things I had never done before.

Brenda was now angry. “I don’t want to sound like a bitch, but I have an event.” I made sure she was set up with a stylist she had been with several times for blow-outs and that I would take care of her the following week for her roots. Or she could see the other stylist. I was dealing with these calls from the funeral home.

Brenda never came back. She cancelled her upcoming appointments and said she had found someone else and she was happy with them.

I had put up with more drama from this one person than any other client ever. I am glad she is out of my life, but am still am insulted and hurt that after 8 years she would leave me because she was inconvenienced.


120 thoughts on “It’s a Hard Lesson for Hairstylists

  1. This was an amazing read thank you !!!! We all have that one client that doesn’t care about us or what we are going through and only them selves !!! So I’m sorry she had that affect on you happy she is with someone else but feel bad for the next stylist.

  2. I think it is very sad that people think it is ok to disrespect us as hairstylists. We go out of out way for the clients treat them with the upmost respect than they up and leave out of nowhere after years and years without so much as an explanation. I think it is a horrible way to treat a human being I have had clients of 25 years never come back without so much as a word and I mean people I have gone above and beyond for, so yea it is hurtful, I have had clients flipping out when I couldn’t work because my five year old niece died these people were actually angry at me, if you want to lose all faith in mankind be a hairstylist!! I cannot believe I still have to deal with this garbage!! the girls I work with are stuck up clicky, nasty, witches it is so disturbing. Everyone staring yku up and down and watching and scrutinizing all your work as well as listening to every word you say. I’m in the process of rethinking my options. I feel better than the person I have to pretend to be to get ahead in this superficial business, I would like to be in a field in which I can really help and make some kind of a positive impact.

    • I understand. This industry can kick our asses, but I believe the positives far outweigh the negatives for the most part. I believe we do very important work and can have incredible impact on the world around us.
      But when it really starts to grind you down too much, you have to get out.

    • Hairstylist can also disrespect and be rude to the client. They look you up and down and try to figure out if you should be in their fancy salon.
      I just went to one of these salon for a consultation yesterday. The hairstylist was so mean she practically made me feel like a monster she looked at my hair with such disgust and did not even touch my hair. Everything I asked her she just directed me to go elsewhere. “How are you coloring your hair?” “Well just keep doing that you seem fine with it” What? ” I don’t do the Brazilian blow out I need to refer you out.” “Who cut your hair before?” “Oh yes he died a month ago but his brother works here, go to him. I will refer you to him.” What the heck?
      I am a mother of four and I run a small business. I work 75 hour weeks but am very successful. I have little time for myself. My hair is frizzy she called it wiry. I just wanted help with a low maintenance cut and style for my busy lifestyle. She looked at me disgusted as if I could not pay her fees. I have over 4 million in the bank not including a 3 million dollar home (paid off), stocks, rentals and many other assets. You cannot judge a book by its cover. Busy people cannot always look polished. I felt sad the whole evening and next day. I feel as if high end salons only have stylist that want to style hair on beautiful 20 year olds with already perfect hair. Just wanted you to know the rudeness works both ways.

      • Hi Beatriz,

        Absolutely no question. There are some really nasty people out there, stylists and salon owners as well.

        You shouldn’t need to have a dime to your name beyond the price you are paying for your hair in order to be treated like a valued customer in any salon. But a lot do give people the once over and judge. It’s incredibly shallow and rude and the sooner those salons and stylists die out the better. I HATE snobbery anywhere.

      • This breaks my heart that this person made you feel this way. Please know that as hairstylists, we don’t all behave this way. Not a single person in this world should make you feel less than you deserve. Good riddance to her! Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes and colors AND hair textures. And what a celebration that is! You are enough! I hope you found your perfect salon.

    • Iam sorry feeling your pain. God forbid you be late call in sick do not return call fast enough all of a sudden your a horrible hairstylist! Glad to know that I not the only one who disappoints folks.

      • I’m really glad to know that it happens to all of us at one time or another. I work really hard at trying to please all my clients. I’ve had some quit coming because of sickness and because of convenience like going somewhere closer to home. I feel bad and wish I could fix whatever it is but sometimes I think some quit cause they need a change and it gives you a break from them cause maybe you need a change too! Lol

  3. I personally have found most stylists to be very pleasant people. In addition I would not want to ever hurt someone’s feelings or be rude in any situation.

    There are, however experiences I have had in the last 4 months with stylists that have made me wonder if my communication skills are lacking, or is there a trend for stylists to only half listen, and then give you the look THEY want you to have, instead of what you asked for.

    Also after I have explained what I wanted and ask them to reiterate it, and they do so, it still turns out to be Not what I asked for.

    These are lovely sweet stylists. I
    feel they somehow are distracted, half listening, or already have in their minds what they think I need.

    I’m learning nowadays, its wise to bring a picture of what I want, to ask them to Show me what they mean by words like caramel, Smokey, cream, blend, undercut, build, pull, etc.

    Alot of misunderstandings occurred because they were using terms of the salon trade which they did not explain to me.

    Yesterday I was accused of trying to leave the salon without paying. I was not happy with my color at all. I was trying to pay and get out of there. I had never been there. I went to the waiting area up front, where I thought there was a reception desk.

    I did not know you paid the stylist at the chair.

    So not only was I shocked at what the stylist had done to my hair, because she did not listen to me, I was humiliated because I didn’t know where to pay, because both the stylist and the owner were actually angry with me because I did not like my hair.

    I sat in my car and cried.

    I’m 62. The stylist was about 25.

    The rudeness of the stylist and the owner was breathtaking.

    • Liz, this breaks my heart to read. I truly hope that the next person you sit with takes the time to understand you and is patient with their communication.

      Stop people on the street with hair you like and ask them who does it. Once you hear the same stylist’s name twice, go in for a consultation, and definitely bring a few pictures.

      Explain your past problems with communication to the stylist and hopefully this person’s personality and energy is a good match for you.

      Most importantly, if the hair looks OK, not too bad, stick with the stylist so they can build on it. Once you get to know and trust one person, you will start to have good experiences.

      I’m sorry that our industry has let you down. I hope it gets better for you.

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  6. Thanks for sharing the story! It is a hard lesson to learn, I have some clients that feel like sisters, second moms, I have had clients still show up the day the found out a loved one passed away and stayed for a coffee after. Sometimes I’m the first person they tell they’re pregnant to! I recently just had some clients leave for convenience to other friends of mine in the industry. The hardest part was those friends not redirecting the clients back once I was back from vacation. Ouch!

  7. Absolutely feel better a clients daughter made me feel like shit i run a small salon my partner left so you can bet I get tired of washing towels cleaning booking and customer service just in general. Called on Monday I checked messages tues To my knowledge call but no answer. Text his daughter only to get Iam terrible my haircuts are horrible and I’m embrassing myself for saying I called cause I didn’t. Why must we constantly talked this disrespectful treatment it is going to be hard just to go to work tomorrow cause I feel like a failure ! Iam sick of public , never said I was the best but i been turning the key to my shop for 4 years and I know i am pleasing some wow how some can really make you feel awful.

  8. I know it’s not Kool to leave a client at the door waiting for you but it happens not everyday is a great day 💩

  9. Dear Michael! I have just happened upon your blog while trying to sort out my feelings of sadness that a dear client (friend) has informed me that she would now be seeing someone else because her schedule was more workable for her. Reading what you have had to say has made me revisit why I do what I do..I am a caring kind hairstylist who problem is getting too attached to my clients..if one moves on for whatever reason, I am sensitive and sad and take it personally. My job is often the only social life I have and my clients mean the world to me. It is especially hard living in a smaller town as there is a high chance of bumping into clients who have left and I am often left in an awkward situation ducking behind the watermelons in the produce section to avoid an encounter! I need to learn where to draw the line between client and friend!

  10. Found this when I search “what to do when you are angry with your hairdresser.” I appreciated your advice to LISTEN during the consultation. My hair was recently savaged by a stylist I had been seeing for almost a year. I had been growing out a layer, had finally got it where I wanted, told her that, only to have her cut the layer back in even shorter than it had been at the start. Had she really been listening all those months when I reminded her each month that I was growing out that layer?

  11. I am looking for a new place. Here is my story why I have gone to this place for almost 2 years now but never again. Started with the owner and he is the only one who I request to do my hair. Well… it has now been 4 times now he has switched me off to someone else. Why do owners do that?! I made the appointment with HIM.
    The first time he did this, I saw he was busy so I figured he had to. Then I found out that lady had walked in and said she had “a hair emergency” and so I guess my appointment did not matter. I did not say anything that time nor the others until this last time.
    I got there, early as usual, he goes ahead and takes me to his chair. It is just a root touchup and he literally just goes back and does the mix, comes in and does maybe 5 minutes and then the rest of his employees come in. He stops and tells me that Samantha will be finishing me. I say, “ohhhh… I thought you were going to do my hair.” And he says that Samantha is now his assistant and will be helping him with all of his clients.
    Samantha is really nice. I enjoyed talking to her. But she gave me a crappy shampoo. She left a dark ring on my face. And worst of all, she colored over my highlights by taking what was left in the dish, mixing in my root color with the rest of my hair! When she did that I worried about it but did not say anything. I left with wet hair so I was not entirely sure. I wanted to cry when it dried to see my highlights were gone.
    I am trying not to take this personally. I would like to think I am a nice person. I come early, prepared to wait for my appointments. I make my appointments early, not last minute. I think I tip well… (root touch up is $45 and) I always leave a $20. So why am I getting someone passed along to someone else? The first time was the only time he had double booked. This and the other times he just used that time to go sit in the back (passed him sitting back and chatting while I went to shampoo).
    The ironic part is that before he stopped doing my hair, he told me that he was really counting on referrals because they are just barely making it at this location. So he pushed that there is a discount for every client sent to him. I would never recommend my friends to get this treatment. I don’t think I deserve this treatment. 😦

    • Hi Sue,

      Sorry this took so long.

      Your former hairdresser is an idiot and doesn’t deserve you as a client or to achieve success.

      If there is an emergency I understand. As an owner, sometimes things will happen that call us away. But you are paying for the top stylist in the salon and anyone who touches you should be as good as he is. I personally don’t do my own shampoos anymore but I make sure that whoever does them is very good and will give a better massage than I will.

      There is an old saying in our business; We don’t need more customers, we just need to take care of the ones we have, really well.”

      All the best.

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