My Life As A Hairstylist

Salon owner, hairstylist, educator, product maker, photographer


In Defense of “Expensive” Hairdressers

Normally I write for hairstylists and salon owners. Actually normally I write simply to vent and as a cheap form of therapy for myself. Hairdressers and salon owners are just the ones who read me.

But an article came out the other day and it’s gotten a lot of attention because, well, frankly, it’s complete and utter bullshit, so this one is aimed a bit more at the consumer.

Here is the link:

In a nutshell, the author says that society values hairstylists more than nurses because her haircut and colour price was $150 AFTER TAXES AND TIP, yet nurses get paid about $30 an hour.

Quick math for the non-hairdresser, this equates to about $130 for the minimum 2 hour service pretax and assuming a somewhat meager $10 tip. I will also assume the stylist is an employee rather than a chair renter.

So the salon billed $130. From that, the cost of the products used in that service was likely about $15-$20, inclusive of the shampoo, conditioner, colour, toner, foils and styling products. In fact, it could have been substantially higher, especially if the colour needed to be re-toned. But we will look at it as $15 to be conservative.

The average salon will pay out 45%-50% commission to the stylist on this service, making the stylist’s end about $65 for the 2 hours and the salon’s take $50. From this $50, the salon pays the employee’s CPP and EI, WCB, the salon rent, hydro, property taxes and many other things. The salon in this scenario likely broke even on the service if rent is cheap,  and quite possibly lost money. In fact, I almost guarantee the salon lost money because Vancouver rent is on par with Manhattan. I know this because I pay rent in 3 locations in Vancouver and 2 in South Surrey. $10,000 a month gets you about 1700 sf in civilized Vancouver.

And the hairdresser in this situation? I guarantee this person is earning below poverty level wages. Because unless this person is 100% booked, which you wouldn’t be if you were this inexpensive, she is likely generating about $4-$5000 per month, making her end between $2K and $2500 per month and definitely doesn’t get employee benefits in this scenario. Not much to live on in perhaps the most expensive city in North America.

But enough about this particular article.

I am a firm believer in hairstylists earning a great living behind the chair. You see, this industry is one of the rare models where an employee has complete and total control of their earnings. It is up to the stylist to sink or swim. And most sink and live like the stylist in the above situation.

But for those brave enough to take this career seriously, to truly embrace the life of a hairdresser and develop mastery of their work as well as customer service, the sky is the limit. The stylist that builds strong client relationships and a reputation for great work can easily earn between $60K and $100K. And it can be much more for some. And they can enjoy benefits, vacation pay and assistants dedicated to helping them preserve their backs by doing shampoos and some of the styling work.

I believe in training stylists to promote themselves, do great work and get busy. And to gradually raise their prices each year, a little for existing clients and a lot for new ones. This keeps a stylist busy, doesn’t punish the client who supported them from the beginning, and allows the fully booked stylist to see a raise every year, or to consider working a little less and earning the same amount. Through this system, I have helped stylists go from $30 a haircut to $100 for a cut within 5 or 6 years.

You see, if your salon or stylist isn’t raising their prices by at least 10% each year, they are in fact losing money due to inflation and other rising costs. Most stylists don’t have the courage to raise prices because they haven’t performed to their potential. They don’t have a strong enough following to risk losing a few people, and frankly, they don’t deserve to raise their prices if they weren’t booked in the first place. But every day, even every client, a hairdresser can make the choice to elevate what they do and to perform to their potential. Every day a stylist can decide that this will be the day they become a professional hairstylist. Most won’t, but a few do. This is what I love about the industry; the complete control a stylist has over how they are perceived and how much they earn.

So don’t begrudge those of us who refuse to see ourselves as not worthy of a decent income like the author of the linked article does. Every single hairdresser deserves exactly how much money they are making, from the $12 haircutter in the strip mall to the man in New York getting $1200.


A Question For Stylists And Salon Owners


Hair industry friends,

I am speaking at New York IBS and I am finalizing my presentation and I need some help.

I have two questions:

What are some of the things salon owners think about stylists?

What are some things stylists think about owners?

If you comment here it won’t be made public so nobody will see what you have written except me. And I promise to delete the entire post once I have enough responses. You are totally safe to write what you want without repercussions.

Thanks so much!