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.

36 thoughts on “In Defense of “Expensive” Hairdressers

  1. Very well on 🙂

  2. Eloquently put Michael. We are in the best industry in the world. As you said “WE” decide how much we earn, where else can you do that? But as you point out so many earn less than they really should.

    As for the article, what a complete load of shit! The comparison is stupid to say the least. That’s like saying the car salesman whom I buy my $35000 car from, which takes him all of 30 mintues in paperwork because I have most likely decided to purchase the car before I went in, is pocketing the full $35K when the reality is he probably gets a meager wage and a small commission.

  3. Having spent 20 years as a DSC in the beauty biz, now retired I believe that I’ve heard it all, from both the owner’s and stylist’s points of view. After reading your response Michael ( which is excellent) as well as the original article from the newspaper, I can honestly say, that is the most ridiculous, unrealistic piece I have ever read about the salon industry. The writer obviously did not research the salon/spa industry to find out the pay scales of the folks involved.

  4. Ridiculous article!
    Get your facts, as well, your $ numbers straight!
    Not every client- is a 2 hour color client, for starters, so we are not making those $ all day, everyday.
    There is no set pay for hairstylists (beyond minimum wage, and even with that,
    our ‘earnings’ have to exceed m/w to stay employed in those chain salons),
    our tips are reported, and there are no benefits, retirement, etc.
    We are regularly coerced (heartedily discouraged) from participating in any unions,
    or any type of professional organizations, that provide some kind of protections to us in the industry,
    I enjoy the industry, and the profession, but it is not the ‘cakewalk’ you assume it to be.

  5. As a salon owner and stylist for 45 yrs. and very proud of that fact I have contended my whole career with ignorance such as that ridiculous article. Comments like your quite smart ever think of doing something really worthwhile ? These sorts of comments stick in a little part of our brain and articles like this one in the Vancouver Sun make me sick. However as I am that much older I can look back and think about all the unhappy ” professionals” I have worked on , all the complaining clients, all the negative shit we all hear but I choose to remember we all make choices and I chose to be a stylist and I’m not negative or miserable because yes we do have control over our salarys and hours and this is something I don’t think most people in the work force have. To an outsider we always look like we are having a blast and guess what we are. As Lou Reed once sang “all you silly girls with all your silly back talk can all go take a fu…ing walk”

  6. And true reality is if a salon owner wants to stay in business, they can afford to pay 30-40% commission to the stylist. The rest goes to all of the above mentioned bills. Profit in a salon is usually 3%, which is cut to negative numbers when a higher commission is paid. The general public is usually uneducated in salon finances, leaving salon owners looking greedy.

    • That’s why I have this owner not making any money. We tend to overpay. Salon owners are usually harping on staff about numbers because we are barely surviving or are losing money each month.
      We look greedy but are actually desperate.

  7. Thank you! This is well thought out and beautifully written. Thank you for standing up for us and explaining the reality of being a commission stylist. I’ve recently moved to booth rental but the scenario is not much different. After I pay my rent, taxes and other fees it’s about the same as commission. I’ve worked very hard for 15 years in this industry and deserve what I charge.
    Thanking you again, I hope a lot of people will be inspired by your words and that many clients will be educated.

  8. Loved your article. Well said. Well written.

  9. This is correct information.

  10. Check your facts for inflation rate. I agree with most of this article as I’m a hairdresser, but that % is ridiculous. 2015 there was a deflation.

    • Hi Larry, you are right. I was speaking in terms of general rising costs of living as well. The Canadian dollar has plummeted over the last year and I live in the most expensive real estate market in North America, which is where the author lives and had her service.

  11. After wasting my time
    Reading this absurd article written by Shelley Fralic followed by all the comments from us talented, educated, artistic, compassionate, therapists, Hairstylists, professionals posted, I applaud each and everyone of you Hairstylists who took the time out of your hectic busy schedules (eg. not having eaten anything because a client was late and put us behind for the rest of the day, so we are now working overtime) furthermore not receiving overtime pay.., and this is only one example of many other comparisons ) for being so caring and passionate for defending and protecting our industry and stating all the facts. Well said !!!
    On the other side of the shallow spectrum .. ATTENTION Shelley Fralic, all the services provided to you in our industry, surprise .., we just increased our prices, to reflect all of the therapy sessions you will require while sitting in our chairs!! Good luck finding a hairstylist!!!

    P.S. Hairstylist’s…,,lets keep making this world beautiful …one haircut at a time!!!

    Mimma Vero
    Salon owner, educator, plattform artist

  12. Thank you for such a true perspective on our industry! Much love to you (and all my fellow stylists)!!!

  13. Very well put! I have been in the industry for 14 years and have seen a lot as well. I have been an assistant, colorist, stylist, manager and now self-employed salon owner ( so now I do everything and more). We work long hours, we take people that are late ( and hope that doesn’t screw us over for the rest of the day) as we need to get paid. Raising our prices every year by a few bucks shouldn’t make that much of a difference to a client, but to us it may just be to cover our expenses. I just recently spent $5000 on a Toronto advanced hair training course… Who do you think pays for that? Ummm, me! To better myself and make myself more valuable and knowledgable to my clients. I just last year implemented a 48 hour cancellation policy as cancellation without notice when booked for months not only do I NOT make money, it took away from someone that really could have taken that spot. I work my butt off 24/7 and expect the same respect with my job. Do I wish I made a salary? Yes, but in our industry….that just doesn’t happen. I pride myself as a professional stylist, not “just a hairdresser” ( as some people may be thinking this industry is good for making quick money). I am in it for the long-haul. Wish I had a pension, but I am responsible for that. If clients really had to pay us what we really do for them and what we are worth ( besides giving them great hair) ….Please add counselling services redenderred to that and personal stylist for fashion tips. Oh! And entertainment for however long they are in the chair. Ps, I live in Vancouver and the median income you need just to survive is $129,000 or something close to that. Services charged have a lot to do with the location. I really hope who reads this understand that hairdressers have always played an important role in society, I mean come on, who doesn’t like a great makeover? We do that everyday, a lot of pressure for someone. We are like plastic surgeons for hair!

  14. Very well put.
    The flashy illusion of our industry can lead some into making baseless opinionated assumptions, but just because art is subjective doesn’t mean the artist behind it is.

  15. Thankyou for writing this article. Amen to everything you said!!

  16. Your story is insightful. Usually Hairstylist are respected especially if they are awesome at their job. Recently I saw pictures of Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago where there were hairstylist on deck to fix up the women’s hair as they enjoy the party atmosphere. So I totally agree hairstylist have the control of the wheel as to how much they can make especially if they are creative like that Carnival band to have makeup artist and hairstylist on deck.

  17. Being a stylist for about 13 years I can say that the industry is filled with horrible salon owners who do what they can to take advantage of the stylist. In fact the person who wrote that bull shit blog forgets to mention most of the time the stylist is left paying the product costs which is against the law as far as employment standards goes and also has to give 55-50% to the salon. We need to have a union so that these scum bag schools that pop up teach 6 months worth of crap to juniors and send them out like sheep amongst the wolves and protect them and us from bad salon owners. That whole write up was so absurd.

  18. Well done Michael 🙂

  19. Such a great write up Michael thank you from myself and I am sure many other stylist 🙂

  20. Thank you, Michael Levine, for writing that and for your comment on the actual article page on Vancouver Sun. I also wrote a lengthy comment but it was nowhere as well written as yours:)

    I think it’s sweet that she thinks nurses should be paid more because I think nurses, and paramedics, and teachers, everyone, should be valued for the work they do and be paid fairly. I’m just not going to shame everyone else and the lifestyle choices they make, and put down another profession that has nothing to do with public service. What she did was almost the same as going to a Starbucks, counting the number of beverages sold in one day, totaling the amount of money everyone paid, then dividing that number up by the number of baristas in the store that day, and assuming that’s what each person takes home. If you’re going to talk about nurses, then stick with nurses. If you want to complain about how you spent so much money on a most likely annual hair appointment, then you should be having that conversation with yourself, right?

  21. Wow what a great blog Michael, glad we found it

  22. Love this blog!!! Right on point!

  23. Inspiring! No more fear! Time to raise my prices damn it

  24. Michael, the writer of the article in the Vancouver newspaper is dillusional, not only because she doesnt know or understand the math in our industry, but she is also WAAAAAAAYYYYY off base with nurses salaries….. grant it, it can vary from state to state, region to region, and country to country, but generally speaking, nurse s hourly salaries in many, many cases go OVER 40 dollars per hour, plus many hospitals pay shift bonuses of anywhere from $100 to $250 for working a 12 instead of an 8 hr shift, or for coming in extra. …. I know this first hand as my wife is a nurse…..

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