My Life As A Hairstylist

Salon owner, hairstylist, educator, product maker, photographer

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Exit Strategy

My latest video blog for American Salon Magazine!

The majority of salon owners realize that there is no value to their salon when they go to sell their business.
If you create an exit strategy well in advance you may actually make some money, and your business will improve even if you don’t ever sell it.


Two Very Different Sides of the Hair Industry In 24 Hours

My good friend Russel Mayes contacted me a few months ago to see if I would present at a hair show he was putting on called HairPooloza. One of his employees, Nick Huynh was walking his broken down motorcycle on the side of the road in Orange County when he was struck by a drunk driver, who then ran. It sent him 25 feet through the air. He had just taken off his helmet.

This weekend, my wife and business partner Liz Abreu and I flew down for the event to benefit Nick. Some of the biggest names in the industry had agreed to perform on stage, and some equally big names sat in the audience and watched. I was surrounded by amazing, giving hairstylists and had a temporary break from the shitty side of salon ownership I have to deal with from time to time. I was back home for about 14 hours before being covered in it. Again.

I get a call this morning from my operations manager stating that an employee had quit without notice. She said she was not into hairdressing anymore, didn’t have a job to go to and just wanted a break. She was a keyholder and a person in a position of trust so we would need to find someone else to fill that role.

It was about 2 hours before I realized I had a new blocker in instagram and an opening for friends on Facebook. Sure enough this now former stylist was no longer my friend or follower. And she had listed a new salon as her place of employment, about 1200 yards away. A chair rental salon.

Now I have my opinions on most chair rental salon owners, I’ve written about it in another blog post so I won’t rehash it here. And I also understand why someone would want to go into rental. Most people didn’t get into hair to work a 9-5 with two 15 minute coffee breaks and a 30 minute lunch. And most successful stylists will have a degree of entrepreneurial spirit, in that their success is based on their hard work and hustle. A good employee-based salon will try to bridge the gap and allow their busier stylists some freedom while helping them to achieve more success, usually more than they would have on their own. It’s why high-end commission stylists usually charge more than high-end rental stylists.

And then there are the people who simply don’t want to be a part of a team or be told when to come to work or how to dress or behave while at work. And I understand these people too. These ones are much harder to appeal to as an owner. They will usually dig deep and tolerate the ownership and the salon rules just long enough to build a big enough clientele so that they can leave, and attempt to take that clientele with them to the new salon.

This post is for salon clients and maybe for commission or TBP stylists in the hope that maybe they will understand the unending bullshit that a salon owner goes through.  And it’s also for those salon owners, because each one of them will read this and nod their heads. And a few will probably write me to write me thanking me for writing down exactly how they feel.

When a stylist leaves the salon ethically, they give the owner 2 weeks notice and the owner will either decide to keep them on for their notice or pay them out their severance and have the person leave. I tend to pay out the severance because in order to have someone work out their notice, they would not be able to solicit their clients, which puts awkward pressure on everyone. If a stylist is going to another salon, it’s best to simply let them go and wish them luck. The arrangement we have with our staff is that we, the salon get first contact with the clients. We can do this because we never hire anyone with a clientele.

We will inform the client that their stylist has left and offer another stylist. If the client accepts, then great, we’ve retained them. If the client asks where the stylist has gone, we gladly tell them. This scenario has happened exactly once in 18 years of ownership. And we retained a fair number of those clients.

The usual way someone quits the salon is not so nice and polite. The first thing anyone will tell you if you are going to leave a salon is that you have to get your client list. Now there are lots of ways to do this, and of course social media sure helps. But often these people will directly raid the salon’s database. And it’s really easy if you have a key to the salon. Just show up 15 minutes before everyone every day for a little while and chip away at your list. Enter them in your phone while you are at the desk and before long you have your entire list.

Now once a stylist has that list, the gloves tend to come off. The stylist will reach out to their entire clientele, usually while still an employee of the salon. And very often they will have primed their clients while in the salon, badmouthing the salon here and there and making the clients believe the owner is an asshole or that the place is falling apart or that everyone is unhappy. It’s never positive, because you have to try to get the client to your side so the transition is easier for the stylist.

This is why in a perfect world, the salon should get first contact. The salon won’t badmouth an employee. It makes the salon look bad and it’s not professional. The salon will make an offer and be honest and upfront to let the client make an unbiased and informed decision. The stylist will almost never do this.

But beyond this, the really shitty part of the situation is that an owner will have spent as much as the last month being lied to by the stylist, while the only real asset the salon has is being stolen. Smiling to your face while stealing from you. Understand that a salon has almost no value outside of the client list. A salon without a client list is simply a room full of used furniture, and the proof of this is shown by how few salon owners have sold their salons for even the value of that furniture. Most owners have to simply close up their salons and walk away. In fact I’ve just done a video blog for American Salon Online on this exact subject. It should be out soon.

Now the stylist will say that clients aren’t the salon’s property and the clients have the right to make whatever choice they want. And that is true, which is why my salons have this conversation in an ethical and honest way. But ask that same stylist if they took that information openly in front of the salons owners and managers. They didn’t and they never do. That simple act of secrecy speaks to their awareness of the crime. And after stealing from you they will say it was nothing personal.

Even worse, it is all but guaranteed that one or two people in the salon knew that this was going on. Maybe even several. People on your staff allowing co-workers to steal from their place of employment, making their own salon weaker and hurting their own reputations. And this is extremely common. If it was a bank, the thief would be doing it in secret. If it was a store, the merchandise would be stolen carefully and the thief would be too fearful to let a co-worker know. But for some reason it seems to be different in the salon. Someone always knows something and chooses to not let the owner know.

Full disclosure, I left a salon once in a disgraceful way. I’m ashamed of what I did. I was an asshole and anything that happens to me as an owner is probably karmically deserved. But I had also once told this owner about staff that were conspiring and instead of treating me anonymously he outed me to my co-workers and to this day there are still people who won’t speak to me. We were also not allowed to disclose where former staff had went so he couldn’t be trusted to be honest with clients. There are a lot of salon owners like this, and you sometimes have to do shitty things in these situations. But I understand his behaviours now that I’m an owner and I do my best to learn from them.

I chose to own an employee salon because I want things done a certain way and I myself have high standards of service. I’m old fashioned and I like a degree of formality to service even if we are covered in tattoos and play loud music.

I chose to develop my own talent because I wanted my team to have common knowledge and work their way up through my company. No egos because nobody is above cleaning the bathroom.

I chose not to hire from the competition because I want to be able to hold my head high knowing I never hurt another business by luring their staff.

My choices, and I will accept everything that goes along with them. But people like me are a dying breed, maybe even a dinosaur in concept. I’ve watched several salons like mine either go rental or downsize and stop hiring new talent. There used to be lots of salons to apprentice with, now there are a lot less. And most of them either left the business with nothing after all their years of hard work. If I sound like I’m being melodramatic, I apologize. But I wanted to shed some light on what we go through as salon owners, how and why an incredible experience that will go down as a career highlight like HairPooloza is completely smothered by something as small as someone quitting. It’s because it’s much bigger than just someone quitting. If it was just that, salon owners would sleep better. It’s happened to me 150 times and it still feels exactly the same each time. People say I take things too personally, and I shouldn’t. I hope you can have some perspective as to why we take it personally.

Oh, and my new friend Nick in Orange County? He’s permanently lost the use of his arm. The driver was caught because the VIN from inside the door was actually embedded in Nicks clothing. We raised a nice amount of money to help fund training for a new career. But more importantly, we all got together to show that we care about each other.

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Hey California Hairdressers, The Best Hairshow Ever Is Next Week!

A couple of months ago my friend Russel Mayes contacted me and asked me if I wanted to appear at a hair show/ benefit he was putting on for a hairdresser friend of his named Nick Huynh, who was hit by a drunk driver and lost the use of his arm. Nick apparently didn’t have a lot of support elsewhere to get started on a new career and Russel wanted to help him with a bit of money and a show of moral support from the hair industry.

Russel is a good friend and I like to hang out with him whenever I can so of course I agreed. Now I’m an OK stylist but my area is more in coaching now, but given the people he had lined up for this thing it was an honour to stand on the same stage with them.

Here is a lineup of the talent that has volunteered their time, and a brief bio that doesn’t do any of them justice.

Allison Daza– This lady is simply a brilliant colourist. She is an educator with Davines and one of the most creative yet tasteful colourists as well as lovely people I have met in the industry.

Andrew Does Hair– Highly respected men’s specialist and industry educator, Andrew has a massive cult-like following in social media because he works hard, produces great imagery and video and keeps it very real.

Brig Van Osten– Brig came in to fame as the winner of the strongest season of Shear Genius. Brig is a fearless and gifted artist as well as a super cool person with infectious energy.

Douglas McCoy– Old school Bumble guy now working closely with R+Co. A video maker and photographer as well, his House of Pop salon was famous before the doors even opened. That’s how cool Douglas is.

Gerard Scarpaci– Brilliant cutter and educator originally with Sassoons, then JPMS, then Aveda and the long-time education director at Arrojo in New York. Oh yeah, also the co-owner of Hairbrained.

Michael Levine– Stylist, owner, writer photographer and educator. I run a large salon company and 2 academies with my wife.

Robert Cromeans– Robert has been kind of quiet for a while but is renowned for his hair shows and for helping to launch the careers of some of the industry’s most famous faces. The long-time creative director of Paul Mitchell, Robert has inspired an entire generation of stylists, myself included, to greater things.

Russel Mayes– Fantastic educator and one of the most flawless haircutters I have ever seen. Technical perfection and now a highly regarded hairdressing videographer

Wormatron– Badass barber from American Barbershop. I don’t know him personally but have followed his IG for a while and he is awesome.

This is going to be such a cool event, a once in a lifetime gathering of talent. You can still get tickets, which are ridiculously under-priced at $65 here:

One night only, Sunday July 19th from 6-9pm
Encore Theatre and Club
690 El Camino Real
Tustin CA 92780