My Life As A Hairstylist

Salon owner, hairstylist, educator, product maker, photographer


I Hate Yelp, But We Probably Deserve Our Reviews


I had a terrible service experience at a bike shop the other day. It was so bad I didn’t buy any of the parts I wanted. I won’t go in to the details, but this awful service actually caused me to spend 3 hours at the hospital after I ate it on my bike 15 minutes after leaving the shop. Tetanus shot, road rash and what I thought was a broken wrist. I started my Yelp! review from the ER and also copied and pasted it to Google. So much anger!

As I was writing the review, I thought about how it was ironic that I hate Yelp with a passion but it was also the very first thing I thought to do after a negative service experience. And looking at my yelp profile, it seems I generally find the time to write negative reviews but rarely positive. But hey, I’m a cranky bugger.

Writing a post on Yelp, or just having a service experience that is lacking  puts us in the position of the majority of people who have written negative reviews on our own businesses and it made me think about how many cues we are given and opportunities we have to fix issues before a client takes to the internet with revenge on their mind. And often it’s not revenge, it’s simply an expression of frustration, though with hair, it tends to be more personal and dramatic. And rightfully so.

What causes a business or service provider who clearly recognizes the client is unhappy or frustrated to let them leave their business without a plan for resolution? At this bike shop, they were rude from the outset but I still chose to go with this simple service because I needed it done and it was only $120. When I picked up the bike, the majority of the work hadn’t been done, the work that was done was done very poorly and they were completely unapologetic when I clearly told the entire staff that I was really upset about the situation. I had been planning on purchasing a rack for the car, new pedals, a new stem, and I had bought 2 bikes from them within the last 4 years. I’d never experienced a business so clearly demonstrate dislike for their customer.

But I’m quite sure that in their mind, I was simply being an asshole and being difficult. I was being a psycho.

How often do hairdressers, who take tend to take criticism of our work personally, make the same assessment of the client who is expressing their anger and frustration over the services we have provided? Oh, I’m not saying their aren’t psychos out there, but in reality there are a lot less of them than we like to expertly diagnose once our skills have been questioned. How many of us are truly objective and honest about our work? Have you ever changed a parting because a bit of grey didn’t cover, or a foil bled or the ombre blend was chunky and hard? Taken a client outside so they could see the colour that they (or we) couldn’t see in the salon?

What about when a client says “It’s fine,” or goes completely silent. We know they aren’t happy, but we don’t react unless they expressly tell us they dislike their hair? Do we just get them out the door because out of sight, out of mind? I think many of us do.

Once again, I hate Yelp, and I hate it for 2 main reasons:
Firstly, I think they use extremely shady business practices. I used to advertise with Yelp and after 12 months I was able to quantify that there was no real difference in the traffic I got with advertising and without, so I didn’t renew my contract. Within a week, six of my 5 star reviews were filtered out, and all of them had been written by regular contributors and had been considered legitimate by Yelp for several months.
Yelp claims it was just a coincidence, but I don’t believe it.
I also hate their predatory sales calls and that each month some new person calls me and tries the hard sell if I log into my owners account.

The second reason I hate Yelp is simply that they exist. It gives people an avenue to publicly complain rather than go to the business and try to seek resolution first. And this is where things get more complicated.

My own recent experience at this bike shop had me expressing my frustration to several people in the store. Nobody took me aside and sincerely apologized and tried to make it right. I stood there obviously angry and they didn’t care. And as I was writing my own review on Yelp, hoping to negatively impact their business, it go me thinking how often this happens in my own salons. How at fault my own company is for ignoring a client’s dissatisfaction or unhappiness. I think it must be a lot more often than it should. I can’t imagine people deliberately go to a hair salon with the intention of being unhappy. I have to assume 99% of the people out there want to leave a salon loving their hair. Sticker shock can be an issue, but it usually isn’t if the client truly loves their hair. Some people are crazy, but there really aren’t that many of them. We know that they are the minority.

Is it your agenda to deliver amazing hair, that you yourself would want if you were the client? Are you empathetic to the client experience and able to not make the service about you but about the client? Do you truly care?

I think most people who take to Yelp are just like me. They were not happy and the business ignored them. As an owner, I would hope the client would reach out to me and ask for resolution, but I have a feeling that most people already did in some way reach out to someone while still in the salon. And they were ignored.

Leave a comment

My Hair DNA For American Salon Magazine

There is a lot more to my story of course, but I first got into hairdressing for the girls and the social side of it.
I suppose it worked in that I met a beautiful young woman through hairdressing and eventually married her.
My passion and understanding for the craft of hairdressing and for the people who choose to sit with us and support our careers grew and evolved over the years, and continues to do so.


Are Photo-Shoots and Hairdressing Competitions Irrelevant?


As we are now inundated with nearly countless new hair images each and every day, I am starting to think that the conceived, budgeted professional photo-shoot lacks real value to today’s and tomorrow’s hairdresser.

Each and every day, hairdressers are loading images of their work to Instagram. Some of those hairdressers take their imagery very seriously, shooting with a studio light and a professional camera and then transferring the higher quality image to their phone for uploading. In one of my salons, we have a studio light and area dedicated to shooting in-salon images.

But a hairstylist doesn’t need any of that if they have a newer phone with a quality camera and understands light. It’s pretty simple really. Have your model face the light, or have the light coming from behind you as the photographer. This is a basic principle of portrait photography and why you see some people get amazing shots with their phones and others with the same phone never seem to get their shots looking clean and punchy.

Salons also can have a sweet spot for photos, where the available light falls in such a way that the images look amazing every time. We were at Butterfly Loft salon earlier this year and watched a few stylists taking images in front of their iconic concrete wall, and as a photographer, I was shocked to see the images looking incredible straight from the phone, no editing. These guys have a perfect sweet spot for hair imagery. It may be a fluke but I suspect they knew what they were doing.

Obviously, the strength of a hair image is rooted in the work itself, followed by the attractiveness of the model or client. But with this type of imagery, we can frame a focal point of a cut or colour and angle the shot to include as much or as little of the model’s face as we like. But the point here is not about how to take a great hair shot in the salon, it’s about whether traditional hair shoots have become or are becoming irrelevant. And I think that they are.

Instagram has become the social media platform of choice for just about everyone these days, and hairdressers have absolutely embraced it as a way to promote the type of work that they love to do. It is an incredible marketing tool for new business and has become a way for hairdressers to finally take the power away from product companies and has changed the industry in just a few short years. I love what Instagram has done for equalizing the playing field and opening doors for everyone who uses it well, but the side effects of new media are having much larger implications. I cover some of this in a previous blog post called The Dumbing Down of Hairdressing. In fact, this is almost a Part 2 of that article.

Traditionally, the way a hairstylist would gain national and international attention was through being published and winning awards. There was nothing more coveted than winning North American Hairstylist of the Year (except for winning British of course) and many winners of these awards were often tied to larger brands as ambassadors or educators. Through NAHA and the Canadian counterpart Contessas, industry icons were born. That is not to imply that they weren’t awesome and known before their awards, but these awards made them household names in the industry. Charlie Price, Nicholas French, Tony Ricci, Edwin Johnston, Daniel Holzberger and many others became famous outside of the cities they worked in and the brands they educated for.
And a man named Dimitros Tsioumas became a legend.

Before Instagram, we would wait for each month’s hair publications and then stare at the 8 x 10 inch image and absorb everything if we liked it. We would pass it around the staff room and celebrate or critique the image in detail, from balance, makeup, wardrobe, model, literally everything. I can recall almost all the images that I loved over the years down to the finest details.

Fast forward just a few years and today the industry is moving at a much faster, almost break-neck speed, not in progress but in how we “consume” imagery. We have become conditioned to absorb and view an image in a few seconds on a 3×3 inch box on a 5 inch screen. When we log in to our Instagram feed each day, we are only exposed to who we follow and then we quickly scan the images and like what appeals to us and maybe spend a few more minutes staring at the things we truly love if we are studying how it was accomplished. This has created an industry-wide situation where a stylist must produce new imagery each and every day in order to maintain and build a following.

With Instagram, a new generation of artists have emerged who don’t care about NAHA or an award. Not in a,
“I don’t care about that shit,”
but in a
“That’s awesome, nice work! But I’m not interested in doing that,”
kind of way.
They care about doing work they and their clients love, and emulating today’s stars; fabulous stylists like Iris Smith, Ricky Zito, Linh Phan, Jenny Strebe and of course, Guy Tang, and hopefully it translates into likes and followers. Because for the first time in our history as hairdressers, commercial hairdressers are being celebrated as the new industry leaders, (excluding Allan Edwards, Chris McMillan and Sally Hershberger changing how an entire continent wore their hair of course), and the previous generation of industry icons are essentially irrelevant when it comes to the industry as a whole. Unless they can gain a meaningful following.

Today, a hairdresser’s stock is based on how many followers they have. Case in point, a list of the 20 Best hairstylists in Vancouver just came out. Of the 20 mentioned, I have only heard of four of them and personally know or have met just three. I’m not saying I’m fully in the loop and that they aren’t all awesome, I’m sure some of them are, but Vancouver is home to some major, award-winning stylists, several Canadian Hairstylist of the Year winners, and none of them were even mentioned as the Top 20. To ignore Chad Taylor is ridiculous and irresponsible.

One of my own team members, Alina Friesen (who a few days ago moved to New York to pursue a career in real editorial hairstyling), was not mentioned. Alina is a 4 time Contessa winner and 3 time NAHA finalist. She would be considered a giant in any city, fully booked with a waiting list and charging $200 for a cut. She is also responsible for nearly all the editorial work for Aritzia and Kit and Ace over the last few years and she is only 28. She doesn’t have a large following because she doesn’t really care to, but I do know she was insulted to not have been mentioned as one of those 20 stylists in the city she kicked ass in for the last decade.

So here we are, in an incredible place where everyone has a platform and everyone can achieve their dreams in the industry without having to go to the trouble, expense, and creative efforts to create something brand new for each collection in order to stay on top. That may read as bitter but it’s the truth. Ask any award-winning artist about the time, creative energy, the team and the expense needed to create 3 images for a collection and you will understand. This is not to say that there is not an incredible amount of work and creative energy put out to create a fantastic Instagram shot, and it is amazing that some of those barriers have been removed in order to achieve industry recognition.
But why invest all that time, energy and money in creating imagery that is all but forgotten a few hours after it is released. There is so much noise out there today that almost nothing has the chance to become important. An image simply doesn’t have legs anymore.

Today the trade magazines realize that there is more power in social media than in print. All you have to do is look at the work they are sharing in their social accounts to see this.
Unless the trade magazines and the competitions can figure out how to evolve while still celebrating the importance and value of traditional hairdressing editorial work, the amount of stylists willing to truly test themselves and push boundaries is going to become smaller and smaller. This type of styling is not important to the stylist who wants huge success and accolades in a world where reach is everything.

The truth is that if I were a new stylist entering today’s industry, I don’t know that I would even be aware the awards and that level of hair artistry even exist. It certainly wouldn’t be worth the efforts because other than for personal satisfaction, it is not really going to do anything for my career in the short term. And we all know that we are living in a short-term, instant gratification world, and yesterday’s work is truly ancient history.