My Life As A Hairstylist

Salon owner, hairstylist, educator, product maker, photographer

I Call Bullshit on Millennial Bashing in Hairdressing

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There is so much negative talk about millennials it’s become a cliche.
“Millennials are lazy, unreliable, irresponsible, expect the world, act like they’re owed an income….” insert your adjective here.

On salon forums, the word is simply used on its own as an explanation or excuse for staff behaviour, why a salon is having a hard time keeping staff, or why it’s failing.
“Millennials. ”
And I call bullshit.

If you read my blogs or watch to my videos, you will never have seen or heard me use the word, and that’s because it’s a non-factor in our business, and anyone who uses it as an excuse for their troubles in our industry likely hasn’t been out there working in salons or in salon ownership for very long.

I say this because our industry has always attracted a lot of shit people.

When I first picked up scissors in 1993, I was in a hairdressing school with 20 other people. Today, I believe I am one of 1 or 2 still doing hair, and I think I could have safely said that 15 years ago as well. Most people didn’t care about hairdressing or take it seriously. Part of that would have been the school’s inability to show us inspiring possibilities for our careers. I myself only enrolled because it seemed like a cool job and a great way to meet girls, but a couple of years into it I got lucky in that I found true passion for hairdressing. Most never do.

But going back several years, my hairdresser, the man who inspired me to become one, was once a salon owner who lost his salon due to a complete staff walk-in in the early 80s. Every year or so he and several of his friends would leave the salon they rented chairs in and move down the street to a newer salon, and usually bad mouth the last place. This cycle went on for the remainder of his career before he died a few years back. He was in his mid 70s.

The first salon I worked at, the owner would start her clients 15 minutes late each day because she sat drinking coffee an chatting in the staff room while her first client waited. She would regularly finish her day unapologetically 2 hours behind. And this was the owner setting the precedent for professional behaviour.

The next salon I worked at was much more serious in training and behaviour but it was a revolving door. At the entry level, most people would last less than 3 months. At the senior level, most would last just 3 years before leaving to rent a chair. This was in 1995. It was the culture of the room, and the owner never stopped hiring and thankfully had created stunning salons and had a reputation that brought a ton of walk-ins, allowing for the salons to always be busy and survive the numerous walk-outs as well as regular solo departures. This salon was legendary, with stories of drugs being sold from a station to certain favours being performed to a male stylist in the bathroom while working.

Then when I opened my first salon in 1998, none of the people who had committed to joining us did. They just didn’t show up. Eventually we hired our first employee and she was the most millennial millennial you would ever meet. A total and complete hippie who would do things constantly that made me question her ability to breathe without instructions. And for the next 3 years we struggled to get 2 people to last more than a month in our company, but we stuck it out with our machine gun approach to hiring. Developing our talent in-house and never hiring anyone with a book, we slowly grew to a stable crew of 4 people, though one of them would constantly be in trouble, either showing up a wreck after an all-nighter, not showing up because of her being witness to a gangland execution, and generally being non-stop drama.

Once we grew to our 12 chair salon, we needed to hire even more aggressively and thankfully we had a bit of a reputation at this point so at least getting applicants wasn’t too difficult. This era was a constant revolving door and we lost the original drama-girl but gained so much more. I won’t bore you with the stories, because I’m sure if you’ve been around you have witnessed many of your own. Most of us could write a book. I’ve actually forgotten more crazy stories than I can remember.

Today my company has 3 salons, 2 academies and a product line. We have a total staff count of 38 right now but that number fluctuates depending on our situation.

As it’s New Year’s Eve, one of my simple but great pleasures tomorrow will be deleting past employees from my payroll software. Every year I delete about 30% of the names from my records. That number used to be equal several years ago. I estimate I have had over 250 employees in the history of my company. I have had so many people that there are some I simply don’t remember. I was in a restaurant once a few years back and the server told me she used to work for me. For one day.

My point is, our industry has always attracted people who didn’t know what they wanted to do with their lives so they decided to try hairdressing. Unique, weird, creative, stupid, irresponsible, awesome, people. And for every 1 that I’ve seen achieve real success in our industry, there are two dozen who do the bare minimum in the industry or leave it entirely.

What does this mean to a salon owner? It’s a losing battle for staff unless you yourself have something to offer your employees. Firstly, you are fighting for the best of a bunch of losers, statistically speaking. That is not meant to be disparaging at all, it’s a fact. Most people entering our industry will not ever achieve any success unless they decide to, and that takes work, sacrifice and dedication, which in life, is easier said than done and is why so many of us are fat and/or broke.

Secondly and equally important, you have to find people who understand that their success comes from going above and beyond in work, service but who are not overly entrepreneurial. The type of hairdresser who makes you a lot of money will at some point start to look at if they can make the same money being independent.

Finally, never hire someone who has dreams of owning their own salon. Most will tell you of you ask. And those people will already have a foot out the door before they start.


So what can you do? Look at things from the perspective of an employee. What would you want out of an employer relationship? Education isn’t always it. I know many of my staff are not motivated by the education I offer. Do you offer a sense of community or team? Do you have structure? Stability? Do you develop talent? Do you have a culture? Is your salon a place where people want to hang out? Are you, the owner, any good? Be objective.

Hire people who want to be a part of a community. Who want to feel like they have support and a team to rely on. Who want to climb the ladder. But you have to make sure that you give them a ladder or a path.

I support all my stylists so that they have help to achieve higher totals and that they can run 2 or 3 chairs if needed. They recognize that from basic math without considering certain factors, rental would pay them more. But I communicate with them, reward successful behaviour, and they hopefully realize that the small amount of extra money they could potentially make going solo would likely not be worth it when they weigh the pros and cons of staying or going.

Social media, rental and suites have absolutely changed the way the industry is being run, but after nearly 20 years as an owner, I honestly don’t see it that differently. The people at the top who are focussed on doing salon clients generally work in cool busy salons, independently or as employees. Most don’t want to be alone. But the biggest reason salons fail is because they are opened by an owner who wanted to work independently so they open a small salon and enter the cycle of trying to lure established stylists from somewhere else. There are only so many people you would actually want in your business and then those people would have to want to leave their current salon. Quality established stylists are a very limited resource and usually an owner has to settle for less than ideal staff or renters.

I believe very strongly in hiring nice and developing talent. I believe you have to care about your staff and having your staff believe in you. I believe there is no fast or easy way to owning a successful salon anywhere. It’s always been a challenging business, one of the most challenging. I said it in a past blog:

Look around your city and count the salons that have been in business for 20 years or more. Even 10 years. There aren’t that many.

While you yourself need to adapt to technology and a changing world, clients are still getting in to a car to go get their hair done and that likely won’t ever change. You can be that salon that they choose to go to, but you have to ask yourself why they are not. Or why you can’t keep staff. It all begins and ends with you, the owner.

Nearly my entire team is made up of millennials. I’d like to introduce you to them if you have the time. They are wonderful people, normal people. And just like you, they are not who they are because of the year they were born.

One thought on “I Call Bullshit on Millennial Bashing in Hairdressing

  1. Great article Michael,and thank you so much for sharing!

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