My Life As A Hairstylist

Salon owner, hairstylist, educator, product maker, photographer


1 Comment

I Call Bullshit on Millennial Bashing in Hairdressing

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.


5 Comments

Salon Ownership is Not Always What It Seems

It’s unusual for a salon to close when things are going great. There are many layers to success in business, and “failure” in the hair salon business is just as often about getting rid of the headaches and drama as it is about finance.


Leave a comment

Professional Behavior is Nice Behavior.

A video response to a couple of people who responded to a previous blog I wrote, It’s a Hard Lesson for Hairstylists.
There is nothing that bothers me more about our industry than the snobs and the jerks. There are a lot of them. Don’t be one.


1 Comment

How To Not Get That Job and How To Mildly Offend The Potential Employer In The Process

ego

I’m always hiring at the entry level, and you should be too. The reason? Well, most people we hire don’t work out, so I never stop. I know that the minute I think I am fully staffed, someone is going to quit, not show up, come in hung-over and smelling bad, break a leg skiing…something is going to happen to disrupt the rare moment of calm I sometimes get to experience as a salon owner. So I have an ad on Craigslist right now and I’m interviewing.

I have now had two of the four people I’ve interviewed show up not matching our dresscode and knowing virtually nothing about me or our company other than we own hair schools and salons.

I teach a session all over Canada and the United States called How To Survive and Thrive as a Hairstylist and it is geared towards students. A huge part of this is about getting and keeping a job, so I am maybe a little sensitive when I see people doing it so wrong when it’s easy to do it right. And if you don’t know, my name is on the door of our salons, and that alone speaks to my ego. So I asked this latest person if she had taken a moment to Google me to do a bit of research once I realized she knew very little about us. She said she had but there “wasn’t much out there other than that I owned salons and schools.”

So I Googled myself and discovered I might be one of the easiest salon owners on the planet to look in to. This isn’t bragging, it’s more about the fact I never stop bitching. Like right now. This blog has given me a pretty loud voice and I clearly have little to no filter. Add to that, all my videos are run on American Salon Magazine, as well as other publications, and it’s pretty easy to find out what makes me tick and what you should do in order to lube things up a bit during an interview.

What you should do is spend a bit of time digging and then implying that you are very aware of my company and have wanted to work with me since you first went to hair school and, then list off the reasons, which you just discovered that morning. And even more importantly, you should care about your career enough to make sure my vision aligns with yours.

So I proceeded to give this applicant a probably super intense and possibly not very polite lecture on this very subject. Because I teach it all over the place, I am hyper-sensitive to when these things happen to me and once I get into “Let me give you ‘Getting a Job 101’” mode, things often get ugly for the person sitting across from me. I can’t help it, I’m sick. But in my own weird way I am trying to help them in the future. I also loudly lecture salespeople who call me “Mike” when I introduce myself as Michael. It’s ugly but I would hope they think about it the next time they have an opportunity to speak with someone by the name they are given.

Alright, who am I kidding? I’m an asshole. But I’m trying to get people who half-ass things to work a little harder. So you could say I’m an asshole with a heart of gold, doing what your hairdressing school instructor and your parents should have done.

So the search continues to find two more people to join this first team of future superstars. Thankfully I have had several applicants so right now I can afford to be picky. And for that I am grateful, because one of the worst situations plaguing our industry is a lack of new talent. I’ve had to hire people before that I wish I didn’t because I needed a warm body. And once someone is in for a while, it’s hard to get rid of them even though you know they will never do anything meaningful with their careers, and that degrades the ability to create the Utopian salon we all envision when we plan our businesses.

If I can leave you new talent stylists with one bit of advice, you have a computer in front of you right now and you carry one in your pocket all day every day. There is absolutely no excuse to not spend a little time researching the company you are trying to get a job with. You have no excuse for not knowing what their dress code might be if they have one. And for the love of God, if the owner is arrogant enough to put their name on the door, you better stroke that ego by finding out what you can about them.

 


11 Comments

Hairdressers! This Is The Most Important Thing You Will Ever Read

My blogs and videos are generally about a reality check, attitude adjustment and improving professional behaviour for hairstylists.

This is the most important and powerful blog I’ve ever posted. And I didn’t write it.

It came in as a comment on one of my other blog posts, and there is something in here for every one of us. I’ll leave it here without any further comment.

“I personally have found most stylists to be very pleasant people. In addition I would not want to ever hurt someone’s feelings or be rude in any situation.

There are, however experiences I have had in the last several months with stylists that have made me wonder if my communication skills are lacking, or is there a trend for stylists to only half listen, and then give you the look THEY want you to have, instead of what you asked for.

Also after I have explained what I wanted and ask them to reiterate it, and they do so, it still turns out to be not what I asked for.

These are lovely sweet stylists. I feel they somehow are distracted, half listening, or already have in their minds what they think I need.

I’m learning nowadays, its wise to bring a picture of what I want, to ask them to show me what they mean by words like caramel, smokey, cream, blend, undercut, build, pull, etc.
A lot of misunderstandings occurred because they were using terms of the salon trade which they did not explain to me.

Yesterday I was accused of trying to leave the salon without paying. I was not happy with my color at all. I was trying to pay and get out of there. I had never been there. I went to the waiting area up front, where I thought there was a reception desk.
I did not know you paid the stylist at the chair.

So not only was I shocked at what the stylist had done to my hair, because she did not listen to me, I was humiliated because I didn’t know where to pay, because both the stylist and the owner were actually angry with me because I did not like my hair.

I sat in my car and cried.

I’m 62. The stylist was about 25.

The rudeness of the stylist and the owner was breathtaking.”


5 Comments

Be Careful Who You Let In To Your Business

fingers

It’s happened to most salon owners at one point; a stylist with a clientele walks in to your salon and wants a job. Since most salon businesses are struggling with profitability, it’s easy to get excited when this happens. You look at this person and you see dollar signs. The answer to your problems just walked in your door so you hire them immediately before someone else snatches them up. Because this person is a very hot commodity and if you don’t take them in, someone else will.

They said everything right to get the job, and you may even have ignored some red flags during the interview because the upside was so good. But more often than not, you will very quickly regret opening your business to this person.

If you are a rental salon owner or a commission owner without plans for expansion, this type of hiring may be fine for you and it may be a great relationship. But if not, you want to tread very carefully here. Because the short term gain may lead to some very long-term pain.

That stylist with a big clientele is going to look very cool to your team. Their techniques, style and clientele is like a breath of fresh air in your salon and your staff will likely be drawn to the new stylist, especially if they are good. It’s like an injection of energy, busy-ness and cash in to your salon and everything appears to be going well.

But they may have a bit of a hard time adjusting to your culture, maybe ignoring their share of the cleaning duties. Maybe sitting in the staff room or leaving the building when they don’t have a client in their chair. And that’s not how things are done in your salon. You let it slip a little because you don’t want to rock the boat too much because this stylist could have taken their act anywhere and you don’t want to lose them.

And slowly your relationship erodes as you try to maintain control of your business while allowing someone to chip away at what you worked to build. Eventually it seems you are constantly trying to do damage control. They are now openly saying some of your policies or non-negotiables are bullshit and that they don’t need to adhere to what the rest of the company does because their clientele is THEIRS. And they are right. This one thing can have a profound impact on the rest of your salon. Do you let all your staff have full access to the client lists?

And then suddenly they quit.

When that person leaves, the aftershock in your salon can be devastating. Maybe they had become quite close with a few people and had spent some time talking shit about you and poisoning a relationship or three you thought were solid. Nobody ever leaves without talking about it and nobody ever leaves without disliking a job. In as little as a few months, this new stylist in your salon may be the catalyst for you losing a long-term employee. Maybe even a full scale walk-out. Because when someone comes in to your business and then leaves, the remaining staff will start to wonder “What’s wrong with us?”

More scary than that, and I’ve seen this happen many times, the person decides they want to damage your business and will continue to try to hurt your relationship with your current staff. I once watched a former creative director of a company manipulate a situation against a former employer where several of the education, management and top stylists in the company left within 6 months of her leaving. And she wasn’t even staying in town, she was moving. But for some reason, some people want to see a salon fail when they leave it. Maybe their ego wants it to not survive without their presence. Maybe they are just mean-spirited. Our industry can be a strange one and there are sometimes people with bad intentions.

I myself dodged a bullet a while ago apparently. A stylist I met a while back mentioned that he had applied with me but not gotten the job. I apologized and asked where he had gone and he had ended up working for some friends of mine. He then told me how he left because they were ripping off the staff with low commissions and that he had personally been responsible for one of their longest term employees quitting. He was almost bragging. I asked how long he had worked there. A month. In one month, this stylist caused long-term damage to a well-known salon run by highly respected owners.

I believe in order to survive as a business, the culture and team need to be the priority. In order for people to all be on the same page they need to have climbed up the same ladder and overcome the same hurdles. Notice the first four letters of the word “CULTure.” You cannot have a strong business without a cult mentality. That doesn’t mean you have to convince people to wear khakis and castrate themselves, but the best businesses are basically cults that care about their members and want them to achieve their professional and financial goals rather than take a drink and wait for the mothership to come back. Your team need to see you as a strong leader with vision and your company as a place they love and want to invest in.

As with all rules, there are certainly exceptions, but it happens enough that it is not worth the gamble if you care about your culture. The best thing you can do for your business is to let that person go down the street to another salon. It is not worth the risk. Fast and easy money is rarely good money and it is no way to build a team. A strong foundation is they key to real success and longevity.


1 Comment

Is It My Fault or Does My Staff Suck? Part 2 of 2

It’s a question nearly all hair salon owners ask themselves at some point. Here are the hard truths and what can be done about it. Part 2!

(If you haven’t seen part 1 yet, it can be found here.)