My Life As A Hairstylist

Salon owner, hairstylist, educator, product maker, photographer


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Will I See You At #IBSNY? 

Last year I turned down a speaking engagement at IBS New York because I regrettably chose to work with the immoral team at America’s Beauty Show, ChicagoABS. If you’re inclined,  you can read about the shadiness here. And if you’re interested, no, Paul Dykstra never did make good on his offers of repayment,  with the final tally at $1100 CDN in fees and several frustrating hours dealing with the cancellations. If you are an independent artist and are tempted to work with ABS, I’d think twice. They seem to be fine with sponsored educators though. I’ve had incredible treatment by IBS and by ISSE and I feel they are definitely better options.

But enough negative.

I’m super excited to be back in New York in just a few weeks. I’m fine tuning my program as they have only given me 75 minutes and I always go long at 2 hours. I just can’t stop talking. A friend sat in on my seminar recently and he thought I should try to streamline it as I’m really doing 3 or 4 different seminars in this one session. I agree with him but it’s hard to remove content when I have so much new content regarding the challenges I face in my own current situation.

I’ve always been a full-disclosure kind of speaker  so you will get everything,  warts and all, from my sessions, just like you do here in my blogs. I believe that by sharing the realities of challenges salon owners face, people realize they are not alone. Too many speakers sugar-coat our business and that doesn’t help anyone.

I’ll be doing the same session each of the two days so I hope to make some new friends this year. Both my New York sessions were standing room only in 2015 and the sessions I did just a few months ago in Alberta were so ridiculously packed that people were sitting on the floor and standing in the hallway as well for 2 hours.
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I’m just like you. I have my challenges, and sometimes I feel like these sessions are as much therapy for me as they are inspiring (hopefully) to you. I may not solve your problems and I may not give you exactly what you are looking for. But I guarantee you will leave my seminar with a few solid ideas that you can immediately implement in to your salon.


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Why Does My Employer Keep Hiring More Stylists? 

In this video,  I discuss a common question, almost always  asked by slower stylists, and usually while in the staff room. 

The odds of a stylist actually becoming a profit-generator for a salon are surprisingly slim,  and a smart owner will always keep their door open to people they view as having potential. 

In the beginning of this video,  I say you won’t have to listen to me prattle on. I lied. 


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Something to Think About Before You Open Your Dream Salon

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Every hairdresser has been there; thinking seriously about opening their own salon.

If you’ve watched or read my other videos or you have really paid attention to the salon business and what ownership really looks like, you will have learned that for the most part it’s not worth it. The headaches, staffing, competition, profit margins and life cycle of a trend and fashion driven business, and the fact that generally you can’t sell a hair salon, make it a pretty poor choice for an investment and most owners will tell you that they wish they hadn’t done it. My advice has always been to buy real estate instead and work for someone else and enjoy your time off.
You can’t put a price tag on leaving work at work.

But for those of you who insist, I’ll let you in on one of the main things I’ve observed: Most salon owners spend too much money on their build-out, have an optimistic outlook, and do not factor in real operating costs. This is the fastest way to go broke and become an industry statistic. Just because you build it doesn’t mean they will come.

For so many, the life cycle looks like this:
1. Find a space that is too big for your actual needs.

2. Spend way too much money building it out but then you cheap out on things like water tank size and number of wash basins because you spent your budget on custom cabinets, a chandelier, and beautiful tile floors.

3. One of the people that had committed to working with you and bringing her big clientele is no longer returning your calls.

4. You go in to your first day feeling good about your future but having a little stress about the finances. You didn’t realize what an intro retail and colour order would cost you, and your contractor ended up charging you a lot more than you intended. You just got a surprise bill for another $20K

5. You are the only one doing any hair at any given time. You don’t have the time to mentor the younger staff, who are costing you a lot of money just by being there, and you are stressing because the phone isn’t ringing for anyone but you.

6. You learn that nobody cares as much about your salon as you do. Colour stains are appearing, and in places that don’t make any sense.

7. You realize that you don’t know how to make other people inspired or busy.

8. Groupon calls you. You take the call and unknowingly you start to hammer the nails into the coffin.

9. You close your business.

10. I, or someone like me walks in to your salon; your pride and joy, your dream, and I benefit from your work and investment.

My company is now on our third salon takeover in the city  we are currently expanding in to. The first one the location was not giving us the benefit of a walk-in clientele that should have been associated with the rent, so we moved to another location, smaller, way nicer and cheaper. Now we are ready to expand into something much much larger. All three of these businesses failed for the same reasons, and we have been able to open nice new salons for very little investment.

Most people build their dream and then immediately have to start lowering standards in order to bring people in to help support their salon. Slowly the dream becomes a nightmare because the groundwork and foundation needed to build a true company was never really put in place

How can you avoid this trap? Well, if you insist on opening a new salon, consider starting much smaller so you can avoid the immediate pressure of trying to pay off debt. The salon business is generally not profitable, and paying off debt or trying to recoup your life savings in a hair salon will take you YEARS, if it happens at all. An acquaintance of mine just celebrated her salon debt being paid off after 5 years. She is a rare case, and I promise you that she sacrificed far more than most can imagine.

My business started as a 2 chair salon, then became a 4 chair salon, then a 12 chair salon, then a second and then third location. The only way we were able to become who we are was by starting small and creating the systems so that when we were able to expand we already had a clear vision of expectations and were working towards creating culture. And because our bank accounts grew as we did, we never had a penny of debt outside of the initial $10K loan, which was paid off after 2 years.

Of course this is not always the case, plenty of people can attest to achieving success with a large and expensive build-out. But for most of us, starting small allows for a lot of trial and error without capital investment and stress. Not everyone should own a salon. In fact, 80% of current salon owners probably shouldn’t be in the business at all. A business is a lot more than just a nice room, and starting small can help you figure out who you really are and where you really want to go.

Please check out this video showing our latest salon location, built-out by someone else.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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

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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.