My Life As A Hairstylist

Salon owner, hairstylist, educator, product maker, photographer


Be Careful Who You Let In To Your Business


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.

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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.)


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The Hairdressing Industry is Changing Before Our Eyes. And It’s Pretty Exciting

A few months ago I wrote a post called The Reality of Social Media and Hairdressing.
It went pretty viral and I thought it was fairly insightful. You can read it by clicking the link.
I was wrong. Not at the time I wrote it, but our world and our industry is so dynamic that in a few short months, the shift has been incredible.

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The Vancouver Hairdressing Academy Adds Exclusive New Content

Many people don’t know that our company operates a revolutionary hairdressing school in Vancouver BC called the Vancouver Hairdressing Academy.

We believe the biggest issue in hairdressing schools, other than most of them being complete shit, is inconsistency in instruction. So when we designed out program we knew we had to create black and white content for our instructors to fall back on since everyone has their own unique ways of interpreting our systems. So we created videos for everything.

6 years later we are revamping our entire video education series, adding new content and removing certain trend-driven videos from our series. So to kick things off, we had an opportunity to create the first of our new series of videos with our good friend and superstar colourist Iris Smith, AKA @GlamIris.

Here is a preview of our latest video and standard balayage technique, as demonstrated by Iris Smith.

Just one more reason for future hairdressers to choose the Vancouver Hair Academy.

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Michael Levine Salons Got Together To Play With Pulp Riot

It’s only a couple of times each year our staff are able to get together and play with some hair.

The launch of Pulp Riot, a fantastic new direct dye color for creating everything from icy platinums to so-bright-they-mess-up-your-rods-and-cones pink, gave us an excuse to make a team date. Not everyone was able to make it, but those of us who did had a lot of fun.

Here is a short video of the day with some of our images.

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Press Release- Michael Levine Salons Announces Merger of Caramel Salon- Vancouver with Space Salon


Michael Levine and Liz Abreu met in 1995 while apprenticing at a well-known Vancouver salon. The couple got engaged and opened their first salon, called Statik, in Gastown in 1998. Adopting a business philosophy of creating culture by developing talent through apprenticeship rather than hiring talent from other local salons, they eventually moved to a 2000 sq.foot space on the South Granville Rise.

Quickly outgrowing this location, they opened Caramel Salon directly across the street from Statik in 2005. The new salon brand was an immediate hit with clients and media, placing in the top 3 in the “Best Of” issues of the Georgia Straight and having several listings in Fashion Magazine’s “Best of Canada” issues. Everyone loved the location, warm interior design and industry leading standard of service, which had been developed for years by the couple and their team. A second location of Caramel opened in South Surrey in 2012.

After 11 years, on July 30 this iconic salon is closing its doors in Vancouver.
Due to the economic stress of brick and mortal retail business on the west side of Vancouver, Caramel simply can no longer be profitable in this location. Size limitations of the physical space and the fact that the lease rate and city taxes have caused fixed rent expenses to triple since opening, those expenses can not be passed on to the clients of the salon through increased service pricing.
“There are many wonderful choices for hair salons in Vancouver, and pricing must remain competitive with other top-end salons in the city,” says Levine.

The stylists at Caramel have all been offered a position with the company’s much larger other Vancouver salon location, Space Salon, located just 5 minutes away on Broadway at Cambie. Space is an award-winning salon opened by the couple in 2010 located in the Eminence building, across the street from London Drugs, Lululemon Lab and Whole Foods. Clients can expect the same high standard of service in a newer, larger, brighter location. While Caramel’s closing is a bitter pill to swallow for the couple, the entire company is excited about new opportunities created by combining the strength of the two salons into one. And this isn’t the first time the duo has closed a location or a brand.

“We have opened nine salons since we started,” Levine states. “We see our salons and brands as part of the fashion industry; where things come and go. We’ve opened and closed salons called Statik, Tao and are now closing Caramel. While it’s been our longest running salon brand,  it has run it’s course.
Now with Space, we don’t think we’ve even scratched the surface of what is possible. The salon and brand is amazing.

This merging of the two powerhouse salons also allows the couple to focus more energy into the growth of their award-winning hairdressing school, the Vancouver Hairdressing Academy as well as their hair product company, aptly named “Product.”

After training countless of Vancouver’s most successful hairstylists, winning 6 Canadian Hairstylist of the Year Awards and being 4-time finalists at the North American Hairstylist of the Year Awards, Michael and Liz are incredibly proud of everything they have accomplished in a challenging city, and view this move as a positive for their company and their team.

Levine summarizes, “All Liz and I have ever tried to do was to teach and inspire people to have an incredible life through hairdressing. I have achieved nearly all of my childhood dreams as a hairdresser and I want to share that experience. We like to think that we have improved the lives of so many people as well as having helped raise the bar in Vancouver’s dynamic hairdressing community.”

The majority of the Senior and Master stylist team from Caramel can be found at Space starting August 1st.

Space is located at 528 West Broadway
Call 6046811444 for inquires and reservations