As a hairstylist and salon owner, I have had some really great moments and some crushing experiences, and I have just had the worst 12 months in the history of my company. Here are some of my observations.
18 Hairdresser Commandments
1. Work your ass off. This means in every way. On slow days, help clean, contribute, and always pick up after yourself. It takes a second and shows you respect your co-workers and the assistants. You were an assistant and likely had to pick up after some stylist that could have done it themselves most of the time. Respect the assistant version of you.
2. Act like a successful stylist right away. Dress the part, act the part and be the part right from the beginning. This means asking for pre-bookings from the first day you are on the floor. Asking for referrals, promoting yourself, retailing, assisting the busier stylists rather than hanging out in the staff room, or as we like to call it, the “minimum wage room.”
3. Be pro-active. It’s your life and your career. Make things happen for yourself. Nobody is going to do it for you. But people will want to help and be a part of your success if you show up to everything you can.
4. Say “YES” to virtually every opportunity the salon offers. It shows you are motivated and put your career and your company first. As a result, you will likely be promoted and given amazing opportunities eventually.
5. Be nice. You are in the service industry. You’ve chosen a career where you are supposed to take care of people. Do it.
6. Your employer is (for the most part) a normal, nice person. He or she doesn’t sit at home at night thinking of ways to make your work life shittier. If you have an issue, communicate and express yourself to the owner and only the owner. Don’t bitch to other people until you have given your boss the chance to explain things.
7. Your employer is not taking half your money. If you make 50% commission, the owner might be able to make, at most, 10% profit from their investment. Most are making between three to five percent. It is a very expensive business to run, and unless the salon is always packed and is very large, your owner is likely under a degree of financial stress. Don’t feel sorry for them, but don’t make them out to be some greedy jerk that sits at home counting $100 bills.
8. Give amazing massages and learn to finish hair beautifully. On everyone. These skills are much easier to master than haircutting and colouring is. You will fast track your success this way. The best way to mentally approach this is to…
9. Put yourself in the clients’ shoes. How do you like to be treated? Do you love a great shampoo service? Would you want your hair to look like this? Be present, aware, and sensitive to your client. Look for every opportunity to exceed their expectations. You can only do this by committing yourself to their experience and hair. Give eye contact, listen to them, and be present. Your client is always giving you cues, but most stylists ignore them. These can be retail and referral opportunities, or areas where they are not as happy as they could be; things that can be fixed and addressed before the client leaves less than thrilled.
10. Keep your work simple and make it repeatable. Develop mastery of foundations and an understanding of what happens when you do certain things. Learn from your own work by cutting a section and evaluating what it did when it fell back into place. Don’t come at your client with five colour bowls unless absolutely necessary. And always make your work pretty.
11. Work with intent. Be present and focused on your work. It is much more satisfying when you are involved rather than going through the motions. Get down so the hair is at eye level. Stand back and check your balance and weight distribution. Put your hands into the hair and move it around. Sculpt. But remember…
12. You are not an artist. Certainly we have artistic integrity and we must have an understanding of what is flattering, but you are a service person first and foremost. You are being given limitations by the client and it is your goal to make the client look and feel beautiful. And most hairdressers who see themselves as artists are generally assholes…
13. …So don’t be an asshole. There is no room for nasty ego in this business. We do hair for a living. Get over yourself. Obviously if you are great at what you do, enjoy and celebrate your success. But don’t throw it in people’s faces and don’t put other stylists down or judge their work negatively. Let your work and your success do the talking. If you have to say you are, you probably aren’t.
14. Fame is fleeting. If you are lucky enough to become the “hot hairdresser” in your town, enjoy it but don’t let your ego get in the way of your long-term career. Use your success as a foundation to greater success. Eventually you will get older and another hairdresser will become the go-to in your city and the cool people will go elsewhere. So enjoy being “it” but understand it is fleeting.
15. Don’t take yourself too seriously. The important work you do is to make people look and feel beautiful. It’s about giving. For educators, it’s to enlighten your students and help them to have better careers and lives, which is also all about giving. Snobbery in the fashion business is just dumb and boorish. So don’t take yourself so seriously, but absolutely take what you do seriously.
16. When you become a success, never forget where you came from. You sucked at one point. Someone supported you and took a chance on you, respect the people who did. You worked hard to get there and you are responsible for your success but most likely people had your back along the way.
17. Be a mentor. Your support for a younger stylist is incredibly powerful. Too many people leave salons or the industry because they feel jaded by it. We all remember the people we looked up to along the way, who helped us and inspired us. You can be that person for someone else. And they will forever hold you in high regard, which is pretty cool.
18. Do photo shoots, fashion shows and take classes. Go on inspiring or educational holidays instead of relaxing ones. Clients love to hear your stories and they love to talk about you to their friends. If you never have anything cool about your career to talk about then it’s a guarantee your growth will be slower. So skip the beach and go to New York or London and take a class. Go to Paris and tour salons, make connections and new friends.
Stay tuned for part 2 of Levine’s blog ‘How to Survive and Thrive as a Salon Owner.’ To meet Levine, and hear him speak on this and other subjects, he will be in Edmonton at Ricci Advanced Academy on July 6thand at Eveline Charles Academy on July 7th. Contact Keith at Ricci (780-705-6400) and Kim at Eveline Charles (780-409-1372 ext. 1372) for information on how you can attend.
Michael Levine co-owns Caramel Salon, Space Salon and the Vancouver Hairdressing Academy with his wife in Vancouver BC. A hairdresser since 1994, Michael has done it all, from apprentice to platform artist, and loves coaching and inspiring hairdressers to see more for themselves. Visit his blog here.
Photos: Hair: Farouk Systems Creative Director Patrick Kalle; Photos: Richard Monsieurs; Makeup: Juliette den Ouden; Styling: Dair by Odair Pereira.