Losing staff to other salons, chair rentals, salon suites, freelance or even underground opportunities can be difficult to navigate. These tips from business and salon industry experts can help.
Losing salon staff is not a new occurrence brought on by the pandemic—hairstylists have always moved around and sought out new opportunities—but this phenomenon has sadly been heightened by COVID lockdowns. It makes sense that salon owners are looking for ways to cut their losses while minimizing and preventing future turnover.
“Independent contractors have been part of our industry for as long as I can remember,” says Peter Mahoney, president of Salon Resource Group in Dartmouth, N.S. “However, I do believe that their number is on the rise, as are suite business numbers in recent years, which has
been escalating even more due to the pandemic.”
It’s important for salon owners to create an enticing environment that encourages their staff to stay, but it’s also important to identify and understand the reasons they may leave in the first place. In doing so, you can address any challenges and hopefully prevent more staff from leaving in the future.
“If a stylist leaves their salon for an alternative work environment, it usually means their salon wasn’t keeping an interesting enough space. Some stylists leave because they think there are better opportunities or they’ll make more money [going off on their own], but it’s usually not the case. If you’re working as a freelancer or independently, you’re not getting exposed to the same educational opportunities and you’re going to fall behind.” — Lance Nielsen, co-owner of Element Hair, Waterloo, Ont.
“The primary reasons why employees were leaving salons pre-COVID had to do with lack of flexibility and the inability to understand how to earn a pay increase. A lot of stylists working in traditional, commission-based salons struggle with growing their income as a lot of independent salons aren’t structured, but I think what complicated things is when COVID hit. Large salons with 20 to 30 service providers working under one roof in a closed space caused a lot of workers to reconsider their environment. We started seeing a migration to a simpler concept—like a suite where stylists don’t have to worry about anyone but themselves, or to smaller, independent salons with natural light, a street entrance and other things that signify ‘freedom.’” — Peter Mahoney, president of Salon Resource Group, Dartmouth, N.S.
“AT THE END OF THE DAY, YOU MUST STRUCTURE YOUR BUSINESS IN A WAY THAT MAKES PEOPLE FEEL CRAZY TO NOT WORK FOR YOU. IT’S ALL ABOUT THE TEAM AND CULTURE. BY BUILDING AND RETAINING YOUR STAFF, YOU WILL HAVE A GROWING BUSINESS.” — ROBERT CROMEANS, GLOBAL ARTISTIC AND BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR FOR JOHN PAUL MITCHELL SYSTEMS, AND OWNER OF ROBERT CROMEANS SALONS, SAN DIEGO, CA
Saying goodbye to employees can be difficult but the pandemic has caused a lot of uncertainty for many people in both their personal and professional lives. Whether stylists are leaving to work underground or to gain independence, it’s up to salon owners to reconsider their business model and make their salons an attractive environment for their staff.
“The pandemic has created this new dynamic in the industry, giving hairstylists a lot of time to sit around and think about what they’re doing. It’s also created an underground economy, which isn’t beneficial for our industry. What salons need to do now is create a dynamic, encouraging and educational environment so that people don’t want to leave. Salons need to take a good look at themselves and make their offerings attractive for staff to come and stay. It’s about money but it’s also about relating to your staff, helping them gain confidence and keeping the education going.” — Lance Nielsen, co-owner of Element Hair, Waterloo, Ont.
“Millennials and Gen Zs are entrepreneurial generations. They don’t want to work for somebody, but would rather work with somebody. They want to do more than just work; they want to be part of something and have a cause and purpose. Today, if a salon doesn’t have a passion or a vision, they’re not going to keep young people interested for long. If you look at the traditional commission-based salon, oftentimes it’s not really led, it’s managed. There are a set of rules meant to be followed and there’s a lack of flexibility and that just doesn’t work today.” — Peter Mahoney, president of Salon Resource Group, Dartmouth, N.S.
“Some stylists did not return to the salon after the lockdowns because they were more comfortable doing hair at home or got used to the flexibility. Most of our losses end up going to freelance rather than to other salons, because they’re searching for that independence. A stylist leaving doesn’t just impact the team but also the habit cycle of clientele. For years, stylists have stacked and packed clients, and were racing to get hair done. The pandemic has taught us to slow down and spend quality time with clients. In turn, we’re seeing higher client tickets and happier staff. I always say hairstylists are nicer when they’re working with fewer people. This forced shift was a win-win.” — Robert Cromeans, global artistic and business development director for John Paul Mitchell Systems, and owner of Robert Cromeans Salons, San Diego, CA
Although it can be devastating to have staff leave for other industry opportunities, salon owners are finding ways to deal with the change.
“I encourage salon owners to reach out to other owners and form a group or hold occasional meetings. We’ve done it with several other salons, and it’s involved discussing what’s going on in the industry, talking about staffing changes and more. People learn from it, get ideas and inspiration, which leads to them implementing what they learned in their salon.” — Lance Nielsen, co-owner of Element Hair, Waterloo, Ont.
“Stylists leave for various reasons and I tell salon owners that moving forward, the goal should be to recruit 365 days a year. It’s sad to see staff go but people moving on is part of the business and we’ve got to protect ourselves and be prepared, so do virtual interviews, advertise, and think outside the box. A friend of mine lost 73 employees during the pandemic, which is sad but it’s happening. Larger salons have huge turnover and the way they deal with it is by recruiting even more, and I think we need to be doing the same.” — Robert Cromeans, global artistic and business development director for John Paul Mitchell Systems, and owner of Robert Cromeans Salons, San Diego, CA
Tips for Retaining Staff
If you want to keep your employees, here’s how to focus on making your salon an attractive place to work while zeroing in on your staff’s needs.
Structure is Key
“We have created a positive, encouraging environment in our salon while providing support, systems and structure. Some salons don’t have enough structure and many young people want it because that’s part of what gives them confidence. I think for the most part, stylists need that supportive environment and need to be continually exposed to educational opportunities.” — Lance Nielsen, co-owner of Element Hair, Waterloo, Ont.
“If you’re going to build a commission-based salon today, you need to be 100 per cent transparent with your people and share your numbers and vision. We like to say we’re not in the business of cutting and colouring hair; we’re in the business of growing people.” — Peter Mahoney, president of Salon Resource Group, Dartmouth, N.S.
“People want flexibility these days and salon owners need to pay attention to that. Show your stylists you can be flexible on upcoming schedules. I have more part-timers in my business than ever before and everybody in my salon has a key. If a client wanted something done but we’re closed late at night or early in the morning, there’s no limitation. People want the benefits of being an employee, but more importantly, they want freedom. Providing them with both is exactly how you keep them!” — Robert Cromeans, global artistic and business development director for John Paul Mitchell Systems, and owner of Robert Cromeans Salons, California
“Don’t just show your staff that your salon is a good place to start a career—show them it’s a good place to finish. Show stylists all the opportunities they have available to them. Is there a path above and beyond working behind the chair? How does one become part of the leadership team? All of these things are critically important today.” — Peter Mahoney, president of Salon Resource Group, Dartmouth, N.S.