What if you could go back in time and give yourself the best career advice you’ve ever received? We spoke to three very successful Canadian salon owners to ask what their biggest lessons in the business have been. Find out what these oracles of beauty have to share with you.
Deciding to embark on a career as hairstylist is not for the faint of heart. Not only do you need to master your craft—and fine-tune it along the way with a ton of education—but you also need to combine technique and artistry with a sharp business sense to be able to grow over the years.
1. How do you know you have what it takes to become an entrepreneur in the hairstyling industry?
“To become an entrepreneur, you must have a strong vision combined with an unwavering desire to see it through. You must believe in your vision and yourself and not let anyone influence you out of it. You must be willing to risk it all in order to see it through to fruition.” — Ray Civello, founder of Civello salons in Toronto and Collega, a haircare distribution company in Canada.
“First, try to find out as much about the profession as you can. [Doing this] will make it easier to picture yourself as a hairstylist, and whether or not it’s not for you.” — Renn VonDyck, owner of Élan Hair Studio, Winnipeg
“Because of the way I started out in the industry, I think I’m one-third hairstylist, one-third artistic director and one-third entrepreneur. Over the years, I’ve become more involved in the business side of things on a daily basis, but it’s been a gradual evolution. At the beginning, managing a salon was very tough; I had to work with my emotions a lot.” — Daniel Benoît, co-owner of Pure salon in Montreal, and artistic director for Davines North America.
2. What is the first thing you must master when you decide to open a salon?
“Negativity. Being a positive person will make you so much more successful.” — Renn VonDyck
“Multi-tasking! You must master how to watch everything that is going on in the salon at all times, as well as be with your client/guest fully and without distraction. This takes time, but with daily practice it becomes second nature.” — Ray Civello
“I had to learn how to manage my emotions. As soon as something was not done the way I liked, I acted out. It was very difficult for me accepting others’ shortcomings. But I had a good sense of leadership and an artistic vision that I wanted to see bloom, so I had to learn to accept how other people operate and grow from there.” — Daniel Benoît
3. Best lesson you learned in your first year of business that is still relevant today?
“It’s always been and will always be about people! A good decision is only a good decision if it benefits the guests, the staff and the company. If it only benefits one or two, it’s not likely to be a good decision.” — Ray Civello
“Be clear about your intentions, who you are and what you’re all about. The owner of the building didn’t want to lease me a space
at first because she thought a hair salon was too risky. I had to go around the agent handling the rental and appeal directly to the owner and present my vision for the salon. I was able to convince her that I was going to be a great tenant. Élan Hair Studio is now 13 years old! Whether it’s co-workers, staff, clients or the bank, people will misjudge you very easily. Building trust is vital for success.” — Renn VonDyck
“I found a very tiny space when I launched my first salon and decided to put in four chairs. It was tight, but the clients loved it! I got rid of the soft drink machine and replaced it with a shelf for product retailing. After
a year, I was selling the most Sebastian products in the region. If you prepare for it, it will happen.” — Daniel Benoît
4. What do you have to keep implementing over the years to be a successful entrepreneur in the hair industry?
“Being exposed to new things is key. I need to go to London twice a year to study all the innovative techniques and ideas that I want to see incorporated in the salon. Another thing to keep in mind is that when you attend a lot of education events, you are constantly exposing yourself; making yourself vulnerable, in a sense. The only way to learn is to put yourself in danger. You have to keep pushing yourself and be open minded. I constantly challenge myself to keep learning new things.” — Daniel Benoît
“The ability and will to shift gears. Sometimes growth is slow and steady, but sometimes a major shift is needed. When you feel stuck in a rut, bored or whatever, look for something that will jolt you out of it. Don’t jump at just anything all the time—you don’t want to always go for the ‘grass is greener’ approach. But be open to opportunities that will make a difference.” — Renn VonDyck
“The importance of creating a great experience is what ultimately builds loyalty. We are in the loyalty game! We want people to love the experience each and every time, which also means we must evolve and grow our craft, as well as invest in the development of others.” — Ray Civello
5. What is the biggest hurdle you have had to face, and how did you overcome it?
“Our group owned a few salons and we had to close some of them and bring those employees into another salon with a different culture. That change is hard on all of your staff. It’s also particularly challenging if you’re putting together different age groups and demographics, since management and hairstylists have to adapt to new ways of working together. But you want your business to be healthy, so these changes are sometimes necessary.” — Daniel Benoît
“About three years into my career, I moved from the walk-in- based salon I had started at to a more upscale salon where I was required to build my own clientele. With suddenly so many great hairstylists around me, the temptation was to try to puff myself up and try to present myself as this great hairstylist, too. But I found that staying humble and being honest with my clients— telling them I was new there and trying to build my clientele— helped me gain their trust. I believe I got more referrals because of it. Also, I was a lot more open to learn from the mentors available at this salon.” — Renn VonDyck
“The biggest hurdle I had to overcome was to get other stylists to believe in the vision. With ongoing training, a service-obsessed culture can give birth to a salon that makes magic for the guests, as well as each other. Without meetings and training, this is impossible to achieve.” — Ray Civello