Letters From Your HairdresserWhat Really Happens in the Salon Industry?Kate Allen

A job that gives you freedom in schedule and creativity, considers keeping up with current fashion and trends necessary for success, allows you to make friends with hundreds of great people in your city and gives you a pretty amazing take home salary after a few years of experience and expertise? Sounds pretty great right? Well, it is. And it’s called being a hairdresser.

Within the salon industry, there are so many options for how to create your perfect career. From which type of salon culture to work in to which status of employment you’d prefer. From renting a chair and creating your own schedule to working as an hourly employee for a large chain… So many options!

But what I love about these choices is that they exist. Until recent years, the industry I love was seen much differently than it is now. It was an industry for those who weren’t intelligent enough for college or more traditional careers. It was for women who needed something to do before having children to stay home with. It was supplemental. Even years ago when I was gearing up to enter school, I saw it as just a stepping stone to fall back on. Similar to my great-grandmother dressing hair out of her home in the early 1900′s because she had to make a living, I just wanted an option to support myself should I need it while I was pursuing better options.

You know how that story ended for me. I obviously fell in love. But I think it’s emerging on a larger scale, too. Being a hairdresser is cool. It means you are fashion forward and creative. It means you are nontraditional and self motivated. And having known master stylists in downtown Denver making $100k and national and international celebrity and session hairdressers making half a million a year, for the motivated hairdresser, a comfortable living and way of life is attainable. I love everything about the industry I’ve stumbled into and in an effort to shed some light on the many options that hairdressers have to consider and navigate, I’ve compiled a list explaining each. When I was fresh, I had to learn from a lot of experience, advice and reading and I would have loved to have someone sit me down and explain this information. So for those future hairdressers, this is your guide of what to look for. And for everyone else, this is your peek into the many career decisions of a hairdresser. Enjoy and make sure to check back again next week for part two!

Employee Vs. Independent Contractor

There are a lot of different options when it comes to how you can work as a hairdresser. The two classifications are being either an independent contractor or an employee. Each option has its benefits and disadvantages and also greatly changes the culture and climate of the salon you are in. Having an employment status means that your employer will deduct your taxes from your paychecks, can set your schedule, and can require certain behaviors and actions from you. Basically, when you are on the clock, your time is your employers. Because of this, a salon that only hires employees is one where each hairstylist pitches in with cleaning, folding towels and sometimes even answering the phones. You are expected to be at the salon regardless of what your schedule of clients looks like for the day and while you’re there, you are expected to do what is needed by management. The advantage to a situation like this is that as an employee, your employer must meet minimum wage, insurance and benefits requirements. And you can pretty heavily rely on the salon for walk-ins and to keep you busy as you begin building a clientele. A salon like this would be Ulta or DryBar.

An independent contractor relationship is much different. According to the IRS, if you are hired as an independent contractor, the salon you work for cannot create a schedule for you or require you to wear a certain dress code. You are working completely at-will and the salon you work for cannot specify how you do your job. The downside to this relationship is that an independent contractor is not protected by minimum wage laws, overtime laws and they are required to take care of their own taxes, disability and liability insurance and anything else that is necessary to keep them protected. However, you are entitled to certain freedoms and decision-making that you are not allowed as an employee. Typically, this kind of a salon has many freelance hairdressers who set their own schedule, work by appointment only and are generally independent. Most salon owners in this category will hire a few key employees such as receptionists and assistants to fold towels, clean and answer the phones and the hairdressers are just expected to show up when they have clients on the books. This culture is usually a very self-sufficient, fairly easy going one.

Non-Compete Agreements

Most commission and hourly salons require a non-compete agreement. Such a contract looks different depending on the type of salon, position within the salon and the state, but the general tone is the same. A non-compete agreement usually maintains that upon leaving a salon, you may not work for a competing organization within a certain radius for a certain amount of time.

Let me first say that I would never work for another salon that requires a non-compete. Every salon I’ve worked for that has required one has been quite dysfunctional once I’ve seen the interior of the organization and the motive and character of those in leadership. I see a non-compete agreement as a red flag that there are cracks in the foundation and once I see them, I should not have to be bound to the organization. Or have to move ten miles away to continue working.

But it is also important to note that a non-compete can mean different things. I’m opposed to a contract that has a hold on my career after I choose to terminate a relationship with a company. I believe that I have control over my future, not any one salon, and they cannot choose my next moves for me. That is why I won’t sign one. However, during a stylist’s time at a certain salon, she will inevitably see important aspects of the company that should not be shared with anyone else or used after termination of her position with that organization to directly compete with them in the future. I believe that is simply a matter of character, though, and can be written into an agreement, but has nothing to do with where a stylist chooses to work after she leaves a salon. Also, some salons have a non-compete clause which states they will not work for a competitor or pursue employment with a competitor while working for their current salon. I obviously believe that is valid as well if both parties agree to that kind of a relationship.

Another important note about these types of agreements is that they are only valid for employees. Independent contractors are clearly exempt from this type of situation as their classification from the IRS states that they are. If you are an independent contractor, the salon you rent or take commissions from has no control over how you work or other clients you work for. And honestly, if a salon is asking for you to sign a non-compete, work as an independent contractor without benefits and work on commission and not a set rate, you may want to consider the slew of red flags anyway. The non-compete is probably the least of your worries.

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  1. Thanks for this! Thinking of starting my long-awaited career in cosmetology. This was a great read.

  2. I really want to go to beauty school and become a hair stylist, but I desperately need health insurance with whatever job I choose. That’s all that’s holding me back right now. What option would I have?