What Really Happens Inside the Salon Industry: Part 2

In our first piece of What Really Happens In The Salon Industry, we covered what it means to be an independent contractor versus an employee, what a non-compete agreement is and what it means to sign one and how to obtain client information in the best and most efficient way. This week, I’m excited to keep the conversation going by discussing even more important things to consider when looking for a job in the salon industry. Let’s delve in a little deeper and get to the nitty gritty, shall we?

Licensing & Additional Training

I would honestly say that going to school, accruing the necessary hours to graduate and passing the eight-hour final is just the beginning of the learning process to become a hairdresser. And truly, after your first month, all of the educators and your classmates become friends and school just becomes a fun place to be so the time goes by quickly. But after school, preparation for the state boards begins and that’s when you’ll truly feel the pressure.

For the Colorado state boards, I had to have a suitcase full of supplies, all labeled and in separate Ziploc bags to ensure proper sanitation. I passed thanks to my attention to detail and putting tons of emphasis on sanitizing all of my implements in between use. I had a few friends that didn’t pass for various reasons: holding the blowdryer on the nozzle as opposed to the handle, applying mock relaxer too close to the scalp and failing to maintain the proper sanitation rules. And the worst part? Even if you make a mistake, you just have to keep going through the test and finish out the two-hour process. When the testing is over, you are handed an envelope with your results and you must leave the building before opening to find out if you passed or failed. If you failed, you must wait a certain amount of time (I believe it’s 30 days in Colorado) and then reapply. If you pass, you go on to schedule your written portion of the test which is the last step before receiving that exciting little wallet card.

Once you finally get past your state board licensing, the requirements to stay licensed are pretty simple. You must display your license in your salon, abide by all sanitation and health codes, and apply for renewal every two years. If you miss your renewal date, get ready to take the test all over! And if you decide to go too long without renewing and try to get back into a salon, you might even have to go through schooling again, so it’s really important to pay the $75 fee every two years and keep your status active just in case.

In order to maintain your license, you don’t technically need to attend advanced education training. I know hairdressers who are still using the same techniques they learned ten years ago and haven’t been to a class since. I don’t advise this, but it does happen. However, in order to continue to excel in the industry, gain high fashion clients who like to wear the latest trends, to raise prices regularly and to be recognized as a reputable hairdresser, you must keep learning. Classes and hair shows that you can add to your resume are great and completely necessary, but even video tutorials on YouTube or reading informative blogs can help you learn new skills. I still have my old books from beauty school which I look through about once a year just to see if there’s anything new that I can expand on. I also recommend the book, Great Hair by Nick Arrojo as a hugely beneficial resource.

Pay Scales

There are a few options for hairdressers when it comes to take home pay. Most salons typically just use one pay scale option for all staff (whether that be contractors or employees) and a few salons have a mixture of two different types. I have worked in each capacity and truly believe that there are benefits and disadvantages to all, though knowing how a salon pays their staff is key in finding out what type of environment and culture a salon has.

The first would be working on an hourly rate. Most salons that only pay an hourly rate are very high volume and usually a specialty type salon. Think blowdry bars, braid bars or children’s boutique salons. Usually the services performed are at a lower price point, therefore allowing the only appropriate payment option to be hourly. Commission would be too little money for each employee and booth rental would be impossible to afford. Then there is the slightly different model of having a base hourly rate or a commission percentage, whichever is greater in a given pay period. A lot of hairdressers prefer working in this type of an environment because they know they have a guaranteed paycheck every week even if they do minimal services. But if they go above and beyond and bring in a high amount of service dollars in a week, they can make commissions that can greatly increase that paycheck’s dollar amount. So it’s seen as allowing for a certain amount of security with additional incentives for putting in more effort and time to build your clientele and gain repeat business.

Straight commission is a rare, yet viable option as well and some salons choose to offer this. The great thing about being on only commission is that you will probably have a lot of freedom in your position. You most likely won’t be required to be at the salon when you aren’t booked with services, which can be wonderful if you are someone who can thrive without being given structure and guidance. However, if you aren’t quite the independent go-getter, working on straight commission can mean a smaller take home every week. You’ll have to rely more on your skills in building a clientele to earn your paycheck and if you decide not to do the hard work required, there won’t be any kind of base rate waiting for you.

The same is true with the last option for salon payment options: booth renting. Working as a booth rental stylist means that you pay a fee each week as a rent in return for using a station in a salon and the rest is yours to divvy up and use. The great thing about this is that without a salon taking up to 60% of your service dollars, the amount you actually earn on each service can go way up. But of course, with more freedom comes more responsibility and in this case, that comes in the form of doing your own taxes, supplying your own color and products, and carrying your own health, disability and liability insurance. If you can stay focused, create and follow a clear strategy to keep things organized and act responsibly with the money going in and out of your business account, the chance for success is huge. But it takes a large amount of discipline to succeed in this type of setup, so it’s helpful to know what you are getting into.

Benefits & Lifestyle Considerations

To be perfectly honest with you, I’ve not had much luck with benefits in this industry. I’ve worked for large international corporations, medium-sized local chains and small salons with less than 5 hairdressers and none of these has afforded me a great option for healthcare or benefit coverage. The only salon that I was ever eligible for benefits with, I found out five months into my “coverage” that my manager had not submitted the proper documentation originally. And I had in fact not been accruing any vacation or sick days and the healthcare coverage that I’d continued to inquire about had in fact never begun. I left the company two months later and never saw any benefits with them. Every other salon I worked for either intentionally kept my weekly hours around 25-30 so that benefit enrollment wasn’t allowed or they just simply didn’t offer any. Honestly, traditional benefits are quite a rarity in the industry.

However, when I chose this career, I wasn’t looking for paid vacations, sick days and dental coverage. I knew that I was trading a more traditional 9-5 path for one with more of what was important to me. One that would afford me the kind of lifestyle that I was looking for. I chose a career that allows me to create my own desired schedule, choose when and for how long to take vacation and allows me to chat with interesting and inspiring women all day. A career that means I never pay to have my hair cut and color done and that lets me trade services with all types of beauty pros for waxing, facials and nail services. A career that gives me the opportunity to become a business owner, teacher or manager. A career that I can develop while raising children at home or from an internationally renowned salon with my name on it. Simply stated, a career which I get to create and I always viewed that as the ultimate benefit anyway.

From here, I want to dive a little deeper into some questions I receive on a regular basis. Questions such as whether the industry is as full of drama as some people believe, how I tell a client when I am not a fan of what she wants to do with her hair and how I address dealing with a difficult customer. Since we are out of time for this week and I have a super fun Valentine’s love letter scheduled for next week, I’ll be answering these questions in a third and final part on my website. Please check it out and feel free to tweet @HairWithKate to ask questions or get feedback!

Related posts:

What Really Happens in the Salon Industry?

How To Find Your Hairdresser

More Than Just a Trim