- Chains and franchises One popular choice for hairdressers looking for their first job is a big chain salon. These salons tend to be very busy, with entire families coming in regularly. However, the prices charged tend to be at the lower end. Although a short training/probation period typically is required, the cosmetologist starts doing some real clients right away. Advantages: 1) Working Fridays and Saturdays practically guarantees a steady income. 2) Management and educator opportunities are plentiful and grow as the chain grows. 3) If you enjoy doing hair on children and men, as well as women, chains give you that variety.
- High-end single or multiple locations Salons that charge higher prices also tend to require a longer training time or an apprenticeship. New cosmetologists can work their way up from assisting, shampooing and blowing out a style to gradually taking on more complex work over a period as long as 18 months before they get their own chair. Advantages: 1) The excellent training can set the bar high for excellence throughout a career. 2) Career growth may be possible by becoming a trainer or manager. 3) The hairdresser may have the opportunity to specialize as a cutter or a colorist.
- “Boutique salons” Some smaller salons, called “boutique salons,” can have just a handful of employees. Advantages: 1) The new hairdresser gets to work closely with the owner and understand the entire operation. 2) Usually, the owner has more than enough clients to provide a built-in start-off clientele. 3) If the owner is older, he or she may be looking to groom someone to take over the business.
Day spa boom
Increasingly, salons are expanding to become day spas, offering body care services such as massage, body wraps and polishes, reflexology, aromatherapy, electrolysis, water therapies and various specialty services. Some spas are medi-spas, which focus on wellness services like nutrition, acupuncture and healing massages, while others promote themselves as sanctuaries for relaxation or pampering. For more about this work, see I’M THINKING OF BECOMING A facialist/skin care professional.
Another major difference among salons is the compensation method-how they pay. The options are:
- Commission The most common structure, commission payment splits the fee between the salon and the employee. Salon owners may choose to make the split 50/50; however, at the beginning of a career the salon typically takes more than the employee. In many cases, employees receive a bigger cut when they have more years in the salon, increase their business or both. Many salons additionally offer about a 10% commission on retail product sales.
- Salary Some salon owners pay a straight salary. They believe that this limits competition among stylists and creates more of a team environment. Still, the different employees’ salaries can be tied to how much business they bring in, how many years they’ve been with the business and many of the same factors that would apply to commission. Salary-only salons still may offer a commission on retail sales. Commission salons frequently start their new hires on salary to make sure they have some income while they’re building their business.
- Salary plus commission You may be guaranteed a minimum salary and also receive a cut of the business you produce.
- Hourly Receptionists and assistants are often paid a set fee per hour they work, but typically the professional salon staff is not paid this way unless it’s an hourly-plus-commission structure.
- Rental salons This is a different arrangement altogether. You really own your business and lease space from a salon that houses other independent contractors like yourself. So you keep whatever is left over after you pay to lease your styling station, purchase products and market yourself through the Yellow Pages or other advertising. You also may be charged for a percentage of utilities like water and electricity, of insurance such as workmen’s compensation, maintenance and improvements, parking or other fees associated with business ownership. Some salons are a mixed bag; they rent to their estheticians but employ their hairstylists. Rental salons are more popular on the west coast than in other areas of the country, but you can find them everywhere. Typically, new grads do not start out renting their own space. When cosmetologists have a “full book” of steady clientele, they weigh the pros and cons of this arrangement.
In recent years, salons have added benefits packages in order to attract the best staff they can. Working at a salon can give you the same types of benefits that professionals in other careers receive: paid vacation, health insurance, a retirement plan, a share of the profits and sick leave.
Build on your skills
Good salons support continuing education. They do this in a variety of ways, including:
- help their staff pay for classes
- bring guest artists to teach in the salon
- have some stylists double as educators who conduct weekly or monthly workshops
- hold contests with a trip to a trade show or an advanced academy as the prize
- pair new stylists with older staffers who serve as mentors
- subscribe to industry publications and fashion magazines
- keep educational tapes and DVDs on hand
- encourage stylists to browse the Internet for industry web sites
- in general, establish an environment where learning is encouraged and rewarded
Don’t settle for just any place to work. After you get your license and start going out on interviews, look for a salon that is clean, respects employees and clients, promotes teamwork, encourages education and discourages competition and gossip. You know the best way to determine whether a salon is up to your standards? (If you like going undercover, you’ll love this) Get a service there! With your eyes and ears open, having even a manicure can tell you a lot about the work environment.