by Mark T. Palermo

Time and again, salon owners rank "ability to attract and retain stylists" as their biggest business challenge. We all know that there are many types of salons that new and existing hairdressers have to choose from. There are many different pay structures, attendance requirements, experience levels. But, what makes one salon different from another? Why would a new, fresh, hungry hairstylist choose one salon to start their career over another? Why did the owner of the salon hire THIS person to be the face of their business? Why did they choose you? Why did you choose them? Why did you leave that salon after a year? Why have you worked in 12 different salons in two years?

Too many times, the assumed answer to the last question is "because they have no work ethic". However, have you ever asked yourself, the salon owner, "Would I work for me?" This is a difficult question to answer truthfully. If you don't have a positive response, then it is time to take a sincere look at how you recruit your staff and what methods you take to keep them there.

In a survey of Vanguard's nearly 2000 customers, I was astonished to learn that only 15 have a formal, firm, written down, training program for new hairdressers. Is it any wonder that the greatest concentration of salons with formal programs takes place in Vanguard's highest volume territory, Baton Rouge, where the quality of salons would rival any major U.S. city? After further evaluation, it was also discovered that those salons with a formal training and indoctrination program make up the top 10% of Vanguard's existing clientele. Turnover is at minimal levels in these businesses as well.

As you begin every New Year with new goals, take some time to truly look at what methods and policies you have to recruit new hairdressers into your business. Create a system that is unique to your salon. Then, when talking to new candidates, you will be able to separate your salon from the rest.

Here are some things to consider:


Make Recruiting a Priority
Just because each chair in your salon is filled doesn't mean it will be tomorrow. Always have a backup. If you have a 10 chair salon, you should have 20 hairdressers. If one leaves unexpectedly, you have a back up. A few key strategies to consider:

  • Don't wait for schools to "send you their best graduates". You have to go get them.

  • Be prepared to help contribute to the school, not just take from it.

  • Involve the entire salon in recruiting new talent.

Your current salon team should all help in creating a warm, welcoming culture to possible new team members. Grow new mentors who are passionate about the industry and the business in which they work. They will be your most prized ambassadors when potential employees come to interview. They will also be your most valuable asset when making an assesment on whether someone is right for the team or not.

Create a Salon Promise for Employees and Customers
Who are you? What do you stand for? How will you continue to keep these answers the ongoing focus of your business?

Create a recruiting promotional tool.
Make sure every school in the area has a strong visual, informational packet that reflects who your salon is and what it is about. You could include basic policies, hours of business, and a brief summary of what your business has to offer (training program, benefits, etc.)


Break down the initial indoctrination period into segements of focus over certain periods of time. Some may want this period to be only a few months, others may believe that a full year is required to effectively train a new hairdresser to become a full service hairdresser. Regardless of how long the training/indoctrination period lasts, make sure that, along with technical training in color, cuts, and styling, the new employees are being trained in the salon culture and system. Remember, these are the main ingredients that separate your salon from the next. They are the main reasons that they work for you.

Training a new employee should take place in predetermined time intervals with the focus being evenly separated between technical expertise (cuts, color, etc.), salon culture (why we are different, why we are here), and salon system (answering phone, the color bar, the wash house, etc.)

A great way to start is with a detailed, easy to follow Policies and Procedures manual, mapping out what is expected of all employees. Too many of us fail to set ecpectations and standards. We can't hit a target that we can't see. Written business plans, goals, and staff retention plans are all bi products of a well written and prepared policy and procedure manual.

Some items you may want to include are:

  • Salon Mission/Vision
  • Employee Etiquette 
  • Job descriptions
  • Client handling policies (How clients should be treated)
  • Acceptable and Unacceptable absence

The Policy and procedures manual will, basically, be the guide for training in salon culture and system. Everyone should be able to answer the phone properly. Everyone should be able to give a salon tour, using the most effective dialogue and verbage to describe each area, including the Wash House and the Color Bar. Each new employee should sign the manual and it should be kept in their file for future reference, if necessary. Be prepared to enforce the manual. That will be the true test of the true leader.

Technical training should be set out in an effective manner to include all aspects of the stylists career. Product Knowledge should always be a focus, as should retailing and the most current coloring techniques. Only after each skill is mastered should that hairstylist be able to perform it on a current or new client. As each segment of skill is certified by the owner, the stylist can provide these services. A possible way to segment each certification is quarterly or monthly. The system is entirely up to you, as long as it is organized, well thought out, credible, and consistent.


OK. So, you have hired the perfect employee. They have trained on all aspects of the salon culture, the system, and they are technically perfect as far as the standard in your salon. Now, how do you keep them. Simple? Not always. However, if you have a program available for their growth and you keep communication lines open, you can make an employee a phenomenal "internal customer". Just a few examples include:

  1. Develop a team 
    Everyone helps out with everything. The client always becomes first. Staff are treated as an important part of the salon and decision making  process.

  2. Reward Loyalty
    If it gets rewarded, it gets repeated

  3. Provide a compensation program that allows them to give themselves a raise anytime they warrant it. 
    This should include looking at PCA (per customer averages), retailing focus, training and personal growth initiatives

  4. Give them more responsibility
    Create new mentors. Let them be the ambassadors for your business in recruiting. As they grow in the salon, they could be first in line to     help technically mentor a new hairstylist, allowing them to make more money by having more clients. Keep the lines of communication open    at all times. Maintain an open door policy and hold quarterly individual sessions with key employees outside the salon. Ask what is going well  and what could be better.

The salon industry is growing very quickly, with thousands of new talent entering the job market every year. Their knowledge of effective business and marketing are greater than they have ever been. The simple truth is, you either prepare to hire and to grow them or you will be competing with them. An effective recruiting, training, and maintenance program will give you a leg up on the competing market and ensure your business growth along with that of the professional beauty industry.


Mark Palermo is the CEO of Vanguard Salon Systems, Inc., a full service beauty distributor,Vanguard Consulting, an industry research and consulting firm, and Vanguard College of Cosmetology, A Paul MitchellPartner School . He has a BA Degree in Finance and Management with a concentration in Marketing. Prior to joining the professional beauty industry, Mark worked as abusiness analyst for the prestigious Dun &Bradstreet Corporation. Mr. Palermo has been recognized for his perceptive analysis and intuitive foresight. He has a remarkable track record for predicting industry trends for more than 18 years.

Ecommerce & ERP Integration by Website Pipeline