What These Salon Owners Wish They Knew Before Opening
After spending years behind the chair observing your owner and management, transitioning to ownership is a natural career path for many stylists.
And while you may think you’re ready to dive into the owner role, there’s a lot of hard work and details to be considered before your salon is up and running.
For the best advice, we asked seasoned owners:
“What do you wish you knew before you opened your first salon—that nobody told you?”
“You need a ‘might as well’ budget! Things come up and the contractor says, ‘if we do it later it’s going to cost a lot more.’ Well, we ‘might as well’ do it now! Add 25-30 percent to your budget for the ‘might as wells!’
“I also advise owners to hire from schools and train staff yourself. But the reality is that most owners don’t have the time or money to do it that way. If you do hire experienced staff, then my suggestion would be to only hire people that fit your beliefs and values, are committed to the same quality, and have a similar clientele as what you’re marketing to—otherwise you’ll be trying to please too wide of a demographic.
“Finally—learn from your mistakes. I trusted a manager who said she was going to open a salon but not take any of my staff, so I let her stay on until she opened, only to have her recruit a salon full of my staff. We recovered but it sure did hurt emotionally.”
—David Wagner, owner, Juut Salonspas
“Invest in the best location you can afford; it will cost you more upfront but pay off big in the long run by saving you on advertising, marketing and recruiting costs. Then get all of your project funding organized upfront before you start your buildout, and don’t expect to be able to depend on everyday cash flow for at least six months.
“Value the jobs that you offer and be certain people cannot find the same employment experience, salary and benefits elsewhere, and you’ll always have a strong team.”
—Heath Smith, co-owner, Ruiz Salons
“The easiest thing you’ll do as a salon owner will be to cut hair behind the chair. So train your team to lead and you won’t have to be the one wearing all the hats with all of the responsibility. And finally, don’t take it personally, especially when it’s hard not to take it personally.”
—Allen Ruiz, co-owner, Ruiz Salons
“When I opened my first Aveda lifestyle location, Aveda laid out what the projected operating costs would be, and from there we figured out how many chairs we would need to pay the bills and grow from there. I learned a lot from that.
“But I wish I had known that the three myths of salon ownership weren’t true:
- I’m not my own boss. I work for my customers and my team.
- I don’t make my own hours. My business is on my mind 24/7.
- It’s not a high-profit business. The costs of worker’s comp, taxes, credit card fees, and maintenance really take a big bite out of what’s left.
“What I have learned since opening is that I did it because being a hairstylist is everything I ever wanted—I adore it, and I wanted to give that experience to others.
“In line with that thinking is how we hire: ‘Hire for heart, train for skill’ is one of our guiding principles, but we also have someone from each department meet the candidate and give us their impression. We usually ask someone with similar experience to answer questions for the candidate, to be sure that they are asking peer-to-peer questions. It’s not just our interview, it’s also the candidate’s.
“To keep our stylists productive, we create a clear timing protocol for each stylist level and add 15 minutes for new guests for the first couple of weeks. The flow can be unpredictable until you get comfortable in the new space. It takes time to find your way around a new salon, and you’ll find some areas that need refining. Maybe you need to move the towel hamper to another spot, or the retail table is now in the way of guests checking out. Plan for everything, and be ready for anything!”
—Karie Bennett, owner, Atelier Salons
“I wished I would have understood the budget and all the extra cost going into the buildout and right after. Budget, budget, budget!
“I also recommend two or three rounds of interviews when hiring. In the first round, do a group interview so you can really see the personality shining through. In the second round, we do a model hair cut so we can see their skill and how they would perceive constructive criticism. The third round is with some team members. The candidates spend about two hours observing and asking questions so the team can see if the candidate would be a culture fit. If someone makes it through three rounds of interviews, really shows their commitment, personality, and they’re a culture fit, they will get hired to join our team.”
–Khanh Nguyen, owner, Karen Allen Salon
“I wish I knew how to play the ‘numbers game’ and what we needed to do to create a profit. I also wish I had taken psychology as a major in college. But I never went to college!”
—Keri Davis-Duffy, co-owner, Gila Rut Aveda Salons
“Hire out of inspiration–only hire candidates that excite you, candidates that you can see long term as a contribution to your team. Ask: Do they look the part? Are they eager to succeed? Are you inspired by them?”
—Karla Lopez, co-owner, Gila Rut Aveda Salons
“I wish I would have known how positively my life would change! I have so much more purpose now, and the team and guests I get to spend my days with are now family. Aveda’s support and education is second to none. I work way more than I did when I worked for someone, but now it’s more than work, it’s my livelihood.
“Before opening my first salon I had to get the word out that I would be interviewing and looking for team members. I had posts out on social media and asked through the Aveda network if anyone was moving to the area or looking for a new salon. I had many coffee date interviews leading up to opening, and a few of my first hires are still with me five years later! Most importantly I am looking for genuine people, I can teach further skill and our culture. But it all starts with, ‘are they a good person?’ to me.
“Now five years in, I am opening my second location, and while I am still searching for the good people, I have the advantage of bringing each applicant in for multiple shadow dates at our current location. We pay close attention to their teamwork, attention to detail, customer service skills and general interest in our salon and culture. Then as a team, we can collectively feel if we want to bring them on and see which of our two salons the new hire would best fit, based on personality, style, level of experience and need.”
—Kate Kugele, owner, 501 Salon & Spa
“First—have a fundamental understanding of business. If you have never had business education and you are uncomfortable with financial statements, it would be highly advisable to learn the basics! Second, it’s important to create a caring culture that offers unique, high-touch experiences. In order to achieve this, a team must be very clear what the vision is. That’s the job of the owner, who must not waffle, and be consistent with the messaging.
“The owner must also have skills in coaching others to become the best they can become if the vision is to come to fruition. Skills in coaching are critical, if you feel you don’t pocket them, and even if you do, getting some formal training in understanding how to inspire and support individuals would be a huge asset!”
—Ray Civello, Owner, Civello Salons
Best wishes for a beautiful day!