When To Let A Stylist Go (And How To Avoid It)

Source: Tonya Jones (@misstonyaj)
Source: Tonya Jones (@misstonyaj)

For every business, there comes a time when a team member is clearly approaching the end of their employment, whether they decide it’s time to part ways or you do. In salons, this can happen with people who have been valued and trusted employees—and even so, the separation can be ultimately a good thing. Here are some insights on when to let someone go—and how to avoid it—from top salon owners: David Wagner of Juut Salons; Eveline Charles of Eveline Charles Salons/Spas; Debra Penzone of The Charles Penzone Salons; and Van Council of Van Michael Salons.

As successful salon owners, Council, Wagner, Penzone and Charles employ hundreds of stylists and support staff. They have seen it all, and have valuable advice on maintaining a staff that will contribute to a salon business’s culture.

David Wagner of Juut Salons | Source: David Wagner
David Wagner of Juut Salons | Source: David Wagner
Eveline Charles of Eveline Charles Salons/Spas | Source: Eveline Charles
Eveline Charles of Eveline Charles Salons/Spas | Source: Eveline Charles
Debra Penzone of The Charles Penzone Salons | Source: Debra Penzone
Debra Penzone of The Charles Penzone Salons | Source: Debra Penzone
Van Council of Van Michael Salons | Source: Van Michael
Van Council of Van Michael Salons | Source: Van Michael

Evaluating Attitude

A thriving salon culture is dependent upon not just the leadership, but also the attitude of the employees.

Stylists who aren’t on board with their salon’s way of doing business, or who can’t cope with teamwork, are a danger to the culture of the business.

Specific interview processes help weed out candidates who aren’t the right fit—but inevitably, a bad apple sometimes makes it into the bunch. Or sometimes, a formerly great employee devolves into one with an ego or attitude problem.

When that happens, the salon owner or manager must take action, whether it’s with a series of warnings, a probation period, more one-on-one time, or terminating the employment.

“We usually have to let them go if they aren’t on board with our culture,” Van Council says.

Undermining the salon culture is a deal-breaker, Eveline Charles agrees, adding, “If you’re unwilling to go in our direction, we need to let you go.”

At Penzone Salons, Debra Penzone says she tries to approach struggling employees with a different viewpoint and from a place of non-judgement.

“I don’t want to give up—I want to find out what’s going on with them. Sometimes I dig deep and we have some amazing turnarounds,” she says. “But it’s hard to change them if they aren’t willing to change.”

While it’s tempting to keep a high-performing employee despite a bad attitude, all owners agree it’s not worth putting the salon’s culture at risk.

At Juut Salons, the culture is transparent from day one, and Wagner isn’t willing to compromise it for employees who aren’t on board.

“We’re based on creativity, love and passion,” he says.

“We will do emotional re-hires with people, but for those who are unwilling, we say ‘We love you, and we’re going to miss you.’ ”

Letting employees go with love is part of the Juut culture—a very important part. “People still feel good on their way out the door,” Wagner says. “There’s not a right way or a wrong way to do things, but there is a Juut way.”

And when an employee is unwilling to go the Juut way, Wagner says it’s not always a bad thing. “I’ve had people thank me when they leave—they had different beliefs and weren’t the right fit.”

Coping with Resistance

One of the biggest challenges owners face is giving a generation of new employees a satisfactory work environment while still maintaining their salons’ culture.

Prospective team members are no longer satisfied with 401k plans and profit sharing that they won’t see for another 40 years. They want progress and purpose in their careers—NOW.

Charles says this can result in management growing stylists too quickly, and feeding them too many clients before they are ready.

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“They need a longer horizon,” she says—adding that should go hand-in-hand with milestones in achievement that are closer together, so that the employee can feel like they’re on a dynamic career path.

“The myth is you will get out of school and make $100K in two years,” Council says. “But it’s going to be five, 10, 15 years before you can hit that goal, and you have to go through the process of being a new stylist first.”

At Juut, Wagner says his managers clearly show new artists their path, including the how and when they can achieve goals.

“Understanding the ‘why’ is really important,” he says. “A river without banks is a puddle, which is why the structure and guidance we provide is the key to their success.”

Van Michael Salons provides a chart for stylists to understand how and when they will make the salary they desire.

“The chart shows a salary amount based on how much a stylist charges for a cut (or color),” Council explains. “They can see exactly what they need to do to get that six-figure salary.”

Many stylists in their first job are just barely out of high school. They know very little about salaries, career paths and finances in general. Helping them understand that success will not come overnight is an important part of an owner’s job—as is as outlining the steps they need to take to get that success.

“People need to say ‘yes’ to everything in the beginning of their careers,” Council says.

Wagner agrees: “It’s the incremental things that add up. Success leaves clues as to what to do and why we’re doing it.”

Words to Live By

Council, Wagner, Charles and Penzone have faced a variety of challenges and successes in their careers as salon owners. But one thing they all have in common is their work ethic and willingness to keep going, no matter what the obstacle.

It’s this work ethic they hope to pass on to new stylists as the secret to success. All of them are highly regarded leaders in the beauty industry—and none of them got there by accident. This is the biggest message they say they want to impart to any new stylist on their team.

“In the beginning of my career, I practiced on anyone who would let me,” Penzone says. “It’s so important to never stop practicing.”

Charles, who started working when she was only 12, never remembers a time when she wasn’t fighting to be the best.

“I opened a two-chair salon while I was still in beauty school,” she says. “And I continue to reinvent my business every year.”

When Council began his career, he worked at one salon for an entire year for free. And then after graduating beauty school, he worked seven days a week until he was able to start his own salon. “It was then I started really working full time,” he says. “And I made sure I said ‘yes’ to everything.”

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