The Secret Sauce of Salon Management

The Secret Sauce of Salon Management


Salon ownership can be as exhilarating as your 21st birthday, it can also be as daunting as getting your teeth pulled.

Think of the process as something like slow cooking. The sauce lacks flavor and depth when it is instant, or poured out of a jar. But when you take time to include quality ingredients and simmer on low, the product is one to remember and enjoy.


Your mission and vision statements, your values, are some of the secret ingredients, revising as you go. They will help guide you along your journey.


We all have been in salons where toxicity permeates the space. Don’t let it happen to yours. You, as a leader (owner or manager, or both), can create the dream team of all time, or you can quickly bring the salon to a toxic place that no one wants to work in. This happens when you’re only looking at the bottom line or are too much in a hurry to fill your chair.


Choose wisely, take your time. Adding too much vinegar to the sauce could create an unsavory sour flavor.


Sometimes, we are the problem. Maybe we are too overzealous and want to please everybody, and in so doing, we lose sight of the slow cooking involved. Or maybe, we just don’t step in enough, and have a hands-off approach—neither work. You end with no real sauce you can serve. Let me be clear; your staff is a mirror for you to reflect in.


When you complain to your staff about what isn’t working all the time, you drain the joy right out of the salon. Be as clear as you can about what the expectations are for your staff. Create a handbook for your own clarity for and the staff. Ensure that all employees and renters read it.


Though remember, you can have all the procedures and protocols down, but if the owner and/or, the manager don’t follow through, or do what is expected of the staff, you lose your stylists’ trust. The more you erode that trust, the more chaos will follow.


7 Key Components in the Sauce


1. Non-Defensive Communication

You are well-served to consider clean, clear communication when you are leading a group of hairstylists. Whether you are a salon owner or manager, or both, how you communicate is just as important as what you say. Check yourself out first. Read others’ body language.


Non-defensive communication is the art of offering direction, listening to the feedback, responding without taking the situation personally, inquiring to learn, try to put yourself in their shoes to understand their position, say what is true for you with “I” statements, and talk about the issue at hand objectively. You can acknowledge the emotion in a situation but not be run by it.


Setting this example of communication can really help diffuse hot topics and move things along productively. If someone cannot get past the emotion, then maybe set a date for future conversation would be helpful. If so, let them know you’d like to discuss further. This gives you time to disengage.


2.  Listen


Active listening is one of those things we hear all the time in psychology books and articles. But it truly is a great way for people to be heard and understood. When situations come up in the salon, listening can often diffuse a situation rather quickly.


If two people are involved, it may take separating them and hearing from them both individually first. Dealing with issues immediately, rather than letting them stew, is critical to keeping the salon space nontoxic.

Here are some tips to help when mediating an issue:

  • Create the space for them to share without interruptions.
  • Ask questions, listen to what they say.
  • See how committed they are to a solution.
  • Ask them how they would solve it.
  • What is in their way to solving the situation?
  • Ask what it is they think you can do about it.
  • Let them know you would like to take a bit of time to consider the situation and what they’ve said.


When people are heard, they don’t necessarily need a solution right then and there. But if you hear similar complaints from your employees, it’s very much worth your while investigating and taking them seriously. You don’t want to lose any of those ingredients.


3.  Set the Example

Do as you expect your employees to do. If you are not abiding by your own rules, you don’t deserve to be the manager or owner. I’m sorry. This is where you either need coaching or stepping down.

Leading by example shows your staff that you are willing to get your hands dirty.  And that you are in the trenches with them.  This will grow their confidence that you know what you are doing.

You don’t have to know everything; you can make mistakes, you may even have to throw out batches of that sauce, but you need to be the adult in the room.



4.  Build a Great Team

You build a great team by holding your bar high enough to want your stylists to do better. But not so high that you leave people hanging out to dry because they don’t fit in a mold.


You also build a team by not relying solely on what salon they came from. Getting to the why of someone leaving their last salon is important information for you.


Reference checks are also important.  If someone is not meeting the benchmarks you’ve agreed on, you need to have a frank conversation.


Of course, grooming them from the beginning is ideal. But, just like parenting, you can’t expect them to hang around if there is no place to grow to.


5.  Managers Should Be Skilled


Literally, some salon owners seem to be in business for the cache of saying they own a salon instead of really leading people. So they appoint someone who has less skillset or even salon experience to handle the responsibility. But managing is not babysitting.


Managers take the time to really know the ins and outs of their stylists. They get to know their strengths and their unique gaps.


Managing isn’t about being punitive; it’s about bringing out the best in people and coaching them to get to where they want to be in their careers.


Great managers get great coaching because they understand it is getting yourself out of the way to listen and lead.


6.  Be Clear on Expectations


Being clear about your expectations of what you want your business to be and providing is critical to your salon’s success. Communicate your brand identity, values, and work ethics clearly.


You want to make sure that people you on-board are on the same page as you.  Aligning your staff with your team or brand values sets your business to a good start.  When they fully understand your identity as a team or brand, it will be much easier to identify what you deem acceptable or not.


Clarity on what your expectations are of the people that you hire, the better.


You also need to hear what your employees’ expectations are, preferably when they are hired.  This will ensure there is a little misunderstanding in what their job is and isn’t.  By hearing their expectations, you can check if they fully understand your identity and goals as a team right off the bat.


7.  Think Apple


You will hear numbers drive successful salons. Sadly, this philosophy can burn out so many hairstylists. Yes, knowing your numbers is important. But if you are an owner that is only driven to have your stylists sell more product, you are missing the point.


Many years ago, I transferred over to Apple products. I could never go back to a PC. I’ve tried, and it is not only boring but truly not intuitive for me. Call me a snob.


What I soon discovered with Apple is, THEY DON’T TRY TO SELL ME SOMETHING. They display their products on shelves and teach you how to use them.


I like to think of salons as learning and listening spaces, not me preaching about three products I think they should have. And I don’t particularly appreciate going into space, where all I see are products everywhere.


Yes, you can train your stylists to educate. This is worth your time, effort, and money. Coach your people, people. And get coached yourself.


As you can see, there is more to leading than just saying, “I want to open a salon!” “WHY” is what I would ask first.



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