SALON 411: WHERE DO YOU WORK?by Tracey Middlekauff
TO RENT OR NOT TO RENT? WHAT IS THE QUESTION!
According to the Professional Beauty Association´s (PBA) 2008 National Industry Profile, there are 778,000 professionals working in the hairstyling and cosmetology field, 33% of whom are self-employed. In addition, booth rental represents over a quarter of the sales at salons that rent or lease stations to stylists with one or more paid employee. But those numbers don´t tell the story behind the scenes. Whether or not to rent or work on commission is a question that raises strong opinions, both from owners and stylists. Many owners feel that having their stylists work on commission fosters a greater sense of community than does filling their salon with renters. Sandy Poirier, who´s been featured on the Style Network´s show Split Ends and on TLC´s Miami Ink, owns the edgy, award-winning Boston salon Shag (shagboston.com). He says ,“I don´t rent chairs. You get stylists who bop from one place to another. I have a team. Booth renters are often out for themselves and the client suffers.“ Lissa Renn, formerly a commissioned employee of Rudy´s Barbershop (and named Los Angeles Magazine´s “Best Bargain Hairstylist”) recently opened her own salon, The Hive Los Angeles (www.thehive.la), which also employs commissioned stylists. New stylists with a small clientele work on a 50/50 split, while more established stylists receive a 60/40 percentage. “We want our stylists to feel like a team working together rather than independent contractors,” she explains. “Also we would love to eventually offer benefits to full-time stylists who have been with us for at least a year. … With renters I feel more like a landlord than a friendly boss.” Dayna Cakebread, owner of Belle epoque Salon (www.belleepoquesalon.com) in Portland, ore., feels differently. She loves leasing out her stations because, she says, “[I realized] that my best skills were with my clients and not with tracking paperwork. … I no longer boss or hold anyone´s hand. The stylists are responsible for themselves.” of course stylists — whether independent contractors or commissioned employees — often have a different perspective than owners. kerry Joly works at Indra Salon (www.indranyc.com) in Manhattan. She currently rents her chair, but has also worked on commission in the past. She believes that working on commission is a great way to start out when you don´t have a large clientele. But renting a chair, Joly says, means that, “At the end of the day when you make your money you can take it home. Renting a chair is almost like owning a salon except without the hassles.” Joly admits to a downside, however: “When there is a slow period, the rent still has to be paid. It doesn´t matter how much or how little. No owner wants to hear any excuses.”
THE UPS AND DOWNS OF CHAINS AND PRIVATELY OWNED SALONS
Should you do it for yourself or for someone else? Both options have their good and bad sides — which environment you´ll thrive in depends a lot on your temperament. Before opening Shag, Sandy Poirier worked at both chain and independent salons, and says he always felt stifled when working for someone else. “At a big chain, you have to conform to someone else´s vision,” he believes. Poirier likes to do things his own way, such as allowing stylists to start work at noon most days because “creative people work better later.” And even though Lissa Renn looks back at her four years at the Rudy´s Barbershop West Hollywood location as “the best experience a budding stylist could ask for,” ultimately she felt the call to open her own shop. “Being my own boss would allow me to take my experiences from other shops and merge them to create the perfect salon experience,” she says. “I´m no longer going to work, I´m coming to play and have fun with friends while working hard to keep my life and surroundings enjoyable.” While many stylists point to a tendency of some chain salons to emphasize quantity over quality, sometimes the difference is family. Nicholas Penna, along with his sister Laura, owns SalonCapri (www.saloncapri.com), an award-winning, small family-owned operation that´s been around for 40 years with two locations just outside of Boston. “The best thing about a family owned salon is the commitment and passion that a family brings to the business,” he says. Joseph Stezzi is the CFo of Rizzieri Salons, Spas and Schools (www.rizzieri.com), a small chain in the Jersey/Philadelphia area. He admits that adding just one extra location more than doubles the amount of work involved in running the business, but he adds, “You´re able to brand yourself in a bigger space. Multiple locations are great for branding and marketing and making money.” Plus, he adds, “We have an ideal situation because we have a family member in all locations, someone with the passion of an owner.” For some, though, sacrificing peace of mind and a personal life doesn´t always justify the rewards of ownership. Chris Murray is the Philadelphia District Leader for the Bubbles Salon chain (www.bubblessalon.com), and before joining the company he managed, owned, and operated his own salon. Business, he says, was great, but the stresses — dealing with building codes, licenses, taxes, insurance, and more — were legion. “I made a business decision to get rid of the headache of all those responsibilities and bills and chose to work for a company that would provide excellent benefits and compensation, and offer a pleasant work environment. … I felt it was a fair trade off to be able to do what I love and be able to have more time with my family.” But Rhonda Piraino (www.hairbyrhonda.com) just may have figured out how to have the best of both worlds. She rents a studio in a Salon Suites Concept in Dallas, so she´s technically an owner/stylist, and she wouldn´t change a thing (except, of course, paying self-employment taxes and not having health insurance). “I have all of the benefits of salon ownership with none of the headaches of having employees,” she says. “I set my own hours and prices. I design and decorate in my own style. I use the lines I want … once you have a solid clientele built and make the move to the concept, it´s nearly impossible to go back into a commission salon or booth renting a station in an open salon.”
LOVE IT, HATE IT, CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT IT
For every frustration in this industry — and there are many — there´s something that makes it worthwhile, something that makes you love it — it´s the reason you still get excited to get up and do your job each and every day. Here´s what makes some top stylists tick.
Federico Calce,owner of Federico salon in New York
Dislikes: Dealing with employees on a day-to-day basis, especially when they´re late to work, temperamental, or if he has to fire anyone.
Loves: Dealing with women, whom he considers the most beautiful creatures on earth. “When you speak of women, you speak of beauty. You can´t speak of one without the other.”
Karly Dolmer,owner of crown of Jewels salon
(416-686-5759) in toronto
Worst Part of Owning a Salon: The worry. “It´s a seasonal business, and when it´s slow it´s very slow.”
Could Do Without: “People often think hairstylists are crazy and flakey. Drugs and alcohol used to be a big part of the business and that stigma has never quite gone away.”
Loves: “The best part of owning a salon and being a stylist is loving what I do. I arrive at work every day happy to be there and glad I chose the career path that I did.”
Rick Fogarty,owner of plan b salon in cambridge, mass.
Could Do Without: “The lack of ethics and professionalism in the industry.”
Loves: “The creative ability and the people. Here in Harvard Square the demographic is so diverse and intelligent. The people truly are the most interesting I´ve had the pleasure to meet.”
Sandy Poirier,owner of shag
The One Bad Thing About Owning a Successful Salon: “I don´t want the stigma that no one can afford us or get an appointment, it´s not true. That´s my new marketing thing — that we are accessible.”
Most Satisfying Thing: “Seeing every chair filled with happy clients. Seeing my own vision come to fruition.”