Why Salon-Hopping Hurts Your Beauty Career

Erin Guzik is currently a Designer Stylist in Muskogee, Oklahoma with seven years of cosmetology experience. She is also a Business Marketing major at the University of Phoenix.  Before finding her passion in the beauty industry, Erin managed a team in the customer service industry and realized her desire to help individuals grow to their fullest potential.  Erin aspires to combine her love for cosmetology and her knowledge in business to educate cosmetology students and new stylists on how to successfully build their business, and stay motivated. 

On my first day of beauty school, I was asked why I wanted to get into the beauty industry.  Most girls said a typical 4-year university didn't work for them, but they wanted to make good money fast, and that's what they were told they could do.  Although money did matter to me, I truly wanted to make people feel better. We live in a society that is so hard on the way people look on the outside. Either way, no matter what the goal is, all of these things take time, motivation, dedication, and development. As frustrating as it may seem, it's rare that a stylist's clientele grows to great lengths overnight. Sadly, it seems that salons become a revolving door for new stylists. In my first year as a stylist, I worked in 4 different salons. How I did I ever expect to gain and retain a committed clientele, when I wasn't even really committed to one place to work?

The frustrations and pressures are high when a student graduates any kind of higher education, and they continue to escalate as the student loan payments roll in. Recent graduates get frustrated as they watch seasoned stylists interact with client after loyal client, while their own salon chair is empty. We've all been there. When I graduated, I didn't know what I wanted in a salon. I didn't know realistically how much money I needed to make to survive, versus how much money I wanted to make.  I also had a lot of debt from school. Working to pay for school full-time while going to school full-time was a crazy juggling act, but dealing with the debt of it all after the fact is even harder. I felt those frustrations daily, especially when there's no one on the books and I'm scrambling for appointments.  How does a stylist work through those frustrations?  How can you make the best of what you have, instead of moving on to the next thing you think is going to be better?  Is the grass ever really that much greener on the other side?

In the time I have been in my salon, I have seen seven new stylists come and go.  Seven just seems so extreme to me, and nothing about them screamed “unsuccessful."  When talking to them before they left, their biggest issue was the fact that they weren't making any money, and they had a list of other people to blame that spanned from floor to ceiling.  Most of the girls had just started at that salon, and some were even in the industry less than a year.  According to salary.com, the average hairstylist's yearly income after two to four years of experience is $23,809.

Recently, I moved from Chicago to Oklahoma.  I went from managing a salon full time, to being behind the chair on a daily basis as a stylist. I have only been in my current salon for seven full months, and I am booked about 50% of the time.  Five years ago, I used to be the girl with that laundry list, blaming any and every one for my small paychecks and unsuccessful time as a new stylist.  When I made the move to Oklahoma, I thought my cosmetology career was about to take a big hit. I was terrified to start out from square one. Rather than keep that frame of thought, I made a list of things that not only I could do, but I needed to do in order to be successful in my new salon.  I promised myself, that no matter how hard it got, I would stick to my list, take a deep breath, and give it some time.

Besides, I had tried every other approach; including hopping from salon to salon, position to position, hoping things would change.  They say the definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior over and over again, expecting different results.  I was one insane hairstylist!  In the name of education, these are four key parts to my list.  Every stylist and every situation is different, but in the end, we can all learn from one another's experiences.  My hope in sharing this is to add to my list, and reach out to stylists new and old. Hopefully you can add to your list, or start your own path to success!

Scholarships, Scholarships, SCHOLARSHIPS! (And savings, too.)

There is money out there to pay for cosmetology school, and sadly, it isn't being claimed!  I can't tell you how many times I hear girls say, “Oh, I won't get that scholarship anyway!"  You don't know until you try!  The only way to decrease your debt is by finding a way to do so. The average cost of beauty school ranges from $4,000 to $10,000 dollars.  If you don't find the money to pay for it, that money will catch up to you in 6 months to a year in the form of student loans.  If you plan ahead, some of that could be taken care by saving diligently, but you could also get some extra help if you put yourself out there and someone on a scholarship board sees your true potential! Not only is that a true compliment, but it's a great way to decrease stress as a new stylist!  (Apply for the Beauty Schools Directory $2,500 cosmetology scholarship.)

Get Your Feet Wet in the Pond of Research!

I made the mistake of just walking in to a salon, applying, going on one interview, not asking any questions and accepting the job.  I also made the mistake of doing that time and time again.  Things always look great on the outside, but internally they could be a mess.  Check a salon out before you even apply there.  Scout out salons in your area before even telling them you are a stylist seeking employment. Get a conditioning treatment, or a quick manicure. Watch how the girls interact. Are they helpful to one another? Do they look happy to be there? Can you see yourself being successful at one of their chairs?  Where is the manager?  Are they involved in the functioning of the salon, or are they not visible?  How is the stylist treating you?

Never Walk Into a Salon Job Interview Empty-Handed

Not only do you need a cover letter and a resume, and hopefully a portfolio with photos your work, but you need to walk in with a list of questions that matter to you!  Do not treat interviews only as employers' time to get to know you.  It is a time for you to get to know that employer, too! Don't be afraid to ask questions. A stylist has to think about a place of employment more like a home, rather than just a job. You are going to live there, in this salon, with your clients for years to come!  You don't buy a house without checking it out a few times, and asking questions about its history!  Some of my favorite questions to ask in salon job interviews are:

  • On average, how many walk-ins does your salon have on a daily basis?
  • What are your highest traffic days?
  • As a manager, what kind of development opportunities do you offer your stylists?
  • Does the company offer any promotional tools to new stylists like referral cards, sales or promotions?
  • Is there any ongoing training offered by the company?
  • What is your management style? What are your expectations for a new stylist?


So once you've done the research, found the perfect salon, and have a schedule and a chair... now what?

Stay Motivated! Find Clients!  Don't Expect Them to Find You!

Don't just think that the walk-ins are going to roll on in, and everything is going to be great without you putting out any effort. We have all seen it before.  You don't have anything on your books, so you grab the latest fashion magazine, and start reading till a walk-in lands in your salon. What is that doing to proactively build your business? Nothing. If your salon has samples, create a little information packet for new clients. I like to put together a sample, a menu, and a business card.  Walk around the area and pass them out to people.  If you're in a corporate setting, like a store, chances are you can work the traffic in that store.  Strike up a conversation.  I like to find something I like about that person, and something I can improve for them. For example, if I leave the salon to scout clients, and I see a lady with a great pair of shoes, I'll stop her and compliment them. Then I can introduce myself as a stylist. The person now feels good about their shoes and good about you because you noticed them. It's perfect timing to tell them about how great highlights would complement their hairstyle. Either way, if your backside is in a chair, instead of a client's back side, you aren't making a dime! You can't blame the salon for not supplying you with clients.  You have to get out there and find them yourself, and it isn't as scary as you think.  In the sales game, for every five people you ask, you may only get one return. I think that's the wrong way of looking at things.  If you go out every day you work, and you get one person back in your chair, that is five new clients a week - hopefully ones that keep coming back for more! If those five clients love your work (which I know they will), and refer one friend each, that's 10 new clients!  The results will snowball, and your business will grow in no time!

Stay Patient! Give it Time!

Rome wasn't built in a day, and that bad haircut you got doesn't grow out overnight, so don't expect to be double-booked your first week out of school.  Stylists have to be patient, and it's really hard.  By looking for scholarships, reducing your debts, finding the perfect salon for you, and regularly scouting out new clients, you will give yourself more time to grow your clientele in one place faster than if you hop from salon to salon. You typically will not start to see returns until six weeks after you see your first client.  It is hard to track success if you're gone before people can come back to you. Clients need time to associate you with your salon. Give it a chance, and take a deep breath.  Share your frustrations with a manager and ask for help before you start applying to new salons.  Track your growth and your numbers so nothing is a surprise, and I promise that you will see improvement.

There is much more to my list, and I would be happy to share it with any stylist needing help, so feel free to email me!  I would also love to see your lists.  What are you going to do to launch your career into success?  In the end, it's all up to you!