Commission Salons vs. Booth Rental Salons for Beauty Pros

Susan Wos

Featuring expert advice from Susan Wos

When you picture yourself in a new career as a hairstylist or other beauty pro, you may visualize being at a station in a salon. But do you know whether that station is in a commission salon or a booth rental salon? What’s the difference?

Though both types of salons are great ways to work in cosmetology, the differences are significant. Let’s walk through the differences and what they would mean for your budding beauty career.

Commission Salon vs. Booth Rental Salon

Before you search for a job in a salon, you should understand that there are two main types of salons. The two main types of salons are:

  • Employee-based salons that offer commission or hourly pay. We call these “commission salons.”
  • Non-employee-based salons where you pay a fee to rent a space in the salon. We call these “booth rental salons.”
Commission Salon Renting a Booth
The spa manager sets your rates and hours. You can set your hours and rates.
Your spa manager selects the products and services offered. You choose your products and services to offer.
The salon provides supplies and equipment. You must purchase supplies and materials upfront.
The salon provides your clientele, especially when you are starting out. You source your own clients, for the most part.
Your clientele will be consistent, but possibly less personal. It may take time to build up your clientele, but you will have personal relationships with them.
Your schedule and income are usually steady. Your schedule and income may fluctuate depending on how you run your business.

Understanding Commission Salons and How They Work

Commission salons are where hair stylists are employees. An owner or a manager helps to grow you as a stylist, provides continuing education, furnishes salon supplies, sends you new clients.

As a salon employee who works on commission, you don't have the autonomy or independence of an independent contractor, but you also don't have to worry about the details of the business. The owner of the salon is your boss, and they set your hours, pay rate, and schedule. The products and services offered are also chosen by the salon owner, and you will see a range of clients.

When you work on commission for a salon, your workload won't vary significantly from week to week—you will see approximately the same number of clients for the same range of services. You won't have to worry about your supplies wearing out or running out, as the salon owner is responsible for proactively keeping track of those details. Your paychecks will be about the same from week to week, and you will generally know what to expect each day. You also can get benefits in a commission salon, such as health insurance, paid time off, and free continuing education.

Is a Commission Salon Job Right for You?

Commission salons are generally a good way to earn steady income. Working for commission might be best if you excel when given a task and a timeline to finish it, if you can’t tolerate much income fluctuation, or if consistency and predictability are important to you. Commission salons also may offer an assistant program for new beauty school grads and supplement income with an hourly wage until you have a client base.

Both new graduates and experienced stylists may work in commission salons, though commission salons are particularly great for stylists who need support to grow in their careers. Every salon is different and offers different benefits.

If this is the route you choose, it’s important to interview with several salons and choose the salon that fits you the best. There are many wonderful commission salons to work in. If you need help finding that great salon to work in, you can ask your school’s career services team or look for employment ads. Another great option is to contact a service such as Salonspa Connection, which can provide helpful job resources for beauty professionals. Salonspa Connection even provides one-on-one job counseling with expert industry recruiter Susan Wos, who works with salons of all shapes and sizes across the US.

Are Big-Chain Salons Commission Salons?

Yes. Well-known brands in the salon world, including franchises like Fantastic Sams or Great Clips, operate on a commission model. Such salons may offer a commission on selling retail products and sometimes on services. Generally, chain salons pay hourly or offer a commission once you hit a target sales number.

Understanding Booth Salons and How They Work

Booth rental salons are where hair stylists are self-employed or otherwise known as independent contractors. When you rent your own booth or room, you are your own boss—you set your own hours, pay rate, and schedule. Booth rental salons expect hair stylists to run their business on their own.

What’s involved in running your own business? Lots of things! You select the services and retail products you offer. You are also responsible for paying yourself—which means determining a fee for your services that is both reasonable for your clients and leaves enough after your other expenses to pay yourself a livable wage. You supply and pay for your own products you use with clients, including being responsible for monitoring your tools and equipment for wear and tear, keeping track of your product inventory and re-ordering it before it runs out, and budgeting to make sure you can afford to replace items as they wear out.

Since you aren't a salon employee, you are solely responsible for finding and maintaining your client base with your own marketing efforts, as well as managing your own appointment schedule. You can't just pick up a client from a coworker if one of yours cancels at the last minute. Lost clients and missed work mean lost income for independent contractors. On the other hand, if lost income is not a concern, you can be pickier about which clients you work with.

Crucially, in a booth rental salon, you also need to pay rent. This is a weekly or monthly fee to rent a chair or a space in a salon. When you rent space in a salon, you need to balance your schedule with enough clients to cover your costs—but not so many that you're rushing to fit them in.

The owner of a booth salon will behave more like your landlord than your boss. They are responsible for the physical space you work in, its upkeep, the legal details of local building operation codes, and so on. Although you are responsible for scheduling your own clients, sometimes renting a space in a salon means part of your rent pays for an administrative employee to greet your clients at the door and answer their basic questions so you can focus on your current tasks. Some booth rental salons offer perks like being referred an overflow of new clients or providing salon towels.

Is Booth Rental Right for You?

You might want to become an independent contractor and rent booth or chair space in a salon if you are a self-starter, can see the big picture of owning a business as well as the day-to-day needs of working with clients, can tolerate fluctuations in your income, and if challenge and uncertainty excite you. You may also want to rent a room or booth at a salon if you prefer to work at independent salons over chains, as they are more likely to hire contractors instead of employees.

Wos of Salonspa Connection often sees beauty students romanticize the booth rental model. “Booth rental can be a wonderful thing for stylists who like handling a business. It’s not something to go into lightly. Make sure you can pay for rent, supplies and handle business ownership before you work in a booth rental salon. This can be a lot of responsibility for stylists who are newer to the industry.”

You can calculate how much you can make as a booth rental stylist with a booth rental calculator, if you are considering this type of salon. If you are looking for a booth rental salon to work in, do your research, and browse Salonspa Connection’s booth rental listings.

Is a Salon Suite Considered Booth Rental?

Yes, a salon suite acts just like a booth rental salon. The difference in working in a salon suite vs. an open-concept booth rental salon is that you have a room to yourself.

Wos cautions that, while salon suites are popular, getting into a salon suite too early in your career can be harmful. “Beginner stylists have a lot to learn, and most of this comes from being around other stylists. Salon suites can also be a bit isolating if you are a social person. Social media can glamorize salon suite rental, but make no mistake, it’s a lot of work!”

Choosing the Right Salon Business Model for You

To make a decision about the type of salon model you want to work in, think about the support you need to have a thriving career as hairstylist. If you need to learn and grow and a steady paycheck is needed to live, a commission salon is a great choice for you. On the other hand, if you have a good client base and can manage both time and money, booth rental may be a good choice for you.

“Navigating a career as a beginner hairstylist can be a bit confusing,” says Wos. “It’s hard to know which salons are hiring and what is out there for newer stylists. It’s important to take your time and interview, shadow and visit as many salons as possible.” Wos emphasizes the latter to avoid regret. “Making fast or emotional decisions when choosing where to work almost always results in a short term situation.”

Meet the Expert

Susan Wos

Susan Wos

Susan Wos is an entrepreneur, speaker, salon industry expert on employment and booth rental compatibility, and the founder of Salonspa Connection, a platform designed to help licensed professionals find the right salons so they can have long-term, fulfilling careers.

As a speaker, educator, and service provider, Susan has helped hundreds of licensed professionals find jobs and salon owners fill gaps in their teams through her personalized service and through her hiring software that automates this process.

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