The Future of Employee-Based Salons

*A MUST-READ*

If there is one word to describe where employee-based salons and spas are today, that word would be “uncertainty.”

This is a Monday Morning Wake-Up for the industry I have served and loved for over 45 years;  this is for all the employee-based salon/spa owners that have embraced what we teach and coach at Strategies.

Also this is for all the owners and industry leaders that say, “Team-Based Pay is too controversial,” even though we have almost 25 years of data and success stories that say it works.

And this is for the next generation of salon/spa owners dreams of building their own wildly successful companies.

Where the Industry is Today

Never in my all my years have I seen so many owners so concerned about the future of their businesses. If you’re one of them, you have every right to be  and here’s why:

The rise of suites and suite franchises is being built on the blood, sweat and tears of owners who spend years growing service providers into high revenue producers. Owners reporting they just had employee walkouts are almost an everyday occurrence and they are tired and beat up with turnover, debt and trying to be profitable are looking at booth rental or getting out entirely. Plus professional retail products being sold on Amazon and other retail outlets like Ulta Beauty. The days of “Professional Only” are gone.

Not meaning to forecast gloom and doom for the industry and employee-based salons/spas, my intent is to deliver a Wake-Up Call to ALL employee-based salon/spa owners to respond to the dynamic and dramatic forces of change that have been taking place — And to respond in a major way.

NOTE: This Wake-Up Call is for all our Team-Based Pay salons and spas too. Team-Based Pay allows great things to happen when leaders are fully engaged. The “set it and forget it” business model DOES NOT exist. It’s time to step up your business game. Your big advantage is the solid TBP foundation you already have in place.

Everything is changing so fast. The big question is, changing into what?

Where the Industry is Going

The standard approach to opening and building a salon/spa business is a relic from a bygone era that no longer exists. Employee-based salon/spa owners CANNOT stay hunkered down and wait for the way things were times to return. They (and I mean you), must create a new, better and more prosperous future built on a rock-solid business model.

With all that being said, here is the future of the salon/spa industry that I see and what you need to do to be part of it:

The future looks extraordinary BUT: The employee-based salon/spa business game will be more competitive in three significant ways. First, fewer employee-based salons means smarter and stiffer competition for new clients and the retention of existing clients. Second, independents (booth renters and suites) have discovered the power of social media and collectively are a worthy competitive foe. Third, employee retention must be renamed “Long-Term Career Engagement.” Predatory is the only word to describe the industry’s approach to recruiting talent. And the “busier” a service provider is, the more susceptible they become to a predator attack.

If your employment package doesn’t include a dynamic culture, career and technical training and advancement, REAL employee benefits, high trust and integrity, your best people will be vulnerable to predators.

The half-baked and naive will continue to struggle: The simplistic days of running a “mom and pop” business are long gone. The days of picking, choosing and ignoring which systems, labor laws, income tax reporting, “tip income reporting” is the employee’s problem, come and go as you please, “I hate numbers” indifference, quarterly performance reviews once a year, treating 1099s as employees and thinking you avoided payroll tax, paying cash “under the table,” and a host of absolutely unacceptable and compromising business practices are gone.

Our industry will become recognized as “Professional” when the half-baked and naive get their business house in order or disappear.

Suites will sour: Thanks to franchising, suites will overbuild forcing lease rates to drop. Suites are already dealing with their own turnover challenges. Suites will remain part of the salon/spa landscape, but growth will slow.

This in no way signals to employee-based salons/spas that suite facility owners will lessen their predatory attempts to lure your best employees to sign a lease. In fact, suites will recruit more aggressively.

Professional product makers need to step UP or step out: I’m not picking on any one specific professional product manufacturer. Amazon, the internet, Ulta Beauty, and corporate acquisitions have transformed the nature of professional product retailing to the point where the term “Salon Professional” is so watered down, it’s almost meaningless. Professional product manufacturers must decide which side of the professional/consumer fence they want to play on. Those that see financial gain in the consumer market, get it over with and leave the industry. You won’t be the first to do so. Those who want to truly partner with the salons and spas that support, use and sell their products need to be a PARTNER in every sense of the word. Be exclusive. Live exclusive.

Give back and respect the loyalty and passion that employee-based salon/spa owners have given to grow your companies. Be a partner. Be professional. Why? Because professional product manufacturers are making private label and building a salon/spa’s own brand a viable alternative.

Next evolution of professional customer service: With the utmost respect, employee-based salons and spas have barely scratched the surface of what creating extraordinary customer service experiences is all about. Consistent execution at all levels is the foundation of world-class service. Inconsistency feeds mediocrity. Any owner that says, “But we’re doing it all,” needs to take a brutally unfiltered look in every customer contact point in every nook and cranny. You’re better off giving your company an eight and striving to get better, then thinking you’re a perfect ten. You’re not and don’t want to be.

No half-baked salon/spa or collection of suites can deliver the customer service experiences that a structured and disciplined employee-based salon/spa can. Embrace systems, structure and discipline and you’ll see client retention rates soar. 

Next evolution of technical/creative skills: Sassoon became “Sassoon” because he was a relentless perfectionist. He demanded excellence. He created a culture of discipline. The result is a culture built on pride and the pursuit to be the best. Excellence happens by design, not by chance or accident.

The salon/spa of the future has a comprehensive internal training program that all employees participate in — no matter what their level of experience or years in the industry. If your salon/spa is not pushing the boundaries of acquiring and mastering advanced technical skills, you have work to do. Besides, hasn’t “being the best” always been your vision?

If you don’t like numbers — don’t own a salon/spa: Your Profit & Loss Statement and Balance Sheet are your company’s scorecards. Your Cash-Flow Projection is your revenue goal plan and expense budget. If anything you just read is displeasing to you, don’t be an owner.

If you’re always fighting cash flow and hoping for profit, it’s time to fall in love with your numbers. If you don’t care about the tools that create financial success, the future could care less whether your business survives or not. Got it?

Grow your company and brand first: For 25 years, Strategies’ battle cry has been to grow a rock-solid company and powerful brand first. Why? Because a rock-solid company and powerful brand provide the resources and structure to attract and grow great people and talent.

The whole concept of growing “columns on the appointment book” and individual clientele building creates a seriously unstable foundation where clients are loyal to an individual — not your company and brand. To succeed in the future, all of the skills of your company are available to each and every client.

Rethink the appointment book: Would you use your appointment book differently if the names at the top of the columns were replaced by “expertise and levels of expertise” for specific services? Would you book clients differently? Would you be able to have better and more specific consultations with new and existing clients? Would your overall productivity rate (hours available for sale versus hours sold) dramatically improve? Would this approach give your company a distinct point of difference in your marketplace? Today, in its most basic form, the salon/spa appointment book is about individual “clientele building” — not company and brand building. Walk-outs devastate salons and spas.

The traditional approach to using the appointment book plays a role in that devastation. The future is about building a company that can take extraordinary care of its customers and employees. Got it?

Commission needs to go away: I’ve been standing and preaching on my Team-Based Pay soapbox for almost five decades. Commission is essentially pay based on piecework. It’s about growing individuals. It’s about clientele building. It’s about paying top dollar for the wrong behavior and performance. It’s about not having any control over your largest expense — service payroll. Commission is a variable hourly rate. California is leading the charge on addressing commission pay inequities with AB 1513, and more recently AB 490, both targeting compensation for downtime/rest time. In the future, should other states look behind the commission pay curtain, things can, and will, get ugly.

Team-Based Pay salons and spas are unaffected by these laws because all time at work is compensated. It’s time to question the viability of commission before the future arrives. 

“We” will replace “me”: Employee-based salons have always been about creating “we” cultures. However, the antiquated and “generally accepted” approach to growing a salon/spa business simply, methodically and effortlessly has created “me” cultures. The only way to truly create a “we” culture is to thoroughly and completely change the business model. Those that do will be prepared for the future.

Here’s my challenge to you

Do not brush off any of my preceding points and predictions. It’s time to make the best and right decisions for your company’s future. It’s time to get excited about the future of employee-based salons and spas … not to fear change. This is not a sales pitch for Team-Based Pay, it is a shot across the bow of every salon and spa in the industry to question long-standing thinking and approaches.

The future is about change to seize new opportunities. Resisting change is clinging to status quo.

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