How to Choose the Right Salon

Finding the right salon for you isn’t as easy as it sounds. Too often, professionals pick a business based on their emotions or out of desperation. Choosing a salon simply because they use your favorite product line and the interior designer really outdid herself isn’t wise. There are a lot of other, far more important factors that go into picking a place that will ensure your long-term happiness.

These are a few of your responsibilities at work:

  • to perform as well as you can,
  • to show up and make a positive contribution,
  • to be engaged,
  • to help good salons become great salons,
  • to use your talents wisely.

These are NOT your responsibilities at work:

  • to be the messiah, sacrificing yourself for the greater good,
  • to help bad salons be somewhat acceptable or mediocre,
  • to be the single voice of positive productivity in an ocean of negative crap,
  • to drag your employer’s salon into the 21st century,
  • to waste your time, talent and effort on people who will never appreciate them.

(To be fair, I consistently perform duties that are not my responsibility. Don’t feel bad if you’re the kind of employee who can’t help but to step up and carry the slack of a poor manager or owner. Some of us are just programmed that way. The best we can do is try to refrain as much as possible from enabling their laziness.)

Every minute you spend in a toxic salon is wasted time.

If you are willing to dedicate your life to this industry, you need to find a place that suits you; the place where you fit and where you’re excited to be every day, where people appreciate you and encourage you to grow and be the best, most successful salon professional you can be.

Don’t settle for less.
Every day in the salon, you make contacts. You meet people and perform services on them. They return to their jobs, their families, and their lives with your signature on their head, their hands, or their face. They are a walking work of art and you were the artist. Your name will come up. People will remember you when they’re ready for their next cut, color, manicure, or facial. Every day, you build a book, whether you know it or not.

Your clients are walking advertisements; investments you may not see returns on for weeks or months after they’ve left your chair.

What happens when you spend six months or a year building a book at a salon and then decide that the salon is not the salon for you? You leave the salon and realize that you have to start over from square one. If you moved to a local salon, you may have some clients follow you, but you can’t rely on that. That is why the initial process of selecting a salon to gain employment at is so important.

Ask questions:

  • “What are your service prices?”
  • “What is the compensation?”
  • “How will I be classified?”
  • “What products do you use? Are we required to use a certain line?”
  • “What is the dress code?”
  • “Do you have an employee handbook or contracts?”
  • “Can I see your job descriptions?”

I also strongly encourage everyone to ask the salon manager if you can view the scheduling book. Flip through and see how busy they are. Try and figure out how much traffic they’re seeing every day.

Observe the employees and how they interact with each other and their clients. Earnestly ask the salon manager about the relationships between the employees.

Make it clear that you’re making a career decision.

You don’t want to waste their time and yours by attempting employment with them if you’re not going to mesh in their group. You’re not looking for a salon full of conflict and drama. You are a professional and you expect others to behave accordingly. Clients don’t want to go to a hostile, toxic salon, so this is crucial to your bottom line.

In this industry, time is money. Don’t make a decision based on need. You’ll pay for it later.

For more on this topic, read my post: How To Get a Job in Any Salon or Spa.

What about you? Have you ever made a poor employment decision and lived to regret it? Tell us what you learned in the comments!

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Tina Alberino
Tina Alberino
Beauty industry survivalist, salon crisis interventionist, tactical verb-weapon specialist, and the leader of at least a hundred workplace revolutions, Tina Alberino is known as much for her extensive knowledge as for her sarcastic wit and mercilessly straightforward style. She’s the author of The Beauty Industry Survival Guide and Salon Ownership and Management: A Definitive Guide to the Professional Beauty Business. When she’s not writing, educating, or consulting, she can be found overthinking everything, identifying problems people didn’t know existed, and stubbornly working to change the things she cannot accept.

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  1. I really need advice, I interviewed for this salon job as a stylist and everything went amazing until the the hands on part to show them ,what I’m made of. I played everything safe and smart by breaking up my color process service . Color retouch first hi-light last because I have never used Aveda before. When I went in The Owner seemed helpful and sweet and then …..It turned into the interview from Hell !! She became snappy and overbearing. I have been doing hair for 9 yrs and know you have to deal with stylist checking out the New person and the comments that comes, but the owner putting so much pressure is a little much. I have to go back for my 2nd part of my interview and have mixed feelings. I was hoping for a change of pace and enter the Aveda concept world but , going thru the interview from hell . I’m not so sure now??

  2. When I started in the business, I worked at an Aveda concept salon. I had a fantastic experience there. I took classes at the Aveda Institute in St. Pete and had a really spectacular owner that basically turned me into who I am today.

    Then Hurricane Charley wiped out the business. Flooded it waist-deep and forced the owner to demolish it. She decided to retire instead of rebuilding. Naturally, I went to another Aveda salon and had an entirely different experience. It was awful. The staff and management were rude, snobbish, immature, overbearing, controlling, bitchy, and manipulative. They offered me a management position at their second location but I turned them down and resigned. The atmosphere was so negative I literally couldn’t bear it another day.

    The thing is, I *knew* going to work there was a mistake. I had a very similar experience. The owner was condescending and disrespectful. Until I owned my own place, I worked in management literally my entire career (from the day I became licensed, actually). I have *never* treated my staff like that. Just because you are their manager or the salon owner does not mean you are better than they are. I have no patience or tolerance for owners that treat staff that way and I’ve fired managers I’ve promoted for behaving like that.

    If it doesn’t feel right, don’t bother with a second interview. It’ll be a waste of your time. If she’s treating you like that during the interview, you can bet she’ll make your life a living hell once you become her employee.

    Don’t let this experience turn you off to Aveda salons though. Many of them are really well run. In my career, I’ve found the best ones to be the smaller ones (not the uppity ones found in high-end shopping malls). Go to an Aveda concept salon that is family owned, if you can find one around where you live. I met a lot of owners at the Aveda management courses and there is a very distinct difference between the “upscale” owners and the “mom & pop” owners. Both salons are beautiful and adhere to the same philosophies, but you’ll be treated much better in a small shop than you will a trendy shop.

  3. Oh! And before I forget, make sure you tell her the truth when she asks you why you’re declining the second interview. In all likelihood, she will ask. You don’t have to be nasty about it, but you should tell her that you were really unimpressed with her attitude during the interview. You felt disrespected/unwelcome and you just don’t feel like their environment or her management style is a good fit for you based on what you observed. Seriously, if they ask, make sure you tell them the truth. They need to know what they’re doing wrong and you need to communicate to them that you are not desperate and you deserve better treatment than that.

  4. I wanted to update you on the Aveda nightmare concept. I emailed them wanting to speak to them about my situation and they hit me with a ,”Thank you but, No thank you ” You are not invited to our team. I was relieved but some what Angry about the whole situation. Its been a long time since that treatment (school days). I know my personality no way goes with that trashy behavior but ,My Technical can hang with the Aveda crowd. So, My question is ,Did I make a wrong choice doing my color first and hi -light last?? I thought I played it safe because not using Aveda and needed to see how the color reacted. It took me a few hours, my client had long thick hair. When finished it was prefect( bright blond). I took my time with my foils they were neat and I piggy backed most and finely weaved a few. I really think ,she just didn’t like me for some reason. Treated me like I didn’t know color, when I looked around at the other stylist there were some better than the others but no, L.A type of hair. NO One Show stopping ?!?! So that did put a Aveda Bitterness in my mouth.. Oh by the way they knew I didn’t know anything about Aveda. they were ok with that. If I were to do the interview again ,I would not change anything I did. Its Just feels so crappy with a little relief mixed in. P.S I did take your advice about expressing my feelings with class. Thanks again

  5. It’s very possible that this had absolutely nothing to do with your technical skill at all…or maybe it did. Sometimes, managers are threatened by new hires. So, they’ll screen out new hires that have technical abilities that exceed their own. If your service came out as you intended, the issue was not a technical one. It’s a personal issue or a jealousy issue. If you explained to her why you chose to do the service the way you did it, any reasonable person would understand that choice and not hold it against you. I certainly wouldn’t. I would take that caution as a fantastic trait. I would actually prefer to hire someone who said, “I’ve never worked with this line, so I chose to stay on the safe side and do the services consecutively instead of simultaneously.” To me, that would show professional integrity and honesty. It would show me that you’re not afraid to acknowledge your personal limitations and that you listen to your gut when it comes to performing your services. It would show me that you’re not willing to compromise the quality of the work you do for money. If that’s the way they operate, they did you a favor by not hiring you. It would never have worked out. You aren’t the kind of professional that operates haphazardly in the name of turning over clients. That is a FANTASTIC quality to have. If that manager didn’t see that, she didn’t deserve you.

    I’m so glad that you told them how you felt about everything. Don’t let that experience change your perception of the company overall. Like all franchised salons, there are great locations and there are crappy locations. JCPenney is the same way. I worked at a fantastic location and went on to interview at another that was terribly managed and a real shitty place to work. It doesn’t reflect on the company, just the management. Just like your experience with this particular location doesn’t say anything about your ability to do your job. It has everything to do with them not being able to recognize a quality staff member when they see one. Clients *always* come first. Obviously, keeping on schedule is important but client satisfaction and professional discretion are always more important.

  6. Thanks, after some time of thinking. I completely agree that was a blessing in disguise, she did do me a huge favor:) thanks for the input.

  7. I recently moved to a new area and I’m looking to find a hair salon. It’s important that it is affordable and qualified. Thanks for the suggestion to look at the scheduling book to see how much traffic they have in their salon.

  8. I appreciate your tips on finding a good hair salon to work at, a lot of these tips are relevant for just finding a salon to get your hair done at as well. I like that you said to not settle for less. My sister is thinking about going to hair school and so I will pass on your advice and keep them in mind while I look for a hair salon to attend as well.


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