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How to Build a Successful Salon Team So You Can Get From Behind the Chair

Imagine with me for a moment and picture yourself here:

You’re yelling from behind your chair to have someone help the person who came through the door three minutes ago and is standing at the front looking awkward.

Your stylists need constant hand-holding on how to best utilize their downtime.  

You’ve lost track of how many stylists you’ve brought on in the last two years, but you know you’ve lost more people than you brought in.  

Makes your muscles tense up with anxiety, doesn’t it?

Maybe it’s because these scenarios didn't require much imagination because, for you, this is reality.

Even if it’s not these specific circumstances, you’re not alone if you feel chronically annoyed by your team or exhausted with not being able to find or keep the right people.

Not only are these sentiments common within the Salon Owners Collective Facebook group, but they’re feelings I totally get. I've employed more than 120 stylists, apprentices and support staff in my time as a salon owner and I can attest that it's no easy feat.

After years of expense and exhaust resulting from the revolving door of team members, I knew I had a choice to make:

I could keep things the same and continue the cycle of expense and exhaust.

Or, I could face my fears, gain back control of my team and my business, and move forward toward my dreams, no matter how far away they felt. This meant letting go of my past failures as a manager and past "wrong hires" so I could step into the faith that I could attract amazing people into my business.

And with that choice, plenty of trial and error and a system, my team of 30 and I grew the salon to $2 million. I learned so much along the way through that process, and that’s what I’m going to share with you today with my top three keys to building a rockstar team so you can get out from behind the chair.

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The 1-in-3 Team Rule

I had this vision of my perfect team…who I wanted to grow into what position, the types of competitions we wanted to enter and win, the clients we wanted to attract with this awesome and perfect team - I could see it so clearly... if only my staff would just stay put long enough for me to gain momentum!

Bringing on new team members always felt like two steps forward and one step back. They would come, get settled and then either leave, or someone would get pregnant (my salon saw the birth of 14 babies in 4 years!), but then I discovered the 1-in-3 Team Rule, and it changed the way I approached the people IN my business.

This general rule of thumb meant that for every three people I employed, they would fall into one of these three categories.

* They would become a long-standing employee - in many cases 6-18 years

* The average employee would be with us for two years

* And finally, we have the six weeks - 6 months employee

The six weeks to 6-month person is typically not a good fit for your brand culture, and that’s okay. In fact, consider yourself lucky if they realise they’re not a great fit and leave quietly and quickly on their own.

For the average 2-year long employee, consider this a baseline of what you might expect from a great stylist or therapist. They come, do great work, make money, work hard and then move on with their lives.

Whether it’s having a baby, travel is beckoning, or they move to a new city for a loved one, you can’t avoid the fact that “life is calling.”

However, if people are leaving you to go work for other salons on a consistent basis, it's time to take a good hard look at your business structure, culture, and operations and that you make some changes, starting with you.

This can be a hard pill to swallow, but better to recognize it now. And here are a few reasons why you might be having this problem:

  • You haven’t created a career path or a plan for your team members to evolve and grow professionally within your salon
  • You aren’t nurturing the culture or supporting your people by providing the right tools to do good work (and I don't mean just technical things like brushes and lotions, I’m also referring to the environment and continuing education opportunities)
  • You’re a dragon or a grumpy boss, which you may feel justified in, especially if your team is slacking, but this attitude creates an ‘us and them’ culture. If you think they are against you, they probably are, but mostly because they don’t believe you trust them, love them or believe they will do great work.

Then you’ve got the 6-18 year employee. They love you, your culture and the opportunity you give them to grow and thrive, and if you're doing it right, these are people you will love to spend time with and will have very long and rewarding relationships with. They’re also the team members who often grow into amazing managers.

With this 1-in-3 Rule, I was able to eliminate the pressure and expectation in my own mind as to what my perfect team looked like and what I expected from them.

Prior to discovering this rule, every time someone left it felt like I had failed in some way, and maybe I’d failed them by not being what they expected, wanted or needed, but now I had a new expectation on building a team that was more realistic.

Additionally, this rule will also help you establish your “norms” so you can be prepared to manage inevitable “life happens” turnover and not feel surprised or take it personally every time someone leaves.

Attracting (The Right) New Employees from the Get-Go

Now with the 3-in-1 Rule in mind, you’ll want to set out in creating a plan for managing the constant flow in the stream of people in your salon.

First, you’ll want to plan out the journey of an employee from the beginning, starting with how you’ll attract them and let them know you exist.

The focus of this attraction piece is that it needs to be about them. They are the ones looking for a new opportunity, and in their mind, it’s on their terms, and too often we make it all about us … we write about ourselves, our awards, our workplace.

Shift the perspective to what’s in it for them beyond just a job that pays the bills. Great employees want more than that.

Next up is mapping out the application and interview process so that you can quickly sift and sort through applications and identify good potential fits vs. non-ideal people.

Once you conduct the interview process and you want to extend an offer, you’ll also need a process for that, but it doesn’t stop there. Then you need a new team member induction process whether someone is straight out of school or a seasoned industry veteran.

This is the piece that’s often lacking and results in team members who regularly don't make budget or are always hanging out the back room on their phone. When you invest the time up front to induct your team on how YOU do it in YOUR brand, you’re setting both them and you up for success.

Of course, it doesn't stop here, employees will still need constant attention and direction, and that’s where systems and processes come into play…

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Set Your Systems and Processes

Once I realized the power of systems and processes, my management team and I became obsessed with nailing them down.

We wanted to document our way of doing things that way any new or existing team member could have a directional and process on what they should be doing and how they should be doing it.

Eventually, we turned this process into an actual document that we titled, "This Is How We Do It Here.”

This became a living and breathing document that didn’t just live on the computer or in a drawer, we put it in the back room, a copy at reception and in my office.

It was our code, and while it didn’t sound sexy at first, this code for the inner workings of our brand changed my business and brought my team together in providing amazing service, consistently.

We all started to speak the same language and perform together as a team, and as a result, we got stronger together as we finally had a process for training, educating and coaching the team to perform at their best.

Now with these systems and processes in place, I could step back from the chair (another key element in growing the salon to new heights, which you can learn more about in our Freedom & Profit Guide) and coach my people with clear, regular communication that was both reliable and consistent.

I could also lead them with a vision for the future, where the business was growing and going, and most importantly, how they fit into that picture.

Over time, we built up a strong team and enjoyed higher retention, with more and more of them staying longer than the 2-year average.

And with all these pieces in play from understanding the 1-in-3 Rule to outlining every detail of our systems and processes, and becoming obsessed with building a strong culture, we eliminated the expense and exhaust of constant turnover, and we also doubled my ridiculously large goal of turning over $1 million per year.

I know it’s possible because I’ve done it, and I know you can, too.

Now I want to hear from you: what’s your experience with finding, employing and retaining a team in your salon?

Come jump into the Salon Owners Collective group and tell me - the good, the bad or the ugly. No shame here, just a community for honest conversation and helpful feedback as you work to build more Freedom & Profit in your business.

And don’t forget to get your free guide for How to Attract a Rockstar Team!

About the author, Larissa

Business Coach & Marketing Strategist: After 20 years of salon business I worked in online marketing & technology development, Business Development Manager at Timely Salon Software and co-founded HAIRshare app for Stylist.

I love helping stylists & salons with marketing strategies, the latest technology and working smarter, not harder in salon business.

Salon Owners Collective is an online community with the mission of inspiring and empowering Salon Owners from around the globe to grow beyond owner operator. Turn your ideas into a reality, build successful businesses and live with clarity and purpose.