Business Management

For Salon Owners Only: Encouraging Teamwork

A smooth running team boosts morale and can impact bottom line profits.

Don’t you love visiting other salons? You start to feel the culture of a salon as soon as you get to the front door. From the location of a salon to its exterior design and signage to the interior decoration and the way you are greeted-they all create an impression of what a salon is all about. But the feel of a salon also comes from the goals, philosophies, and work ethic of the salon owner and the people who work there. Creating an environment that is not only a pleasure to visit as a client but that is a friendly place to work as well is the real key to the success of a salon. It’s what keeps staff happy and productive and coming to work.

The first step to creating a team atmosphere is to realize that, in essence, your staff members are your customers. It’s a challenge, I guarantee you, but it’s your salon and it must reflect your values and personality. The responsibility is on your shoulders as leader and role model. (Just wear jeans once when you told everybody no jeans and see what happens). This does not mean you have to be a drill sergeant or nursemaid, but you can be consistent and professional force that is a guiding light for your staff. When you feel overwhelmed by an unruly staff and you want to fire everyone, first examine your management style for the necessary changes. Learn more about how to be an effective manager by taking seminars, whether they’re offered inside or outside of our industry. Salon owners should try to attend at least one per year.


Rule # 1. Don’t make up rules as you go along. Staff members really hate it. Most salon owners seem to have some trouble in this area. Putting your “salon culture” in writing in the form of a policies and procedures manual will make it easier to manage your salon with fewer headaches. A policies and procedures manual can also protect you legally in the event of a staff problem. Your guidelines should include the following elements:

  • A Mission Statement: This is a thumbnail sketch of your salon culture and philosophy. If you don’t have one already, have your staff create one as a team. Post it where your clients can see it and use it in your literature. At Tips Nail & Image Center our mission statement is: “Creating a future, together as a team, by seeking every opportunity to exceed our clients’ expectations with dependable services and products.” At Uptown Hair Studio, in Pittsburgh, Pa., owner Geri Mataya’s salon philosophy is: “Continuous improvements, day after day.”
  • Hiring Guidelines: Create a step-by-step system of interviewing and compose a list of the information you need from job applicants. Include a time-frame of when the material should be submitted. Establish clearly how and when staff is paid (the first thing everybody wants to know), what benefits you provide and what you don’t, and supplies you are responsible for. Write out what you expect to be accomplished in a technical interview. Let new-hires and job candidates know what training and advertising is available, and what they will be expected to provide in the way of insurance and licenses. This eases the process of getting a new staff member up and working in the least possible time with the minimum amount of effort on your part. It also ensures you do it the same every time.
  • Written booth rental or employment contracts: There are still a great many of you out there still a great many of you out there who skip this part in favor of a verbal agreement. Using a written agreement is just as much to clarify what is expected of staff or independent contractors on a day-to-day basis as it is to protect the interests of the owner in court or with the IRS. In my last column I suggested that owners need a support system that includes legal counsel. Please, please pay the money to have the agreement reviewed and approved by a lawyer. Says attorney Zoran Basich of Glendale, Calif., “Whether you are a salon owner or a booth renter you cannot afford to be in business without clear and concise contracts that spell out the nature and the type of relationship. Given the economy and the difficult financial period that has been with us, a contract between the employer and the employee or the booth renter and the salon owner will guarantee stability and an opportunity for you to focus on building your successful business and not fighting battles over insignificant matters.”
  • Policies and Procedures Manual: The best way to avoid hearing “Nobody ever told me that….” Is to use a policies and procedures manual. Making up rules as you go along will only confuse and aggravate your staff and land you in hot water when you’re inconsistent. Mataya, who is also a beauty business specialist, has created a manual for her salon and has put together a workbook with guidelines for others to use as well (to order Mataya’s book, The Salon Biz, send a check or money order for $17.05, which includes shipping and handling, to Del Mar Publishers, 3 Columbia Circle, P.O. Box 15015, Albany, NY 12212-5015, or call them at 518-464-3500). Booth rental salons should opt for a list of guidelines or orientation information about the salon. Include everything from backroom dos and don’ts to vacation time, customer handling, and what it takes to get fired. Again, have your finished guidelines reviewed by your attorney.
  • Goal Setting: Everyone loves a growing business. Helping your staff achieve their professional goals can be one of the most rewarding parts of being a salon owner. From the first week on staff have them define their monetary and numerical goals. Using a simple form that can be filled in each week makes this quick and easy. When anyone complains she isn’t making enough money (the dreaded “backroom whiner”), I ask to see her Weekly business Report. We can usually trace her problem to some weak spot on her goals sheet.



This column is not dedicated to a debate on compensation plans, but the system your salon uses-whether it’s one or a combination of the two-influences the salon culture. It may seem easier to create a cohesive salon culture for employees because you have more control over policies, procedures, dress codes, and the like, but with booth rental you can still create a team-like environment. As an owner you can choose to be merely a landlord, or you can become involved with helping and supporting your renters. They will respond positively to your to your caring attitude. Ken Cassidy, an expert in booth rental issues, says, “Think of the other members of the team as your business partners. Help each other out when needed.” Create your successful salon team by leading by example; but before you lay down the law in writing, consult the experts. As a salon owner, it is your job to know the law about independent contract labor.


If you are spending 40 or more hours each week at the table doing nails, it will be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to launch programs within your salon to pull your people together as a team. All you have energy left for is ordering products, paying the bills, and if you are the glamorous owner I am, washing the towels. But if you are to be a truly successful and effective leader, you’ve got to let go of the reins and let your business make the money instead of your two hands. Yes, you do have to take fewer clients each week, but the time devoted to in-salon promotion will be much more profitable in the long run. Start by implementing the following programs for true team spirit:

  • Salon Meeting: There will be more time devoted to this subject in another column, but here are the basics. First, have salon meetings. Second, have them on a regular basis (monthly is good).


Always use an agenda and make it available ahead of time (reminder-booth renters can be invited, but cannot be forced, to attend meetings). Keep meetings fun but productive to prevent them from turning into a gripe session. Says Mataya, “An agenda is posted before the meeting and everyone can have their concerns heard at the meeting.”

  • Create Team Goals: Don’t pit people against each other. Sales contests can be fun if there is a team prize that end. A pizza party is fun. In our case, we have “girls night out” line dancing –all expenses paid. Not all people are motivated by money, so prizes other than money are good. Individuals should still be recognized for superior performance with a “Staff Member of the Month” perk of some kind.
  • Booking Buddy System: Clients love an open and cooperative arrangement between technicians a salon. All of us have probably worked in a salon where there is a red line around each station, and even talking to someone else’s client isn’t permitted. It is so much more productive to work together as colleagues, not just to satisfy owners, but for the convenience and comfort of the client as well. The time you spend doing emergency repairs and taking care of other technicians’ clients while they are away is repaid when the time comes that you need help. Our motto is, “Keep the customer in our salon, no matter what.” Never, ever criticize another technician’s work to a client. Integrity should always come into play when booking clients new to the salon, as well. If a customer has no one specific in mind, try to book her with the technician who has the most open space on her schedule. Always keep in mind, however, the satisfaction of the client is most important when booking. If a technician has a particular specially that a client has requested, it stands to reason that technician will keep her coming back.


In any workplace there are bound to be differences between coworkers. There are always different types of personalities when you have a group of individuals together-the “bully” the “tattle-tale,” the “whiner,” etc. Just like a parent, you can’t show favoritism or let a prima donna develop. When there is a conflict between two staff members, try to get them to work it out between themselves first. Do not listen or comment on their problem at this point. Mature adults should be able to come to some satisfactory agreement. Sometimes when there are diverse ages or levels of experience this become more difficult and you will need to jump in. Listen to both sides individually, then bring them together. Make the problem itself a “third party,” asking both persons to find a solution to it. When a solution is agreed upon, have both individuals write it down and set a date for a follow-up meeting to make sure the problem has been resolved. If this fails, have it brought up at the next salon meeting for input from the entire team. Your final solution is a declaration from you that is not negotiable. The quicker disputes are handled, the better for the entire team.


The most detrimental factor to creating a salon team is the “Tech From Hell,” who is never going to be happy no matter what. None of us like working in an atmosphere of tension. And clients are also fast to pick up on it. Make every effort to communicate with the unhappy person in a calm, rational manner (even when as an owner you see your business going down the drain again). Make every attempt to discover and resolve the problem, short of being held hostage in your own business. When it comes to a dead end and there is only one solution, don’t worry; get rid of her. Once again, salon owner, know your laws. Before firing an employee or terminating a booth renter’s lease, document everything and make every effort to get the person to “come to the party.”

Too often we let the problem person remain until she has infected the whole team with her negative, unproductive behavior. It is always more profitable to keep your staff intact than to have constant turnover, but letting a problem person go unchecked until she has infected your entire staff could cause a mass walkout. Keep your cool and make the decision when you are calm and have given it a lot of thought.

So just like that beautiful salon décor, you can create that positive spirit, the work day flies by the clients welcome the relaxed atmosphere, and your salon’s bottom line looks healthier. As you become more confident and you define your salon policies, adding new staff members gets easier and profit possibilities blossom. As Mataya so insightfully put it, “It doesn’t happen in a day, week, month, or year; it happens with every step you take.”

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