Business Management

A Good Salon Manager Can Relieve The Owner and Motivate the Troops

Salon managers aren’t only for big salons; even small salon owners can benefit from an experienced manager, even if it’s only part-time.

Terri Mayhue, owner of Sculptured Nails by Terri Mayhue and Associates, admits that her business could never function efficiently without a salon manager. Mayhue owns a nails-only salon in New Port Richey, Fla., and has two full-time and three part-time nail technicians. If you think salon managers are for large full-service salons only, then read on for why these salon owners rely on their managers to handle daily responsibilities and help their salons grow to a level they could never reach alone. And, if you’re a nail technician who is looking to advance up the management ladder, you can learn what owners look for in top candidates.


Like many salon owners, Mayhue used to manage by the philosophy common to many business owners: If you want something done right, do it yourself. She wasn’t sold on the idea of hiring a manager until it became absolutely necessary. Then suddenly her teaching duties were scheduled to take her out of the country for more than a month and she had three options: stay home, close the salon, or appoint a manager to ensure that the business she had spent years building continued to function in her absence.

“I decided to appoint a manager, and one of my staff members was the logical choice,” says Mayhue. “She had previously worked as a manager in another field before learning to do nails and she stepped into the position easily.”

Today, Mayhue’s manager handles responsibilities ranging from inventory control, appointment scheduling, and making bank deposits to reminding the staff to clean up their stations. Mayhue doesn’t make a single decision without consulting her manager. Why does Mayhue consider her so ideal?

“She has assumed many of my responsibilities and learned on her own just by watching me,” Mayhue explains. “She’s very time-efficient and handles people in a very caring manner but still commands respect. She’s a creative thinker and she takes the initiative to do whatever needs to be done without overstepping her authority. That’s a fine line to walk and she does it brilliantly. Above all, she loves her work. We complement each other so well and have a wonderful personal relationship. She is also a terrific troubleshooter,” says Mayhue.

“For example, we’ve had girls with a full book for the day call in sick, and our manager found ways to handle the clients to their satisfaction without panicking,” says Mayhue.

In addition to keeping the business running smoothly, Mayhue’s manager frees up time to allow her to do what she loves best---teaching.


“Salon owners should look for a manager whose abilities and skills complement their own,” says Mark D. Foley, an experienced salon owner and industry consultant. “For example, if the owner is great nail technician or hairdresser but has no mind for marketing, promotions, or running direct mail campaigns, then the owner should look for a manager with those skills and training. Or, if the owner is weak in record-keeping, then the manager needs to be skilled in that area.”

Gayla Rodgers, owner of Class Act in Iowa City, Iowa, adds that the owner’s and manager’s personalities must mesh well, and the owner’s weak points must be the manager’s strengths.

“For example, my weakest skill is organization, but it’s my manager’s strongest point, so I delegated all organizational responsibility to her right away and it benefited everyone,” says Rodgers.

The salon manager can be hired from inside or outside the salon, and there are pros and cons to each situation.

If you opt for hiring a manager from within, start the process by asking if anyone currently on staff wants to interview for the position, recommends Vickie O’Gara, an industry educator and president of O’Gara Educational Productions (Hailey, Idaho). She also suggests the following considerations for in-house selections:

  • Does the candidate have organized thoughts?
  • Does the candidate interact well with other staff members and clients?
  • Has the candidate shown the ability to be both a leader and a team player?
  • Has the candidate inspired and convinced others to reach greater heights?
  • Does the candidate have a community profile?
  • Would this person ask the right questions of the distributor’s sales consultant?
  • Has the candidate asked key questions during staff meetings, such as, “How does this product work?”and “What makes this product sell?”

Other important traits include honesty, integrity, and follow-up on promises, which serious candidates have exhibited throughout their tenure on the staff---not just since the position opened.

During the second and third interviews, O’Gara recommends asking “What if” questions to ensure that the candidate’s line of thinking is in synch with the owner’s. Those questions include, “What if staff members were constantly coming in late?” or “What if I turned our summer retail promotions over to you?”

Rodgers sees the benefits of hiring from within, pointing out that since her manager works 36 hours a week in the salon as a nail technician, she is in a good position to direct the staff because she encounters the same situations daily herself.

“When the hire is made from within, the chances of keeping the staff are greater, but there are still unique problems,” says Foley. For example, the manager’s friends might try to take advantage of the friendship and expect special favors or rule-stretching. The manager has to expect that and be ready to deal with it immediately.

Salon owners will usually look outside their current staff if they are looking for someone with more experience in management, marketing, and finances, or if no current staff member possesses the skills necessary to take the salon to a higher level.

During the interview O’Gara recommends asking an outside candidate about past and future career goals, accomplishments, personality, and attitude.

Brian Hemminger and his partners at Studio 7 in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., hired a former client who had managed a neighboring business as a full-time manager.

“While she wasn’t from the salon industry, she had the qualities we were looking for---she’s a self-starter, a very creative person, very service-oriented, and she’s not afraid to dive right into any job,” says Hemminger. “A good manager can learn about the salon business.”

Foley adds that potential problems should be expected if a candidate is brought in from the outside. “In 75% of cases the salon will experience some turnover.” says Foley. “Resentment can build up, especially if someone within the salon thinks she was qualified for the position. You can expect a clash even if the staff was included in the hiring process.”

Eventually, the new manager will have to show authority, and staff members will see how far they can stretch it, says Foley.

“Once that occurs, chances are that one or several operators will threaten the owner with, ‘Either she goes or we go.’” says Foley. “You must be prepared in advance for this situation. You must stand behind the manager, even if that means losing a key staff member. Otherwise, you may lose control of the salon over the long run,” he continues.

Whether an inside or outside candidate is desired, there is one common pitfall to avoid: Do not hire or promote a candidate to a management position based on high productivity as a nail technician or hairdresser. Those skills are not always interchangeable.


If you want to test the managerial waters before committing to a manager, there are options to explore.

“If the salon can’t afford a fulltime manager, then the manager can wear many hats,” says Foley. For example, the manager can also handle the responsibilities of salon coordinator, some reception duties, retailing, and record-keeping.

Or, the manager can work part time as a hairdresser or nail technician and part-time as the manager, with specific hours designated for each function.

“If you opt for a manager who still works as a nail technician or hairdresser, then the owner and manager need to develop a creative and effective time management program in which they mark time off the book to manage the business,” says O’Gara. The responsibilities break down into the daily operations of running a business.

That’s the case at Mayhue’s salon. The manager does nails up to 56 hours a week and spends another 10 to 15 hours performing her managerial duties.

At the full-service Class Act salon, Rodgers’ manager also works as a nail technician. She does nails 36 hours a week and puts in another 20 to 30 hours managing the salon.

At Nail Craft and Hair Craft Salon in Gilbertsville, Pa., owners Christine and Robert Derr take a slightly different approach. Rather than appointing one overall manager, they appointed two managers who handle different responsibilities.

“One is in charge of inventory control, including ordering, stocking, and displays, and the other is responsible for all public relations and all educational activities,” explains Christine. So there is no confusion, both positions are defined in writing in the salon’s policy manual.

The Derrs initially elected to use a manager more out of necessity than choice when Christine had a baby last year and needed to decrease her own responsibilities. Now they wonder what took them so long.

“This system allows the managers to earn more money and makes the business as a whole more important to them, as well as more productive for us,” she explains. “In addition, they really enjoy playing a bigger role in the business’s overall success.”

“A full-time salon manager is particularly critical if you as an owner want to continue to work behind the chair or doing nails,” says Studio 7’s Hemminger. “If as an owner you try to work as a cosmetologist and run the salon, both aspects of your business will suffer.”

Hemminger explains that he and his partners committed to a substantial starting salary for a full-time manager, then delegated all the day-to-day operations---overseeing the reception desk, ordering supplies, making bank deposits, decorating the salon for holidays and special occasions---to her right away to allow them to concentrate on other areas.

“Our manager has taken the salon to a new level of service that we could not have achieved on our own without sacrificing other areas of our responsibility,” says Hemminger. “She is worth every penny of the financial investment.”


During the first year of working with a manager, Rodgers structured her training similar to an assistant hairdresser or nail technician, but on the management level.

“At first, I would ask for her input, make a decision, and then explain why I made that decision,” says Rodgers. “After a year of working so closely, she learned exactly how I make decisions. After five years now, I trust her to make the decision I would make in any situation.

“When she first began to make the decisions, I supported her 100%, no matter how differently I would have acted,” says Rodgers. “Then we would sit down and talk about how she made the decision and options that would have been available. That support is essential to a manager’s long-term success in the position.

“One of the biggest complaints I hear from managers is, “The owner doesn’t trust my judgement and constantly takes my credibility away,” she adds. “No matter what the situation is, the owner must always support the manager’s decision in front of the staff. By giving her responsibility, she knows that I believe in her and will work even harder.”

Now, Rodgers says she never makes a decision for the salon without consulting her manager.

“When you divide the business work load and responsibility while allowing both the owner and manager to focus on their own areas of expertise, it allows the total job to be performed more efficiently and effectively,” says Jerry Gordon, owner of J. Gordon Designs Ltd. in Chicago.

“Setting up an official owner manager communication system is critical to the relationship’s success,” says Gordon. “My manager and I let each other know everything we do and we cross check everything the other does because small mistakes can compound and multiply.

“The most frequent problem is a breakdown in communication between the owner and the manager,” says O’Gara. “The owner must always know what he or she wants to happen and continue to direct the manager to that end. The manager must report back at least on a weekly basis (daily is better) on the salon’s activities.”

To make giving up some control easier for owners who are used to doing everything themselves, Rodgers recommends starting by handing over those tasks in which you are the weakest.

The bottom line with proper training is that good managers treat the salon’s business as if it is their own.


                A salon is a sales organization, so the manager should be compensated accordingly, says Mark D. Foley. “The only way to accomplish that is through an override system.”

                Basically, an override system means paying the manager a percentage of the salon’s gross sales. It is a built-in incentive system because as revenues increase, the manager’s pay increases. Foley recommends a 5% to 7% override.

                “Many salons make the mistake of just paying the manager a larger commission than everyone else if the manager is also a working cosmetologist, but that’s exactly opposite of the situation you want to create,” says Foley. “For example, if the staff earns 50% commission, the owner pays the manager 60% commission. That just encourages the manager to work harder on clients rather than committing to managerial activities.”

                An override system gives the manager a vested interest in the overall success of the salon and working to build the other operators.

                “For example, pay the manager a base of 5% of gross sales with an extra 2% bonus if the salon meets specific growth, retail, or promotional goals,” Foley recommends. “The key is to set salon goals and then to reward the manager if the goals are met. One goal might be to attract 100 new sculptured nail clients within a three-month period. If that goal is accomplished, then the manager would receive a bonus. Another goal might be for retail sales to increase by 10% during one month. The manager would receive an agreed-upon bonus if that goal was met and maintained for a three month period.”

                If the manager is also a working cosmetologist, Foley recommends paying the standard commission for the manager’s clients and an override on salon sales as compensation for managerial activities.

                “The salon needs to be grossing about $400,000 a year to afford manager who is not an operator,” he says.

                Vickie O’Gara says another option is to pay the manager a base salary for running the daily salon operations, then pay a percentage of the gain in gross sales that results from the manager’s efforts.


                Make things clear from the start by agreeing on a job description and putting it in writing. Gayla Rodgers has outlined her manager’s responsibilities in writing in the salon manual. They include:

  • Oversee the salon in all situations and make decisions on the owner’s behalf.
  • Act as a leader and be professional at all times.
  • Resolve all salon problems between employees and with clients.
  • Offer input into all salon decisions.
  • Make sure staff members fulfil their responsibilities.
  • Organize educational classes, promotions, and contests.
  • Help the salon become a better place.
  • Update technician records, or make sure technicians keep files up to date.
  • Order and track inventory.
  • Develop a marketing plan that includes community involvement.
  • Represent the salon at the Chamber of Commerce.
  • Prepare payroll for the accountant.
  • Recruit, interview, hire, and fire staff.

                To those responsibilities, Susie Council, co-owner of Van Michael salon in Atlanta, adds the following:

  • Review the salon’s financial goals and set up financial coaching systems for staff members to help them meet their goals.
  • Study the salon’s client base in order to fine-tune marketing and public relations efforts.
  • Monitor the salon’s overall appearance, which includes everything from getting coffee spills cleaned up to removing cigarettes on the side-walk.
  • Oversee a recruitment program that includes cultivating relationships with cosmetology schools.
  • Keep a salon calendar that tracks all activities---from promotions and meetings to staff vacations.

                Paul Villeneuve, Van Michael’s manager, sums up his job this way: “The ideal manager isn’t a supervisor, but rather is a business coach for the owners and the entire staff who can really drive the business to a new level.”

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