Most likely you’ve heard of or played a part in some version of this story: There’s a happy team of techs working together in a busy salon. Then, one day, one of the techs seems to withdraw. Two weeks later, seemingly out of nowhere, the tech announces she is leaving to go work at a neighboring salon. The team is left shell-shocked and reeling, wondering what happened, and if they should leave too. Clients are calling, the salon is buzzing, and you — the owner or manager — are left to pick up the pieces. What’s your game plan?


Talk to Your Team 

Diffuse the situation immediately by pulling the remaining staff together. Give them a chance to talk, question, and vent, and then redirect the conversation to a positive place. Give them language to process their own disappointment, anger, hurt, or worry. Then, help them craft responses to clients about where the tech has gone and why she left. The goal here is to cast a vision about how the team will move forward successfully without her.

The temptation may be to speak negatively of the tech who left. Don’t. This stirs up contempt. Speak respectfully without overdoing it. One way to frame the message might sound like this: “Bethany was a sweet girl. She was a good nail tech. We’ll miss having her here, but she has found a place she believes will be a better fit for her. We wish her the best. We aren’t going to speak badly about her. We have a great team, and I know we will continue to succeed. I’m confident in each of you and that our clients will continue to come here because they love the experience they get at the salon.”

Once you have affirmed your current staff, processed the emotions of losing a team member, and crafted talking points, have each person give a verbal promise to end the conversation and stop talking about the tech who is gone. Don’t let the conversation continue throughout the salon in hushed tones.


Talk to the Clients 

“Always respond in a positive way,” says Liz Mier, co-owner of Ashley Alwin Hair and Nail Salon in Grayslake, Ill. “Even if the tech left under bad conditions, tell clients she moved on looking for new opportunities.” Mier also suggests language such as, “She decided to pursue a new path and we wish the best for her,” or “We weren’t the right fit for her.” Mier says if clients continue to ask questions to find out where the tech went, she doesn’t have a problem telling them the name of the salon where the tech works, even if it’s local. “Clients feel lied to when you keep the information secret,” says Mier. “Our policy is to state it isn’t a good fit; however, if clients continue to question, we are honest.” Mier says she sends a postcard to clients saying the salon appreciates their business and loyalty. The postcard has a discount on it to encourage the client to come in and try another tech.

Tracy Johnson agrees. “Ultimately it’s a client’s choice to stay in the salon or with the tech. If you aren’t honest with the client, it will come back to bite you.” Johnson, currently a booth renter in Bradenton, Fla., has been a nail tech for over 20 years. She has been in the position of both retreating tech and salon owner. When she was the tech who left, she had clients show up at her home to find out where she went. As an owner, she knew clients would have the same level of loyalty for her staff. “When a tech left, I would let clients know the tech has chosen a new venture, and I would also offer clients a discount on her next nail service if she stayed in the salon.” Still, Johnson would tell clients where the tech had moved if clients ask directly.

“I want all my clients to be loyal to the salon and not the service provider,” says Ana Molinari, owner of Ana Molinari, a full-service salon, spa, and boutique with two locations in Sarasota, Fla. “I hope they become loyal to the experience of enjoying the best atmosphere, the best coffee, the best customer service, and the best provider.” Hopefully, when the provider leaves, the clients want to remain in the salon for the other benefits. Molinari says when a provider leaves, clients eventually find where she is working. Clients often try the provider in the new location but return to her salon for the overall experience. “I want the client to return, so I don’t like to talk badly about people who have left. In fact, when a client asks where a provider has gone, I tell them. I have had clients leave and return, and I have had techs who leave and return,” says Molinari. “They come back because they love the salon.”

Some owners may prefer to withhold information about where techs have landed. If you prefer to avoid offering the information, respond vaguely with something such as, “She is no longer with us.” If clients ask if you know where she is, you could respond, “As far as I know, she stayed local.” If the questions continue, advises Mier, say something such as, “She is no longer with us, and we aren’t at liberty to say where she is working.” Finally, if the client persists, be respectful of the client and answer directly. “The client has the choice of whether she wants to stay with you or find the tech,” says Mier. “You always want the client to feel comfortable to return. The best way to do that is to be honest with her.”   


Who Owns the Client?

While nobody owns the person, client information is typically viewed as the property of the salon unless techs work as 1099s or renters. “We don’t give our employees access to client information,” says Liz Mier, co-owner of Ashley Alwin Hair and Nail Salon. If staff from her salon have client information, it’s because they either accessed the information from the salon computers in secret, or they had collected client data on their own. “When a client lets us know the tech has contacted her, we always assure the client that the information was taken, not given,” says Mier. “This way the clients knows we didn’t violate her privacy by giving out her private information.”

If a tech is able to contact clients — whether by accessing information, or networking through mutual connections — the question arises about the legality of “taking” all the clients to the new location. “We have a policy that techs can’t work within 10 miles of the salon,” says Mier, “but any lawyer you talk to will say don’t pursue it when the policy is violated.” Molinari agrees, “All a person has to say when she goes to court is that this is how she earns money to survive. When she says that, she is going to be able to keep working without penalty.”

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