Illustration by Liz Adams

Illustration by Liz Adams

It's a peaceful Saturday morning at the salon. Your first client of the day has slipped on an eye mask as you begin to run the water for her pedicure. Just as you start to ask her, “Is the temperature all right for you?”, you hear a commotion at the door. All of a sudden, two children burst in, running and screaming at the top of their lungs.

As you walk over, policy manual in hand, to tell the children’s parent that kids are not allowed in the salon if they don’t have an appointment, you have a disturbing realization: those scampering children belong to your boss, the salon owner herself, who’s following them inside without batting an eye.

If this scenario makes you want to throw in the manicure towel, we can’t say we blame you for that thought. But before you do, we recommend taking the high road and giving the boss a chance to mend her ways, similar to what you’d hope she’d do for you if you were the one breaking the rules. Lisa Marie Arnold, the owner and a coach at Lisa Marie Arnold, Inc. (, a business coaching firm for salons and day spa, advises: “If it’s a place that you enjoy, where you have built a following, and where you see potential, then I think the owner deserves a second chance.”

The Talk

This of course brings up the teensy issue of having to confront the boss about her bad behavior, an intimidating prospect for many of us.

You can alleviate some of the fear factor by preparing for the talk in advance, both my arming yourself with the facts and by practicing scripts. “The conversation needs to focus on the business and answer my favorite question: Is it good for the customer? If it’s not good for the customer, then whatever that issue is needs to stop immediately,” says Neil Ducoff, founder/CEO of Strategies (, a business training and coaching company for the beauty industry specializing in leadership, performance, and growth. “Prepare a short list of how the owner’s rule violations are hurting the culture of the salon and degrading the customer experience.”

Michelle Smith, founder of Beauty Education and Resources ( and a salon owner, recommends preparing for the best and the worst. “Make sure you have all of the facts and solutions, and the best time is when the owner isn’t busy or tired. You may even want to schedule a meeting in advance,” she says.

And have the talk, as well as the lead-up to the talk, in person, not over the impersonal medium of e-mail, says Arnold. “I’d walk up to the salon owner and say, ‘I’m a little bit concerned about some of the policies in the manual,’ says Arnold, who also advises that you look up the manual ahead of time and know what it says verbatim.

And while it may be tempting to rely on strength in numbers by getting other employees to confront the boss with you, in general, ganging up on the owner is a no-no, according to the experts we interviewed. “The issue may affect everybody but you’re talking to the boss because of how it is affecting you personally. It’s more professional if you do it solo,” Arnold says. “That eliminates that backroom chatter and gossip that isn’t good for anybody.”

Smith advises that to constructively deal with issues as a team, the salon should have regularly scheduled meetings to discuss issues together and/or the owner could set up a suggestion box for feedback.


So, what exactly do you say? You need to alert the owner to the discrepancies. One way to phrase this, Arnold says, is, “I’m a little confused about what I’m supposed to be doing and what I see other people doing.” Arnold adds, “Talk about how you’re looking for more professionalism: ‘I was anticipating a place of employment where there was consistency and structure — a place where I could have a career.’”

In the best-case scenario, your boss will find your comments eye-opening and be thankful for how you’ve helped improve her business. You may even find your relationship with the owner is strengthened after mutually coming up with a solution.

However, if the owner plays the “boss card” (saying that because she’s the boss she’s the exception to the rule), then the best response is to defuse the situation, Ducoff says. He offers this response: “I respect your position as the owner and I want to work with you to make the salon something extraordinary. I want to follow your lead. I want you to be a leader that stands for best practices. How can I help you do this?” Ducoff says this brings the conversation back to what’s best for the salon and the customer. “Owners know this. Help the owner feel your loyalty, concern, and willingness to work together to create something extraordinary,” Ducoff says.

And if the rule the boss is breaking is outdated, then this is the ideal time to have it re-written and the new rule added to the manual. Policies can be changed, but the new policy should be in writing. Smith says, “I believe you treat others the way you like to be treated, and if it’s good for the owner, then all employees should be able to do it too and vice versa.”

Following Up

The next steps are the action items: timelines and accountabilities that make change stick, Ducoff says. “The last step of the meeting should sound like, ‘OK, so starting tomorrow, we’re all going to arrive 15 minutes before the salon opens to prepare for work, we’re going to turn off our mobile phones while servicing clients, etc. Let’s set up some accountabilities we can all use to make sure what we’re committing to here is in line with the salon’s policies and procedures,’” says Ducoff.

Arnold says to anticipate a second meeting, after the owner has had time to think about the discussion and to implement changes. “If the initial conversion was all from the viewpoint of how the change would improve the overall business, then I would be hoping to see some definite feedback within a few days.”

If the owner falls into a backslide, in which she improves for a few days but then goes back to her old ways, make sure you address it with her immediately. “It does take people time to develop new habits,” Smith says. “However, if the person isn’t working toward a solution at all, then in my opinion, that says the person doesn’t care.”

Throwing in the Towel

There are some cases in which, after confronting the boss, it really is time to find other employment. Especially if you’re an employee (as opposed to a booth renter or an independent contractor) because then the boss has the power in the relationship and gets the final word, whether it’s the appropriate word or not. After bringing up the issue and not seeing it fixed or seeing it get worse, and if the issue is something you’re not OK living with, then your only real recourse is to leave.

Smith says, “There is nothing wrong with seeing what other fish are in the sea. Just don’t tell anyone, as we know most can’t keep secrets. So if you don’t see any change, you may want to consider finding a new job.”

In many cases, however, we think you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find the salon owner receptive to your comments, if you’ve approached her the right way and keep your demeanor professional. Arnold says, “Owners are learning all the time. They may be thrilled to hear and learn. They may benefit greatly from the conversation and appreciate what you had to say.”

Next page: Dos and Don'ts During "The Talk" and How to Find a Great Salon Owner

[PAGEBREAK]DO'S and DON'Ts During the Talk

Do be professional and honest, but gentle and humble at the same time.

Do use “I” statements (not “you” statements). (Such as, “I am concerned it ­disturbs our clients’ experience when there are children in the salon. Not “You are breaking the rules when you bring your children to
the salon.”)

Do focus on how the situation affects the overall business.

Don’t have a nasty attitude.

Don’t attack or point fingers.

Don’t have it be a “me-me-me” conversation. It’s not about you; it’s about the salon
and the clients.


If you choose to quit and find another salon to work in, you need to ensure that you won’t simply run into the same or a similar predicament at your new place of employment. Heather Goodwin, a coach at salon coaching and training firm Inspiring Champions (, says you need to know what to look for during the salon interview process to ensure the owner you’ll be working for follows her own rules.

Goodwin says: “I meet techs from all over and a high percentage of them find themselves in the same types of situations. The challenge that I see over and over is that instead of making a career move they just look for a ‘job’. Or more often I’m noticing them opening their own businesses as a way out. Neither of these are usually successful moves. More often than not the new business struggles just to stay afloat and most likely will close due to the lack of real business knowledge in our industry.

“As for jumping into a new job, the tech needs to interview the boss. Does the salon require a resume with references first before setting up an interview? Does the owner have you fill out an application that not only asks the vital info, but also questions on services and product lines (more of a self-assessment type form)? Does the owner have a vision statement ensuring what he or she is looking for in a new tech? Does the owner, upon completing the first interview, have the applicant interview with a team member?

“Was the owner prepared and on time? How was she dressed? Was the salon clean? How were the other team members dressed? During the interview with either the other team member or the owner, was gossip present on why others had left, or why they were hiring?

“Once a first interview is passed, Inspiring Champions recommends a second interview with both the owner and a second team member. This allows all parties to connect again. Look around again at the surroundings. Are children running around? Ask the team member if these children are allowed. Is the salon still clean with things running timely?

“Ask for clarity on product lines and usage. Was the compensation structure explained clearly? Were agreements in writing?

“In the third interview model services should be completed to test the applicant’s skills. Were the products labeled? Was the stock sufficient? What is the tech responsible to provide? What’s their inventory and ordering system?

“Remember that the culture of any salon is set by the leader. An employee can control her destiny by utilizing these points to look for. They have just as much opportunity to interview their new boss and coworkers. That way they can live a life by design and not by default.”

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