Customer Service

Who Owns the Client?

The question of who “owns” the client — the nail tech or the salon owner — is a tricky and emotional one, and in some cases, a legal question. Issues such as access to client records, who pays for advertising, and non-compete clauses only complicate matters further.

At many salons, there exists an invisible tug-of-war between the salon owner and the nail technician — and the client is in the middle. She probably doesn’t even know she is this prized possession, yet the salon owner and nail tech both feel the client “belongs” to them.


Behind the table you have the nail technician who the client has standing appointments with. The technician usually forms a bond with her clients, sometimes becoming a psychologist and other times a friend. At the reception desk is the owner. If she is hands-on, she, too, will form relationships with clients who patronize her business.


So how does the client see it? Some clients form a bond with their nail tech and would follow “their girl” to the ends of the earth. Others patronize a salon out of convenience — because it’s close by or a worthy promotion caught their eye. Whatever the reason clients choose to support a business, they are still valuable “property” and often the center of great tension and debate within a salon.


At first glance, there’s a general consensus in the industry that in an employee situation, the salon owner “owns” the client, whereas in a booth rental situation, she belongs to the tech. But in real life, a number of factors make the issue much murkier and open to debate.


The Custody Battle for Records

Most salons keep client records that note dates of service and the services performed. More important, they contain the client’s address and telephone number. Some salon owners do not allow their employees to see these records, fearing the information will enable them to take these clients with them if they move on to another salon. Other owners feel the appointment data should be filled in by the tech, allowing her access to the personal information of each patron.


Things get murky when a salon is comprised solely of booth renters. “When I owned Hair We Are, my stylists and techs kept their own client cards,” says Becky Fangmann of Shear Madness in, Oak Grove, Mo. “They were all in a booth rental situation, so this was their right.” Many salon owners will still want to keep records of incoming clients even if the techs are booth renters. Tension over the issue can cause sparks to fly as owners believe their contribution to the renters’ success entitles them to this information.


The question of access to client information also has ramifications on a practical, day-to-day basis. Sometimes salons can be so busy that if a tech needs to reschedule her clients at the last minute due to an emergency or illness, the receptionist or owner may not have time to call her clients to reschedule. If the tech does not have access to the client records to call them, there may be some clients arriving for an appointment with a tech who is not there. This makes both the salon and the nail tech look bad. This could be reason enough for owners to allow their employees access to client records.


Kristi McKittrick, owner of The Grand Illusion in Noblesville, Ind., has strong feelings on this issue. “When I was an employee, the owner knew I kept client records,” she says. “How else was I supposed to keep in contact with my clients? Call my boss every time I needed this information? Who has time for that?” To avoid misunderstandings, it should be stated at the initial interview who is responsible for calling clients should an emergency arise.


Advertising Equals Ownership

Ask any owner why she feels the client base is hers and she most likely will tell you that since she pays for the advertising, anyone who walks into her place of business is hers. Depending on how the owner promotes her salon, this may also be a source of controversy. Many owners of employee-based and booth rental salons will agree that advertising the salon and/or the tech justifies the owner’s right to the clients.


Owners may tell their booth renters they will pay for advertising but, should the tech leave, the salon is entitled to contact any client who has walked through its doors. “I maintain the right to contact clients who leave for up to six months,” says Maggie Franklin, owner of Salon of Wellness and Beauty in Visalia, Calif. “They may choose to follow the tech, but I maintain the right to try to sway them to stay.”


Wendy Updegrave, owner of First Class Nails, an employee-only salon in East Lyme, Conn., advertises in the Yellow Pages. She says, “Client records are available to everyone, but they are salon property.”


Jessica Zastoupil, in Plymouth, Minn., feels that it really depends on whether the client specifically requested you. “If she comes in just because of an ad, I wouldn’t consider her my client. But if she called back and requested me specifically, then I would consider her my client.”


The Following

When looking for new techs to put on staff, many owners place advertisements looking for prospective employees who already have a following. The owner wants to ensure that a new member of her team will bring in an income that is a sure thing once she starts at the new salon. But what if another employee leaves, taking the following she has grown?


One tech we spoke to who wishes to remain anonymous explains her frustration when she left a salon, taking clients with her. “I was a booth renter who paid for advertising and supplies and I paid my own taxes. I left to start my own business and all of my clients followed me. I heard my old salon was telling people that I stole clients. I found this interesting because I never knew anyone could ‘own’ a person and because the salon did nothing in the way to bring me clients,” she says.


Owners should take a good look at what they are looking for. If an owner wants new employees to bring their old following, she should not be disturbed if one leaves and takes clients with her. Rather she should focus on making her salon a good place to work and keeping everyone happy so that staff turnover will be kept to a minimum.


Where Did She Go?

On the flipside, sometimes a tech will not tell clients she is leaving. She may have signed a contract with her boss that she wouldn’t reveal this if she ever decided to quit. What should a salon owner do when a client calls the salon to find out where her tech has gone? While the receptionist or owner may be disinclined to reveal the location, this actually can do a great disservice to the salon. If the owner is reluctant to reveal where the nail technician went, that may upset the client and cause her not to return to the salon.


“Clients may leave and follow the tech or choose to stay at the salon with another tech,” says Lois Kuntz of Plaza Day Spa in Lemoore, Calif., who believes the client should be fully informed of any departures and given the choice to choose what she wants to do.


Updegrave does not agree: “I tell the client she is no longer here and ask if she would like to make an appointment with another one of our nail techs. I feel it is not my job to promote her business.”


Most techs, as well as some owners, feel that not revealing where the tech has gone is small-minded and reflects badly on the salon and the owner. If the client is coming to the salon out of convenience, the probability of the client returning is good. Disclosing the information will be seen as a polite gesture, making her more likely to return to the salon and give another tech a chance. A client who is patronizing the salon for one specific nail tech will be very unhappy if she is not told where her tech went. It’s likely she’ll eventually find out where her tech went anyway. Remember this: A happy client tells three people about her experience; an unhappy one tells 10.


Double-Edged Sword

Have you ever applied for a position and at the interview the owner tells you that you need to sign a non-compete clause in the contract? A non-compete clause means you agree not to work within a specified distance from the salon should you decide to leave. A smaller town may have a larger distance, possibly as much as 10 miles or more. A larger town or city may have a distance of only a few blocks.


Many nail technicians feel this is a control issue with salon owners. It very well could be, but at the same time the owner has a legitimate right to try to protect the business she has invested so much time and money into. Be aware though that non-compete agreements are not legal in several states, including California. Even where they are legal, they are not enforceable unless they are drafted properly (consult an employment attorney regarding restrictions). Moreover, an owner should not expect a nail tech with an established following to sign a non-compete clause in their agreement.


Employees should be aware of what a non-compete clause might mean. Occasionally this is a tip-off that employee turnover is great, or it may simply be the reflection of a single bad experience with a tech whose departure hurt business significantly. It is possible for a tech to tell the owner that she will not sign that part of the contract.


Clients Own Us

We hear clients talk about “her gal” or “her tech” all the time. Nail technicians and owners would be wise to see it in much the same way. Clients are free to go to whomever they choose, wherever they choose.


“I’m well aware that clients can leave me anytime, so it is my job to keep them happy,” says McKittrick. To keep clients happy, techs need to be sure their technical skills are above and beyond the norm. They should be aware of their conduct while working on clients and do everything in their power so that clients want to come back.


Owners should make sure to keep their employees happy while staying aware of all clients’ needs. Keeping everyone content should make for a greater employer/employee relationship and lower staff turnover. Attending to the client means making sure everything is meeting her expectations and forming a relationship with her.


It’s important to remember, a client can leave the tech and the salon at any time. She will most certainly know if there is tension in the salon. Do not let this happen to you. A good working environment makes for content clients. Satisfied clients return, keeping the income going for both the tech and the owner.


Lynnette Madden is the owner of Salon 29 at Main in East Greenville, Pa.

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