Is The Salon You Go To A Toxic Environment Behind The Scenes?

Photo credit: Beccas Pics

Ah, the day has come to get your hair done and you are looking forward to that scalp massage, warm beverage, and some much needed me time. You chat and catch up with your favorite stylist who always does your hair just the way you like it and leave feeling refreshed. What if I told you though that the salon you go to every 4-6 weeks was actually a toxic working environment for your stylist, would you care or just block it out and keep going?

I am now considering myself retired from the beauty industry and am happier than I have ever been, especially since I now have a sweet little 7 month old! Through out the years of doing hair at various salons across the country, and interviewing each time we moved at all of the top salons in our new city each time, I realized many had one thing in common. A lot of these salons would try to sell me on what I can only describe as brainwashing, about how great their not so great employment would be for me. Grab your cup of coffee… or popcorn and lets get into it.

It was one of the first salons I ever worked at right out of beauty school and earning my license. I was hungry to learn more and get to work. I believe this thrill to get started made me accept poor treatment and justify it because I was new and salon owners and experienced stylists must obviously know what they are doing, right? Right out of the gate, the commission offered was 40% to me, 60% to the salon. It was explained to me that this is because they have color, products and rent to pay (as if I don’t have bills too?). This cut was included on things like haircuts, updo styling and shampoo blowouts that use little to no product. I went with it because you know.. what did I know at the time. As time went on, I started to understand this wasn’t a good situation but when I would bring up any changes and show how well I have been doing ( even better than stylists that had been there for years) there was always an excuse such as I didn’t sell enough product yet, I didn’t have enough clients, I had not been with them long enough, etc. There was always an excuse to keep me down and trying to attain an unreachable goal of theirs. This definitely contributed to stylists being catty about things, stealing clients ( aka having someone else’s client book with you to better your numbers). The oldest saying in the poorly run salon book is, “if you don’t like it here you can just go somewhere else,” which is a whole different problem I’ll touch on. You may think sure, there are bad places to work everywhere, you just got unlucky with this one. Nope. After many years in the industry and interviewing more salons that I can count, I realized this is kind of standard at many salons.

The eco friendly salons must not be like that too though right? They must care about your well being, health and mental wellness. Wrong. I found the eco friendly salons to be some of the worst offenders in my experience. Two that I worked at would force employees to donate a day of work ( yep work for free) to Earth Day, which actually meant the salon would look good to the community and brand but no one ever questioned where the donation money actually came from or how they got it. I questioned both the salons on this and it was as if I was a horrible person that didn’t want to do good for the environment. Funny enough, one client I had told me the “eco friendly” salon I l worked at a few years ago looked like it was run like a sweat shop and said she wouldn’t be back because of that. This leads me to the next issue happening in many salons that I mentioned above.

If a stylist questions unfair pay, treatment, or toxicities with in the salon, it is often met with the phrase ” if you don’t like it you can leave.” This is wildly not true as it takes a lot of effort, marketing, time and money to build a clientele and if you leave a salon, many wont tell clients where a stylists went or how to contact them. Stylists aren’t always rolling in cash and able to take that kind of financial hit to find a better salon so they stay stuck. As you can imagine this creates an uninspired, bitter environment both between stylists with each other and the salon owner/manager. I’ve seen stylists and salon owners become manipulative, spread gossip to turn the team against one person for questioning anything, be cruel to each other, and just become a truly nightmarish place to work… and worse… feel trapped working.

Now for some funny, not funny job offers that salons tried to sell me on. These actually make me sad people can think its fine to treat others this way but here we go. 1. ” The first year working for us you don’t get any time off or vacations but they second year you get a few days if covered by another stylist (said with enthusiasm). That was one of the “eco friendly” salons btw. 2. A mentioned above, the 40% commission to the stylist and 60% to the salon because they have bills, oh and 11% product usage charge on top of that. 3. Contracts made to trap stylists, for example a stylist wouldn’t be able to work in the same city or surrounding area for at least a year. This noncompete just looks insecure and cruel. 4. You aren’t paid during meetings, mandatory classes, or trainings…oh but you would get flex time. So…. yay 1-3 hours to use to take time off, if approved, for working, not being paid. 5. Product commission! Oh but you have to sell a few hundred before you hit the lowest commission mark.

I feel like the ugly side of the beauty world isn’t always exposed. I felt like I wanted to shed some light on my experiences in the hair/beauty industry (this is just scratching the surface). Next time you go into your salon, I challenge you to just take a minute to observe, listen and ask questions and you may be surprised at what you learn either by what is or isn’t said. It may not being so glamourous.

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