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Barrie Stephens salon survival guide | Recruitment & Retention

November 29, 2021

Barrie Stephen on raising the standard of staff recruitment and retention in hair salons.

A salon’s growth, stability and profitability depends heavily on a strong and committed team, and their performance is key to its success. As salon owners rebuild their businesses following the impact of lockdown, maintaining a dedicated team will be paramount to their survival.

Barrie Stephen of Barrie Stephen Hair shares his survival guide tactics which involve the ‘7 Rs’.

So how can businesses ensure that their stylists are committed in the long term and avoid a ‘grasshopper’ culture where neither the stylist nor salon owner feels satisfied? And what proactive steps should salons be taking in order to find and keep talented staff?

With more than three decades of experience in the industry and the owner of four salons in Leicestershire, Barrie Stephen believes that salons should not only prioritise recruitment and staff retention but look to raise the standard of these practices to promote professionalism within the sector.

The latest statistics from the National Hair and Beauty Federation show that the number of people starting hairdressing apprenticeships in England had halved between 2016 and 2020, with another predicted drop of 30% to 50% this year. With the very real threat of fewer people choosing hairdressing as a career, the reality is that salon owners are left fishing from a much smaller pond, which drives competitiveness and sometimes unethical behaviour.

Barrie believes that all salons should be singing from the same hymn sheet, working together to create a healthy pipeline of quality stylists. It’s not to say that stylists won’t move from one salon to another in the same town or city, but if there is mutual respect between businesses then detailed references, honest employee reviews and upholding contracts will be as standard and support all salons to better recruit for their business’ needs.

Barrie explains, “It is important to have a strong, united culture and welcome stylists that are looking for a challenge and new opportunities. This is great and we absolutely support ambition and drive. However, there seems to have been a shift in how stylists feel they should progress, and more importantly, how quickly. This pursuit of instant gratification can often lead to a culture of hopping salons, which leaves businesses desperate and recruiting without real consideration, and therefore the cycle continues.

Barrie says that finding employees that fit your business is not always an easy road. It is a process that must be taken seriously by you and the stylist and one that should be reviewed and adapted as your business grows.

“It all starts with thinking will they fit in our culture? Without that they might not have the drive and passion to deliver the standard of hairdressing that the company stands for. Of course, potential employees are assessed through a formal trade test to check the quality of their work, but after many years in the game, we simply know who will work well as part of our team and who won’t. It takes time to get to this point, but it pays dividends when you do.

“Within two weeks we usually know if a stylist will stay in the business for five years, with the addition of once a stylist stays for five years, they often stay for a lifetime. We annually review the balance of service, the clients, team and the business to make sure we are recruiting for what we need.”

Barrie believes that finding stylists with staying power is as much the salon’s responsibility as it is the hairdresser. Across his salon group, Barrie has a healthy 75-80% staff retention percentage, employing more than 50 stylists, of which some have been with the business for more than 20 years. Each of Barrie’s salons has its own unique character, from the vibrant city centre to the rural village setting. This enables Barrie to match team members to the environment that suits them and the way they work.

“We have a long-term retention and recognition programme, which includes flexible working that is dictated by the clients. For instance, successful stylists can work whatever hours they want if they are fully booked. We provide an excellent programme of education, using internal educators and external courses, our stylists also have the opportunity to get involved in hair outside the salon, becoming members of talent teams and working at shows like London Fashion Week. We have a 100k club too, which rewards stylists with an additional week’s holiday on top of their entitled holiday leave when they turn over this amount.

“We make sure that individual people have choices. We know that now more than ever, people are looking for flexibility. It’s a lifestyle choice and some stylists either choose money or time. We as a business are paying stylists for their time and skills and if a stylist wants more of their own time, then they as a result reduce their money and that is the commercial balance. Our regular one to ones between employer and employee provide a great opportunity to make sure we are meeting the individual needs of our stylists and keeps the lines of communication open.

“It is important that the flexibility includes the chance for their commercial focus to change, based upon their personal circumstances at that time. We also look at the ambitions and needs of each stylist, identifying the go getters who want to make a name for themselves in the wider industry, while recognising the consistent stylists that provide the bread-and-butter service day to day. It’s about creating the right mix of talent so that our business and clients are catered for, and our stylists are happy and productive in however they choose to work.”

A final thought from Barrie is about efficiency and professionalism, bringing salons up to date and in line with the fast pace of the industry. Gone are the days of spreadsheets, time sheets and bits of paper for holiday requests. Investing in systems that help you to manage the HR side of the business is a real benefit when keeping your team happy and you in control.

Barrie adds, “We’ve invested in some great HR software that allows our team to jump on an app to request holidays, engage in training, keep up to date with targets, commission and keep on track with their salary, contracts of employment, policies and personal development programmes. It’s time to wake up, shake up and re-shape our professional approach.”