What can I do to ensure that I retain my next new recruit?

March 08, 2022

As one of the most respected names in the hairdressing world, Phil Smith has built salon empires, launched multi-million selling haircare ranges and won countless awards for his business acumen. Here, he tackles your tricky post-Pandemic business issues…

“I’ve just had my second apprentice in as many years hand in their notice. It’s so frustrating to nurture a team member and invest in their future only to have them leave the salon. What can I do to ensure that I retain my next new recruit?”


“I can really sympathise with this. I recently had a valued team member who left to work in an office because they didn’t like the environment of the salon. When you lose someone, it hurts. And of course, there’s a financial impact – you’ll never get back the time and money you’ve invested. For me, recruitment is becoming pretty much the biggest business headache. 

As self-employment continues to rise, our industry is facing a recruitment crisis and fears are growing about how we can continue to attract talent into our salons. Not only is it about finding great hairdressers, it’s as much about holding onto them. Around 20 years ago there was an over-supply of hairdressers with too many qualified stylists coming out of colleges. Today there’s a shortage. In turn, new starters are becoming choosier about where they want to work along and fussier about the salary and package they expect from their employer.

But the bottom line is, apprentices are the bedrock of the hairdressing industry. Toni Mascolo taught me many years ago that apprentices are YOUR future. It’s something that I’ve lived by ever since. Here are my thoughts on how to find great employees and how to keep them…

>> Invest from grass roots

Taking on an apprentice rather than hiring pre-skilled staff has massive benefits for you. Not only is it more cost-effective than hiring pre-skilled staff, you get to mould and shape them and pass on your knowledge to a new generation. If you get the pathway right, it breeds loyalty and a lasting team member than can move up through the ranks and secure you a client base that keeps coming back. Your job is to make sure they love coming to work so that they don’t abandon hairdressing for another salon, or alternative sectors. Honestly, if you find someone good, throw everything you’ve got at keeping them! 

>> Set your expectations clearly at the interview stage

The right recruit will be hungry for training, progression, opportunities and career development. Keep your eye out for these clues when you’re hiring. I think you can feel energy, ambition and enthusiasm. Trade tests are of course the best way to gauge the candidate’s skills in a practical sense. But to me, these are skills that can be honed. The right attitude, however, simply can’t be taught so you need to see evidence of that right from the outset.

>> Agree a watertight contract 

Vardering contracts are useful for new recruits. For instance, if you are looking to invest around £10,000 per assistant over up to three years, you’d expect them to stay with you.  For those who take on the role of teaching within the salon it has handsome rewards too. 

It’s important to clarify your policies on training, commission structure, and flexible working hours. Outline your expectations but equally listen to what theirs are too. It’s a two-way street and I strongly believe that your team works WITH you not for you. Ultimately, it’s your responsibility to make sure you know what motivates them and keep them ambitious and hungry. Your dedication to them will pay off, I promise.

>> Scrap formal reviews – check in on progress all the time

Yes, probationary periods and regular performance reviews are the standard approach but I prefer something less formal. Operate an open-door policy where the newest junior to the most highly qualified stylist feels they can come to you with any concerns. Constructive feedback is really important and I also believe in plenty of positive praise and recognition. Feed them with confidence and show them that you believe in them. Allow them to visualise their career path and the rewards that could be in store.

>> Include and incentivise

Get new joiners involved in the culture of your company. Make sure all your team is on board to offer support – don’t let that burden fall to you alone. Maybe assign a mentor and someone they can talk to within the salon. Whether that’s technical questions or a sounding board for their concerns, it can make all the difference between them being heard and valued or feeling overlooked. The world has changed and we all need to be conscious and aware of mental health.

Your team will be with you because they want to be part of your brand and I’d also remember that it’s good to lead by example. Whether that’s you or the team around them, seeing what’s on offer with hard work and dedication is highly motivating. 

It’s a wonderful industry, let’s make sure we do everything we can to hold onto young talent joining this profession. After all, they are the ones who will be the visionaries of the future.

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