Salon/Spa Walkouts: Devastation & Rebuilding

December 7, 2015 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

For a salon/spa, walkouts are the ultimate “destroy from within” scenario. What could be worse than once trusted employees clandestinely plotting to inflict severe damage on your business? What could be worse than having years of training and developing staff, loyal clients – and cash flow – relocate up the street?

In the walkout aftermath, owners are left feeling violated, scared and overwhelmed by the task of rebuilding. The stress and spinning scenarios of surviving a walkout can wreak havoc on an owner’s confidence and determination to rebuild. What will clients think when they return to a near empty business? Will you be able to meet payroll? How will the bills and rent get paid? Will you have to stop taking your paycheck? Will you ever be able to trust employees again? Many begin to question if business ownership is worth all the stress and hard work.

FACT: Walkouts happen for many reasons. Most often, the seeds of a walkout are unknowingly planted by the very owners and leaders that feel so victimized in the aftermath. Because of their labor intensive nature, a salon/spa is a leadership intensive business. Dialing back on any aspect of leadership, systems, accountability, employee development, appreciation and culture building assures the planting of walkout seeds.

Here are five tips on salon/spa walkouts, what feeds them and how to overcome the aftermath:

  1. When owners quit first: Ownership is not all blue skies and popcorn clouds. The constant need to oversee staff, deal with turnover, recruit and train new staff, manage cash flow, maintain the facility, stay on top of marketing and advertising … and all the other responsibilities that fill an owner’s plate is enough to wear anyone down. It’s not unusual for owners to get stuck in a funk and have those “is all this hard work worth it?” thoughts. DANGER SIGN: When you start checking out and view your business as a burden rather than a unique and amazing opportunity … you are no longer the leader that people want to believe in, trust and deliver their best work for.
  2. When expectations replace appreciation: What made you think business ownership is easy? Where was it ever written that employees will be happy and productive without leadership engagement? Nothing about owning a business is easy. If you don’t work at it and stay on top of it … your business will beat you down. And when it does, resentment settles in, employees become “workers” and you become the task master that pushes for more output. For you and your employees, work becomes work. Work becomes “you’re not doing your numbers.” DANGER SIGN: When expectations replace appreciation, the culture of the salon or spa is consumed by the dark side. Nothing is ever good enough. Appreciation is such a simple and empowering gift that feeds a person’s and a team’s passion to deliver their best. It invigorates determination. It creates the bonds that elevates teamwork and unity. What human being would ever want a career in a sweat shop? Why would a group of employees choose to orchestrate a walkout in a culture where appreciation is a core value?
  3. When owners are too busy chopping wood: Owners that work full-time behind the chair or in a treatment room are, in my opinion, borderline absentee owners. They are the equivalent of a captain working in the engine room rather than on the bridge guiding the direction and wellbeing of the ship. DANGER SIGN: If the financial health of your salon/spa is dependent on your hands generating revenue full time, you need to rethink your role and your business model. Furthermore, if your personal income working full time servicing clients is a fraction of what it should be, the revenue you’re generating is covering other costs that are out of control … most likely payroll. As long as you’re allocating sufficient time to leading your business, there’s nothing wrong working on a clients a few days a week. This describes you … it’s time to get into coaching.
  4. When fear prevents action: When you “check out” or avoid making tough decisions because you fear the possible outcomes … you and your business is stuck in a holding pattern. Employees can see and fell the business coasting which means growth and opportunity are stuck in a holding pattern too. DANGER SIGN: The longer you procrastinate on decisions of any magnitude, you are feeding the conditions that lead to turnover and walkouts. It’s time to step up and be the leader your business requires you to be. No compromise.
  5. Time to rediscover your company: Life and distractions can get in the way. Too much emotional energy can go to “grass is greener” escape fantasies rather than into the doing the work of leadership, growing people, growing a business, polishing up and sharing the vision … and working to create wins rather than accepting defeats. DANGER SIGN: In just about every case, the best opportunity is the one an owner is trying to avoid and escape from. When you recognize that you’re digging a deeper hole when you should be gaining ground, you must recognize and respond to the wake-up call and snap out of it. Yes, I recommend coaching with a tough coach, not because I’m trying to sell something … but because you need a voice that capable of telling you what you need to hear, show you the path to daylight and hold you accountable. You can sign up for a free call with a Strategies Coach here.

Walkouts are the ugliest part of our very beautiful industry. Walkouts demonstrate just how intentionally deceitful, undermining and destructive employees can be. But walkouts occur for the reasons cited in this MMWU. Owners may feel like the victim, but owners also play an active role in setting themselves for these disasters that could have been avoided.

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Categories: Leadership , Monday Morning Wake-Up , No-Compromise Leadership , Staff Retention

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  1. Well said Neil–one of your best. Because of changes in the American family, less and less people have been raised to take responsibility for their actions. Owners do not have control of team member’s needs, wants or actions. All you can do as an owner is set up the environment and organization where people can grow, prosper, feel safe and feel appreciated. If done with integrity and with consistency, the vast majority of the team will see no reason to look elsewhere.

  2. Hi Bob,
    Too many owners see themselves as victims in a walkout. What they don’t see is the role they play in setting the stage for a walkout to occur. Nothing about a salon/spa is “set it and forget”. Labor intensive businesses require constant leadership and culture maintenance.

    Always appreciate your insights.


  3. I just recently experienced a walkout of my salon of being in business for 17 yrs . I don’t see myself as a victim of the walkout. I see myself as someone who had to experience the loss of a walkout before I could not only appreciate it for what it was but’s grow from it as a person and a leader.
    The majority of my staff had been with me since the beginning. Over the years I have mentored many beauty professionals. Some who went on to open their own salon or beauty business. I’ve been very blessed to have worked with these people and have been a part of my dream / success.
    Not too long ago, It all came crashing down around me about 6 months ago. I had recently went through a horrific divorce of 30 yrs. I was devastated. I continued to work behind the chair ( fulll time and run my ( rental) salon business as usual. But the divorce took its toll on me as a leader. It took everything I had to have enough energy to do my job behind the chair. I had very little to give to my staff who clearly relied heavily on my nurturing & guidance in leadership.
    My husband and I were business partners. He didn’t work in the business but managed the finances and all that entailed. My job was to work behind the chair train, manage, hire, marketing and be everything to everyone as needed. One staff member told me I spoiled them. That I was like the “mom” of our “salon family” . I am a Mom of to two wonderful kids that I didn’t get to spend near the time with them as I would have liked because the business had to be constantly managed. My goal was to create an environment of family and teamwork. A place where like minded creative people who share the same vision as myself could work together in a wonderful professional environment that they could flourish in this industry. I felt like I had achieved that goal until my world came crashing down around me. I had to fight for my business through my divorce. I didn’t want to loose what we all had worked so hard for all these years. I felt like I owed it to my staff to try and secure their jobs , future earnings like they had supported me all these years and through my divorce.
    Once my divorce was finally over after a gruelly year of lawyers, accountants, court appearances, trial and an unexpected audit of our business in the middle of our divorce was over.
    I returned to my salon ( my head back in the game ) . After some entinse hours of rediscovering Accounting 101 with my accountant. We had come to the conclusion that I needed to make changes in order to move the salon in a new direction. To be profitable. I realized that I alone was making up 1/2 of our business revenue. ( prayed I didn’t break my thumb) I had 8 stylists paying rent and it didn’t cover all the expenses. ( Payroll for front desk support was one ) I needed my income to support myself going forward in my new life. I was in a world of hurt when’s the realization of where our business was financially. I was emotional, physically, and financially drained.
    I had a meeting in January. Asking them what kind of changes they would like to see going forward. ( I knew moral was down and I wanted to make things better and give them encouragement that all is good) but as the meeting progressed it was a list of needs ; wants and gotta have. My once beautiful salon enviiroment became toxic.
    I had to chase staff down to get them to pay their rent. Some just stopped paying at all and some would pay when they got around to it. It was never like that but now it was. I knew that my leadership was being tested. What would I do now that my “business partner “ wasn’t there to back me up.
    In this meeting I got a list. Some examples…. they wanted a coffee machine that brewed coffee consistently verses sometimes it’s too strong other times it’s too weak. We needed fresh flowers, pastries for the clients. Wanted two receptionists on staff for their convenience ( this is a rental salon only. I didn’t have a blended family commission and rental at this time. ( have had that blended family with in my salon before)
    I put together a cost analysis as to what it would cost each of them weekly increase to make this happen. I was very transparent in explaining where we were and where we needed to be going forward. It was not received well. The “ seeds “ were planted ( for the walk out) by my own doing because of my transparency.
    I believe they lost their faith in my leadership. Didn’t trust me to hold on to salon after the divorce. I was too transparent. I believed they saw it as a sign of weakness . I was making so many changes, holding them accountable for paying their rent, cutting costs, and requesting they sign a years lease with me. These requests was asking for too much. They used the leases as an excuse to leave. I had taken on my ex ‘s role in the business along with what I was already doing as a stylist behind the chair and business owner.
    By mid February , I was told that one of the stylists had opened a salon ( had been in the works long before the meeting and leases ) again I was blind sided . and the majority of my “ salon family” decided to leave and work in that salon.( Everyone has a right to open a business and be successful. Right ) The other 3 thought they needed a change after all the back room discussions, They decided to leave too.
    I held my head up and wished them all the best. Behind close doors I was dying a slow death. I just lost my husband and business partner, lost my staff to another stylist that had been with me for 15 plus yrs. and the same day , when they were all telling me they were leaving in 2 weeks. I was told my father was terminally ill. Dying of colon cancer. He died 6 weeks later in April of this year.
    Ive cried An ocean of tears . My divorce was the most horrible thing I’ve ever gone through In my life. But my staff walking out on me at the worst time, brought me to my knees. I was so tired that some days I didnt know if I was coming or going . I was on auto pilot.
    I got up , I got dressed, and went to work in a 2500 sq ft salon by myself. Greeted my clients and conduct my business as I have always done. Lead by example even if it’s for myself. My clients have been amazing. I did worry in the beginning how this would reflect on me to my clients and others. I’ve read the 5 reasons why or what causes a walk out and I’m pretty sure all 5 applyied to me. I can see now how my personal life crisis planted the seeds of the demise of my salon team & dream. Anyone can build a beautiful salon buts it’s the people in it that brings it to life. I agree it is the ugliest part of our industry.
    I’ve taken 6 months to grieve my losses, to reflect , self awareness and to refresh.
    Even salon owners with the best intentions. Can fall on hard times. WE as salon owners have to be willing to accept life challenges and learned through those experiences, not be paralyzed by fear but to try again. REcreate a better, more perfect salon experience.
    Thank you for writing this article. It has helped me to understand what happened and why. Moving forward.


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