How to Deal with Problem Salon/Spa Employees

October 25, 2020 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment

No one becomes an owner for the thrill and excitement of dealing with problem employees. In fact, dealing with problem employees is probably the most disliked of all ownership responsibilities. It’s stressful, exhausting and, next to financial stress, a major contributor to owner burnout.

FACT: There’s no secret training camp that prepares problem employees to infiltrate your business, wreck your culture and stress you out.

There are three primary reasons that problem employees find their way into your business:

  1. Bad fit: A potential employee may appear to be a good fit through the interviewing process but lack the necessary thinking and behavior to fit into your culture. Examples: Attendance, teamwork, following rules, attitude, mutual respect, etc..
  2. Evolved over time: A good employee can become a problem employee due to the work environment. This includes lack of or indifferent leadership, broken trust/promises, lack of opportunity, lack of appreciation, etc..
  3. Personal issues: Life challenges, personal relationships, drugs/alcohol, and other factors that have nothing to do with work can turn a good employee into a problem employee.

If you own an employee-based salon or spa, you will have to deal with problem employees. To what extent really depends on you and your approach to leadership.... Read More

Ten Characteristics of an Awesome Front Desk/Guest Services Employee

October 4, 2020 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

They used to be called “receptionists.”

Smile. Be pleasant. Answer the phone. Book appointments. Check clients in and out. What could be easier?

FACT: If you want to experience the most demanding position at a salon/spa — work the front desk for eight hours on a busy day.

Today’s front desk/guest services employees are an integral part of driving salon/spa growth, productivity, client retention, retail sales, and just about all essential critical numbers.

In celebration of these hard-working individuals, we give you the top ten characteristics of an awesome front desk/guest services employee:

  1. Servant’s heart with a commander’s brain: A service-intensive business like a salon/spa is a balancing act between customer service and business efficiency. The servant’s heart is the ability to make clients feel cared for. The commander’s brain is to ensure efficient client flow between service providers and maintain client scheduling on the appointment book with a focus on driving productivity.
  2. Ability to anticipate needs: All salons/spas want to deliver extraordinary customer service experiences. But going through the motions of checking in, checking out, answering the phone and booking appointments is far from extraordinary. In order for extraordinary customer service experiences to consistently occur, front desk/guest services employees must have the ability to anticipate client needs. For example, they should be able to “read” a client’s stress level with reassurance and extra personal attention. Anticipating needs unlocks the door to extraordinary customer service experiences.
  3. Attention to detail: How many Mrs. Smith’s are in your database and they’re all the same “Mrs. Smith”? How many appointments are made with an incorrect phone number or no phone number at all? How many appointments are scheduled incorrectly? How many missed prebooks and retail sales occur during the course of the day? It doesn’t take much to disrupt the flow of business, upset a client, miss simple opportunities, or stress out a service provider. Botched data, indifferent “it’s good enough” thinking, or incorrect appointments can quickly sabotage your business. The best salons/spas make attention to detail a non-negotiable.
  4. Task and systems oriented: Everything … repeat everything … at the front desk is task and systems driven. Even if you replaced your front desk with a technology solution like iPads or tablets, locking into tasks and systems is even more important. Operations Manuals and documented procedures, and the training to support them, are essential. For this very reason, individuals that are task and systems oriented are a must. Anything less is a compromise.
  5. Multitasks wisely: There are people that pride themselves at being multitaskers that appear busy as heck but get little done. An awesome front desk/guest services employee excels at establishing priorities, often in the moment. This means that the most essential task at the time is being addressed — most often to avoid a potential problem or upset client.
  6. Cool under pressure: The phone is ringing. Clients are waiting to check in while other clients are waiting to checkout. You’re on the phone with a client that wants to book multiple hair and spa services. Service providers are running behind and waiting clients are getting upset. If this scenario sounds like a nightmare to a candidate, it’s a bad fit and he/she won’t last long in the position.
  7. Never compromise a system or procedure: Consistency at the front desk means thoroughness. It means being accountable. It means understanding how vital systems and procedures are to customer service and the performance of the company. Awesome front desk/guest service employees earn trust and respect by doing their work and making it appear effortless.
  8. Essential for driving overall productivity rate: Front desk/guest services employees are responsible for the most precious commodity of salon/spa business — hours available for sale on the appointment book. It’s not just one column, it’s all columns. It’s everything from up-selling services and filling white space, to keeping clients off the waiting list when the time and skills are available. The hallmark of an awesome front desk/guest services employee is an impeccably managed appointment book.
  9. Ensures service providers prebook and recommend retail: It’s the service provider’s responsibility to recommend prebook services and retail products to clients. It’s the front desk/guest services responsibility to lock in prebooked appointments and “close” retail sales. This cannot happen if front desk/guest services employees don’t receive or ask the service provider for prebook and retail recommendations. The transition from service provider to front desk checkout must be seamless. Awesome front desk/guest services employees help keep service providers on task by requiring prebook and retail recommendations.
  10. Valued member of the team: Just like service providers, front desk/guest services employees are vital to achieving true teamwork. They are not second-class citizens simply because they don’t do services and lack a professional license. Most of all, they should not be regarded as minimum-wage/low paid employees. Any employee that meets the previous nine characteristics is a valued member of the team.

Here’s my challenge to you: How do these ten characteristics match up with your current front desk/guest services employees?... Read More

A Salon/Spa Owner’s Checklist for 30-45 Days After Reopening

June 29, 2020 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments

Depending on the state, some salons and spas have been open since the end of April. Salons and spas in eastern PA and NY are just reopening … or about to. Salons and spas in certain counties in CA are still waiting to reopen.

For most of you, it’s been a mad dash to get your salon/spa reopened. You had to figure out all the safety protocols, acquire PPE, get your employees off unemployment, sanitize everything, reschedule client appointments … phew.

No matter where your salon/spa is in the reopening timeline, checking all the boxes in all those reopening checklists is a daunting task. It’s easy to miss a few. It’s easy for a new system or protocol to become inconsistent, ignored or forgotten.

More importantly, there are to-do’s that should have been on your checklist that you didn’t know about, or feel were important, or just didn’t want to deal with.

At Strategies, our mission is to help owners lead and grow salons and spas that are capable of delivering service excellence in the most efficient, productive and consistently profitable manner possible. To do so requires the right leadership approach, systems and team-based culture.... Read More

Six Steps to Manage Salon/Spa Employee Reopening Stress

June 22, 2020 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

During the mandated business closure, many owners worked extra hard at maintaining contact with employees. Weekly Zoom meetings quickly became the new norm.

During the stay at home period, maintaining your salon/spa culture and connectedness became more essential than ever. For owners and employees, just being able to see and interact with team members provided some semblance of normalcy.

Now that all but a few areas have reopened, the quest to find that “new normal” may appear well underway, but with the extreme busyness that comes with reopening, the need for connecting with employees has never been greater.

FACT 1: After months of being closed and reopening with social distancing, sanitizing protocols, reduced capacity, and wearing PPE, owners and employees are working under extreme pressure to accommodate high client demand for services.

FACT 2: When working under extreme pressure, internal communication systems are prone to breakdown — especially taking the time for one-on-one’s with employees.... Read More

Why Salon/Spa Employees Leave for Suites or Booth Rental

January 27, 2020 | By Neil Ducoff | 8 Comments

I began my career in the salon industry in 1970. Back then, booth rental was more of an oddity found mostly in the Midwest and Southern California.

Back then, the prevailing salon business model was as follows:

  • Hire a stylist
  • Give them some clients
  • Pay them a commission (at the time, it was 50% to 60% or higher)
  • Tell them to build “their” request rate to build “their” clientele
  • Raise their prices when they’re booked solid (sometimes increase commission rate with prices)
  • Offer little-to-no employment benefits
  • Get pissed when they leave with “their” clients

The salon game was simple. Fill enough chairs with busy stylists and, by all appearances, you had a successful salon.

Owners that picked a commission rate below 50% had a better chance of creating profit than those that picked 50% or higher.

Enter the “Product Cost Deduction”... Read More

Tackling the Salon & Spa Staff Recruitment Challenge

July 30, 2018 | By Neil Ducoff | 4 Comments

For as long as I can remember, salon/spa owners have been saying, “I can’t find good people.”

Today, more than ever, we hear our coaching clients expressing their recruitment frustrations. Owners are saying:

  • Enrollments are down at cosmetology schools and schools are closing.
  • Chains are grabbing up the graduates and burn through them.
  • The lure of booth rental and suites is hard to compete against.

I decided to contact long-time coaching client and Team-Based Pay advocate, Shawn Trujillo, to get his take on school enrollments and recruitment. Shawn and his wife Angie own seven Lunatic Fringe salons and two Paul Mitchel Schools in Utah.

I figured Shawn could provide accurate insight into school enrollments at his schools. Shawn’s feedback:

  • School enrollment is been very consistent in recent years.
  • There are no indications that this trend is going to change.
  • Some Paul Mitchell Schools report a decline.

Paul DiGrigoli, owner of the DiGrigoli School of Cosmetology in West Springfield, MA, reports that enrollments are are down slightly. Through his very active speaking schedule, Paul adds that enrollments at most schools are down.... Read More

How to Retain Long-Term Salon & Spa Employees

February 12, 2018 | By Neil Ducoff | 6 Comments

I had two back-to-back coaching calls with two salon/spa leaders where the focus was on a long-term service provider.

  • Call number one was on creating new opportunities for an extremely busy stylist.
  • Call number two was on how to end the relationship.

Losing a highly productive long-term service provider is disruptive and costly. Although the two scenarios in my coaching calls were quite different, both offered up some vital lessons for all owners and managers.

Scenario One: New opportunity for busy stylist

On call number one, the general manager and stylist were on the call. The stylist has been with the salon/spa since opening almost ten years ago. She is on Team-Based Pay at a premium hourly rate with an always-full appointment book.

It was a wonderful coaching call because it wasn’t about how to drive more revenue through the stylist’s two hands. It was about carving out a few hours a week for the stylist to contribute to the company in other ways, such as training and mentoring new talent.... Read More

10 Reasons Great Salon & Spa Employees Stay

February 27, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | No Comments


Last week, I gave you my top ten reasons why great employees leave. This week, I want to take you inside my top ten reasons great employees stay.

What I don’t want to do is regurgitate a litany of obvious reasons like career paths and growth opportunities.

Because great employees show up, deliver results and consistently go above and beyond to support the company … they could easily jump ship for a better job offer or, if bold enough, strike out on their own…

But they don’t.

The reasons great employees stay go beyond the obvious. There are deeper multi-faceted emotional and relationship connections that create a bond between what the salon/spa is, and its ability to fulfill the great employee’s needs and ambitions.

From a 30,000 foot viewpoint, great employees stay because of what surrounds them, encourages them, nurtures them, pushes them, cares for them … and rewards them.... Read More

10 Reasons Great Employees Quit Salons & Spas

February 20, 2017 | By Neil Ducoff | 1 Comment


Don’t forget to check out the follow-up to this post, 10 Reasons Why Great Salon & Spa Employees STAY. 

Employee turnover at salons and spas has always been a horrendous problem.

The most dreaded employee exodus is the infamous “walkout.” It can turn an otherwise busy salon/spa into a cash-starved ghost town overnight.

Today, with suites offering your best employees a seemingly enticing and easy transition to become “independent”, employee-based salon/spa owners are being force to upgrade their business models. In other words, to create a sustainable business model that is less susceptible to employee turnover.

Employees leave for many reasons, many of which are quite valid. But when great employees leave due to the leadership, operation and culture of the business … that’s a wake-up call that owners must heed.... Read More

When Salon & Spa Employees Choose to Leave

April 11, 2016 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments

When service providers decide to quit a salon/spa, it is anything but, “Go gently into that good night.”

All too often, the process plays out with clandestine plotting and close teammates swearing secrecy. The easy part is quitting the salon/spa.

The difficult part is figuring out how to get the clients they serviced to follow them to a new location. The presumption is that all clients that requested them “belong to them.” And why not, they did the work.

Owners have a very different perspective. Owners look at their investment in training, coaching and filling the service provider’s appointment books with new clients. Owners look at the collective effort that is required to “build” a successful service provider.

Most importantly, owners regard their customer database, client history, formulas and other data as an asset and company property.

There are many voices in the industry that say, “no one owns the client” and that clients are free to go wherever they choose. Yes, clients are free to go wherever they choose. But, when the departing employee actively solicits those clients … often times through unauthorized use of client data … that’s when things get ugly.... Read More


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