The Great “How to Train Salon & Spa Talent” Debate

March 12, 2018 | By Neil Ducoff | 2 Comments

Salons and spas are technical skill and customer service based businesses.

The services you offer, the products you sell, and the customer experiences you create, represent your brand.

Services are delivered via the skilled hands and knowledge of your employees. Extraordinary customer service experiences are delivered by your employee’s thinking and behavior.

The challenge is that skill and experience are a difficult variable to control.

  • Young professionals fresh out of school may have the rough skills and passion, but they lack the experience necessary to refine their skills and feed their passion.
  • Service providers with years of experience are no guarantee of quality work … especially if their drive and passion to advance their skills has faded.
  • Hiring a service provider that can bring his/her large clientele is a tactic to acquire cash flow, but there is no guarantee that the work meets your salon/spa’s standards.

So the BIG question is, how long does it take to train not only NEW talent, but to keep experienced talent at the top of their game?

Excuses and compromise

  • I don’t want to pay employees for their hours/days in training.
  • I can’t afford to have my most experienced employees not bringing in money while training new talent.
  • My most experienced employees make a ton of money. I can’t compensate them at their regular rates to train others.
  • I hire new talent as assistants. They can shampoo, clean and fold towels while they get “experience.”
  • When hiring experienced service providers, they’re not required to go through the company’s skill certification training — because they’re “experienced.”
  • Some, or all, long-term service providers are not required to participate in ongoing skill development training.

FACT: A great salon or spa is a direct reflection of its leadership and how it cultivates the collective technical and creative talent of its employees.

The preceding statement is hard, if not impossible, to argue with. Yet, the absence, or inconsistent application, of a formal internal training program is widespread in the industry.

Here are seven No-Compromise Leadership strategies that all owners of employee-based salons/spas must consider:

  • Protecting your brand is “mandatory” not “optional: The training your salon/spa provides to new and existing employees definitely has value, but that training also protects and builds your brand. Therefore, the prevailing thinking that the value of internal training replaces compensation for time in training is seriously flawed. Why? Because the only way to avoid compensating employees for training time is to make attendance “optional.” When it comes to protecting your brand and reputation, “mandatory” training is an essential. Labor Laws require that employees must be paid an hourly rate while in mandatory training that is no less than minimum wage.
  • New talent training must be accelerated: The idea of devoting a few hours of training every week or so to develop new talent creates more frustration and turnover than brilliant new talent. A year of training doled out in micro-doses, with assisting filling the rest of the time, is not an internal training program. Getting new talent trained and skill certified in essential basic services in the first four to six months of employment is what an accelerated training program can, and should, look like. Consider two or three days a week for the first month of employment.
  • Get over the “I can’t afford to take them off the appointment book”: Your best trainers are your most experienced employees. Yes, they are paid well. And they’re just as valuable transferring their skills and knowledge to new talent as they are servicing paying clients. The whole, “I only want to pay them when they’re generating dollars,” is pure shortsighted commission thinking. If you’re a Strategies Coaching client, you understand how to build a Cash-Flow Plan and budget expenses. The key point here is that the intensity and quality of your internal training program won’t occur without funding.
  • If you want assistants, hire assistants: If your intent is to develop new talent to have more service hours for sale, stop playing the assistant game. The assistant game sounds like, “I’m going to hire you and put you through our training program.” Too often it means, we really need you to help our busiest people bring in more money. Yes, assisting a senior employee can be a learning experience. But when the new employee expects to be formally trained, while the company is happy to have one or more assistants, a conflict exists.
  • Experienced new hires need training too: In order for your salon/spa to deliver consistent technical and customer service quality, even new hires with years of experience need to be trained in your processes and systems. Just because an individual has many years of experience, it doesn’t mean he or she can work to your standards and expectations. Too often, salons/spas hire experienced service providers and make them available on the schedule without any internal training or skill certification. The variation in work creates inconsistencies. It also sends the wrong message to other employees that are held accountable. Years of experience are not a “get out of training” card.
  • Keep long-term employees engaged: Some service providers are passionate about advanced education their entire career. However, many get complacent and balk at advanced education or just learning some new skills. Internal training programs are as key to culture development as they are to quality control and maintaining high standards. No one is beyond “getting better,” unless the owner compromises and allows them to opt out. Got it?
  • Don’t say you’re the best if you can’t back it up: Every salon/spa owner has a vision of delivering quality technical and creative work. If your approach to training new and existing talent is not equal to your vision and commitment to delivering quality, you’re promising something you can’t deliver. This is a skill-based business. Skill development is not optional nor is it a responsibility you can put solely on your employees.

Here’s my challenge to you: Do not take these points lightly.

The future of employee-based salons/spas is depended on their ability to be everything that booth rental and suites cannot be.

And the one thing that independents cannot offer is a cohesive highly skilled team of professionals delivering extraordinary service and quality.

Want help building your Training Program? Check out Strategies’ Internal Training Program (ITP), a 12-month intensive coaching program that will guide you through building a profitable and team-based training program for technical, guest services and management skills.

Categories: Leadership , Teamwork

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  1. Great article Neil. In our company we have committed to education to such a degree we are fulfilling a lot of what you are saying. The point I have a challenge with is the transition from assistant to stylist. There is something that I believe cant be taught in a training program. You can teach a hair cut, how to mix color, how to retail and pre book, but one thing you just have to do and often ease stylists into it: going from one client to the next and working the whole day behind the chair. If they have just learned fundamental skills, we like to slow that process down, so they aren’t overwhelmed initially and they lock in that fundamental skill set. Being behind the chair, takes time to assimilate everything you have taught them.

    1. Thanks Tony,
      Good point on the “time to assimilate” for everything to gel. But there still needs to be a sense of urgency to push the apprehension and lack of confidence that’s always accompanies new learning experiences. Essentially, learning and adapting to new skills and procedures is mastered quicker when you keep people out of their comfort zones. Yes, patience, coaching and trust must be present.
      — Neil


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