For many salons around the country (and frankly businesses of all kinds) finding and keeping talented team members has been a struggle coming out of the pandemic. Many salons are reporting more demand for appointments than they can fill with their current team’s availability.
“In recent years, we’ve seen a trend of salon hopping with students who are graduating cosmetology school,” says Adelle Graham, who co-owns Salon Adelle with her husband Travis in Greenville, South Carolina. “I’ve heard from multiple students who say they made a horrible decision to booth rent right out of school, and when they figure out how hard it is, they begin hopping salons looking for a more supportive situation. When they don’t find it, too many of them end up leaving the hair industry.”
Feeling stuck on a talent acquisition merry-go-round for the past year, the Grahams started looking for an alternative way to introduce their culture to graduating students. “It’s time consuming and expensive to recruit, so you want to make sure your efforts pay off,” Adelle says. “We are a high-end, luxury salon and not every stylist is a good fit for us, or us for them.”
Adelle still remembers what she felt as a student exploring where she would begin her own career. “All we had were phone books back then, so I’d open the book, pick a salon and go walk in it on a Saturday afternoon,” she remembers. “But I usually felt unwelcome, and like I was a bother. Now as an owner, I understand that when a student walks in on a Saturday, the stylists are slammed and the owners are too busy to talk. I wanted to create something where students could experience many different salon environments, cultures, systems and methods of getting paid, in hopes that it will help boost a higher retention rate in our area because the students make an educated decision on where they best fit.”
The Grahams started brainstorming ideas for some kind of open house or event and inviting others to participate. In discussing their idea with the Leah Amundson, the director of the local Paul Mitchell The School, Amundson suggested naming it a Salon Crawl.
After talking with local salons, the Graham persuaded AO The Space, Blo Blow Dry Bar, Great Clips, Ivy Salon and Logan Chris Salon to participate in the Salon Crawl. “That was the easiest part, every salon is going through the same challenges with hiring, and we’ve been working together on our local network of schools to help better the industry, so I mentioned the idea at a board meeting and these salons were immediately on board.”
To start marketing the event, the Grahams and other owners started talking about it with students at local schools. “We actually got a lot of response from students who told us they are scared to visit their dream salons, so they don’t,” Adelle says. “We also hit social media hard, and asked participating schools to tag our posts. One of our local news stations came out and did a story about the Crawl the day before.”
The Grahams asked each participating salon to contribute $100 to go toward a scholarship to be awarded to one student that visited each salon during the crawl.
On the designated Monday, 35 students representing four schools participated in the Salon Crawl. It was a class day for Kenneth Shuler School of Cosmetology, Esthetics and Beauty, so the school made the Crawl a class field trip, requiring their students to write an essay on each salon to receive credit for their hours.
During the actual Crawl, Salon Adelle gave tours of their salon, served food, planned fun games and even gave away goodie bags.
At Great Clips, Katie Butler, who owns nine franchises in the region, showed the students the salon, reviewed the salon’s pay structure and talked about the systems that make working for Great Clips different than other salons. “We were open at the time, so the students also saw how we interacted with customers and saw some of our systems at work,” she says.
The participating owners agree they learned a log by going through the process, and have ideas for upcoming Crawls.
“I would recommend participating salons designate specific areas in the salon with signs, like Pay Structure, Extensions or Team Atmosphere, then station a team member in each area to talk about these topics and answer questions,” says Adelle. “We found many students didn’t want to ask questions in front of the larger group, and I think smaller groups would facilitate more conversation.”
Butler adds that even though the Crawl asked each student to sign in with basic information, next time she’d ask them to list their graduation date. “I loved that this event targeted actual future salon professionals and got them in our salons interacting with us. I sent follow-up thank you notes to each attendee,” she says. “In past recruiting efforts, I’ve done direct-mail postcard campaigns, but they are expensive and very hit or miss—the Crawl was much more effective.”
The Grahams believe this event really helped students have a clearer vision about the kind of salon they vibe with the most, and that in turn will help both in the number of applications each of the participating salons receive and in overall staff retention. “We’ve already had two very interested and wanting to apply,” she says
But Adelle’s overall dream is to grow the Salon Crawl into a national event, with salons across the country organizing events—once in the Spring and once in the Fall . “Then everywhere on the same day, students can crawl salons in their own area using a specific hashtag for their city.”
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