Don't Burn Bridges
Don't Burn Bridges

Any seasoned salon owner knows the secret to hiring and retaining good stylists is to hire for character, not just skill.

“I’m also looking for open-mindedness,” says Tim Belcher, owner of two Whole Aveda salon locations in the Tampa area. “When a candidate in an interview asks me about commission first, that’s a red flag. But when they ask me, ‘How much money can I make?’ I can share the path I’ve created to an $80k salary that has nothing to do with commission/percentage.”

But even with the best hiring practices in place, a healthy salon culture and thriving education program, stylists sometimes leave for greener grass—or is it?


In today’s salon industry, the temptation to leave often comes in the form of suite rental. Stylists frequently believe the independent route will lead to bigger paychecks and more flexibility, and take the leap without doing their research.

Sandra Hampton, owner of Natural Alternatives salons with three locations in Knoxville, Tennessee, says she tries to combat boredom in her young stylists by moving them to another location or challenging them in other ways, but sometimes, she simply can’t stop them.

“We’ve been hit hard by booth rental,” she says. “And in exit interviews, I tell staff members if it doesn’t work out or they aren’t happy, they are welcome back. I know they just want to try something new, so I leave the door open for them.”

One of Hampton’s stylists, who recently went to a suite, soon found himself lonely working solo and unable to deliver the same guest experience without the resources of the salon.

“He and I had kept in touch, and he wanted to come back, but was still in a lease,” Hampton says. “So I told him I’d make the remaining lease payments if he came back. He’s a good producer with a solid clientele. It took three or four months to finish the lease, but it was a break-even for me.”

Belcher has also lost stylists to booth rental, and handles their exits diplomatically.

“I had a stylist who expected to be promoted, even though her benchmarks weren’t achieved. We went through the whole process of reviewing her numbers, and even though she didn’t hit them, she wanted the promotion,” he says. “She called in sick and took extra vacation—and I told her that contributed to her not hitting benchmarks. One week later, she left to go booth rent.”

After five months, the stylist failed at booth rental, and then worked for a non-Aveda salon with no processes in place. Soon, she began to see where the real green grass was.

“She sent a message through another stylist asking if I would consider taking her back,” Belcher says. “So, I brought her in to find out what she learned.”

In that conversation, the stylist revealed she understood she had been the one holding herself back, so Belcher and his leadership team met to discuss the pros and cons of bringing her back to the salon.

Ultimately, they decided to bring her back, and she’s a huge advocate for the Whole Aveda culture.

“It’s tough to fly solo,” he says. “And when a stylist comes back appreciative of the team of people doing housekeeping, assisting, answering phones, that’s good for the culture of the salon.”

When Michael Saldana, owner of two Michael Saldana Salons and a barbershop in Houston, had a former stylist ask to come back when he opened the barbershop a few months ago, he wasn’t sure.

But he was coping with a new location in the middle of a pandemic, so he decided to have a conversation with her, as she could potentially be a good fit in the barbershop.

“Before she left, she never took advantage of our education, and wasn’t able to excel,” he says. “She didn’t want to put in the time to improve herself, so I needed to know she had changed.”

After working for a bigger chain salon, the stylist was more appreciative of Saldana’s culture and ready to put in the work he required. He re-hired her, and didn’t have to train a brand-new employee while managing new Covid protocols in three locations.

Happy with his decision, Saldana says, “She now recognizes the investment we put in our employees, and is doing well in the barbershop.”


Every new employee is an investment, with both time and money spent on their education and training. Hampton says she invests up to $10k in stylists who come to her straight out of school. Belcher has a similar investment in the first three months employees work for him.

So financially, it makes sense to bring an employee back whom you’ve already invested in. But, you need to be sure the former stylist will be welcomed back by the team and a positive influence in your culture.

“I won’t rehire someone unless I have good faith they are going to be a new, strong advocate for our culture and tell their story,” Belcher says. “I want them to say, ‘We are blessed to be here.’”

“Many of my employees have never worked anywhere else, so they don’t know they are on the greener grass,” he adds. “So I’m thrilled if someone comes back and tells them firsthand.”

Hampton says she only brings back the people she feels good about, and is totally transparent with her team.

“I give them a little history and explain what the person is going to bring to the table, because ultimately, the bigger the pie, the bigger the piece everyone will get.”

Saldana says his team has learned to trust him when he makes the decision to bring someone back—or when he asks someone to stay.

Recently, a top stylist told him she was leaving to go to nursing school. Saldana insisted she stay on for one day a week just in case it didn’t work out. The stylist quickly discovered nursing wasn’t for her, and she still had her steady clientele at the salon.

“It was easy to open her books back up since she never left,” Saldana says. “We work as a team, and if someone doesn’t fit in, they leave—it takes a lot for me to fire a stylist,” he says. “I find team members who come back to me are eager and ready to prove their worth.”

The hiring environment is competitive and training is expensive. Keeping the line of communication open when good employees leave benefits both you and your team.

“We do what’s best for the business,” Hampton says. “And bringing a former team member back can benefit everyone.”

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