Karen and Jerry Gordon, owners of J. Gordon Designs in Chicago, Illinois.
Karen and Jerry Gordon, owners of J. Gordon Designs in Chicago, Illinois.

Many commissioned salons grant their full-time employees a week or two of paid vacation time each year, but many of today’s stylists want more. “Some of our team members have spouses who are executives and have up to six weeks vacation, others are from foreign countries and want more time off for an extended trip home,” says Karen Gordon, who owns J. Gordon Designs in Chicago with husband Jerry. “As an owner, you want to be benevolent, but it’s a big impact to a small business owner.”

J. Gordon Designs employs 23 staff members, 15 of whom are stylists in what Gordon describes as a small but beautiful salon.  Once she looked back at a previous year and calculated that the salon’s team took 370 days off—a big impact to the salon’s bottom line.

In addition, Gordon feels the situation of deciding who gets additional time off and who doesn’t really puts a salon’s owner in a bind. “If you say no, you run the risk of losing a valued employee, and if you say yes, then you are left holding the bag for the salon’s fixed expenses, as well as the lost service and retail revenue that comes from turning those clients away,”  says Gordon. “Plus, owners get tired of all the requests and excuses and having to be the judge and jury for each situation. It’s enough to make you crabby.”

It was one such request though that helped the salon created a system for recouping lost revenue.  A stylist who dating someone who had a young child and wanted to go away on a weekend camping told Gordon she was willing to make up the time or take a change in her pay to make up the lost revenue. “Interested, I said, ‘Tell me what you propose,’” remembers Gordon.

The proposed solution evolved into a new system J. Gordon Designs implemented almost a year and a half ago. Now, if stylists want to take a day off after they have used up all their allocated time off, they can make it up by taking a 5 percent deduction in their gross service sales over the next two pay periods. Or, if the stylists don’t want to take the deduction, they can opt to pick up an extra shift and work the time off.

To make it fair, J. Gordon’s has implemented color-coded shifts on its calendar—blue shifts, red shifts and purple shifts—designated by how busy the salon is during that shift. Stylists wanting to make up time have to pick a shift in the same color family. “For example, a stylist who is taking off a Saturday afternoon can’t choose to make it up on a Tuesday morning,” says Gordon. Sometimes though, the salon lets stylists make up the hours manning the makeup station or working outside salon events.

“One year I looked back and calculated that employees had taken 370 days off. We’re a small but beautiful business, and that really hits the bottom line.”—Karen Gordon

Some stylists are more than happy to take the deduction, while others would rather not take a hit in their paychecks and choose to make up the shift, reports Gordon. “It’s become a great thing for us, because I no longer am put in the position of deciding what special circumstance deserves extra time off or not,” says Gordon.

The bigger benefit, says Gordon, is now her employees see the economic value of a working chair. “It’s really prevented those instances where they wake up, know their book isn’t too heavy that day and decide they aren’t feeling so hot,” says Gordon. “Before they’d call in sick, but now they’re more likely to take an aspirin and come to work. In general, there’s greater respect for the business and the company’s financial responsibility.”

And in the end, Gordon believes it’s making a difference to the bottom line. “I never want to create animosity or cut anyone’s dreams short,” says Gordon. “It’s a different workforce today in how they balance their lives and work. Owners have to look for innovative ways to deal with these changes, and this is working for us.”

Editor's Note: Before implementing a plan like the one above, please check with your state's cosmetology board or your state's Department of Labor. We have received calls from owners that advise us this practice may not be in line with their state's regulations.

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