“I put 100 percent of my energy into thinking about how to get hairdressers and clients,” says Robert Cromeans, owner of A Robert Cromeans Salon in San Diego, California. “We’re always developing new staff. We’re in the headhunting business. It’s a 365-day-a-year recruitment campaign. No matter how much staff we have, we’re always looking for more.”

Every two months, the salon hosts a hiring event in Las Vegas and San Diego, and Cromeans personally attends each event. It’s important to him since it is where people get their first impression of the company. “That’s where I’m putting my time. You may spend all day working behind the chair for a $1,000 day, when working on campaigning and getting hairdressers may be a much better value,” he says. The company also has a policy of not hiring staff from other salons in the area; the only way to get hired at A Robert Cromeans Salon is to start at the beginning.

The company developed the recruitment events at the beginning of last year, and has decided to make them the constant focus this year. The company gets between 60 and 100 potential new employees at each one. When they arrive (“30 minutes early, dressed in black and ready to shine!”), each person fills out an application form with 20 to 30 questions (with some “crazy questions,” too). After a tour of the salon—including unique areas like the Lather Lounge (a quiet area where clients are shampooed)—the students get a chance to talk to Cromeans about what would make them.

At each event, they end up bringing back about 10 students for a longer interview process —a full, eight-hour day. This gives the staff a chance to see how they handle themselves and how comfortable they are with the team. But even if they are not hired in either round, Cromeans always encourages them to come back and try again. “It’s a never-ending audition,”

“In all of my organization, the salons are at about half capacity of where I think we should be,” says Cromeans. It’s all a part of his idea that the industry needs to think bigger—filling chairs double or triple to keep the energy consistent and to give opportunities to part-timers, keeping them in the industry, too. It’s all about thinking ahead, he says. “We lost a few people last year, and we didn’t lose any ground. The more people, the better.”

Once you’ve hired the staff, the flip side is keeping them—and keeping them happy. Cromeans also makes addressing that aspect an important part of his job. “Most of the time as an owner, I was getting my heart broken. You train staff and then they move on, and it’s not always to other salons,” he says. “So we looked at the patterns of why people were leaving, then gave them 10 reasons to stay. That’s why we have a daycare on-site. We’re a career path-minded company and we know how important the employees are to growth and substance.” Ultimately, he says, it is up to salon owners to have the right things in place to keep people coming into the industry—and staying. That includes a career path, education and a good benefits package. “The pay scale has to be clear, stepping stones have to be clear, you have to make the culture self-evident, and they have to know where they can get coaching on their weaknesses,” says Cromeans, “Getting a well-trained team is the hardest thing to achieve, but once you get it in motion, it takes off.”