Hire for attitude, train for skill. It’s been preached throughout the industry for years, but developing a training program that consistently turns out and retains great stylists and colorists is easier said than done.
“Our apprentice program is the single most important aspect of building our salon,” says Jeff Hankins, who with wife Hope co-owns Reaction Salon in Omaha, Nebraska. “It’s the perfect system for breeding, strengthening and reinforcing our salon culture and everything we believe in. It’s an intense experience that’s not for everyone, but when an apprentice completes the program, she truly is ready to be a member of our professional team, perform at a high level, and provide clients with an amazing hair experience.”
For many salons, structuring a training program is an overwhelming, expensive and seemingly unnecessary step. Instead, they tend to hire experienced stylists who bring talent as well as their clients with them. From their first day, they are ready to step up to that chair and begin generating money.
Other owners believe that seasoned stylists also tend to bung unbreakable habits and years of attitude. They are less likely to adapt to a different culture, and more likely to try and force their own opinions on others. Sometimes, these stylists cause unrest until they move on to their next experience, taking salon clients and even other staff members with them.
Peter Thomas, who owns Peter Thomas Hair Design in Berkeley, California, with Deborah Simons, has had a training program in place since his opening in 1978.
“We hire the majority’ of our students straight out of cosmetology school,” he says. “I can’t remember the last time we swapped out stylists with another salon—it’s just proven to be a catastrophic mistake.”
Even with a training program in place, Kevin Kravklis, who with wife Tiffany Kravklis and Jim Pacifico owns Aveda Academy Denver and the Pure Talent Salon in Denver, discovered several years ago that his salon’s needs were outgrowing his ability to produce new stylists. “I ended up having to hire experienced people,” he remembers. “But they end up bringing in their own opinions, which changes your culture, and eventually they leave and take your client inventory. It’s a vicious cycle.”
For other owners, a training program becomes a necessity because the environment limits hiring opportunities. With a clear vision, mission statement, and brand, the Reaction owners wanted to have a world-class salon in everything they did.
“In a city like Omaha, you just don’t have truly great stylists in the community, so hiring experienced stylists was never really an option.” says Hope “We knew that in order to build a world-class hair team, we’d have to build superstars from scratch, and that’s what we’ve done through our apprentice program.”
“Along with growing your business, your training program also ensures that there is a consistency from stylist to stylist,” adds Nancy Cartonio, who owns Bei Capelli Salon and Retail Shop in Scarborough, Maine with partners Tiffany Conway and Melissa Vique “Our clients arc referring our salon, telling their friends that everyone is great—they can do that because our staff have all had the same education and we’ve developed a strong reputation with a level of consistency.”
Once an owner decides to implement a training program, the first important question is,. “Who is going to do the training?”
Jón Snetman, who co-owns Jón Alan Salons in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband Alan, originally designed a training program that paired apprentices with experienced stylists in a learn-at-the-chair kind of program.
“In the beginning, we operated on an ‘each one, teach one’ mentality, but we quickly found that some stylists were better at educating than others. And, sometimes we’d have stylists who’d treat the apprentices like their personal slaves.”
When the Snetmans recently refocused their business operations, they seized the opportunity to reinvent their education program as well. “We subscribe to Toni&Guy’s comprehensive cutting system, and identified two staff members who were excited about education and passionate about becoming trainers.”
Snetman sent the stylists through the training program in Denver, and initially covered the $2,500 apiece in tuition, plus airfare and hotel costs. But she also instituted a program by which the newly educated trainers would partially reimburse her. “Our agreement is they will pay back half their tuition by receiving $100 credit for each class they teach. If they end up leaving the salon in the year after their training, then they will pay back 70 percent of the tuition,” says Snetman. “They eagerly agreed, and now two more stylists have emerged with an interest in becoming educators—I can see my artistic and educational team developing.”
For most salons though, education frequently becomes the owner’s responsibility. At Bei Capelli, the owners divide classroom instruction among the three of them based on their own individual talents. For example, one is a national color educator for Goldwell, so she’ll tend to take the color classes. “At the beginning of each training group, we’ll sit down with the calendar and divide up the classes,” says Conway.
When Tom Rough and Dino Coppi opened Taglio Salon in Phoenix, they made quality their most important goal. “We are both ex-Sassoon guys and we tell our staff that it’s not 50 percent work quality and 50 percent customer service— you have to give 100 percent to work quality and 100 percent to customer service.”
Rough says a year ago they added an art director who’s made an impact on the training program. “Over time, the quality of education got stronger, our models have gotten better and the art director brought more organization to the program,”
While Hope Hankins serves as one of Reaction’s instructors and Jeff Hankins educates apprentices on business topics, their senior stylists also are involved.
“When we first opened, we had a very strong group of key senior stylists—rock stars from the industry in terms of technical talent and revenue production,” says Hope. “In basic terms, our focus is using the strengths and experience of our senior designers to develop young talent, to accelerate their learning curve, and to transform them into amazing hair designers in a relatively condensed period of time.”
The stylists are compensated for their instruction through the use of the apprentices to increase their own productivity. “Our senior designers are producing an average of $4,000 a week, which are big numbers in Omaha,” says Jeff, “Our apprentices are working with very busy stylists, so everything they learn is under the pressure of time—they are never cleaning or folding towels.”
Peter Thomas compensates his instructors for their classroom time at a rate based on what they would have received if serving clients. “We’ve found that’s helpful, because then they have no sense of loss for lost work time. They also get the most privileges when it comes to advanced education, because we know they will be passing that knowledge on.”
At Aveda Academy Denver and Pure Talent Salon, Kevin Kravklis teaches cutting classes and Tiffany teaches color. Another educator is paid on salary, while other stylists who teach periodic classes are paid an hourly rate based on their income from behind the chair.
ONE STEP BACK
One of the most important keys to developing a successful training program starts before the educator teaches the first class. It actually begins with the selection of the candidates.
In the almost four years since Reaction Salon implemented its training program, it has changed its selection process. “When we first opened, our goal was to hire the best coming cosmetology school graduates as far as technical skill,” says Jeff. But that strategy didn’t prove too fruitful—only one out of every three trainees was making it through the program.
“Now we’ve evolved to the point that technical skills are the least of our concerns. We’ve gotten good at interviewing, using a list of about 20 questions that dig into personality characteristics. Now, we’re looking first for attitude; second, for passion for the craft of hairdressing; and third, for people who are craving education and want to be rock stars in the industry,” he continues. “By selecting according to attitude, we’re now closer to having three out of four complete the program.”
Reaction even dropped the traditional technical part of the interview where the applicant brings and styles a model. “It just didn’t matter,” says Jeff. “Usually we go through two or three interviews, and invite them to hang out and see the salon in action so they can help determine if they are choosing the right salon.”
Thomas combines a rigorous interviewing process with a month-long mutual check-out period to ensure his new hires fit the Peter Thomas culture. “Two salon managers conduct the first interview with prospects, running through a whole list of questions and through a list of detailed job responsibilities that in some way is designed to scare them off,” he says. About half the applicants make it through to a second interview with Thomas.
Thomas then invites the ones he’s most interested in to a working interview where candidates come into work in the salon on busy days from two weeks to a month. Candidates are paid an hourly wage for their time. During that phase, Thomas and his staff are observing the candidates for their ability to be team players, to be open to learning, to be courteous and customer-service focused. Candidates are asked to help with opening and closing the salon; shampoo clients; answer phones and make appointments; price products and stock shelves; sweep, mop and take out trash; and even fill parking meters for clients.
“It’s an encouraging and supportive environment and we’re always welcoming questions,” says Thomas. “But, we also are meeting with staff members and discussing their observations. It’s a time that we can observe candidates, and they can give us a look as well.”
To ensure that the Jon Alan Salon is the right fit for her candidates, Snetman encourages them to look elsewhere. “It’s all about finding the right match, the right chemistry. I even print out a list of other salons in the area and encourage them to visit them all. I don’t want them to get involved in our training program then drop out because they just discovered another salon that’s a better fit.”
And, Snetman stresses that you should always check references. “I once had a candidate list Van Council (of Van Michael Salons) as a reference. So I called him and he’d never heard of her.”
By cultivating a strong relationship with local schools, Vique, Conway and Cartonio strengthen their hiring process.
“We are members of the different advisory boards and have become one of the area’s most sought-after employers,” says Conway. “We frequently have up to 20 applicants for two spots, and we’ll use the schools as a reference point. How well a student performed in school is a good indicator of how she’ll perform in the salon.”
CURRICULUM CASE STUDIES
Since a training program is a salon’s best chance of taking students fresh from school and shaping them to meet the salon’s needs, each program is a unique reflection on the salon. The best way to analyze these is to compare and contrast:
FOLLOW THE LEADER
Bei Capelli maintains a 16-week training program, which starts with retail and blowout/finishing lessons. Following a written training manual that the owners say is a compilation of their 16 years of training and experience, the trainees learn cutting, coloring and updo techniques as well as doing in-depth role-playing on product knowledge/retail recommendations and consultation. Classes are held all day on Mondays, and apprentices assist the salon’s busy stylists during the week, putting lessons into action. Practical and written exams throughout the program test trainees’ knowledge, and as they pass each section they can begin implementing those skills on the floor.
Throughout the program, each trainee is paired with one of the owners, who serve as mentors. “We meet with each one for 15 minutes each day and go over any issues and share feedback from clients and other stylists, and as they progress we’ll begin to look at retention and request rates. We closely monitor their success through the program,” says Cartonio.
Because Taglio Salon is departmentalized, apprentices most frequently choose either the cutting or coloring curriculum, although one recent apprentice chose to learn both. Classes are held on Monday evenings from 4 to 9 p.m., and apprentices begin on basic theory cutting or coloring, diagramming their ideas and working on mannequins. After the first several weeks, apprentices start to work on models. Out of class, apprentices help stylists or colorists by greeting clients, performing scalp massages, and serving coffee and tea. After about the third week of class, they begin doing blowouts or applying color in supervised situations. Classes on retailing, pre-booking and consultation are reinforced through expectations on the floor.
“Once they have a strong foundation, they begin to do creative work. While the program can take up to 18 months, if someone shows progress we do move them forward based on their overall performance,” says Rough.
Once applicants complete the check-out period at Peter Thomas, they begin a 12-month training program. The salon is closed on Mondays to clients, maintaining the day for education. Techniques are taught using live models, and Thomas estimates that the curriculum emphasis is about 65-percent cutting, 25- percent color and 10-percent chemical services and hairdressing skills. Once apprentices master a skill, they are able to perform it supervised on the floor on their own models. At the end of each class, there is an evaluation form filled out by the teachers, including the hair cut, punctuality, attitude, tools used, control level, etc.
During the rest of the week, apprentices will be assigned each day to personally assist the salon’s busiest stylists and one will serve as a general floater. Along with shampooing, blow drying and conditioning clients, apprentices are responsible for observing which products a stylist introduces to a client and recording it on a client’s written prescription. “That develops a strong sense of retail, which we further encourage by including assistants in the bonuses when the salon hits certain team goals. That can mean an extra $50 in their paycheck.”
At Jón Snetman, training begins with orientation, followed by learning client handling, salon rituals, retailing principles, shampooing procedures and color application and removal. “Those are the things they’ll be performing in the salon through the first 90 days,”
The salon’s recently restructured program then takes apprentices through a series of 15 cutting and coloring techniques, including segment tests that evaluate not only technical skill but handling. Once students test out at different levels, they are able to perform those skills on the floor. “Typically, the first thing they master is waxing, and they’ll do several services. I even allow them to book request clients.”
Classes are held on Mondays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for stylists at three different levels. Level One trainees will earn their chair in six to nine months depending on individual skill. Level Two, which meets two Mondays a month, and Level Three, which meets one Monday a month, include two different levels of experienced stylists who continue that time to work on advanced education. When Snetman initiated the new program she requested that all her staff go through Level One education. “There’s always an opportunity to improve or enhance their skills. Plus if they all know the new system that we are teaching, they can be called upon to help the young people.”
At Reaction, the apprentice program generally runs over a one-year program, but can last from eight to 18 months depending on individual progress. The program is centered around several key personality attributes: passion for the craft, positive attitude, respect for the profession, work ethic integrity, and loyalty. These values are measured in terms of sharing salon values, goals and commitment to education.
On the technical side, an apprentice is partnered with one of the salon’s senior designers. The apprentice spends the first half of the program mastering color technique, including vision, formulation and application. They also learn how to conduct professional consultations, and they begin learning chair education. During the second half, apprentices continue color education, but begin technical training in the areas of cutting, finishing and product usage. This time includes a tremendous amount of work with the salon’s creative director, including one-on-one sessions, small group classes and work with models. Cutting starts with short cuts and bobs, moving through medium and long layers. Throughout the process, there is an intense focus on finishing skill, product knowledge, command, poise, communication and chair education.
After running a more traditional training program for 17 years, Kravklis felt he could no longer train apprentices fast enough to handle his salon’s growing business. In 2004, he reinvented his training program. He decided on an accelerated eight-month program and instituted a training salon that gave apprentices real-life experiences.
The first eight weeks of the program are known as the awareness phase, when the student does a lot of observation. They also learn the salon’s 12 points of difference, that includes things such as how to consult with a look book, give a stress- relieving treatment, show clients how to finish a style, create additional sales, etc. Classes are held early on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and add up to about seven hours a week of class time. Students in the first phase also learn cutting techniques, including the graduated bob, higher vertical graduation, and square layers, and start color work and finishing.
The next phase of the program is known as the progressive phase. Students test out of different haircuts and begin providing services to the clients of the Pure Talent Salon for reduced fees. About four weeks later, they’ll begin to offer color services. As an apprentice grows, so does his or her hourly wage. During the final six weeks, Kravklis pushes progressive work, teaching students the looks from Aveda’s current collection.
Kravklis likens his program to a master’s program, telling new hires they’ll receive two years worth of information in eight months. What he doesn’t promise them is a job within his salon at the end—but he does help them find jobs. Of the 93 students to enter the program, 18 are currently enrolled, 30 didn’t finish, 30 graduates were placed with other salons in the Aveda network and 15 finished and accepted jobs with Kravklis.