I had a meeting with one of my suppliers the other week and he asked me “Where is the next generation of hairdressers coming from?” My response was “Ireland and Italy”. That was the quick answer; the longer one is not as simple but is equally disturbing.
I have been in the hairdressing industry for over 40 years now and in this time have seen many changes, both for the better and the worse. The current state of affairs is, I would estimate, close to the direst situation I have ever experienced in this business.
Where have the glory days in hairdressing gone to? Times when the appointment book was full six months in advance, and clients came once or even twice a week to have their hair done.
In the 1960s Vidal Sassoon taught us mastery of the scissors, as well introducing the technological wizardry of the ‘hair dryer’. He introduced the skill of hair cutting as an art form, his iconic bob the crowning glory of outré fashion designers and movie stars. The days of ‘Mad Men’ gave our trade prestige and brought hairdressing skills quite possibly to their zenith.
The industry burgeoned and with the social changes of the 70’s and beyond, hairstyles became less formal and groomed with long hair and ‘fros all the go. These required less maintenance, but as a result, hairdressing was accessible by a greater number of people, the cost of a ‘do’ gradually representing a smaller and smaller proportion of annual income.
Texture cutting and slicing styles requiring minimal skill were followed by the ousting of perms in favour of long hair, maintained at home by straightening irons or with chemical straightening once every ten months or so. The popularity of ‘low maintenance’ has caused our industry to invent every technique possible to keep clients out of salons for months at a time. Does anybody else see the problem with this?
The glimmer of hope that existed in the artistic use of colour has now been all but snuffed out by the popularity of ‘balayage’ or ‘flamboyage’, making massive regrowth the height of fashion and money in the salon’s till a rare sighting.
The economics of our industry tell a sorry story. In 1970 Australia had an estimated population of approximately 12 million people. Today we are looking closer to 25 million, serviced by, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics some 26000 hair and beauty businesses. Even taking that figure (which doesn’t include the huge number of ‘home hairdressers’ flying under the regulatory radar that are in existence) it means that each salon has less than 1000 clients. This equates to only 300 clients per stylist given that the average business in this industry has three employees including the owner.
If a stylist is paid $50,000 per year and each client comes only twice annually, they must pay at least $84 just to cover the stylist’s wages, quite aside from other overheads like rent and profit. If a stylist is working 219 days a year, eight hours per day, the stylist has six hours with each client. If we can’t increase the number of clients, we need to increase the yield a salon receives from each client to allow our industry to survive and grow. Minimal maintenance, skill-free styles will inevitably lead to more business bankruptcies and the erosion of our industry. There is currently no capacity in Australia to fund a viable apprenticeship program, hence our reliance on those of more forward-thinking countries and on our sunshine to lure them here. Without local apprentices and the development of a strong skills base on our shores, Australian salons are sentenced to a long slow death and young people denied a trade that can potentially put them in charge of their own destiny.
So how do we address this issue? We’re never going to see a return to the ladies coming in for their weekly ‘wash and set.’ Society has moved on and we have to move on with it, meeting the market in the way other industries have done. There is no point in marketing a business through social or traditional media if it’s not offering what customers want.
Time is in short supply for everyone today. The majority of women are working and have jobs that require them to work long hours and face challenges that their mothers and grandmothers never dreamed of.
Here are some ideas; have stylists on a roster with one or more starting early each day to offer services to working women. Have promotions for confidence building ‘Critical Meeting Hair Grooming’ or ‘Important Interview Up-Dos’. Price them accessibly; offer coffee, muffins, maybe a manicure at the same time and bonuses for frequent attendance. Why keep special styling skills just for weddings when every day should be a reason to be well-groomed?
Your GP will give you a health plan. How about introducing Grooming Plans for clients? Do they want to grow one style out and adopt another? Schedule a series of appointments with a forward plan for each that allows them to transition over time with their hair immaculately managed as it evolves. Change the products they use in the process to keep it looking at its best. As the person entrusted with a client’s hair, and by extension their self-confidence, a stylist can develop a long-term bond of trust, just by thinking outside of the box.
Owners of hairdressing businesses need to look at the world around them and understand that they too must evolve or die.