A look at the new generation of hairstylists and what it means for our industry

Ten years ago eager cosmetology students proudly earned their licenses with the hope of one day finding financial freedom.  They were told by the successful hairstylists before them that the first few years would be rough; long hours, tired feet and desperately taking any client willing to sit in your chair.  Don’t worry, you’ll get used to working every Saturday and having Mondays off is really great.  You’d have to pay your dues, but if you really worked hard, you’d be able to make good money and be creative for the rest of your life.  

Just 10 years ago, newly licensed styilsts were still lining up to Assist for sometimes two years or more.  These go-getters gladly shampooed and swept for hours on end while taking home minimum wage.  Most assistants were stuck trying to catch bits of education here and there, but some did get lucky and found salons with regular and structured classes.  After these assisting years it was time to jump in head first and spend another few years building a clientele.  Those first five years in the industry were totally worth it because if you survived the struggle of living on ramen noodles and stealing toilet paper from the salon supply closet, you could finally start to earn a decent living.

Those days are gone and I learned that lesson the hard way.  As a Salon Director, I started to notice a shift in 2010.  The line of assistants clamoring at my front door waving resumes had dissipated.  I used to have the pick of the litter when it came to hiring newly licensed hairstylists in my area and now I was hustling just to get resumes.  Once I hired somebody, then my real work began.  These assistants needed lots of time off, questioned their wages, wanted to talk to me constantly.  I hire assistants to make my life easier and I was suddenly working harder than ever before.  

Here I was, this twenty-something-year-old saying “what is going on with the kids these days!  Does nobody want to work anymore”?  What I now know is that there was nothing wrong with these new hairstylists.  The person with the problem was me because the industry had changed and I had missed the shift.

Fast forward to now and I’ve completely changed my ways.  I had to quit feeling frustrated and realize that I was standing in my own way.  I did some research and I finally figured out how connect with these young stylists; welcome to the world of the Millenials.

Millenials are defined as people who are born between the years 1980-2000.  They value life experiences, friends and family over money and career and would take long weekends over fat paychecks anyday.  Now, this doesn’t make them lazy.  Millenials believe in efficiency and immediate results, hence the obsession with social media.  Millenials want to have it all and they want it right now.  We can use this to our advantage and watch them grow their business at hyperspeed, they just don’t follow what we consider a traditional life path and it’s our job to adapt. 

Here are 5 shifts that our industry is experiencing thanks to Millenials

1. A need for annual business development

Whether you own a commission salon, booth rental salon, are looking to hire an assistant or just want to understand how to work with your young co-workers, you can’t beat them so you’ve got to join them.  New graduates used to work hard to impress us and now it is our job to prove to them that we are the industry leaders.  Millenials want to work in a  place that feels young and fun.  That doesn't mean that they don't want to work with senior stylists, but it does mean that they want to work with trend setters in an environment that embraces whatever is current in beauty trends.

New stylists want to work at salons that offer computerized booking systems, online booking options for clients, email marketing and printed marketing tools available.  They want current and modern fixtures and furnishings, upscale amenities to offer their clients and incredible retail lines to sell.  

If you are an established stylist thinking you can stay the same and let those around you just do their Millenial thing, you couldn’t be more wrong.  I see a growing trend of established stylists losing long-term clients to Millenials who have a great online presence, stay current on techniques, have strong social media skills and show a passion for staying up to date on trends.  Clients are smart and they want to see stylists who will keep them looking young.  Clients are quickly realizing that they can save some money and stay looking young and current with this new breed of stylist.

2.  Non-traditional schedules are here to stay

Longterm commitment in general is tough for this new generation.  Millenials want every time off request to be approved and would rather quit their job than be told they can’t attend a friends Saturday wedding.  In fact, Millenials put very little value on long-term employment and the idea of changing employers or locations isn’t scary but instead quite exciting.

So how do you keep these powerhouses around? You have to be flexible and show them that family does come first and allow working alternative schedules to be an option.  Perhaps after their first year of employment, new stylists can opt to be off every other Saturday and work Mondays instead.  Maybe you offer three and four day work weeks for those who are interested.   Would you rather have 6 mediocre and uninspired stylists or 9 who work part-time, hustle to build clientele and love their work life balance? Happy stylists are long-term stylists.

3.  Prioritize advanced education

While previous generations often develop a “been there, done that” attitude overtime, Millenials love living on the breaking curve of every new trend.  You’ll find these knowledge hungry new-comers following Instafamous stylists and watching how-to Youtube videos when in need of inspiration.  

Salon owners who want to keep these guys motivated need to promise and deliver high-quality education every year.  I always suggest bringing allowing education credits to be earned if your stylists are employees.  Credits can be used towards any class from any educator across any brand that the stylist values.  Even booth rental salon owners should invest in bringing an annual educator into the salon annually.  All that being said, Millenials put family time ahead of work so don’t schedule more than 2 classes on Sundays or Mondays if possible.  

Seasoned stylists aren't exempt from this rule.  If you spend your time focused on doing the cuts and color that have always worked for you, you are already slipping behind.  I see a trend in experienced stylists who are slowing losing clientele because they didn't stay current. Today's client would rather see somebody current than somebody with years of experience and this trend isn't going to change anytime soon.  If you are experienced and current, now you've hit the pot of gold.

4.  Salon owners and managers need to offer plenty of feedback

Think that quarterly reviews are too corporate and don’t belong in hair salons?  Think again.  Millenials need to know exactly where there career is at, where it is going and when they will get there.  Millenials love to ask “why” and a response like “because I said so” isn’t going to cut it.  Make the time to meet with all of your stylists at least every three months and monthly is even better.

If you really want to connect, sit down at the beginning of each new year and find out from each stylist what their goals are.  Don’t focus on guest count and dollars earned.  Not every stylist is motivated by making more money so never make that assumption.  Find out what there dream schedule would be, if they want to become a home owner at some point and if that is important to them, where and how often they’d like to vacation.  When you make the effort to really get to know your team, you’ll find it much easier to motivate them and they are likely to stick around.

5.  Benefits don't mean what they used to mean

Job seekers now are craving “start-up” and big tech company style benefits.  Think free food, a fun environment, laid back rules and tons of flexibility.  If you want to attract the best new graduates, you need to become the Google of hair salons.

Older generations are looking for benefits like health insurance and retirement savings plan.  Millenials are generally supported financially in one way or another by their parents until they are nearly 30.  They are on their parents insurance until they are 26 and aren’t even sure they ever want to buy a home much less retire.  They just aren’t making those long-term goals a priority.

Once you start offering paid vacations and custom education benefits, now you are speaking their language.  Reward good retail sales performance with a bonus paid vacation day.  Run a retail sales contest and have the prize be airfare for 2 to anywhere in the US.  Give your two top producers for the quarter each $150 towards seeing the educator of their choice.  Sounds expensive?  Try offering insurance or retirement plans and this suddenly won’t seem so bad and your Millenials will love it. 

I know a salon who treats their employees to one free catered lunch every month and they think it is the coolest thing ever.  It costs the owner less than $200 per month and builds incredible dedication.  Benefits don’t have to be expensive, they just have to be of value to the employees.

Whether you are a salon owner, stylist or newly licensed cosmetologist, it is important to see and understand the direction that our industry is going in.   Being a hairstylist can be the most rewarding industry on the planet or you can choose to let the the trends pass you by and watch your business slip through your fingertips.  


Britt Seva