working at a chain salon: make it work for you!

In the past few months I have received a ton of questions from stylists working in chain salons or thinking about starting to work in a chain.  I've heard the good, the bad and the ugly and thought it was about time I sum it all up and make the decision a little bit easier for all my hairstylist friends out there! 

If you haven't already checked it out, this article from Modern Salon about the trends in today's industry is a must read.  Chain salons account for more than 25% of the income generated by hairstylists.  While the vast majority of revenue continues to come from booth renters and commissioned stylists, chain salons continue to be a good option for licensed cosmetologists.  Chain salons can offer some of the perks and benefits that you'd find in corporate America while still allowing hairstylists to be creative and do what they love.  I've done my research and talked to lots of amazing salon professionals so here's the down and dirty on chain salons


Probably the best part about working in a chain salon is the benefits package.  We are talking health insurance, retirement plans, paid vacations, birthday pay, retail discounts, free tools, the list goes on and on.  Benefits vary by chain and location, but many salons don't offer anything close to what a chain can give.  You'll receive a bi-weekly paycheck with taxes already deducted and there is no need to pay rent or for any of your backbar products.  Stylists at chain salons generally receive an hourly waged based on experience level so you'll have a good idea of the money you'll be making and it will be pretty stable.  There are also opportunities to grow within the company if you're interested in management or educator roles.

There is also tons of free education available.  Often your employment starts with a few days or a full week of paid education before you start taking clients to help sharpen your skills and build confidence.  Education is also offered for free throughout the year and can sometimes be earned as a bonus for top performers.

One of the main reasons that stylists choose to go with a chain salon is the built in clientele.  If you start working at a chain salon in a premier location you are bound to get plenty of walk-ins.  Hundreds or maybe thousands of potential new clients will be walking by every single day and often stylists at chain salons are seeing 6 or more clients per day in just their first week.  


While your paychecks will be stable, stable isn't always a good thing in this industry.  The beauty of being a hairstylist is that the sky is the limit when it comes to income.  I know commissioned stylists who are taking home nearly $200,000 annually and working less than 40 hours a week.  I know booth renters who are making six-figures working 3 days a week.  You'd never achieve those kind of results at a chain salon.  Annual income varies based on location, but you'd most likely start off making $12,000-$18,000 annually and top out around $40,000 behind the chair.

The education at chain salons does work, however it is sub-par in my opinion.  Often most of the education is done by video or very brief demonstration and self study which is just not thorough enough.  I find that educational videos can be extremely helpful, but a week of education is just not enough to get you going.  There are some amazing short courses through Redken, Toni&Guy & Vidal Sassoon that I would highly suggest instead.  


I have heard that chain salons can be dream crushing.  Often times hungry, newly licensed cosmetologists eagerly start working only to find bitter seasoned stylists stuck behind the chair complaining about not earning enough or missed opportunities.  Being in a supportive environment is priceless and this type of negativity can be poison to your career.

The worst part about chain salons is unfortunately the potential to build clientele.  While your chair will get filled, I hear over and over that these clients become loyal to the chain and not to the stylist.  In fact there are some chain salons that won't even allow you to carry business cards with your name on them.  You're only allowed to hand out generic cards with the address and phone number of the location you work at and can handwrite your name on if you'd like.  How the heck does that make any sense?!?!  It only makes sense to the chain because you've become a marketer for their business rather than a marketer for your own business as a hairstylist.

I think a chain salon can be a great place to cut your teeth.  Get in, do tons of clients and learn all that you can.  Practice cutting, practice selling retail, learn to formulate.  Ultimately though, a commissioned or booth rental salon offers more growth potential and you'll have much more control over your career.  Check out my article about retirement as a hairstylist for more information about planning for your future and stay tuned for help with your health insurance planning.




Britt Seva