”Today, while the old model may thrive in black or up-and-coming neighborhoods, white professional men are seeking a pampered experience elsewhere.
And they’re creating intimate relationships in these new men’s salons. But instead of immersing themselves in single-sex communities of men, they’re often building one-on-one confidential relationships with women hair stylists. Stylists often explained this intimacy as part of their jobs. For white men with financial means, though, the men’s salon becomes an important place where they can purchase the sense of connection they may otherwise be missing in their lives." Lynne Anderson Senior Editor, Health + Medicine "Goodbye to the barbershop?" August 7, 2016.
Recently I spent about nine months working in a chain male salon/barbershop. By chain, I generally am referring to the species of barbershops or salons that are in essence franchise or multi-location business models that are or intended to located in numerous locations. Some familiar examples of this are: Borics, Fantastic Sims, Supercuts, Master cuts, Sports Clips, and some which are actually barbershops like Floyd's 99 Barbershop and The Roosters Men's Grooming Center. All of the aforementioned salon and/or barbershop brands have at least 50 locations. The typical relationship between the operator (barber or stylist)and the chain salon/barbershop is generally W2 based, meaning that the operator is an employee and not a contractor or booth renter. I think that outside of the chain salon/barbershop models, W2 employment is extremely uncommon and that generally in independently owned salon and barbershop establishments, an operator will more than likely be a contract worker who earns a commission on services and sales or an operator will rent a "booth" from the salon or barbershop owner paying a weekly fee to offer services in a barbershop or salon.
The market fundamentals that drive the modern day chain phenomenon for barbershops and salons in my opinion is not much different from those that gave rise to the mother of all chain offerings, namely McDonald's. Some, in my opinion, but not all of the drivers of such chain models are: efficiency, cheap labor, locations in prime retail areas, and the purchasing power scale engenders. These model's labor force in my opinion are generally built on labor demographics that are readily available at a relative discount: examples are women, minorities, students, recent graduates, teens, etc. In general, I believe that the goal of any chain venture is to engineer key processes related to its offering into a reasonably duplicatable model and keep stamping out as many locations as markets will profitably support. At the chain approach to business is hardly novel or rocket science. As I believe is the case with all business ventures regardless of the approach or styling, success is not a given. The chain models have, in my opinion some very obvious and persistent detractors, which include but are not limited to: low wages for employees, little or no healthcare benefits, and high employee turnover. There are some areas in which I believe chain operations tend to shine in the market place, like relative consistency, reliability, and predictability in their offerings and it seems that Americans have shown that they can be wooed by such business attributes in the absence of other desirables like variety, choice, creativity and originality.
Here are some of the specific ways in which I feel the chain salon/barbershop I worked for employed some simply chain style modalities to get results that I feel are arguably an improvement over what I appreciated working at non-chain salons and barbershops:
- Standardize cleaning conducted daily, and for some areas like restrooms, frequent cleaning throughout the workday. I have heard that a study revealed that the number one reason a person would not return to an hair cutting establishment is because the salon or barbershop was not clean.
- Defined work schedules took the some of the arbitrariness and randomness out of the business in that I reported for my scheduled hours and was free to leave when at the end of a very defined work shift. No customers had any reasonable expectations that I would be at work unless they had checked online schedule or called to make an appointment with me on a day and time that I were available per weekly schedule which changed from week to week. This made work very different from what I was used to because I had otherwise in non-chain barbershops and salons worked more randomly and arbitrarily in ways that mostly reflected the clients demands for my services. This meant working long hours on certain days and short hours on others in a frenzy that was mostly based on the somewhat arbitrary flow of the business generally. Here at the chain barbershop I was insulated from a lot of that randomness and were at the least paid an hourly rate for the time I spent at the barbershop. It gets weird at times in non-chain salons or barbershops when you're sitting around on a Tuesday and things are slow, customers expect you to be there, but you are not making any money and you just have a hard time reconciling value for your time when at the end of the day that in 8 to 10 hour shift you only served two patrons for example. Here is where the chain salon's or chain barbershop's model might seem compelling to some even though the hourly wage is typically very low.
- Walk-ins. The chain barbershop I worked for seemed to effectively benefit from a business construct that generally produces more walk-in. As with most chain ventures, advertising and marketing is at the core of venture's plans for success. So, like most chain ventures today, the chain barbershop I worked for had large, very visible and costly signage outside of the building, and the chain barbershop I worked for had well developed websites and mobile software application to facilitate among other things advertisement and bookings.
- "Back bar" hair products. Chain salons and chain barbershops model are often heavily reliant upon retail sales of hair products and the chain barbershop I worked for kept a nice variety of products to work with. These "back bar" products were available to use on clients at no expense to me the barber with exception to most hair coloring products.
Interestingly enough, just before my employment with the chain barbershop/salon ended I was told by one of the stylist who had been employed there for years that there was a local two-location barbershop business which had a staff consisting almost entirely of barbers and stylist who got their start at the chain barbershop/salon in which we were employed. She [my co-worker] said that these barber and stylist had almost invariably left the chain barbershop/salon where we worked because of improved earnings realized at the comparably smaller locally owned two-location barbershop chain which had barbershops nearby. The two-location barbershop siphoning workers from our chain barbershop employer offered 50/50 commission contracts and had a higher price point for its services. So, it almost seems as if the national 100 plus location chain barbershop/salon that I worked for was inadvertently operating like a quasi school, inadvertently training and developing hair care professionals to work for other barbershops and salons which in this case are direct competitors. Consequently, the chain barbershop/salon that I worked for was quite the meat-grinder of sorts having high turn-over in talent. Patrons seemed to be accustom to the constant churn and burn because I were often queried about former operators and customers would ask me questions or make statements that implied that they were worried that I might not stick around for long.
Other than cutting hair, among other fields of endeavors, I have worked in the automobile industry for over twenty years. So, from the reference of automobiles, I would say that like cars and trucks, not all chain salon models are created equally. Much like cars and trucks in the marketplace, I believe that there are some fundamental similarities in how chain salons or chain barbershops are constructed. With that said, my experience in working for a chain salon or chain barbershop is limited to having worked for one such establishment for about nine months. Arguably, in the aggregate, the collection of brands under Regis Corp. have the most experience in North America with operating chain salons and have one chain barbershop brand that I am aware of called Roosters Men's Grooming Center. I have not worked for one the Regis Corp. brands yet. At any rate, conceivably, like with automobiles, there are rarely one size fits all constructs that satisfy every consumer or that meet the demands and or taste of every market. Therefore, it is reasonable to conceive that due to market variants and perhaps due to defects in the chain salon's or chain barbershop's business model, the establishment may or may not do so well in certain marketplaces over time. As with certain models of automobiles, I think that it takes a little time to really assess quality and durability of a chain barbershop or chain salon model. And as with automobiles, initial appeal and even prolific sales are not always indicators of quality or permanence in the marketplace. In terms of cars, think Yugo.
The chain barbershop/salon that I worked for, in my opinion, had very unrealistic expectations from me as a barber in that I felt that the company generally budgeted too little time for me to render all of the company proscribed services to a patron. For example, I was budgeted a half-hour to:
(1) conduct a hair-cut consultation and then cut a patrons hair regardless of length or style more or less with exception to what the company referred to as "skin-fades";
(2) give each client a "massage shampoo";
(3) give each client a shoulder massage with an electrical handheld vibrating massage tool ;
(4) give every adult client a hot lather, straight razor neck shave;
(5) sanitize hands between each client;
(6) retrieve broom and dustpan to sweep up hair after each client;
(7) sanitize and/or sterilize tools (barber chair, combs, brushes, razors, etc.) prior to use on clients;
(8) style the client's hair after the haircut, ideally using some product that is available for sale at check-out counter;
(9) and escort each client to customer service person to be checked out, which often meant waiting with the client until patrons serviced by other operators were checked out.
All of the aforementioned service was to be provided a price point that was in my estimation about 15-20% less than what the average men's haircut cost at other comparable barbershops in the area. Consequently, I observed almost every other operator cutting corners to keep up. Keeping up for some operators seemed to mean everything from forgoing sweeping, allowing hair from multiple patrons to pile up under their barber chairs to just about every other shortcut you can imagine including at times what I would consider really bad haircuts. Mostly, the operators seem to skimp on protocols or things required by the company but that would generally go unnoticed by the patron.
In the automotive production time-studies, a protocol usually performed by engineers, were conducted to determine if all the elements of a man assignment could indeed be effectively, ergonomically, and safely, performed within a certain time frame. I doubt that the nine plus company required elements above could be consistently performed in the thirty minutes I was allotted. My manager at the chain barbershop was basically scheduling hair cut appointments every half-hour. One co-worker, we will call Helen told me that she worked at another chain salon wherein the average hair cut time had to be seventeen minutes or less, so I think that just about all such chain style hair cutting places will have aggressive and ridged time constraints on hair cut services, but what else gets cut besides hair is concerning in my opinion.
The chain barbershop/salon that I worked for was in a great location in my opinion and followed the typical wisdom of such ventures by betting heavily on location. Good locations can make up for a lot of other weaknesses.
Finally, I will offer my evaluation of the chain salon/barbershop employment opportunity in the context of the elusive living wage standard. I was fortunate enough to witness some exceptional talent while working at the chain barbershop that has been the subject of this article. And, because the said chain barbershop published, usually on a post board in the break room, all of the barbers and stylist performance metrics like: average time spent on a client, average ticket on services, product retail sales, and total number of patrons serviced. I was therefore able to appreciate with some objectivity who were the exceptional performers according to certain metrics and also make observations on the floor to gain additional perspectives on other potentially contributing performance factors. A good example of this for instance, was a cosmetologist we will call Sheila, who hired on only days before I did, but quickly became a top performer in the chain barbershop in terms of most of the above mentioned metrics which were tracked and posted on a weekly basis. Sheila had, for context purposes, according to conversations I had with her recently immigrated to the U.S. from Ethiopia about four years prior to becoming employed at the chain barbershop/salon wherein she and I worked. Acceding to conversations I had with Sheila, she was a graduate of a Paul Mitchell school of cosmetology. I would say that within a roughly two months of working at this chain barbershop/salon, Sheila's earning were beginning to exceed every other barber or stylist earnings pursuant to the published metrics. I can recall Sheila gross receipts getting as high as $2700.00 in one week on about 70 patrons. To put that into perspective, because the $2700 exceeded a certain company designated threshold, Sheila was eligible to receive about half of that $2700 as her take in a commission split. So, for this particular week, Sheila earned about $1350.00 before tips. I don't know what Sheila made in tips that week because tips are not one of the published metrics, but I would say that the tips were on average about $6 per patron, so I would estimate that Sheila earned an additional $420 that week bringing the total earnings to about $1820.00. Sheila was definitely an outlier and the referenced week was around a busy holiday season. Other factors materially contributing to Sheila's relatively high earnings were that she worked more hours than most if not all of the other operators. Sheila once told me that a manager, we'll refer to as DJ, found out that she was moonlighting or working at another male salon close by and since there was an obvious conflict of interest the manager told her that she could not work for both salons. A compromise was brokered between Sheila and the manager and DJ begin scheduling Sheila over 40 hours per week. Because of Sheila's hustle, drive, talent and work ethic, I think the arrangement worked out well for both parties, but I did get a sense that some of the other operators in the salon may have been somewhat disenfranchised with the arrangement between DJ and Sheila. Most of the other 8 to 10 full-time operators on staff at the time had gross receipts in the range of $400-$1600 per week. For additional perspective, I would also say that for the most part, the other operators who consistently had gross receipts in the range of $1000 to $1600 were veterans in that they had been working at this chain barbershop/salon for about four years or so.
Here, I offer another anecdotal reference for earnings. One week in mid November of last year, 2019, a four year veteran, we'll call Doris, was the top earner in terms of gross receipts. Doris out performed Sheila only by 9 haircuts that week having a total of 59 haircut or 59 patrons served at average of $28.43 per client making Doris' total gross receipts to $1677.43. Given an average tip of $6, the veteran staffer Doris earned approximately $1192.72. I on the hand served 35 patrons that week with an average ticket of $23.91 producing a gross receipts total of $836.85. At this time I made $10.00 per hour unless I exceeded a thousand dollar gross receipts, at which point I would get a commission on the gross sales. I actually don’t remember the exact commission cut because I scarcely had over $1000.00 in gross receipts for any give pay week that I worked at the chain barbershop/salon. Also, to give some perspective on earnings and earnings potential in a chain barbershop/salon, it may be meaningful to know that during this particular week, there were about 500 patrons served by 15 different barbers or stylist who were on staff at the chain barbershop/salon at that time. I think that only two of the barbers or stylist were part-time at this time, so if you were to evenly divide the 500 or so patrons of this week up among the full-time staffers, each operator would potentially have serviced about 38 patrons during this particular week. So, at 38 patrons, I in particular, would have theoretically had about $908.58 in gross receipts for that week given an average ticket of $23.91.
Draw any inferences you will from the data above that I have given you, but in my opinion a living wage was either not in the cards or so remote a possibility that the chances of achieving it [a living wage] are not meaningful for most. Considering the lack of the fringe benefits like health care/health insurance or dental care/dental insurance, and retirement pension, I think that most would need considerably more income. As is I believe the case with being employed by many of the prolific chain style businesses in America, a living wage may not be a reasonable expectation when considering employment as a barber with most chain style operations. What is I believe a reasonable expectation is an income that could be for some sufficient as a bridge income, meaning wages that are sufficient for a very limited period of time, or supplemental income in that an individual or family has other ways and means of support or income insomuch that the can afford to work for low wages. Arguably, the income or earnings scenarios may not be much better in the field of barbering where one is not employed by a chain barbershop or salon, but it is my opinion that outside of getting some good training potentially, the chain barbershop models do not for the most part do much to help barbers achieve a living wage.
By John L. Roseman, Sr.
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©November 4, 2020