Here's some of the top qualities these JCPenney stylists say they found in their salons

  • Mentorship

  • Community

  • Educational opportunities

  • Team environment

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Whether you’re new to cosmetology and just beginning your job search, or you’re a seasoned stylist looking for a fresh start, there are many things to consider. You must evaluate compensation, of course—how your pay will be structured and your opportunities to increase your earnings over time. You should inquire about benefits, such as health and life insurance, paid time off and retirement planning. Another important benefit for stylists at every level is education—what type of education, if any, does your prospective employer provide? Is it hands-on or virtual? Is it free and if not, what part of the cost will you be responsible for?

But perhaps the most important thing to consider on your job search is something that’s a bit more intangible than salary, commission or health insurance. In order to go the distance and really thrive in your career, most stylists agree you must find a place where the culture of the salon meshes with your own needs, attitudes and values. “Companionship and support are what keep me going,” explains Cyan Edwards, who works at the Salon by InStyle inside JCPenney in Prattville, AL. “You could offer me all the money in the world but if I’m not working in a positive atmosphere, it’s not worth it.” Agrees Amanda Jayko Trout, from the Salon by InStyle inside JCPenney in Algonquin, IL, “I walked into a family,” she says of her salon. “You have good days and bad but at end of the day, family loves each other no matter what.”

Here’s a closer look at three stylists’ journeys and how they found salon “family” cultures that have helped them grow and prosper.

Amanda Trout 
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Amanda Trout 

“THE ONLY WAY TO GROW THIS INDUSTRY IS TO HELP YOUNGER STYLISTS”

When Amanda Trout got her cosmetology license, she was ready to see the world. So she took a job with an organization that places stylists on cruise ships. For three years she traveled with the Disney cruise line, providing haircuts, nail services and facials to passengers. “It was great,” she recalls. “We worked hard and played hard. I made great money, I had no bills, I learned a lot and I met amazing people!”

Eventually, though, after being away from home for too long, Trout decided it was time to return to shore and put down roots. Her job search brought her to the Salon by InStyle in her hometown in Illinois. “The salon had a great reputation,” she says, “and what drew me at first was the fact that the company offers insurance. My insurance was about to run out so that was important to me.” Then, when she started her job, she discovered the salon offered so much more, including the support she needed to move onto the next level of her career.

“It’s a big salon, with about twenty stylists,” she explains, “which is ideal because there is every level of experience, from recent graduates like me to stylists who have been here for 20 years.” On the ships, Trout was mostly doing haircuts, so she knew she had to get her color skills up to speed quickly, and the salon team was ready and willing to help. “It was nice to do color and cuts and watch all these talented stylists and learn from them and be able to ask about color,” she says. “Everybody was helpful and friendly. Some of the stylists have been working together for 20 years and that gives me peace of mind. Knowing this team works so well together and chooses to stay together is a big deal.”

Trout quickly moved up from Designer to Senior to Master within the company. At her current level, she has complete freedom to control her own schedule, as well as a higher income—she now earns 70 percent commission, one of the highest amounts for a commission salon! She has even had the flexibility to pursue her dream of becoming an educator—she serves as a part-time Matrix hair color trainer for salons in her area.

Her salon team continues to cheer her on and now she’s paying it forward by mentoring newcomers. “I believe the only way to grow this industry is to help younger stylists be better than you,” she says. “I thought I knew a lot coming out of school, but in reality, I knew hardly anything. If I can help someone feel more confident doing that first or third or even one hundredth color, and ultimately make more money, that’s just great!”

Cyan Edwards 
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Cyan Edwards 

“YOU KNOW WHEN YOU’VE FOUND YOUR PEOPLE”

Cyan Edwards always knew she wanted to become a hairstylist but at first, she acquiesced to her family’s desire for her to enroll in college and become a teacher. “I was so unhappy,” she admits. And it was her stylist who brought it all into focus. “I always went to Brittany at the Salon by InStyle in my town,” she remembers. “One day on a break from school, I was in her chair, and she asked me how things were going, and I burst into tears. I confessed how unhappy I was and how much I wanted to do what she was doing! And she said, ‘You would be so good at this! You should do it and I will help you!’”

It was a tough decision, but one she knew she had to make. So Edwards left college and enrolled in cosmetology school. During the process of school and studying for her license, she often turned to Brittany and the other stylists in the salon. “They answered all my questions,” she says. “They always let me pick their brains. And they would show me my instincts about things were right, which gave me confidence.”

Her friends talked her up to the salon manager and when she got her license, she had a job waiting. “I told them I didn’t have any clients yet, but they said, ‘That’s ok, we’ve got you.’” Her manager scheduled Edwards at times when she would get loads of walk-ins and she quickly built a clientele. All along the way, she turned to her co-workers whenever she had questions or needed guidance. “I was put at a station between Brittany and another girl who was close to my age, so they were easy to talk to,” she says. “We would often gather around a client to consult. They wouldn’t tell me what to do but would confirm my ideas, say, for color formulation, which really made me feel strong.”

With the support of her team, Edwards quickly moved up and today she’s a Master stylist. The additional income and flexibility are awesome, she says, but she still values the warmth and friendship of her salon team over everything else. “During cosmetology school, I was assigned to another salon to serve an internship,” she says. “It wasn’t a very nice experience. I felt like they put me down behind my back and I actually started questioning my career choice. But my current salon is completely different! I can still go up to anyone and ask them anything and I’m never embarrassed. I tell my co-workers they are some of my favorite people ever. It’s a bond. You know when you’ve found your people.”

Averie Cotton-Smith
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Averie Cotton-Smith

A SALON THAT ENCOURAGES SUCCESS

After spending ten years in the medical profession, Averie Cotton-Smith of Ft. Worth, TX was more than ready for a change. Beauty had always been her passion, so she left her job and enrolled in cosmetology school. Two years ago, she got her license and then it was time to look for a job in a salon.

“I heard great things about the JC Penney company from my school instructor, so I interviewed with my now awesome manager Mary,” she says. “It took me a month to decide what to do because I was very green and didn’t know much about the salon industry. But something told me to accept the offer.”

Her decision turned out to be one of the best she ever made. As a success-oriented pro, she loves her salon’s focus on achievement. “I appreciate our salon atmosphere, which is based on growth within the industry,” she says. “Our manager was a stylist herself and she gives us room to perfect ourselves without criticism. Plus JCPenney offers many educational opportunities to always stay on trend. The company wants to see you be the best you. It has level-based incentives that help mold you into a stylist who is aware of all aspects of the field—including revenue upkeep, product knowledge and much more.”

Cotton-Smith has worked with her team for what she describes as, “two blissful years.” In that time, she says she has advanced quickly. “I have been published twice, I have met many wonderful stylists and mentors,” she notes. “Thanks to the continuing education and our performance incentives, I am building great business success and reaching my goals. It’s the best of all worlds!”

YOUR BEST FIT

So now it’s your turn. How do you find the salon culture that’s right for you? “If someone was looking for a group like ours,” Edwards suggests, “I think one thing that sets us apart is you can see us all encouraging each other on the floor. So listen to how the stylists talk to each other, especially around clients. Observe carefully. And if you happen to be in a salon that’s not a good environment, I urge you not to conform to the bad attitudes around you. Fitting in isn’t everything. Be yourself and try to find a salon where you can make the best start.”

Find your next career move here.

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