Finding and keeping a good assistant has been an issue for salons for decades. In this day and age of social media, many beauty school grads think they are “ready to go” upon graduation. This is not good for the industry in general. As in the medical profession, the degree alone is not enough. Fresh grads need tweaking and advanced direction from a successful and experienced mentor.
MODERN checked in with one of our favorite owners who has facilitated that honing and training, creating not just great artists, but salon pros that know how to best work with clients, how to navigate a salon environment, how to best serve a client and how to best build a business. Arik Efros, co-owner of the Eva Scrivo Salons and Academy, says that one of the greatest challenges is finding assistants that are willing to put in the time and effort to build a great skill set and ultimately a great book.
Here we checked in with Efros to find out what he and wife Eva Scrivo look for when searching for the perfect assistant:
- Excitement, passion, and desire to learn. Efros says that a good apprenticeship program is a long road that can be difficult physically and emotionally. “It’s more a marathon than a sprint,” he says, “and an apprentice should be mentally prepared for this. However, the result of a successful completion of such a program is a fulfilling career, both financially and in quality of life. The initial excitement has to be there to fuel one through the program.”
- Humility and ability to handle criticism. According to Efros, this is the biggest downfall he and Scrivo have witnessed. “There’s constant constructive feedback throughout the program,” says Efros. “An apprentice will make mistakes over and over again, and then it gets even more difficult once on the floor and receiving criticism from clients, many of whom are not so concerned with your feelings.” Efros points out that this career is not designed for fragile egos. “To make a positive impression during an interview, don’t tell us how good you already are - tell us how much you want to learn and become good!”
- Work ethic. This is a hard job, and anyone in the business will tell you that. “It’s important to go into it with the right expectations that this is in fact a job, and not beauty school. You’re here to learn, but also to provide vital support to the operations of a salon.” Efros points out that this is not a job for complainers. “You should expect to be treated with respect and for a salon to care about your future, but not to be coddled.”
- Team players. A good salon has a strong team where people support one-another. “This career is not about you crawling over others to the top - on the contrary, your success is tied to the success of others on the team,” Efros adds that if one assistant doesn’t pull her or his weight, others have to pick up the slack and the salon suffers. “Once on the floor, you will frequently share clients with others and it’s in your best interest for all salon clients to be happy, to write positive reviews and refer new clients.”
- Talent. “This is listed last because we can teach you the skills to become a good or even great hairdresser, but we can’t teach you most of the other qualities listed here,” says Efros. “We’ve seen very talented people struggle and blow themselves up for that reason. On the contrary, we have trained those who may have been less naturally gifted, to become successful hairdressers with six figure incomes.” Efros adds that there aren’t many who have it all, and those who do can become stars. “But you don’t have to be a star to have a great career in this trade.”
From the newcomer perspective, Efros says that there is so much a cosmetology grads should look for in a salon when considering apprenticeship programs:
- Education program. Every potential salon employee should make sure the salon makes education a priority and offers regular structured classes. “How well you learn to do hair early on will likely determine the course of your career, because it’s much more difficult to re-learn things you do incorrectly later,” says Efros. “Therefore, your apprenticeship program is the most critical part of your career, and one that can set you up for success. At Eva Scrivo Salon, we have regular weekly classes in cut, color, and styling, many of which Eva teaches personally. Once apprentices graduate and begin to take clients, there’s continued mentorship and support throughout their careers.”
- Opportunity for advancement. Two critical questions is whether there is physical space in the salon for the artist to get a chair once ready to take clients, and how many new clients regularly come through the doors - an indicator to how quickly you can build your book. “Don’t be afraid to ask those questions during an interview. For example, we get about 1000 new clients per year at our salon, and it usually takes one to two years for a stylist or colorist with a strong work ethic to build a solid book once on the floor.”
- Income potential and benefits. Most stylists focus on the percent commission they make, rather than the more important factor which is income potential and how much you can charge for your services.” Would you rather make 50% of $75 or 40% of $150 for a haircut? ,” asks Efros. “Add to that the standard 20% tip on the full price of the cut, and you’ve just made $52.50 on the $75 cut and $90 on the $150 cut with a 10% lower commission. Of course, your work and business building skills have to be strong enough to support a higher price point, which gets us back to education and on-going mentorship.” According to Efros, a good gauge of the ceiling to what you can charge is to ask what the owner charges (or another top stylist if the owner is not one), because you’re not likely to ever charge more at that salon. “Also, see if the salon offers benefits like health insurance and a 401K plan, that demonstrates a desire to create careers for their staff and not just jobs.”
- Salon business model. Does the salon mostly focus on training it’s own people and building from within, or on recruiting established stylists with a clientele? “Just like many hairdressers look for shortcuts early in their careers, trying to bypass the necessary and difficult part of learning and paying your dues, many salons look for shortcuts to building their business,” warns Efros. “Training and building your own staff is an on-going commitment that takes a lot of time, energy and money, but results in a better trained, more dedicated, and cohesive team with a stronger culture - and ultimately happier clients.” Conversely, adds Efros, if a salon model is based on recruiting established stylists, they may take education less seriously because that’s not where most of their growth comes from. “At our salon, every stylist and colorist currently on the floor started with us as an apprentice.”
- Opportunities beyond the chair. Does the salon reputation attract major brands looking for talent to represent them? Do the owner and other stylists get frequent recognition in the press? Is the salon at the forefront of industry innovation? “Good income and a stable career working on the floor is great, but eventually you may want additional opportunities,” continues Efros. “For example, one of our young stylists became the QVC host for a major haircare brand owned by Estée Lauder. The Estée Lauder representative came to us looking for talent some years ago. Another young colorist was featured in Allure’s ‘Best of Beauty’ directory for hair color, only 5 years after joining us out of beauty school.” Efros points out that there have been other frequent press mentions that Eva Scrivo stylists have received over the years. “And now we have formed a potentially industry-changing partnership with a revolutionary Scandinavian hair restoration company, where all of our staff have the opportunity to participate to change their clients’ lives and their own incomes.”