Sally Hershberger Salon Manager on What Makes a Good Assistant
Andi Steloff, Salon Manager at the Sally Hershberger Salon in Los Angeles, considers herself something of a matchmaker. Steloff connects assistants to stylists and colorists in her salon and she does all the hiring of assistants. The process of making it to the floor begins with Steloff who is the gatekeeper. It is her approving nod that may mean an aspiring beauty professional has what it takes to make the grade.
“When I need to staff up, I contact local schools like Paul Mitchell, Aveda and Vidal Sassoon and local colleges to let them know we’re looking for people,” says Steloff. “I already know my cast of characters—my stylists and my colorists—and I know what kind of personalities will team up well with them. Some are old school and not always polite; it takes a special personality to respect that and not take it personally. I will bring in a potential assistant to spend a day or two here to see what we’re all about and so we can see them, too.”
And what is Steloff looking for?
• “They need to be attentive, punctual, assertive and proactive. If they see a cup needs moving, I want to see them move it. “
• “I want to find people who really have a passion for this industry. This is what they have been dreaming about all their lives and they eat, breathe and dream hair.”
• “I want to see someone who is pulled together, who took time to style their hair and do their makeup. I don’t care if they have tattoos; I just want to see that they are into this industry.”
• “Usually someone who will be successful has some kind of customer service experience, which is important because we’re in the service industry. We have people applying to us from Disney and Nordstrom’s and both places have training programs that have prepared them in customer service. Former flight attendants have gone on to be some of our busiest people on the floor.”
“I have them come in and shadow a couple of days to a week,” says Steloff. “Some take ‘shadowing’ literally and they are afraid to make a move but the ones how are proactive and not afraid to get their hands dirty are the ones I want.
“We have an Assistant Program that lasts approximately two and a half years, during which they take weekly classes in cutting and coloring taught by our senior staff. I’ll ask them to specify if they want to pursue coloring or styling and they generally know what they are gravitating towards. But just because they go through our program doesn’t guarantee that they will go on the floor. We consider ourselves a House of Experts; we only want the best of the best.
“During their training, we do classes and sometimes they have to bring in a model for a live demo. If they show up three times in a row without a model, they will never work here. They can continue to assist but they won’t be in the program that gets them promoted to the floor. If they can’t find two models a month to bring into class, how are they going to build up clientele?
“I sometimes hire a general assistant but usually I hire someone to work opposite a specific stylist. This person is going to stand by their stylist’s side for two years so I am very, very careful with that combination of personalities and temperaments.
“I always tell them that for the next two and a half years, they are kind of signing their life away to us. It’s really hard to find coverage on the weekend because we don’t have a lot of spare assistants lying around. Our stylists are so busy that they can’t make their way without an assistant so it is a big commitment. And when I hire people and they are not from California, I tell them right up front that they are not getting holidays off for the next two to three years because that is our busiest time of year. You are going to miss your cousin’s wedding and you are not going to be taking any long vacations back east.”
ASSISTANT DO’S AND DON’T’S
• “Assistants come in starry eyed but it’s a lot of hard work to be here. We’re making sure our clients have the most amazing experience they can possibly have so an assistant contributes to that and helps us maintain that level of excellence. This isn’t the right place for someone who needs a lot of coddling or hand holding. If they want to run with the big dogs, they have to have a certain level of confidence and a Type A personality because they have to avoid making too many simple mistakes.”
• “They have to arrive thirty minutes before their stylist or colorist arrives. They need to make sure the client’s cards are pulled with their color formulas. They have to make sure the trays are set up. They need to fulfill any specific request their stylists might make.”
• “On the floor, they cannot be on their phones unless they are conducting business for a client or a stylist. If you’re on the clock, you are not to be using your phones. Senior staff will tell me about it and they will get turned in.”
• “Surprisingly, considering we have quite a few celebrity clients, we have never had any assistants taking pictures of the celebrities or bothering them. They would never want to embarrass their mentor with this kind of behavior.”
FROM A HAIRDRESSER’S PERSPECTIVE: WHAT MAKES A GOOD ASSISTANT?
David John at Sally Hershberger Los Angeles has established a reputation for excellence in cut and color with stints at Fred Segal Beauty in Santa Monica, Serge Normant at John Frieda and now at Sally Hershberger. John, who has worked with Kristen Wiig, Courteney Cox, Brenda Strong, Kristen Johnson, Charlie Sheen, Kevin Bacon and Gabrielle Union, says his assistants really have to “be into it.”
“They have to be present, they have to be able to anticipate when I need a clip, or a towel or the client needs a beverage refreshed,” says John. “They have to be alert, tuned in, to feel like they are part of the client’s experience. They are taking care of the client but they are taking care of me, too.
“They have to have some innate talent, and be open to learning and changing. I’ve had assistants who I’ve tried to teach how to blow dry and they can’t do any way other than the way they have always done. That isn’t going to work.”