How apprentices can help grow your salon business

If you find yourself fully booked, working ridiculously long days and turning away clients, one choice is to increase your prices considerably. Not many people are that brave, though, so a more popular way to cope with increased demand is to grow your team.

Salon owners often go down the route of taking on self-employed staff, either as a rental or on a percentage basis. They might pick this option because they don't want the responsibility of looking after employees, or having to pay sick and holiday pay. It may also be because they don’t want to go over the VAT threshold. 

However convenient it seems, though, having a group of people paying you rent doesn’t actually grow your business. You could be more accurately described as a landlord, taking rent from tenants who are not pulling in the same direction. In my opinion, this can do more harm than good because the business is growing sideways, with each self-employed team member growing their individual business until they have a full book then finding somewhere cheaper to rent.

The other option is to employ more people to your team, although this of course comes with a different set of challenges. I see many posts in professional forums saying that salon owners are struggling to find high-quality staff to employ. If therapists are straight out of college, they are often not commercially ready for the salon floor. If they have been working for themselves, they might struggle to let go of control and be employed.

Choosing the right apprentice

Personally, I've found that picking a great school leaver, sometimes following work experience, and starting them off as an apprentice has been a good in-between choice.

We have been employing apprentices for six years now and will take on our fourth in September. We take them on through a local education provider, who they study with one day a week. They achieve their NVQ Level 2 in one year, then Level 3 is optional. 

In their first three months, we put them through beginners' classes for mani, pedi and shellac. By Christmas they're ready to take on clients. This means that they quickly earn two and sometimes three times their wage.

In between their training and clients, they are the backbone of the business, keeping things tidy and set up for the staff. They also cover reception over lunchtime.

What training to give them

As they progress through their NVQ, we also send them for training with the brands we use. We sit down with them every three months to find out which direction they want to go in. 

One of our apprentices didn't want to do Level 3 so she only did one year as an apprentice, then we sent her on brow and lash training instead while we paid her an interim wage. 

Providing a good mix of outside and in-house training should work well for the apprentice and for your business.

As staff get older and more qualified, their wage will increase, so you need to be sure that they are a good fit. Taking them on at an early stage, providing them with great qualifications, gives you the opportunity to decide after one or two years if they are keepers.

One of our apprentices reached the end of two years and decided that salon life wasn't for her so she has gone into office work. Apprenticeships allow both the employer and employee to build a relationship that has a possible end date without ongoing commitment. For me, growing your own team is the genuine way of keeping a great team together.

Liza Smith is owner of Bodylines in Sittingbourne, Kent, and a PB Influencer, providing feedback via focus groups. 

Check out our other business-focused guest blogs and videos, including 4 rules when updating your salon’s branding, and What to know before expanding your salon into a chain