Last of the apprentices

Salon Smart is one of my favourite events of the year which I have had the privilege to speak at over recent years. I thought that I would take the opportunity to use this article to share some of the key focuses at this year’s event.

Much is said about the current shortage of school leavers coming into our industry especially those coming in at the age of 16. Young people are a new generation who want everything now and are used to getting it. We need to train these youngsters differently but last year at Salon Smart I put forward the case and costings for training older people. Those people who have experienced the workplace and have made a conscious decision that a career in hairdressing is for them.

To enable us to train these people without incurring much heavier cost we need to train in a different way. Historically we have provided long, slow and often ineffective training whilst using trainees as low cost labour in the salon. Harsh words you might say, but would you see a trainee accountant sweeping the floors or would you find them learning skills that could produce an income for their employers as soon as possible whilst also earning a wage that they could live on?

Now is the time to consider what we actually need in our salons. People who want to learn fast and in whom we are prepared to invest the time and money to get them income producing faster, or workers who are happy to carry out all of the support functions in a salon. There is no right or wrong but there is certainly different. I am already aware of salons that have no trainees, as the stylists do everything, and I am also aware of salons that employ only support workers. Self-employment is an issue that I am hearing about regularly and salons often see it as a way to eliminate the costs of employing team. HMRC have a long list of criteria for what constitutes self-employment. Unfortunately most of the salons that I see operating self-employment are sailing extremely close to the wind and not fully complying with these criteria. Personally I cannot see how you can create and nurture a team of people that truly work together with a common goal and future career opportunities if they are self-employed.

Last year we saw intense activity by HMRC regarding National Minimum Wage (NMW) compliance, with many salons being named and shamed after irregularities were discovered following a NMW inspection. Most errors were down to a lack of knowledge, but the inspectors show no mercy. Fines can run into the thousands. Often salons make mistakes such as, making assistants on minimum wage buy their own tools, or not paying for out of hours training or for travelling time to courses. Traditional practices that are now unacceptable and pounced upon by inspectors.

HMRC now have a focus on our industry and the previous two issues, self-employment and NMW are being linked with VAT evasion and HMRC have already increased their budget for this year to focus on these areas.

My last key topic is differentiation. The real secret to your success is the word ‘Experience’. Ask yourself this question what really sets your client experience apart from that of your competitors. Is the latch on distance between you and your competition so big that they cannot even see you let alone catch you up.  The future is going to be interesting. Evolution means changing to suit the new environment. Salons that change will survive those that don’t will become extinct. That’s the natural way of things.

Ken West is director of business experts 3•6•5
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