Knowing Your Worth As a Stylist
How do you determine your worth as a stylist? What factors do you need to consider when establishing prices for the services you offer?
“Prices are always determined by three things: location, experience, and education,” says celebrity stylist Marie Ferro, who owns Marie’s Hair Studio in Malibu, “and location is number one.” Ferro goes on to say that it’s not just the city you work in, but also the neighborhood: “High-rent areas attract higher-priced stylists.” Ferro also points out that doing work that sets you apart from the average hairstylist attracts clients who don’t mind paying more for quality work, and that’s where education comes in. Ferro has a stable of wealthy clients, who are willing to pay top dollar for her services precisely because she has never been content to rest on her laurels, attending trade shows and other industry events, taking cut and color classes from gifted educators and keeping abreast of trends.
So while it stands to reason that you’ll make more money if you work in a high-end salon where clients are willing to pay top dollar for services, the way you present yourself can derail your career faster than carpal tunnel syndrome. “Stylists tend to attract clients who share their style and personality,” Ferro says, “so the way hairstylists present themselves is very important. Social skills, dressing with class and style—all these things can make a difference. The point is to value yourself. If you do, clients will naturally expect to pay more for your services.”
Patrick McIvor, owner of 101 E. Center Salon in Nazareth, PA, has a formula that can help new hairstylists know how to price their services. In a nutshell, McIvor’s advice is to do the math. “Let’s say you want to make $25,000 your first year,” he says. “If you’re trying to build your book, you’ll probably want to work 40 hours a week, which allows you to offer discounts if business is slow. Even if after commission and with some discounted services you net $31.25 an hour, you should be able to achieve your goal.”
So how do you know when to raise prices? Both Ferro and celebrity colorist Brad Johns agree that it’s safe to raise prices once you’re booked solid two weeks in advance and then incrementally each year.
After 30 years in the industry, Charlie Price is on top of his game. He has been nominated for a NAHA award 27 times and has won four of them, which might lead you to conclude that his prices (he still works behind the chair when he’s in Denver) are astronomical, but you’d be wrong. “I charge $150 for a haircut, and I haven’t raised prices in years,” he says. “I travel so much that I’m just happy to have clients who put up with my erratic schedule.” His advice for other hairstylists is to raise your prices by $5 to $10 every year. To determine your value, Price suggests looking at a variety of factors. “Are you a traveling educator? Do you do New York Fashion Week? Have you won awards for your work? Are you featured in the local press a lot? Do you do local celebrities or reporters?” he says. “All of these things plus your level of education justify charging more for your services.”
For hairstylists just getting started, price is pragmatic. “You’ll be the cheapest person in the salon,” he says, “so offer discounts for no longer than a year until you get busy or close to it. I’d almost rather do clients for free and get the tips instead of charging the wrong amount, which sets a bad precedent. You want to choose a price point that will attract the kinds of clients you want to have in the long run. These are clients who aren’t looking for a bargain, and if you do a good job, you’ll earn their loyalty.”
So when did Price know he was worth more than $100 a haircut? “I had my own salon, I was booked solid, and I had two assistants,” he says. ‘The goal is to start charging more and working less. People are afraid to raise prices because they think they’ll lose clients, but you’ve got to do it anyway. It’s called working smarter, not harder.”
Brad Johns, who has worked for some of the top salons in New York City where he charges $400 for highlights and is still booked solid after 40 years in the business, believes that when you approach your craft as an art, not a job, the money will follow, but your career will also be more fulfilling. “I think of myself as an artist, not a technician who does roots,” he says. “If you don’t know what it feels like to create a work of art on canvas, go to a museum and look at the paintings.”
Your goal, says Johns, is to get better. To that end, he suggests being brutally honest when it comes to your work. “One thing a lot of hairstylists don’t do is to make a mental note of what they could have done better when a client leaves the salon,” he says. “Ask yourself if this was your best work. Ask your assistants what they think, and listen to them. And remember, this is not a dress rehearsal. This is your life.”