September 2010

Shannon Wells

Better Business | by Neil Ducoff


Pruning the Salon Grapevine

How to Eliminate Unproductive Communication In Your Salon

It grows in every business, whether large or small. Owners fear it or, at the very least, are disturbed and annoyed by it.

Employees, even the ones who fan the flames, constantly question when they will be the next victims. “It” is the company “grapevine.”

By virtue of the kinds of businesses they are, salons and day spas are particularly susceptible to incendiary gossip and the telling of half-truths. The highly interactive environment and continual flow of clients through the premises provides ever-fresh food for thought and topics of discussion.

But what happens when a client overhears her colorist is “lazy” or “untalented,” or she has discovered previously unknown shades of green by formulating incorrectly? What happens when a client overhears disparaging comments about another client — one who may be a friend, brother, sister or daughter? What if she discovers comments are made about her in her absence?

Time to Bring Out the Shears

The grapevine must be pruned before the business suffers serious ill effects. One unhappy client can cost a salon or day spa thousands of dollars in lost revenues. One unhappy staff member may cost tens of thousands or more. But there is no way to estimate the cost of a tarnished reputation.

• Nip it in the bud: Anyone new to the salon should learn immediately that gossip will not be tolerated. Veterans must be charged with setting an appropriate example.

• Create an open environment: One in which staff feel comfortable communicating troublesome issues. The longer a perceived hurt or insult goes unaddressed, the more difficult it is to resolve.

• Provide appropriate outlets: Huddle, huddle, huddle! Create a system for presenting issues (and resolving them, if not too time-consuming). Longer meetings or personal conferences may be necessary for long-standing problems.

• Institute a refuse-to-listen policy: Advise team members not to listen or respond to any “juicy morsels” that do not pertain to their own professional development — or ones that may be potentially detrimental to someone else’s.

Productivity Required Here

It is impossible to maintain productivity while participating in the spread of gossip. The cascade of conversations and the seeds of thought they plant distract technicians from the clients at hand, increasing the probability of error. Such conversations, conducted in the clients’ presence, may very well send them away forever. Most salon and spa clients are uncomfortable hearing tales of “who did what with whom.” Beyond that, such behavior is simply rude. The client deserves to be the focus of attention.

In most circumstances, it is far more productive to talk about oneself than about others. When not done to excess or in a domineering manner, the willingness to share information can be wonderfully effective for building client confidence and trust.

Communication is a tool. Used wisely, it can be a business’ greatest customer service ally. Left unchecked, the tendrils of the grapevine can choke your salon.

Neil Ducoff is the founder and CEO of Strategies, a business training and coaching salon specializing in the salon and spa industry. Ducoff is the author of Fast Forward, and his new book, No-Compromise Leadership, is available at For a signed copy, go to You can email Neil at