October 2012

Clive Lamb

Food for Thought | by Clive Lamb


Specialization Creates a Niche in the Salon Industry

Most of the professional world has gone "specialized" -- Doctors, lawyers, accountants as well as a host of other professionals.

How does this relate to our industry?

Specialization raises standards in the salon industry when incorporated properly. To be successful you need to elevate your standards to be the very best. You must stand above the rest by setting a higher standard for your work through better quality advanced education.

Specialization creates a niche that can set you apart from your competition.

I once heard a hairdresser say that the only reason salon owners "go departmentalized" is to make it more difficult for hairdressers to take their clients with them when they leave a salon.

What a ridiculous attitude. It's about raising the bar for quality and professionalism. If we are going to keep up with professionals in other industries, specialization is important.

Although there will always be a need for professions that are non-specialized, when I want the very best level of expertise I go to a specialist. If I need surgery, I go to a doctor who is a specialist in that area. When I have problems with my landlord, I go to a real estate attorney; I want the BEST.

Think about it from a practical standpoint. With fashion moving at such a frantic pace, it's nearly impossible to even keep up with the ever-changing trends, much less be an expert on them.

Cutting and color are so different from an intellectual and visual standpoint. They even challenge different sides of the brain. Very few of us have the capacity to be experts at both.

I primarily cut and style hair but in the past have taught color. Although I have a very good understanding of color, I don't specialize in it. Why? Because early in my career I was fortunate enough to partner with a colorist named Shaun McCarthy who trained under Annie Humphreys at Vidal Sassoon, taught at Sassoon Academy and went on to run the entire color department at Jingles in London.

His expertise in color is second-to-none. His legacy remains intact even today as our colorists go through the same training processes that he developed years ago. Why would I do color services when my clients could go to one of my colorists who have been trained at an equally high level and have more experience because that is their specialty? I would be doing them a disservice. We want our clients to get the very best we can offer in all areas.

At my salon, we train our people from scratch. You can specialize in cutting and styling or you can become a chemical tech (colorist). The training is intense for both. Colorists usually progress quicker at first, as there are fewer techniques to learn upfront, but it takes longer to master the art of color formulation. As a cutting/stylist specialist, there are literally thousands of techniques (or combinations of techniques) that MUST be mastered before you are ready to work on the floor as a stylist.

In the end, the training equals out as it can take years for a colorist to gain the experience needed in formulations to be considered an expert. Experience is the key.

When you are specialized, you gain experience quicker because you are dealing with a smaller niche of the business.

Specializing in cutting/styling or color definitely raises the level of professionalism and quality and creates a niche that can set you apart from the rest. But, what about those people that prefer to do both cuts and color? Does this mean that it's unprofessional or not good? NO! It's just a preference.

If you're busy and your clients are happy — well done! You have found your niche.

So, who makes more money -- stylists or colorists? In my salon we have more stylists than colorists. The colorists get busier faster because the stylists are feeding them their clients. But when the stylists are fully-booked, they make as much, or more than the colorists. In my experience, if you are good, and in demand, you can charge what the market allows and your stylist/colorist earnings will even-out.

This brings me back to my favorite point: Why is it the average hairdresser in the US makes between $26,000- $28,000?

It's up to each of us to learn from other industry leaders and professionals. Whether it's specialization, education, customer service or recruiting, there is much to be learned from those that do it best. Study what other successful companies do. Incorporate those things (big or small) into your business. Challenge yourself and your team. Expect excellence.

Clive Lamb owns and operates Clive and Co., a modern, thriving salon based in Dallas, Texas. In addition, Clive was appointed Chairman of the Texas Cosmetology Advisory Board in 2006, a position he held for five years. Clive has over 30 years of international exposure to the vast and constantly evolving hairdressing industry.