S1 E1 How to Survive and Thrive as a Hairstylist and Salon Owner



Welcome to episode 1 of Anthony Presotto’s Business Insider Podcast.

200pppnewIn this episode:

Today I was fortunate enough to interview Michael Levine, salon and school owner about a recent blog post that has gone viral. I don’t use the term lightly. Michael’s post an hour before the interview had 3000 Facebook shares and 14000 reads, by the time the interview was finished that had jumped to 4000 shares and 17000 reads. As of writing these show notes that has hit 5000 shares on Facebook! The blog post Michael has written examines what it takes to be successful in the hair industry from both the owners and employees points of view. I recommend reading the post and listening to the podcast. Michael shares insights to the industry as someone who has been a trainee, master stylist, salon owner, platform artist and school owner.

Websites mentioned in this episode:

Book Mentioned in this episode:

got you hereNot only is the name of this book the inspirational quote Michael gave us but it also comes as a highly recommended read from him too.


We endeavour to produce a podcast once a fortnight. So check back soon. You can also subscribe to my podcast on iTunes.

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A.Presotto:    Hi everybody! This is Anthony Presotto and this is the Profit or Perish podcast developed to take your salon business to the next level.

It doesn't matter if you're in an industry veteran or new salon owner ready to start new doors for the first time. This podcast provides entertaining and informative information to help you take your salon from surviving to thriving.

Today, I have the opportunity to upsell and [00:00:42] Michael Levine from Canada and we discussed his blog post How to Survive and Thrive as a Hairstylist and Salon Owner which to date has 4,000 Facebook shares and about 17,000 reads.

So, I'll let Michael take it away and tell you a bit about himself and his purpose. Hi Michael, welcome to profit or perish podcast. How are you?

M.Levine:    I'm doing great Anthony. How are you?

A.Presotto:    Fantastic. I'm doing well too. I just like to say thank you for coming on the podcast. You're my first interviewee and the first podcast of our launched.

M.Levine:    Well, it's an honor and a pleasure and that's really really cool that I'm going to be the first one. I hope I don't sink the ship before it gets going.

A.Presotto:    I'm sure you won't. That's always my fear doing the podcast, how bad can I make it. So, for people who really don't know you, I'm sure there might be a couple, can you tell us a bit about yourself? How you entered into hairdressing and the company that Michael Levine Salon group?

M.Levine:    Yes, that's the general kind of company as a whole. That's the brand behind the brands. Most of us got into hair for a lot of the same reasons and of course what we realize once we're in is it wasn't quite exactly as what we imagined it would be.

But basically, I was at my hairdresser's one day. I think I was probably maybe 20 or 22, maybe a little older. I find myself hanging around this salon. I would take a bus about an hour to go get my haircut.

And one day, I just sort of click, I was coming in and hanging around even if I wasn't getting my haircut. And one day it just so registered that this guy seem to have the greatest life.

All day long people were coming in and women were coming in and giving him a kiss and inviting him to parties and bringing him coffee. He does hair and listens to cool music and it just clicked. I said, “Wow this is what I want to do. This sounds like the greatest life a guy can have.” So that's when I went to hairdressing school.

That was kind of why I got to it.  I wasn’t passionate about hair any way other than my own hair. And I was sort of wear of hair. I definitely was aware of noticing people's hair as obsessed on my own. But I didn't really think of it as a career or anything like that or it didn't even register as a job. Once it kind of click, it was like wow, this could be it.

For me, I was a guitar player and I wanted to be rock star. I kind of thought that the hairdresser thing has a little bit of that rock star element. So I went to hairdressing school.

A.Presotto:    Your family comes from a family of restaurateur?

M.Levine:    Yes, my father was a restaurateur. He was a pioneer in my city for food. He started sort of the first chain of pizza places and then he started getting into more gourmet food. He started to be at the local wine societies.

The Vancouver Wine Festivals, the largest wine festivals. It's certainly the largest in North America. My dad, he was the founder and the chairperson for the first 10 years of that. I have sort of experience, a little bit of entrepreneurial spirit growing up for sure.

A.Presotto:    Obviously, hair is a very different career from that.

M.Levine:    There are some parallels certainly in the restaurant industry and salon industry. I think I didn’t realize that necessarily at the beginning of my career. I didn't really recognize those similarities until I opened my first, maybe my second salon, probably my second one.

Yes, there's actually a lot of similarities and I had grown up in a restaurant industry. My father was out of restaurants by the time I was probably 13.

He'd actually with very, very bad recession here and he had fallen into bankruptcy during the recession. I got my first job in a restaurant. I started working in McDonald's when I was 13 years old. I worked in restaurants from the time I was 13 until I went to hairdressing school.

I kind of worked my way up from the lowest of the low on a totem pole into running a catering department at a hotel.  I just been doing it for 10 years and working in the service industry before I ever picked up scissors.

A.Presotto:    Now, you've expanded from being a salon owner into a school owner. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

M.Levine:    Okay, I'll sort of give you a little brief rundown of the progression of our company. Basically, I went to hairdressing school, became a hairdresser, realized that what hairdressing school had taught me was very, very little. I graduated hairdressing school thinking I was good. That's the line they told us during school.

I graduated and gotten into the real world and spent about a year working at a salon. Now, unfortunately, it's a little easier to get a job with as guy than it is with a girl.

That time I was kind of cute and they chopped me on the floor right away. I spent a year absolutely faking everything. I graduated hairdressing school without ever having put a foil on hair. I had no idea how to cut hair other than a little of lady bubble cut. You know what I'm talking about. That's set the blow out?

That’s what I had to do is I faked it for about a year before I thought, “Gosh I have no clue what I'm doing.” It's causing me stress and I suck at it. I don't want to go through this industry sucking. I want to be good. So I quit that job and I got a job as an apprentice at a very, very happening salon.

It's one of this kind of right place at the right time sort of salon situations where this salon was blowing up and I walked in right at the exact moment that somebody like me could take advantage of that. I just fell into this really, really cool culture.

I worked at the salon company for a couple, well 3 years. And about a year and a half into it the woman who I considered my mentor got a job offer with corporate Aveda to move to Minneapolis and subsequently move to New York. So, Aveda's asking me to take her place in Western Canada as an educator.

At this point, I’ve really been only doing hair for 18 months. So I'm certainly not qualified for the job, but again, I was a fairly decent speaker. Years of working in the service industry, I had a degree of confidence in my ability to convey a message. Aveda they spent a lot of time flying me back and forth from Minneapolis to Vancouver.

I sort of lived there about anywhere between 8 and 12 weeks a year for a couple of years doing training under some of the best hairdressers in the world. And it really, really accelerated my career, accelerated my skill set and I was sort of around some of the best hairdressers.

Some of the famous hairdressers in the world today were the people that were training me when I was at Aveda 17 years ago, before they were sort of really well known.

One day, I have one of these situations where I was dating one of the girls at the salon and I had a situation where the salon owner was acting like a complete jerk. Am I allowed to swear?

A.Presotto:    Oh, sure.

M.Levine:    I'll try to keep to minimum but sometimes things slip out. The salon owner was acting like a complete jerk. He was kind of going a little bit about bananas on everybody and myself included as well as the girl I was dating. He had her on tears and been yelling at her for something. He humiliated me in front of a client one day.

I was like, “Screw it, let's quit. Let's open our own salon.” We were in one of these situations that probably a little bit later. It's one of these situations where I was very, very arrogant. I'd become very successful. I still probably suck as a hairdresser but I certainly didn't think so at the time.

My wife and I found a grubby little spot in a pretty girl’s neighborhood. But it looks like it might be up and coming. We opened a salon on the 3rd floor of this building right above a night club in a place in Vancouver called Gastown. It's a pretty edgy area, pretty funky. We opened this salon and it absolutely blew up really, really quickly.

I was working a lot with Aveda still so Aveda, at the time, this is pre-Lauder Aveda. They were really supportive of their salons and because I was their Western Canadian educator, I was sort of more in demand educators on the West Coast, all the Aveda stores were sending me every client. Any time somebody walked in, they were sending them to me. My career just took off and the salon just absolutely exploded.

We went from a two chair salon and then a year later we opened a five chair salon about a block from the first one. Three years after that, we opened - we’ve gone from 600 square feet to 2000 square feet. Yes, we opened this really big salon and then things sort of snowballed at that point. That was it. That was the progression.

Sorry, I skipped the whole point of the question you asked me. So what ended up happening, we never hired people with a clientele. My wife and I were busy hair dressers and we bring somebody in here and there. Nobody lasted, nobody survived with us more than 6 months. And finally this guy came from Nova Scotia and I considered him.

He’s like family to me now. A guy came in from Nova Scotia. He is a wonderful stylist. He became a very good friend of ours. He joined our team and then we sort of started hiring assistants and we would teach the assistants how to do hair based on my trainings with Aveda and what I have been teaching for this company that I worked at previous to my own salon.

I sort of developed my own education system. I would teach this kids how to do hair and then we would give them a chair and then we hire somebody else and eventually we had like 12 people. And we never hired anybody with a book.

So we grown up to 12 people and I’m still getting a fair amount of support from Aveda. I have a totally crazy super long scandalous story where Aveda absolutely effed me over.

I'm happy to talk about that. It's a really long story. It's probably not that interesting. Anyways, we opened up this big salon. We started taking off and we became a little bit the toast of the town and we're still running this very tight apprenticeship.

I'll tell you, I don't know how it is in Australia but in Vancouver, when they say they have apprentices, they don't really have apprentices. They just once in a while come over and show you how I do a haircut.

We had a system. We’re marking people. They had to bring in a certain number of models. There was a given curriculum that they have to follow that they have to go through the curriculum twice, minimum twice before they would get a chair.

Around this time in British Columbia, we became deregulated. I believe Australia is deregulated. Right?

A.Presotto:    What do you mean by deregulated?

M.Levine:    We don't have licensing to be a hairdresser.

A.Presotto:    No. We don't have licensing. Other salons get license and either you do hairdressing apprenticeship or trying to get a school depending on which way you decide to go and you get a certificate. That's how you're a hairdresser.

M.Levine:    You know what, in Vancouver, in British Columbia, you can buy scissors and then you're a hairdresser. That's how it goes here.

A.Presotto:    That looks like some of the hairdressers here actually as well.

M.Levine:    That is why I don't agree with regulation in any way because it doesn't matter, regulation or not, 90 percent of hairdressers suck anyways. Hundred percent of them suck right out of school and at the beginning.

But anyway, we didn't have regulations so all of a sudden it freed us to be able to create hairdressers on our own terms and give them chairs without ever having to waste our time training them for a licensing exam. So, I'll skip, I opened a bunch of salons and I think we opened 8 salons over the course of this existence.

Eventually, I decided I wanted to get paid for teaching people, teaching these. I was coming in on my time off teaching these people how to do hair and I was probably having maybe 25 percent retention rate of this staff. We weren't charging people for the education.

I remember the one that really killed me. I had basically lost 6 months of my life because I trained these 4 girls and every one of them quit. But after I had trained them, after I spent all this energy on them, and then they all left.

Well, I thought that's like 6 months of my life just completely gone. First of all, if I'm spending my time teaching somebody and creating aha moments for people and teaching somebody how to hold scissors, eventually helping them to actually very decent hair dressers, I get emotionally attached to these guys and it was a little bit heart breaking. I was losing sleep over it.

I thought forget this. I want to get paid for this. I want to take my emotion out of it. I want to make it a business arrangement.  I’d still care about these people. I'll absolutely love them perhaps but they're free to do whatever they wanted. They have no obligation to me. I'm not going to have the obligation to hire them either.

We went about the process of opening a hairdressing school. And that itself was a huge pain the butt.  But, we got the thing opened and it's taken off and it’s done extremely as well. And that's where I am today.

A.Presotto:    That's fantastic. I must say your curriculum must be something spectacular because I've seen photos of work you should produce. You happen to do a photo shoot or portfolio work?

M.Levine:    Yes, that's what I was doing all day today. I was in the studio. We have our own photo studio offsite. I used to have a salon called Tow and it's about 3500 square feet. We had a portion of the upstairs we turned it into a photo studio so any time anybody want to do a shoot. We would do it there.

And because my school, part of my curriculum is an editorial day we were using it. And then, when I close that salon – I close salons like I change underwear. When we closed that salon and opened a different one. We didn't have rooms for studios.

I had to get a free standing studio which I absolutely love.  I just had electrician in there the other day doing some work. Yes, there's a portion during our program where we - I think it's around 4 and 1/2 or 5 month mark of the program where we do a lecture on editorial, how to create successful editorial. I tell them what my expectations are for their photo-shoot. And then they coordinate models, wardrobes, make up.

They get one day in the salon to create a mood board and another day to prep hair extensions if that’s what they're going to use. They come in and spend a day in the studio with their models and we did that today. We shot 6 models. And then what's really cool in that part of the program is once I get the lighting the way they want it, then I hand them the camera. So anytime you see an image from my school, that's been shot by the students.

A.Presotto:    How awesome is that.

M.Levine:    We want to take the mystery out of it because obviously I got a professional studio and I got some good gear and I got nice camera. But ultimately, we all know, none of that stuff is super, super necessary to get started. You can do a lot with one light and a decent SLR. You can get a decent SLR for pretty cheap nowadays. We want to take the mystery out of it and just get these guys really excited and say, “Wow, I can do this.” Especially nowadays, nobody's held a proper camera.

They look at the back of this thing, they don't known to stick their eye on the view finder. It's really kind of fun. You should see these guys today. For some of them, they never held a camera like this and within 5 minutes they're directing the models to getting the looks they want. I just walk away. Once I see they were able to frame the way I think I can work with them in post-production, I walk away and let them do their thing unless they need help and it's really empowering for these guys.  So, that’s cool.

A.Presotto:    That is really amazing experience. Considering, I kind of understand why most of them wouldn’t know how to use between compact cameras which I don't think have view finder anymore which I don't think anybody buys anymore because the smartphones takes all of the photos required for Instagram and everything else. It’s a different beast entirely.

I see the work that comes to some of the schools here after 9 months and I see what your students do obviously after 4 or 5 months in the editorial work, it's like night and day.

M.Levine:    Really?

A.Presotto:    I would be ashamed to look some of the works that comes out of here after students pay for 9 months of education.

M.Levine:    As much as that's flattering, you're only seeing the best stuff.

A.Presotto:    I only get to see the stuff which I assume would be the best the schools put out here. And if it's not, they really need a lot of work on their marketing.

M.Levine:    I'm only showing you the best of the best. You're about 75 percent of the staff you'll never see. I do understand. I mean even today there's a couple things that turned out really brilliantly. There's a couple probably won't make their way on my Facebook page.

A.Presotto:    Judicious editing.

M.Levine:    Yes exactly.

A.Presotto:    Okay, now, I'd like you to share an inspirational success quote that sort of guided you at the moment if you would do that for us, Michael.

M.Levine:    This is one that I always come back to. Like most salon owners, we're in a constant state of flux. The one that I absolutely love, it's the name of a book actually. I have the book and it's What Got You Here Won't Get You There.

I absolutely believe this to my core that what got you here is only going to get you here. You got to change and adapt and adjust and constantly adjusting. Yes, that's one that I sort of always think about. What that allows me to do. It's weird.

I'm extremely lazy and people are always surprised when I say that. But I am; I'm a really lazy person. Ever since I had children, I'm a lot less involved in running my company. I mean I run things from behind the scenes but half my staff never see me. I work behind the chair I think 14 hours a week.

I do hair in two of my salons. I was saying to my students today that my students see me more than my staff does. That's probably a recipe for disaster moving forward. I'm going to have to make some adjustments there. The fact that I'm really, really dynamic, now I think I used to be really, really rigid when I first started out.

But now, I sort of learned that to be an entrepreneur you've got to be dynamic and you don't have to resist and fight. Sometimes go with the flow and if there's sort of change in the horizon, embrace it and try to take advantage of it rather than trying to paddle up stream. I think I've spent a lot of time paddling up stream.

Even now, I just had some bullshit happening in the last 12 months of my salon ownership has absolutely sucked. I've lost 5 master stylists out of one location. But just in one location.

I lost literally about $45,000 a month in revenue. That’s enough to absolutely destroy most businesses certainly most smaller ones. For me it's just, “Okay what am I going to do here?” Because I know, if I just rebuild a bunch of people and fill in those voids, I feel like I'm just spinning my wheels. It's one step forward two steps back all the time.

I got to change my approach. Now, I don't know what that approach is but I've got a couple of ideas.

A.Presotto:    Fantastic. Well, you've answered the questions I was going to ask you. Could you talk about stumbling blocks and how you overcome it? Obviously, in the last 12 months it's been a major stumbling block. I just say for most salons be a dead block.

M.Levine:    Absolutely, but as every owner will tell you I’ve got so many friends and owners, I don't know your situations but I guarantee you if you've had absolutely difficult adversities in your salon ownership, who knows, are you going through one right now?

A.Presotto:    No, I'm not. Actually, at the moment I now have what I call lifestyle salon or salon on a downsize. I got rid some of my staffs. I have a chair renter. I limit my hours at work.

M.Levine:    That's exactly why you don't have problems.

A.Presotto:    We do. As salon owners, I think we all experience similar things on various levels depending on the size of your business.

M.Levine:    I've seen, actually, they come in full circle. Remember when I was saying that story about how my former employer was acting like a complete asshole and going crazy? He had a massive walk out and at the time I wasn't maybe as empathetic as I maybe am today. Most hairdressers, I don't know, maybe I have few people on my team, I think I have a few people in my team who truly care and who do hope things go really, really well for me. That makes it sound like my team is like really horrible, they’re not. They’re awesome. But there's probably more people who, there's a few people who care more than others.

My old employer was just going through absolute bullshit. His situation is probably way worse than my last year. What happened with his, and this, we see this all the time in our industry.

I don't understand this but whenever somebody leaves, and I shouldn't say whenever but it happens a lot, it's far too often. When somebody leaves salon for some reason, they want to burn it down when they leave. And they want everybody else to kind of, I don't know why this happens, “But the sale is so much better over here, you should come with me.” For some reason, they really want to stick it to the guy.

I'm sure you've seen this happen. I've seen it happen quite a few times. This is what was happening to this guy. This guy, maybe he didn't pay quite as much as he could but I certainly don't have the same views on salary that I did at that time now that I'm an owner. Maybe there are certain aspects that he could have improved but he is just a person trying to get along and building beautiful salons and giving people an opportunity.

And then, he gave somebody an amazing opportunity and she absolutely screwed him over and tried to destroy his business for some reason when he thought they've left on really good terms. We were kind of in the middle of that. I am really sympathetic to what he was going through at the time. He was probably going absolutely nuts thinking his business was crumbling and it kind of was. Now, I'm much more understanding of it.

But, yes, I've been going through some craziness where you'll get somebody who will say to you, “I'm totally on-board. Let's do this.” And then months later the person's, “I'm leaving to go to this.” I had one not long ago that absolutely broke my heart. It's a girl I put a lot of energy in. I didn't expect her to be with me forever. But I sent her to Sassoon's 4 fucking months ago. All expenses paid and it's like if this is in your head, don't put your hand out.

For me, I get offered things all the time. You wouldn't believe the things that I turned down. The trips that I get turned down for people who want to do business with me. I will not take anything from somebody unless I intend on doing business with them or unless I currently do business with them. First of all, I think it's disgusting to try to lead somebody on and take advantage of things.

I know for me, somebody can take me on the most amazing trip and put me on the greatest education in the world. That's not going to sway my opinion in any way whether I want to do business with them.

For me, I put my hand back in my pocket and I'm not interested in taking from you. I'd come on my own dime and evaluate things. Or if I'm actually legitimately interested then yes, you can take care of me. But if I’m not interested, I absolutely won't take advantage of things.

I guess I expect people to have a similar moral outlet. Like this person who took off, like I love this girl. I created a job for her. You know what I hope none of my employees because I'll be all [00:27:23]. She was getting paid a pretty ddecent salary probably more than she should have for the work she's doing. She did some nice and really good things.

For me, if I'd taken that trip, I'd be like, I'm going to delay doing my thing and give this person a year of my life. I have a bit of moral compass that says if you're going to give me something, you're going to get a certain amount of time out of me. I'm not really big on contracts or anything like that. But I may have to go on that route one day like if I send you off an education, you're going to have to give me this amount of years. You’re going to pay this back.

I want to believe the best in people and I want to believe that people kind of part of what I'm doing too. Being a salon owner can be very very thankless existence and hairdressers don't know until they walk into those shoes.

I can safely say there's not a hairdresser or most hairdressers, I've done most things that most hairdressers have done in this point in my life. I've been a platform artist. I've been a disgruntled employee. I've been a junior stylist trying to claw his way up. I've been the master stylist who is top earner in the room feeling underappreciated and under paid. I've sort of done it all. Man, nothing puts in perspective like once you open your own salon and started having employees.

A.Presotto:    That's definitely right. Having tried apprentice over the years and my current chair renter is an ex-employee that left on good terms to open a salon last just over a year. She decided she wants to be a salon owner anymore.

M.Levine:    No, it's amazing how quickly people forget. I don't know if it's just the world we're living in today. I don't like to sound like a cranky old bastard.  Kids these days. People have always been saying ‘kids these days’.

Salon ownership, you’re dealing with –I have a whole thing with salon ownership and employees. It's really an interesting problem that the entire industry has. And it’s something that we create as an industry, that we're creating these problems for ourselves. The issue is the most successful hairdressers are the ones that take control of their own lives. Success is based on – it’s 100% based on your choice and how much you go out make things happen for yourself.

As an owner, we shouldn't really be surprised when our top people turn around one day and want to do their own thing because their success is based on being entrepreneurial basically. It's their business they're building behind that chair.

We reward them in one way and all of these things. But at the same time, it shouldn’t really come as a huge shock when they do turn around and say, “Well, I want to do my own thing.”

Especially for all of us owners, we did the same thing. We all want to do our own thing at some point. We all at some point looked at our pay check and said, “I'm bringing in double what I’m getting here. This dude has taken half my money and I want to do my own thing.” We quickly learn but if you've got children, you can't tell a teenager they have to learn it for themselves.

I think most hairdressers are like precautious teenagers with a bit of success. They have to learn these things for themselves. I know for me once I open my salon, I had few employees, I went out of my way to go find my old employer hanging around in front of his salon, until he was leaving one night. He probably thought I was going to do a drive by.

He came out and I got out of my car and I walked over to him and I just laid on a big apology. And I just said "I had no idea. I didn't understand anything of what was going on back then. I see things so differently now and I just want to thank you for everything you did for me and I apologize for everything I did. You know, as a shitty employee that probably really hurt your feelings.” And at the time I don't know if you really cared, he was still probably like "Well, screw you".

But, today, I think we've talked and we're actually, you know, we hugged and these things but it's profound. Like once you wear the salon owner hat, I don't know that I would recommend to too many people.

A.Presotto:    I don't. I tried to discourage anybody I can for being a salon owner. It takes a very special person to want to be a salon owner. The realities of it are so far from what an employee sees.

M.Levine:    Yup.

A.Presotto:    And that now leads us to the main reason for this podcast is you wrote a blog post on the loose.

M.Levine:    Yes.

A.Presotto:    How to survive and thrive as a salon owner and hairstylist. Now you've had over 3,000 Facebook shares and 4,000 now.

M.Levine:    It just came up today. I don't know what happened today but I know it. And now I think 16,000 views and 4,000 shares on Facebook.

A.Presotto:    My goodness.

M.Levine:    It's crazy. I don't know what happened today. Biggest day of the blog was today and yesterday. And I know somebody important must have shared this thing.

A.Presotto:    That is fantastic. So what prompted it?

M.Levine:    Basically, like I'm a big talker and because of my school. I go and I give lectures on success. I'm a frustrated person so I see – you know I've got some really really successful hair dressers working for me and some that aren't too successful. And I see the things that the people who are successful do and I mean for everybody in my company they've all sort of an apprentice under me at some point. Some have listened to me, some haven't.

So I have this really crap here of losing these people and if you talk to me a year ago, I was fine. I was ready to open another salon like I'm opening another school right now. But I was ready to open another salon and I was feeling pretty good about things. And after I lost the first guy, I was like "Screw him".

You know what? We actually made more money when he was gone because the first two didn't affect us but eventually what ends up happening, is you refer those people's clients to somebody and that person leaves and this happened to us where we lost, where people we referred to three different hair dressers who all left. And eventually the client is going to be like "I'm out of here".

So our numbers are absolutely dwindled this year. It's been a brutal year numbers wise. So, you know I look at my banking and all of these stuffs and I'm dealing with this non sense and I'm losing sleep because people in their really early 20's are affecting my life in a really negative way which it shouldn't be that way.

I just started hammering out this blog post based on some of my thoughts and some of my kind of ‘screw you’s’ and I've edited it a couple of times  and out of couple of things and exchange a couple of things because it's a bit worthy. But yes, I put this thing out and for some reason I just absolutely kind of, as soon as I put the link of it just started to taken off.

A.Presotto:    Well, it is bit of a long post but it's definitely worth the read. And I'll put a link back to the blog post itself so that listeners can read it in the post-show notes. It's just amazing. It really cuts through a lot of the crap that we hear in this industry and tells us how it is.

M.Levine:    Well I'm glad.

A.Presotto:    Which I think a lot people are really scared to do. They liked to tell others as it is. It's not like you in here completely bashing anybody either, you just put in very simply your thoughts.

M.Levine:    Yeah. And you know what, whether people cared to believe or to agree with it, most people will find a few things in there that they absolutely disagree with and I've seen a lot of comments where people will say I agree with everything but this.

You know, that's cool and I'm not saying I'm the end all and be all of, I'm just saying what I've observed and I've been a pretty successful salon owner. When you say financially, you know I'm not driving the car of my dreams and I have to live 45 minutes away from where my salons are so I can afford a house. I live in a very expensive city but you know a lot of people will say "Gosh! You have four salons and you got to be rich." And I was like "No man".

I do the salon thing mostly because I really got off an opening slide. I get off from designing hair salons and giving people jobs and turning people in the industry. But yes, I wouldn't say, I would say that the post was more based on what I've seen and what I experienced as an owner and I think part of it was a little bit of a shout out for the owners that try to do things right.

I get a lot of people commenting on my blog who were saying, “Thank you so much for writing this, I needed this, this is really inspirational right at the exact the right time I needed it.”

There's a lot of people out there who try to do things in an ethical way. You know one of the things that I really touched on in the blog for me, as salon owners is don't raid other salons for your staff. It's just a really shitty thing to do and your success is now coming at the expense of somebody else and that somebody else is somebody as me.

I could have great expense and personal, not just expense but emotional expense and I love people. I wouldn't teach people if I didn't love them. I'd lose so much money and time and energy on people because we don't hire people at the clientele. We hire them straight out of school every one of them, and we give them a chair and we develop them.

We put them in weekly classes and all these things so by the time they start to build up a book then you got some asshole salon owner down the block who's trying to lure away your staff when I'm the one who has taken all of the risk and putting all of the energy and they want to rip the rewards. Well, fuck you!

That's my feeling and maybe you could sleep at night but I'm not because you're affecting my livelihood. And you know, I got children and I'm trying to take care of people and I'm trying to do things in an ethical way.

I know I could sleep at night knowing there's not a single salon owner in my city that could say a single bad thing about me that I directly done. They'll probably say all sorts of bad things about me if they've ever met me or maybe they've heard something bad about me. But there's not a single person that I will have one direct interaction with me that they'll say what's negative or that I affected their business in a negative way because I just don't get involved in those things and especially I've never have.

But now that I have school, I'm not interested in making enemies of people. I've got a friend of mine who owns a couple of salons and chair rentals salons. He's doing big big booming business and he's got one of my formers and maybe a couple of my formers, I'm not sure, and I don't really care. But a hundred percent of this dude's success comes from the misfortune of somebody else, right? Because when you own a big chair rental salon, all you care about is getting your chairs rented out.

Well, those people are coming from somewhere and they're trying to bring their book with them. So not only is that company losing a stylist, they're also losing their book because they're expected to be bringing a book to a chair rental salon and I just, I don't know. I couldn't do it. I couldn't do it.

And it's my, the road that I take is probably a much slower road and I know businesses war and all those things and I've read plenty of business books where it's, you know, there's a really great one called "The Forty-Eight Loss of Power" which is basically it's really self-serving and do things for yourself and screw everybody else. And I just, I'm not really interested being that way.

As an owner or as a person, I just kind of want to do my own thing and march my own drummer and which is also why I'm fearless with saying this thing because it's kind cool because I'm in a position of where basically every product company wants to do business with me and if I say something and we'll talk about Luxa Beauty later on. If I say something bad about the company that I currently buy color from, it's like I got four more companies that are trying to out beat each other to give me a cheaper discount you know of what's other salons pay. So I'm not too worried, I can afford to be a little fearless now with what I say.

A.Presotto:    Most definitely. I find that as well.  I have one company that supplies me and another company remember wanting me and it's like well neither of them really impress me but I am happy with where I am. And it's good to have that there. It gives you a sense of security not being tied up to a company.

M.Levine:    Yes. You know this because you and I have been talking for years about this.

A.Presotto:    Since the beginning maybe which was 2005 2006.

M.Levine:    Yes. Talking about product and stuff like that. Because I was a big Aveda guy and Aveda threaten to sue me a couple of times. Aveda did some silliness to me. And I probably was involved in it as well. I actually saw the Canadian distributor of Aveda one day.

And I did say to them, I'm so not one hundred percent sure what I did wrong but I did actually find them and I apologize for whatever I did to cause my end of the breakdown of our relationship because there's two sides for everything.

Anyways, when I saw what Aveda was doing as a brand, the first thing I did was I start my own product company. I said I don't want to deal with a bunch of sales rep trying to get my business. So we started our own products company.

I think we are on our third different name of that product. But it started to become something and we actually move a fair amount to get it in our salon and now it’s in my schools which is kind of neat because that's all my students get to work with is my product. And it's kind of cool because I'm kind of writing my own ticket maybe one day salons will carry my brand.

A.Presotto:    That's fantastic. I’ve been along as you developed your products. Currently, your current product company name is ‘Product’ which I think is absolute brlliant.

M.Levine:    Well thank you.

A.Presotto:    When you first launched it, I was discussing with my brother whose stylist as well. And we just loved the name. We thought it was a sheer genius.

M.Levine:    Yes, productforhair.com.

A.Presotto:    I'll put a link to that into the show notes as well so that anybody within the area can get in touched with you about that.

Now, something really interesting has happening these past few days in the hair industry. That's Luxa Beauty. What are your thoughts on it Michael?

M.Levine:    I truly don't care. Were you behind the chair way back when we all kind of kicked off?

A.Presotto:    No, I came along just after that.

M.Levine:    Okay, Behind the Chair used to actually have a really active forum. For anybody who doesn't know what I'm talking about behindthechair.com. Before they were corporate shells and before their forum was so heavily moderated, it used to be a hot bed of awesome activity. It is very much like hair brand is and hair brand is fantastic. It was kind of free for all.

There was some amazing arguments. You can still go back in the back log and read a lot of all those old debates. I was probably the loudest, probably the obnoxious people on there. A bunch of us got kicked off for same things eventually. I'm pretty sure Russell got kicked off.

Because as Behind the Chair became more about advertising dollars, they didn't want people bad mouthing. Even back then and this is probably over 10 years ago, I've been calling the diversion thing a lie right from the beginning.

So I've never believed in diversion in any way I think it's absolute bull shit. The only thing believed in diversion is there's only two companies I believed actually are diverted. That's Aveda and Bundle and Bumble. The only reason I believe those guys are because I've been on the receiving end of their distribution. It's extremely tight.

But anybody who sold product in a showroom kind of warehouse sort of thing. You can't tell me that that product is, that they truly care about diversion. They wouldn't sell it the way that they do. Even if it's being diverted, that's certainly not trying to tape things up because my feeling is they just think sales are sales.

This Luxa Beauty comes along and for those who don't know, it’s a front for BSG which is Beauty Systems Group in North America. Are they out of your way too?

A.Presotto:    No, they're not.

M.Levine:    Okay, well, these guys are incredibly powerful. As I recall, I'm not even sure were they going to be Regis or Regis was going to buy them, something like that.

A.Presotto:    Something like that, yes.

M.Levine:    There's a lot of money here. These guys have distribution rights in North America for most, gosh, I would say all of the major brands, certainly all the brands that are owned by drugstore brands.

One drug store brand started buying up professional hair care that's when the diversion story stopped holding any water because it's kind of hard to imagine that Procter and Gamble or L’Oreal or Estee Lauder or Shiseido truly care about where their product is being sold. It's kind of hard to imagine that they would.

A.Presotto:    As long as it's being sold.

M.Levine:    As long as it's being sold because somebody like Procter and Gamble that they're so diverse. Probably 98% of their business is coming through drug stores anyways and certainly far exceeding professional hair care. It'd be hard to imagine that they would really care if they increase their sales by selling to drug stores whether they're selling so much product anyways. I just don't buy it.

So, I wrote a thing today on Facebook. I write too much. I should probably do more things but I write too much. I like writing. I think what ended up happening, the way this whole thing started was there probably was a legitimate degree of diversion 20 years ago or 15 years ago.

When Aveda got sold to Estee Lauder and then Aveda started opening their own lifestyle stores where now all of a sudden it's the first publicized thing where selling professional product outside of the salon which is hairdressers always gone about. It's got to be sold on a salon.

Aveda was the first one to sort of change that. I think Aveda really quickly realized, “Hey you know what there's a little bit of resistant. People are upset we've closed a few accounts and lost few accounts but ultimately didn't hurt our bottom line. We're selling more product through our store.”

And because the stores are owned by the distributors or by corporate Aveda, they're cutting out the middle man. So they're selling it at retail pricing but they’re not purchasing it for wholesale the way a salon is. They should be making a lot more money than a salon makes on that same product. So then Aveda did this and Bumble does it.  Obviously Bumble is an Estee Lauder company as well. Bumble does this as well by going into Sephora. They buy past salon as well.

I think that these other guys who are all owned by Procter and Gamble and Shiseido and L'Oreal are like, “Hey wait a minute. We don't even have to lie about this anymore because the ship hairdressers are not actually going to do anything about this.” Aveda sales haven't been hurt. Bumble sales hasn't been hurt.

They've seen that there is no downside to doing this. They can reach the market that they want. The hairdressers aren't going to do anything about it. So, that's kind of where I think this has come about.

Now, for me I don't care. I use Wella Color. I like Wella color. I’m at a belief that it's the hairdressers that make the product. As a hairdresser, I could go into the grocery store and purchase boxes of colors and probably get pretty good results out of what I get them from the grocery stores. I don't really believe that professional hair color is all that different.

I think they're all of in the same universe. We did business with who we choose to do business with. I would say there are a lot of people who are terrified of using different color line because they've not been really educated to trust their own abilities as a hairdresser. That’s really what I a lot of these companies want. They want you to think that you can't live without Gold Well color. You can't live without this which is insane to me.

A.Presotto:    I think that's tremendously true. I feel the same way. I can get the same results with whatever I want, maybe not quite as good.

M.Levine:    You have to learn with experience about a certain shade.

A.Presotto:    Butt the end of the day, I think it's soap is soap. If I go and start telling my clients like the girl on Facebook who washes her hair with baking soda and that was the greatest thing. My clients would probably adapt that.

    If I didn't tell them [00:50:04] moment if next I decide to become [00:50:07] Salon. That Lance uses that product, they would buy that.

And at the end of the day, no matter how many of these companies open up online and sell, I really don't think it makes a big difference to the majority of salons because I think majority of salons are poor retailers. They talk tie much of their education and belief into the company. And the salons that are good retailers that it might hurt or we smile enough to move on to something else.

M.Levine:    I would totally agree. To be honest, I don't think any of those brands [00:50:41] have been doing some good things lately. Is Paul Mitchell on there? I didn't see them actually.

A.Presotto:    I don't know. I just got my passport today so I have to go and have a look. But I got a feeling they might be.

M.Levine:    Yes, I guess anything that BSG distribute. Yes, because I don't carry any of those brands. Yes, I do use Wella color but I'm assuming they're not going to be selling Wella color. But what my prediction is that they're going to play everything above board and do exactly what they say they're going to do for the first few months. Maybe the first six months. And then we're going to start to see sales happening.

This is my feeling that all of a sudden the pricing between wholesale and retail in that line is going to start to blur. I think they'll ending up doing some clearance sales and things like that. I fully expect that consumers will be able to start buying certain things.

Not everything but there will be enough sorts of things that are on discount. That they'll be able to buy things that at more or less wholesale pricing based on sales and things like that.

Then the other thing we all know, every one of our clients has hairdressers that knows somebody who used to be a hairdresser that maintains a hairdressing license so they can buy wholesale product.

A.Presotto:    Exactly.

M.Levine:    Those people will all get, “Do you want my password?” This is going to happen. There is really going to be very, very little control here and I don't think the companies care to be honest. Because they know that they're going to sell more products.

Somebody had written a post on Facebook where they had said something like, “We need to wise up because salons aren't retail well enough and salons are only accounting for 20% of retail sales.”

If these companies are finding retail sales outside the salon well that's where the problem is in the first place. They're not supposed to be looking for retail sales outside the salon. These are supposed to be salon retail products as far as for the consumer.

If they're saying, “We're getting 80% of, we're only selling 20 percent of products through salons,” it's like well that's not the salon's problem that you have gone outside of the salon. And then found that the grass is greener over there. Well, don't expect the hairdressers to support you through this.

I really hope that salons will wise up and get behind products that are not owned by these big companies. I don't want to bad mouth the big companies, hey you know what, they see where money is to be made so they get into it of course. Why not?

I would never fault those guys for doing it. But the hairdressers that believe once a product has been sold to one of these companies, it's the beginning of the end as far as being a salon only product. We've now seen it. The proof is there.

If I was looking to carrying a brand and I didn't find that productforhair.com appeal to me then I would probably be looking at like at Kevin Murphy or Davines or something.

Also understand, when those guys sell which they probably will at some point, be ready to jump shift. I really, really struggle with the idea of getting clients hooked on something though. We carry Oribe in our salon and we carry our own brand. I really, really struggle. I'll be dropping Oribe at some point I'm sure very, very soon because I use a product company as means to an end. I don't want to get my clients to hook on something because I know I'm going to drop it at some point.

I don't know. I would recommend people do their own brand actually. That’s what I would do.

A.Presotto:    I think what hairdressers tend to forget is that the business they're in is hair and it's skills and services we offer. And if you tie your branding to a company, at some way along the line. You're going to be very disappointed.

M.Levine:    Absolutely.

A.Presotto:    If you tie your branding to yourself, you've got nobody to disappoint you but you.

M.Levine:    That's true. I think if I was. I really do like the Aveda model. And it's weird because I have a love-hate relationship with them. But if I was to tie my brand to something, it would probably be Aveda again.

And mostly because I think first of all, Aveda's salon tend to do good numbers and if you just kind of do whatever they tell you to do you'll be okay. If you're not overly entrepreneurial yourself and you're okay with, “Yes I want to own a salon but I don't want to do too much thinking for myself.” That type of model is probably a really good one as well.

I still do kind of, I don't know very often, “I think gosh I think I'm going to get Aveda salon again one day.” Who knows? My wife likes using Aveda. So, we'll see.

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About Anthony Presotto

Currently one of only two Australian hairstylists who are members of the Hairdressing World Expert Panel, Anthony Presotto is on a mission to empower salon owners, sharing his expertise as an author, international speaker and salon business strategist.

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