By Laurel Nelson, contributing writer with Salon Today

Frustrated with lack of flexibility in their schedules and a desire to make more money, many stylists leave traditional salon settings and turn to a career as an independent contractor, both as a solution to their challenges in the salon and as a stepping stone to becoming an owner.

But is the grass always greener? And is the experience in a booth rental or salon suite-setting enough to launch a career as an owner? Bebea Hanna is a stylist who has worked in both the traditional salon environment and as an independent contractor. Here, she shares her experience.


“After having two different salon experiences that weren’t successful for various reasons, I wanted to be in control of my own environment, creativity and inventory. I thought it would be a stepping stone to see if I wanted to own a salon on a larger scale, and to see if I liked a salon dependent on just me owning the business.

In the past, I had experienced problems like bounced checks from owners, so I thought by becoming independent, I would be able to control everything—the hours I worked, the products I carried, etc. It was a trial run of owning a mini-salon.”


“The freedom and flexibility to have my own schedule, and creatively to go whatever direction I wanted. I also saw it as a financial gain because I wasn’t giving up the huge percentage of money that I was in the salon. But later, I started to understand why I had to give up that part of my income.

Responsibilities like stocking retail, doing laundry, handling my accounting and being my own front desk started preventing me from being creatively free. At one point, I thought about not selling retail to take something off my plate, but retail is the direct link of loyalty between the stylist and client. I realized I was deteriorating in my ability to be a stylist, which is what I do really well.”


“I started becoming really unprofessional in ways I wouldn’t have expected of myself. I would move appointments around for my own convenience because I had gaps in my day, without consideration of the client. At first, because the relationship is so personal, the client is understanding. And if I was sick, I’d have to call six different people to reschedule.

I also started being late, and had a horrible schedule. I’d work Sundays to take off Saturdays, but end up working seven days a week.

At that point I had minimum retail because I was tired of dealing with it and sales tax. And I really wanted a structured schedule so I could come to work and focus on my actual job—servicing my clients and educating them on how to take care of their home needs. I was ready to let someone more business-minded deal with scheduling and retail, and I wanted a consistent paycheck.

I was getting surges of money—$10k one month and $3k the next—but with the same monthly expenses. I would turn everything I did into a write-off, but I was really just cheating myself by not paying taxes the way I should.

Slowly, the perks stopped outweighing the advantages. In the beginning, I did everything possible to get clients in my chair. But I was getting burnt out and stopped taking client calls. Then I’d forget to return the call and finally got to the point I didn’t want to do hair at all. I wasn’t getting new clients, either, because I wasn’t pushing for referrals. I was in this frame of mind that I could do less work for more money because I was getting 100 percent of the profit. But if I had run it like a real business, and paid my taxes correctly, I wouldn’t have made any money.

Another big reason for burnout was I stopped going to classes because I was on my own to pay for education. And when I did go, I didn’t know anyone—it would be groups of stylists from salons, and then I’d be on my own. It took a toll on my skills artistically.

I also missed working next to other stylists and seeing their work. And when I did see someone else’s work, I didn’t know how they did it or what product they used. I wanted to be a part of a team where together we’re great. I didn’t want to stay in a room for years and do the same little razor cut.

When I went back to a traditional commission salon, I chose one affiliated with a professional manufacturer so I could get the support of education.”


“Think about why you’re in the industry and what you need. Are you getting what you need out of it artistically? Are you keeping yourself inspired? Is the communication you have with just your clients enough? Are you ok with being isolated in a room by yourself?

The ones making money are free-flowing with it, which is easy to do for a couple years, but not forever. Is it worth the integrity of your work? Are you giving the best you can? When you do an amazing haircut in the salon and people watch it, that feels good. When nobody sees it, what are the odds you are going to just give a simple trim? Your peers know the difference between a good and great haircut, and being in the salon puts you on stage with your co-workers. Most stylists want recognition and to watch other people. It’s not a natural environment to be isolated. It’s hard—while a client’s color is processing, you can’t just get your lunch out and eat, or leave them in a little room by themselves.

I’m now more appreciative of the traditional salon environment and the fact that retail shelves are stocked with products available to support my work. I know why I’m giving the salon commission now—electricity, water, clean towels, maintenance, a fully-stocked color bar.

These tools allow me to do my job freely, and I’m no longer resentful of my phone ringing on a Sunday, so I’m more professional with my clients.

I realized owning a salon was not what I wanted. I wanted to do good hair, be inspired, teach and be taught—I couldn’t do that in a room by myself.”

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    The Bitter Side of Salon Suite Rentals in the Beauty Industry

    Suites and suite franchises are promising a whole lot that they can’t deliver.

    Suites are twisting a lot of facts and data with one intent … to get leases signed.

    Suites use the terms “Revenue,” “Profit” and “Income” to say the same thing. These terms are NOT the same thing. Suites say, “You can keep 100% of the profit,” but they never define “profit.” Profit is what’s left after all expenses are paid. For an independent suite tenant, that’s called “Net Income.” The suites never explain that profit can be negative and that a suite tenant can keep all of that negative profit.
    Suites blur the term “Income.” Are they talking “Gross Revenue” or “Net Income”? A claim that “income” went up 40% to 60% is easy to make when that “Income” really means “Gross Revenue” from service and retail sales – not net personal income.
    One suite franchise spotlights one hairstylist that said he wasn’t looking to be self-employed, but when his salon owner presented him with a 150-mile radius non-compete, it left him no option. REALLY? A 150-mile non-compete for a stylist is a ridiculous statement. 15-mile? Yes. 150-mile radius? No. It would never hold up in court. It’s another bashing of a very common practice at employee-based salons.
    Another suite franchise spotlights a stylist that went right from cosmetology school into a suite. She says, “Last year I made just over $100,000.” My rent is about $12,000 a year.” Wow! Sounds like a no brainer. But, “I made just over $100,000” means Gross Revenue … not Net Income. Factor in all of the other costs of doing business and self-employment taxes … and that $100,000 looks more like Net Income of $30,000 to $40,000 after taxes. Without a following, or one hell of a gift for networking and social media, making a living in a suite is a tough and lonely career path.
    The suite companies and franchises are doing everything they can to roll out the red carpet to secure tenants. From custom-designed suite decor, business software and apps … to months of free rent so tenants can take a “vacation” … suites are going after established salons’ employees.
    For an independent service provider, signing a multi-year lease is risky when the entire business depends on one pair of hands.
    For suite owners and franchises … those multi-year leases are only as good as the ability to pay by the people that sign them. Leasing to a half-booked stylist with little to no business experience is seriously risky.

    A prediction on Suites

    Many predict that the suites’ promises of gold and “build your own business – not someone else’s” is going to peak and then recede. The signs are already there. Suite stylists are going to see working for a salon as the best career and income security move.

    Here’s our challenge to todays Salon/Spa Owners … It’s time to rethink everything about your business. The days of building a salon/spa one column at a time are over. Today, you must grow a company … and a unique brand.

    Employee-based salons/spas must become everything booth rental and suites are not. Team service must replace “I/me/mine” service. Career paths must be real and deliverable … not “some day promises.” True employee benefits like paid vacations, paid holidays, company paid advanced education, team bonus plans and more, must fill the benefit void that has existed too long.

    Salon/spa compensation must evolve beyond commission, sliding scales, service charges and product-cost deductions … all of which feed independent booth rental and suite thinking and behavior.
    It’s time to play a very different and more sophisticated game than the traditional salon/spa model. It’s definitely time to play a better game than the suites are playing. It’s time.

    At My Hair Trip, The #1 rated organic salon in Denver we too have had our share of stylists who have had their appointment books filled by us only to try to take our clients and leave to rent suites on their own because of all of these promises the suite industry has made to them. Luckily, because of our world class service and genuine care for our clients typically not many choose to leave and it is unfortunate for the stylists who do leave. We root for our stylists while they are members of our team and we continue to root for them if they leave.

    Show Comments (2)

      Angelo, what does inspire you most?
      “Inspiration can come from so many different places, but the essence of the natural world is surely what inspires me most. Mother Nature surrounds us and permeates every aspect of our life with boundless beauty that will never stop to fill with wonder the eyes of those who want to see it. I am indeed very curious and I think that inspiration is basically all about curiosity and passion for what you do: if you don’t have that hunger for knowledge, then you are just missing so many chances of discovering and inventing something new, both in hairstyling and in life.”
      Think outside the box news 22/3BackNext

      Where does creativity meet hairstyling?
      “I think that creativity is a recipe made of many different ingredients: inspiration sources, individual sensitivity and, last but not least, the love and dedication to your profession, hairstyling in my case.
      One of my objectives in hairstyling is to step outside the box, to create something that seems impossible and unexpected, that pleases my eyes, mind and soul, but nevertheless my philosophy is always to make a woman look beautiful and modern. Originality often means eclecticism, a mix of elements coming from different forms of art, that’s why to work with hair I also search for inspiration from other fields that are not necessarily the hairdressing one, such as fashion industry, photography, architecture, design and contemporary art. I like to collect, combine and experiment, translating all the ideas and re-elaborating all influences in various ways: besides my salon work, my creative collection productions and magazine shooting works, I design hair for art curators for fashion exhibitions.
      I love hairdressing and if you love something in life you automatically become loyal and truthful to it. Hairdressing is my passion, through good and bad times and I always stick with it. Every day I look forward to my job. I definitely believe creative hairdressing is an art form in itself, a vital visual force to complement other arts.”

      If we ask you to tell us the name of a hairstylist who represented a turning point for your career…
      “The first name that comes into my mind is for sure that of Trevor Sorbie, a real hairdressing icon, who has inspired the whole sector at a worldwide level, becoming a mentor for many of today’s top hairdressers, thanks to his ability of always combining perfectly the highest quality standards with the most excellent hairdressing. Working with him for 15 years was a very meaningful and enriching life experience, he became like a father to me and I feel very grateful for what he gave me from both a professional and a human point of view.”

      What is new, in your opinion, in the latest hairstyling trends?
      “While rushing through the professional day by day routine, a hairdresser, like all the other artisans, sometimes runs the risk of forgetting to focus on some basic aspects of his craft, missing some great chances of adding value to his work.
      I think that this is the moment to rediscover the creative potential of blow-drying that, in my opinion, is precious like an accessory to be worn, the final expert touch that enhances the beauty of a style. I’m working with Davines on something new, an homage to this special craft, to give it back its artistic dignity. I perceive the blow-drying as an art, and I want to invite all the hairdressers to realize their own masterpiece with hair. You’ll discover soon what I am talking about, I hope that you’ll enjoy it and that you’ll have fun!”
      Follow us on Davines Official Facebook fan page to discover what’s new… coming soon!

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        Hair Salon Dream Team

        My Hair Trip Salon Denver consists of it’s owners; Paul and Nicole Zamora. The Shop Manager; Thomas Ivory jr. Master Stylists / Colorists; Sonia Jean Sparks and Amber Vitale, and of course, one of Denver’s hottest up and coming talents, stylist/colorist; The, Ms. Erica Nelson.

        Nicole began working in the beauty industry in Wisconsin twelve years ago working in hair salons and spas, and has worked at a hair salon in Denver for the last 4 and a half years. Specializing in hair behind the chair, Nicole has a passion for finding healthy alternatives for almost anything and now feels ,through My Hair Trip salon Denver, there is a platform for which she may encourage others to do the same. Nic always strives for her clients to leave the salon feeling gorgeous and enlightened.”

        Paul has always been an entrepreneur, even since he was running his school store in junior high. Paul has owned, and operated several small businesses, including a small production company while bartending in downtown Denver. The bar that Paul worked at had been open about 3 years when Paul took over as the bar manager. The business was failing and the owners thought Paul could possibly turn it around. Over the next several years Paul devoted all of his time and energy into making the bar profitable. Today it is one of downtown Denver’s most popular and profitable bars.

        Thomas is a long-time close friend of the Zamora Family and has helped run the shop since day one. Thomas is the salon manager, he also is a professional model, writer, traveler, gardner, artist, musician, avid outdoorsman and our dear friend.
        Thomas is our captain of client retention. While at My Hair Trip Salon, Thomas is your personal concierge, taking care of all of your needs while you are a guest at Denver’s premier eco-salon. Thomas is a professional pamperer and runs the salon’s day-to-day like nobody’s business.

        Sonia Sparks is a master stylist and colorist in Denver, CO, 80204 via Roseville Michigan. Sonia and Nicole had chanced to meet as booth renters at a smaller non-organic Salon in downtown Denver. Once My Hair Trip was up and running Paul and Nicole were thrilled when Sonia asked if she could come on board. She is honestly one of the best stylists in the city and My Hair Trip Salon Denver is extremely lucky to have her. Sonia brings not only amazing skills as a professional hair stylist and colorist but she brings an overall positivity and energy that radiates through the salon as well.
        Experience: Sonia has 12 years experience as a master stylist and colorist.
        Sonia graduated cosmetology school from David Presley School of Cosmotology in 2004.
        Sonia is a dedicated session stylist who specializes in updos for special events such as weddings and fashion shows.
        Sonia has worked personally assisting Kevin Murphey.
        Sonia is a professional, certified organic colorist, session stylist, and master cosmetologist. Any cut , any color , any time.

        Amber Vitale has lived in Denver her entire life, and is constantly influenced by the culture and artistic creativity within our city! Growing up she was encouraged to embrace an artistic outlet of interest and to make life decisions grounded on wisdom and great thought. Amber specializes in custom hair color and precision cutting. Combined with her talent and artistic vision she is able to work with clients to individualize styles to meet their needs. She keeps up with the latest techniques and hair trends as they appear on the fashion scene. Amber believes strongly in continuing education with the most recent being a certified extensionist through She by So Cap USA. She is constantly working on her own innovative techniques always pushing the boundaries of hair. With over 15 years’ experience, Amber is a stylist that believes in being unlimited in all aspects of hair care and design that complement each other for the finished look. Whether you want a contemporary classic cut or a funky avant-garde style, you are sure to be pleased with the experience you have with Amber.
        Being a mother of two wonderful boys, it is as important as ever for me to continue this lifestyle I love the approach at My Hair Trip Salon in incorporating an organic and eco -friendly way of life into great hair care and design.

        Erica says “My little sister was my first and my longest standing client. She has tested my skills again and again and I now feel comfortable to try them on you! 🙂 I have gained knowledge of top color lines and am able to play with and bend the laws of color to create unique and lasting designs for my clients. I have also become an expert at prescribing top of the line retail products so that my designs will look as great at home as they do in my chair.
        I would consider women’s cutting and men’s grooming to be my specialty and first love. I feel passionately about my color designs and sending beautiful works of art out onto the streets of Denver.
        I am committed to the beauty and fashion industry and love to share all aspects of this business with the guests in my chair. I love yoga, running, snowboarding, cooking, all things French and the outdoors. I am an outgoing, friendly, caring, hardworker and fast learner with lots of energy and I am so happy to have found a salon with a great vibe and a fast pace to call home.”

        We have built the best salon team in Denver, Colorado. We cannot express how proud we are to work side by side every week with these incredible artists and create amazing hair and happy, enthusiastic clients. As we grow, we will add more members to our team, but we will always stay true to our core values in hiring. Top talent, eco-conscious, dedicated and charismatic.

        We are Denver’s premier eco friendly salon, located at 773 Santa Fe Drive, Denver, CO, 80204.

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