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Getting Advice Straight from the Source

The specter of burgeoning booth rentals and independent suites is a huge challenge for commission-based businesses like K Charles, snatching away experienced service providers we spend many years and dollars developing. It’s difficult sometimes to understand the attraction. Our top artists can earn $120,000 a year without the responsibility and stress of running their own business, and all that entails, from paying their taxes on time to maintaining a solid inventory.

Yet, like many in the business, we see key people give up safe, comfortable positions for the vagaries of self-employment. We wanted to understand why, so earlier this year we set up an advisory board, consisting of one team member from each of our five salons, apart from our largest one, which returns two members. They are voted by the team in each salon rather than picked out by managers; we wanted people who the teams felt could best represent their views.

Our aim is to open a line of communication where everyone can speak freely, including senior management. Everyone signs a non-disclosure agreement to aid freedom of speech and allow us, the senior management, to share our aims and ambitions for the company. The meetings, held quarterly, are designed to be enjoyable and non-confrontational. We gather at happy hour over dinner and drinks to ease the conversation.

So far we’ve met twice and both times have had hugely enlightening conversations with our representatives where we have listened carefully, without judgment. It is imperative that our elected members feel confident to speak freely about various ideas and issues, and that we will listen and absorb what is discussed without becoming defensive. No one is shot down for bringing up far-reaching ideas.

From the start, we’ve been very transparent – otherwise what’s the point – explaining our initial purpose is to halt the hemorrhaging of experienced people by understanding the attraction of booth rental while still running a profitable company. It has provided a fascinating and incredibly useful insight into the thoughts and desires of not just our existing teams, but also those lost to booths or to other businesses.
Topics discussed so far include education, marketing, recruitment and, possibly the biggest elephant in the room, flexible working.

We moved forward immediately after the inaugural meeting to show the team we are committed to the board. We’ve instituted taster sessions so potential new recruits can experience working in one of our salons before committing to the job, as suggested by one of our members. We are developing a brochure about the business, which our team can give to any friends considering a move. But probably the most important innovation, the meeting sparked a serious investigation into the possibility of part-time working.

The advisory board has given senior management a platform to explain the potential impact of part-time working on business, and that if more go part-time then we have to find more staff and all that entails. Plus, we could reiterate that part-time means seeing fewer clients, which means lower commission. But we’ve made it clear we are open to the possibility and have been able to present options to the board for consideration.

It’s still early days for the board, and we are still defining what is discussed and how all members on both sides keep an open mind and an understanding of each other’s point of view. But the consensus so far is that this is a hugely positive move within the company, where we can really discuss in detail those subjects that strengthen the salon business and improve the conditions and take-home of every service provider.

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