The Right Staff

Building an effective team of employees for your salon will require finding candidates who not only have the necessary skills, but also fit the image of your brand.




Building a great staff is integral to the success of a salon and arguably more difficult than in most businesses for a couple of very important reasons. First and foremost is the fact that having the right people doing the right jobs is critical to making sure that the pets in our care are kept healthy, happy and safe. In addition, because the staff in a grooming salon often works so closely together, having the right team chemistry is vital to a smooth and effective workflow.  That is why when we hire employees, we must look for candidates who not only possess the right skills, but also will fit in well with the rest of the staff.


To make this process easier, it is a good idea to spend some time identifying your company culture, so you can create a consistent image in your customers’ minds. Any new hire should then fit that image. What is the salon’s brand? Are you known for attention to detail and high-end scissoring skills, or are your strengths in the area of clean, neat, tidy grooms at affordable prices? Perhaps your niche is caring and training—specializing in puppies, geriatrics and special needs pets or owners. Whatever it is, you need to have it firmly identified before you can figure out if a prospect might be a good fit or not.


Once you have a good team built up, it may be possible to move members around. Even if you hired someone to bathe and prep, if they turn out to be a great asset, it is probably worth taking the time to train them for more. On the other hand, a groomer who’s been working in the industry for many years may be happy to do some hours as receptionist instead of full-time grooming (this job can be hard on the body). People evolve, as do businesses, and the perfect job fit when you hire may not still be the right one a couple years later. However, if an employee fits your company culture, it’s worth changing things up to keep good staff happy—after all, that’s the best way to keep them. If someone has the right attitude and personality, you can easily hone their customer service skills to work more with customers. If they are willing to learn new tasks, you might train them to do the ordering or handle a retail section. Still, it all begins with making the right hiring decision.


The interview is the best place to determine whether or not someone will fit into your business. A portfolio, resume and in-person interview can tell you a lot. Ask questions to determine skills. Does the candidate hand strip? Hand scissor? Are they fast? Are they comfortable with clipper vacuum systems?


Be clear on your expectations and be sure you know what theirs are, as salons can differ widely on how they pay and what equipment is provided, not to mention grooming expectations.


To gauge that cultural fit, ask questions such as, “If you had a difference of opinion on a groom with the manager, how would you handle it? Or, “Have you ever been late, and if so how did you handle it?” The answers will be informative, no matter what they are. Watch the candidate’s face and body language, and follow your instincts. If someone all but rolls their eyes when you say you expect people to be in the salon 15 minutes before their start time in order to be ready to begin their first task on time, take note of this warning sign.


Some employers do not want to come across as difficult, but it’s not inappropriate to let people know what the potential consequences are for undesirable actions right in the interview. For example, “Being late once will lead to being written up. Three times may be cause for dismissal.” You can forestall future difficulties right in the interview by letting them know what’s expected. In fact, it’s a good idea to have an employee handbook for staff to refer to, no matter how basic it is.


Does your salon depend on smooth teamwork? Ask if the person prefers to work on one dog from start to finish or if they are happy with doing one part of the grooming? Ask if they prefer to work alone.


Does your business model include changing shift schedules depending on bookings, or are the hours and bookings pretty regular? If the former, someone that is pretty open to different hours will suit much better than someone who has a schedule that they cannot deviate from. If the first question the interviewee asks is what the pay rate is, when they might get a raise or how much time off is allowed, pay attention to the waving red flags.


Keep current employment laws in mind while you are asking questions of candidates. The person with the rigid schedule may volunteer that they have to pick the kids up after school, but that is not a question that you can ask. Also, you can’t ask anything about marital status, pregnancy, family, age, gender, race, religion, disabilities or national origin. Questions to determine if they can actually do the job they are interviewing for are fine. “How old are you, and do you think you can do this job at your age?” is an invitation to a lawsuit for age discrimination. “Are you able to stand for eight hours a day and lift 50 pounds alone and up to 150 with assistance?” are related to the work and fine to ask.


Try and get your good, core employees in on the hiring if you think you have a good candidate. Try inviting the prospect to lunch with the whole crew and watch the dynamics.



Tips of the Trade

Melissa Jepson, owner of Pupscale Pet Salon in Montclair, Calif., and a popular industry speaker has some tips to share for finding the right fit. She tries to set interviewees at ease and set the tone with her own enthusiasm. She begins by asking candidates to bring a pen to the interview, along with their resume, and to dress professionally. Not only does the resume tell her what candidates want to say about themselves and details their experience, if they don’t bring it or the pen, this tells her whether a simple series of spoken requests will be followed. That’s valuable information too.


“It’s the first little micro test to see if they can follow instructions” says Jepson.


It’s just as important to make sure prospective employees’ needs will be met. If the work relationship isn’t a successful two-way street, it won’t work. Sure, everyone works to get a paycheck, but a good job is more than that for most people. People want recognition, leadership, challenges and to able to take pride in their job.


Jepson talks about her business a lot during interviews, as she believes the person should be interviewing her as well. She admits she is a very exacting person, very particular and that she expects people to follow instructions promptly and pay attention to detail. She will tell you that she’s fun—but not easy—to work for. This type of honesty can help improve the chances of making that good match.


“I try to treat people interviewing the way I do a nervous potential client—I’m reassuring and show appreciation that they gave me their time for the job interview,” she says. “Everyone’s time is valuable.”


Jepson tries to ask small personal questions like what their favorite breed of dog is, what drew them to that breed, why they wanted to work with animals, how they got started, why they think they’d be a good fit with her business and what’s their biggest downfall—personally or professionally.


“Something else that’s really important is to hold more than one interview,” she explains. “During the first one, I talk to them. In the second, I’ll ask for some hands-on work—it’s necessary to see how they interact with animals as well as their skill level.”


Sometimes people rule themselves out based on the first interview. Some show up in torn jeans and a dirty sweatshirt, while others come in through a dog gate and leave it open behind them, allowing a dog out. Whatever reason Jepson has to say no, she tries to say it in a way that doesn’t diminish the person. It might be that someone else is more experienced, available for the right hours or geographically closer.


She once interviewed an excellent candidate that lived more than an hour away. Although they were sure they could handle it, Jepson’s honest comment was, “They might be fine commuting, but I’m not willing to gamble my business on that.” Ultimately, she found someone closer that was equally qualified.


“I can hone and train pretty much any skill set, but if they don’t seem that they’ll be a good fit, I can’t change that,” she says. “I look for someone that just plain loves animals. I try to have a friendly animal or two on the floor when they come in to see how they approach the dog. Are they calm and sweet? Do they get down on the floor? Do they approach without reading body language and potentially frighten a dog? It’s all information.”


Once you’ve found that perfect fit of work skills and compatibility, you’ll need to work as hard at maintaining a friendly but professional relationship as we do with our customers. In both cases, once you’ve found the right one, the balancing act is very worthwhile in increased profitability and a happy workplace.  PB


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