How to start a hair stylist business

There's more to cutting hair than you might think. Here's a guide to the cost, rules and preparations involved in setting up your own hair salon business

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The most important steps to think about to starting a hair stylist business are:

What hairdressing ideas are there and who is hairdressing suited to?

A hairdresser’s is a business that deals with the maintaining and styling of hair. Those that deal with male customers only are known as barbers (for more on this niche, take a look at our guide on how to start a barber shop). You could even choose to specialise in colourings. But there is also a vast array of other services on offer at hairdressing salons; from manicures and electrolysis to body piercing and sunbeds.

Anyone that you employ has to be trained before they can go near someone’s scalp. If in doubt, err on the side of caution and wait until they are fully trained.

Hairdressing businesses are a common sight on the high street but you don’t have to rent expensive shop premises. Many businesses are mobile, where the hairdresser goes into customer’s home. Whichever you opt for, there are several rules that you need to follow before you wield those scissors.

You may be drawn to the idea – but are you suited for a life of shampooing and shaving? Before you even start to think about setting up, you should have several years’ hairdressing experience of your own. It is a busy profession, particularly towards Christmas. Many hairdressers find they have no free appointments from mid-November.

“It’s not a business that will make you a millionaire.” This is according to Anita Barlow, owner of The Cottage Barber’s in Great Barr, Birmingham. It is, however, a business which tends to inspire a great deal of loyalty from its customers who will often visit the same branch for years. Many people will even follow a particular hairdresser if they move to a new business. From that point of view, it’s probably better to be a ‘people person’.

You may well be cutting children’s hair as well, many of the younger customers may well hate the experience of sitting in the chair swathed in a gown, so its important to keep your cool in the face of any possible tantrums.

As Linda Heald from Keeping Up Appearances in Chichester, West Sussex says: “I’ve had the privilege of working with some wonderful people. Getting paid for something you love doing and working with friends in a nice atmosphere can’t be beaten.”

Having said that, there’s more to it than just standing there and asking the customer where they’re going for their holidays. Things can get fraught, particularly on Saturday mornings or around Christmas and it’s best to be able to stay calm in stressful situations. Making mistakes with people’s hair is not one they’ll forgive easily.

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The planning, rules and regulations involved in setting up a hairstyle business

As with any business, when you start up a hairdressers you will need a certain amount of capital behind you. However, you may be in the position that Linda Heald, owner of Keeping Up Appearances found herself in when she took over a business following the death of a friend. As she says: “It all happened so quickly and unexpectedly that I was swept along by events.”

However, it was still necessary to formulate a business plan. “Right from the start we drew up a contract stating the responsibilities of each of us and detailed how the business would be divided in the event of a split. We knew from the age and needs of our clients and the kind of clientele we wanted to attract. As so many ‘upmarket’ salons only do cut and finish we decided to target the older customers who could not do their own hair. This gave us a guaranteed weekly income that other salons were turning away.”

There are many different types of salon out there, which attract and cater for different sectors of the market. For example, there will be those that mainly have young urban professional customers on their books, those that attract families and those, like Linda Heald’s that attract the older generation. If you’re running a female salon, bridal packages can be very profitable. Before starting up it’s also worth checking with your local authority for the cost of business rate tax.


What are the rules and regulations?

A typical hairdressing salon will contain a wealth of electrical items, from shavers and hairdryers to curling and possibly electrolysis equipment. Portable electrical equipment must be checked to see that they are suitably maintained every two years. This is your responsibility. A reliable electrician must carry out the check.

Obviously, its good to keep a check yourself and it may not be as difficult as you might think. Just by looking at an electrical appliance – the wiring and the socket pins especially – you should often be able to judge its safety. If you’re worried, don’t use it and call an electrician out.

One of the most important laws which hairdressers must abide by relates to hair dyes and shampoos, some of which can be hazardous, causing such conditions as dermatitis. Care also needs to be taken in the handling of chemicals, in some cases protective clothing must be worn to protect skin or to prevent inhaling toxic fumes. Regulations known as Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) have to be followed with regards to the use and storage of chemicals at work. Again, it is down to the business owner to make the necessary arrangements.

Les Purseglove, team leader of Nottingham Civic Council’s Health & Safety Enforcement Section, says that the council are there to see that these laws are being enforced and that health and safety issues at work are being promoted.

Staff working on customers’ hair must be qualified and have their GNVQ Level 2. Linda Heald, who also lectures in hairdressing at a local college, advises her students to get at least five years’ experience before considering starting up their own business. It takes time for all these various checks to come through.

As an employer, you are liable for the work your staff do. With members of the public stepping over your threshold, you must also have public liability insurance. A year’s worth cost Linda Heald £230. You also need to ask the local fire department to advise you on extinguishers and escape routes.

Check out this step-by-step guide to hairdressing insurance.

Purseglove adds: “Hairdressing is an interesting case because although they are often small businesses there are a number of significant risks in the working environment. If your salon has a sunbed or someone carrying out massage or beauty therapies such as aromatherapy then you have to have a license.”

An annual license to practise full body massage will cost somewhere around the £300 mark and for electrolysis, it will be less, around £100. Your local authority’s licensing section are the people to approach. These licenses ensure that everything is being carried out in a healthy way and there is no danger of cross-contamination. If you are only styling and cutting hair though, you don’t need any kind of license.

How much does it cost to set up a hair salon?

A number of hairdressing businesses currently for sale over the internet indicate that purchasing a business can cost anywhere between £5,000 and £59,000. As an example, The Cottage Barbers on the outskirts of Birmingham cost the owner Anita Barlow £13,000.

In most hairdressers’ that are up for sale, fixtures and fittings are almost always bought up with the shop itself. If yours is the exception, or you are going to refurbish the place and start again then there are rough guidelines to what you could expect to pay.

Anthony Holland and Romano Zullo of Zullo and Pack in Nottingham have recently had their salon refurbished. Their costs are similar to those that a start-up might incur: for fitting out units, mirror units, partitions and a reception area, it cost them £8,000; legal costs were £2,000; new flooring cost them £1,500 and signage for their salon was a further £500. It is worth bearing in mind that the design was carried out by a designer from a TV home makeover show and that this is a large city centre business. Smaller local businesses may well be slightly more modest in their spending.

When Linda Heald moved her business into new premises, she spent £1,000 on basic salon fittings and a further £3,000 on chairs and dryers. Having sat down and costed all the equipment she had to buy to fully kit out her salon she found out that it cost her around £1,800.

“You could stagger these costs though and just get essentials and then buy extras as you begin to make a profit. Also, you must remember to set aside money for the taxman right from day one,” she says.

In addition, you may need to bear in mind costs of disposing chemicals used in hairdressing – you can find out more in our guide to commercial waste disposal.

How much can I earn as a hairstylist?

Geographical location will also affect your pricing. If you are based in the North of the country, a dry cut can cost upwards from £4. While in the South this could be nearer £8.

Aside from high street rents, one of your biggest expenses will be staff. But how much should you pay them? Although technically anyone can work in a hairdressing salon, any business worth its salt will only employ those who are qualified. The other thing to remember is that you will have to comply with the minimum wage.

For Linda Heald, owner of Keeping Up Appearances, employing four to five people,would add up to around £360 in weekly wages, a week’s rent would be around the £150 mark and rates would be on average approximately £65. Sundry expenses would perhaps total £70. On a good week, Linda can earn around £1,300. But when you take away the costs outlined above, she will be left with a figure more likely to be between £300 and £400.

So hairdressing is not a business that will make you a millionaire, unless you operate on the scale of Toni & Guy or Nicky Clarke. If you’re in business purely for the money, then hairdressing is probably not the way to go.

However, running a good salon isn’t really about the money. A good salon should inspire real loyalty from its clients. A trip to have a haircut or a new style is often the way that many people go to relax or to de-stress and pamper themselves. Particularly among the older generation, it is considered a luxury. So on a personal level it can be a highly rewarding business to go into.

Tips for hairstyle success

  • Always be passionate about learning and training as new practices and styles become popular
  • Jargon words they may be, but being customer focused and investing in your team will reap you benefits
  • It’s always worth considering alternative agencies for appropriate financial backing – it won’t do any harm
  • It may be worth investing in attending an accountancy course. If you could complete your tax returns yourself, it could save you a good deal of money on accountants’ bills.
  • Vet your staff – qualifications are important
  • Many salons are in rented premises. It sounds obvious, but to avoid headaches make sure you have a written agreement with your landlords that you understand.
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