I remember when I was a little girl, my mom would take me to the hair salon with her. It was in the 90s, and most black women were relaxing their hair, using harsh chemicals to straighten their beautiful kinky, coily strands. My mom was one of them; she wore her hair in a short tapered style. I remember how shiny her black hair would be after having it permed, styled, and sprayed with oil sheen. Back then, the "hairdressers" as my mom calls them, worked in a professional, organized fashion, using client information logs, working by appointment only, and providing great customer service. Mom always walked in with expectations and left with all, or at least most of them met.
But today, many black women in Baltimore do not have such rosy experiences with their hair stylist or the establishment they frequent for hair care services. They're not treated as actual clients or receive a high level of customer service. In fact, it is now common for women to jump from stylist to stylist in search of the right "set of hands" and experience they desire. There are many factors contributing to the decline of successful, satisfying hair care salons. As for Baltimore, there are three factors in particular that appear to be the culprit.
1. The transition from chemically straightened hair to natural hair.
For the past five years, almost half of black women have given up on using relaxers and now wear their hair naturally. This is amazing for the face of black women generally speaking. We've begun to accept our hair as God made it. But it means great changes for the black hair care industry. Certain products begin to sell less, and others more. To keep up with the change, top performing hair care brands have introduced "natural" lines that cater to textured strands.
However, there has been a time lag between these new products hitting the market and stylists becoming educated on using them. In Baltimore, the hair stylists that were using products for relaxed hair for years have not spent the time and money to re-brand themselves and become versatile hair care providers. This has created a division in the market for black hair salons. Some of them only specialize in natural hair care, some of them only for relaxed hair services. It's now a process to find the right stylist.
2. From employee to booth renter.
When my mom would get her hair done, her stylist was an employee of that salon. She didn't pay booth rent to the owner each month. Now, many hair care professionals work in a salon plaza and pay a monthly fee to work from an assigned booth. They are not a part of a team with a common mission and brand. So, if you find a stylist that meets your expectations, the establishment in which they work may not meet theirs. For example, increases in booth rent, conflict between other stylists, and limited access to the facility can make the hair stylist lifestyle nomadic. This is unappealing for prospective clients.
3. Lack of an entrepreneur spirit.
Even with the plethora of available digital platforms to manage a business, it's disappointing to know a large percentage of talented hair stylists do not market themselves as such. Prospective clients should be able to find portfolios of stylists' work and their contact information online. Even when hair care professionals offer business cards, there is usually no link to a social media platform. This is crucial for any entrepreneur in the service industry. Clients want to know and see how you work with other people.
In addition to poor marketing skills, many stylists do not offer clients personalized services. This means they will use the same products and techniques for all clients, even when it's obvious that such a tactic is ineffective. For black women, hair care is a critical part of our overall health. When it's apparent our personal needs are not priority, we move on to where they are.
There is certainly an ample amount of talent among black hairstylists in Baltimore, however the lack of professionalism and business savvy is hurting the industry. Salon owners have difficulty with finding and keeping stylists to employ, and clients have difficulty with finding a reliable stylists that fulfill their hair care needs. When more hair stylists see their gifts as a product of value, then we will see changes in customer loyalty and long-term success.