Salon rent-a-chairs seem to be popping up all over the place. For employers, it’s a way to make money without taking on the full financial commitment of a staff member, and for stylists, it’s a taste of what it’s like to own your own business and take responsibility for your clientele.  

But it’s also a part of the industry that’s rife with exploitation, misunderstanding, and dodgy contracts. HSA sat down with our ambassador, Nicole, who’s been in the rent-a-chair game and knows what to look out for – and what to avoid. So it you’re renting a chair, or thinking about it, this is what you need to know:

  • Be 100% clear on your expenses.

Before signing a contract with a salon owner, discuss what the rental agreement covers. Nicole said she’s heard that some owners don’t include electricity, phone, and internet – but the rent-a-chair girls didn’t realise until they got hit with a big bill at the end of the month!

You may also need to take our your own insurance, too. Ask the question very clearly and if your salon owner says the rent include these expenses, make sure you have a signed agreement to avoid any future confusion. You don’t want to be locked into a place paying rent that you can’t afford.

  • Sort out the situation with walk-ins.

As a rent-a-chair, you’re expected to be responsible for your own clientele. However, walk-ins can still be a big part of your books. Clarify with the salon whether they let you take walk-in clients. If a salon has paid permanent staff, they will most likely get first choice and you may only get the leftovers.

Some salons may not allow you to talk walk-ins at all. Nicole said she was shocked at how cut-throat the situation was in one of her salons – it was first in, best dressed, and nobody liked to share. And if you do get walk-ins who love your work, give them your phone number or a business card so they can contact you next time instead of just calling up the salon.

  • Get the low-down on your product

Most salons have a preferred supplier, and as a rent-a-chair, you might be expected to follow that – and in that case, you might also have to pay for it, too. Other salons may allow you to use your own product, but you have to take it home with you at the end of the day.

If you are forced to use a new product, make sure you spend a bit of time using it first before trying it out on a clients’ hair! Get clarity on the product, if it’s appropriate for your existing clientele, if you’re confident with it – and if you can afford the ongoing cost in your weekly expenses.

  • Don’t forget your entitlements

As a rent-a-chair owner, you’ll be responsible for your own sick leave, annual leave, and superannuation. There will be days, or maybe even weeks, where you won’t be able to work, and you need to have enough saved away to cover that. Superannuation is really important but often overlooked.

“At the time when you’re working, that $50 a week can cover food and petrol,” Nicole says. “When I was younger, I didn’t get any super, then I had my own business and didn’t think about it. Then I got older and realised, oh crap, I didn’t have any super!” Putting a little bit away now will secure your future in the long run and it is totally worth it.

  • Get a feel for the salon

At the end of the day though, it’s not just about finances – you need to be in a place that is comfortable, and where you can thrive in your business and be happy. Look at the current clientele and if they’re a fit for your style of work, if the other stylists are friendly and welcoming.

Double-check your expectations around opening hours and if you can commit to that. Are they expecting you 6 days a week and late nights on Thursdays? Can you leave if you’ve got nothing booked in for the rest of the afternoon? This all varies from salon to salon, so get it in writing before you sign.

If you’re thinking about opening a business but you don’t have the financial means to commit to a full salon fit-out, renting a chair is a great way to see if the freelance life is right for you. And it’s becoming more common amongst senior stylists who can’t find a salon who will treat them respectfully.

However, you’re still at the mercy of a salon owner who may provide a sham contract, who might go against their word, or give you nothing in writing at all, leaving you locked into a nightmare situation.

Fortunately, if you do find yourself in trouble, HSA is here to help. We also cover rent-a-chair workers, meaning we can review your contract, point out any issues, and if you need to escalate things further, our legal and industrial officers are here to assist. Just because you’re renting a chair, it doesn’t mean you don’t need a union!