Kat Wants Your Hair: Price of Perfection
Kat Smo writes about getting what you want and being ok with paying for it.
Doing hair is something I’ve always loved. I find it incredibly fulfilling. It’s artistic design, science, math. It’s also intensely personal.
There’s nothing more beautiful than watching a client’s posture change, to see that sparkle in their eye and smile at the end of a session. Hair is a big deal. It’s why men spend billions on hair replacement therapies. It’s why so many female celebrities wear extensions. This also means a lot of pressure and emotions at times.
Today, a repeat client of mine came to see me. She’s typically a handful. She wants it all, but she wants it done in less than two hours and for very little money. She’s incredibly picky.
Here’s the thing, I don’t mind a picky client. A picky client is a challenge I am very willing to accept because truly pleasing a picky client, I admit, can be a bit exhilarating. There’s nothing wrong with knowing what you want. The problem occurs when the picky client is also the client who doesn’t want to pay your price and is frequently mentioning what a rush they’re in. This is the combination with a guaranteed bad ending for both of us. When you’re making a casserole, you don’t leave out half the ingredients because you don’t want to pay for them, and then tell the oven it better cook the casserole in 20 minutes. That’s a recipe for a shitty casserole.
Back to my client today, whom we will call Jane from here on out. Here’s how it always goes with Jane: she shows me a picture of a celebrity who paid thousands to have her hair done by a celebrity stylist, says she wants it to look exactly like that, tells me how much she has to spend, and gives me a time constraint. I patiently explain I will do the best I can with the budget and time allowed, but that the style she wants requires more time and more work, but we will “get her close.” Then, I do just that, all while sweating bullets because if something doesn’t go perfectly according to plan, I have no wiggle room at all to make adjustments.
I realize that “not going according to plan” makes it sound like I made a mistake, which is not what I mean.
What clients often don’t understand is that the hair is unique to every single individual. Everyone’s hair lightens at a different speed, takes color differently. I don’t just reach for a tube that says platinum, paint it on, and voila. If that were the case, then box dye would reign supreme and these problems wouldn’t exist.
After all this stress, Jane always complains about her hair color. One time it was “darker than she thought it would be”. Another time it looked “too gray.” And with Jane these aren’t just observations, they’re emotional tugs-of-war that last quite a while (what happened to those time constraints?) and leave me utterly drained. The worst part is, she’s wrong. I take great pride in my work, and if I make a mistake or something turns out not as expected, I will use every option available to reach the desired result. That’s my job.
But you can’t tell the client she’s wrong. I say things like, “I’m not seeing any gray tones. I didn’t use any ash in your formula,” and, “Let’s compare to the picture again,” hoping she will come around. These sentences fall out of my mouth like desperate prayers. After 15 minutes of this, we always end on the same thing: I ask her to live with it for a few days, and if she feels the same way, please message me directly and we will schedule a time to fix any problems. Jane never does. I always think this is the last time Jane is going to book an appointment with me, but she still comes back. I’ve grown accustomed to the Jane dance, and I can deal with it. But today something happened that was different.
Today, Jane asked me how much for a haircut. After I told her, she shot back bluntly:
Why is it so expensive?
I felt so many emotions all at once. I felt the air leave the room. My heart sank. I fought waves of self-doubt, defensiveness, anger, and shock, all while trying to keep an even composure.
Stuttering, I did the best I could to explain to her in a few minutes how I reach my pricing, the price of school, the costs of working at a salon, the price of just one of my shears, my tools. She wasn’t interested. The damage was done. When everything else subsided, all that was left in me was a deep humiliation.
Discussing pricing is part of a stylist’s job. I have no problem explaining what we will be doing during your session and exactly how much it will cost. If the cost is more than the client was expecting or budgeting for, this can be negotiated. When I say this, I don’t mean the price can be negotiated. What I mean is the service can be customized to get a similar effect, or broken into multiple sessions over time until the desired result is achieved.
What I’m asking is to please respect a stylist’s price point. If you personally feel the price of his or her work is too high, there is no shortage of salons or other stylists. I assure you that the price a stylist has set for their services is something thought long and hard about, taking into account several variables like experience, education, and demand just to name a few. If you do not like a price, go somewhere else. Do not shame your stylist. Nothing feels more awful.