They are part of the fabric in the Glebe.
In the last 39 years, Silver Scissors Salon has established itself as a leader in the beauty industry. The salon opened its doors in 1979 as the first unisex shop in the Glebe; it is now part of the community’s fabric with a long standing reputation of always giving back and paying it forward.
Here is my interview with hairdresser and philanthropist Eli Saikaley – as we talk about his career – past and present. I also chatted with Eli and his wife Laila on how the salon industry has changed over the years.
Artistic Director + Co-Owner | Silver Scissors Salon
Co-Owner | Water Salon & Spa
Manager + Co-Owner | Silver Scissors Salon + Water Salon & Spa
Eli, how did you get your start in the hair industry?
ELI: I started my career in 1983, working for my brother-in-law who is an internationally trained hair stylist. I worked part time as a shampoo boy – as they called me back then – while I was studying accounting at Carleton University. I knew on my first day that this was for me and I never looked back. I then trained all over the world, so that I could get my own feel on how I wanted to do hair.
When did you decide to make the move from being a stylist to becoming a salon owner?
ELI: I was once told from the person I bought the shop from – don’t make me an offer until you can afford it. What he meant by that was – if you are the last man standing in your salon, could you still pay all the bills and maintain a living. Other stylists in your shop should be seen as extra income – gravy or a bonus. So, when I got to those numbers, I knew I was ready. I made the move four years into my career. I was a stylist for two years and then a partner for two years – before becoming a salon owner.
Did you find picking up the business aspect of the industry more challenging?
ELI: The hairdressing, the artistic part – it’s fun; you get to talk to guests and build relationships. Doing hair has always been a passion for me, I have my own personal challenges – techniques I want to learn, that learning process is always ongoing. Then my guests give me challenges with the latest trends.
The business – that is the challenging part – the bills, the bookkeeping, the legal stuff, the payroll, local industry competition. It is a lot of work and it doesn’t stop when you put your scissors down and leave the shop. People always see and clap for what they see on stage, they don’t see what is happening in the background, it’s a whole different ballgame.
At any point in your career, did you get involved in any industry hair competitions?
ELI: When I first came out of hairdressing school, there was a KMS competition – 80 hairdressers cutting hair on stage for 50 minutes, in front of 500 people. I came in third place amongst my peers. It gave me confidence and from that moment, my career just flew.
Do you think becoming a salon owner held you back from doing more editorial work?
ELI: I traveled a lot in the 80’s but that was much earlier in my career. Once I became a husband and a father my priorities changed – I wanted to be there for my family. Hair competitions are a lot of work – time away from home. My time behind the chair is what made me successful.
I can’t do an interview with you – without talking about hair tips.
Aside from a good shampoo and conditioner, tell us some must have hair products every woman should have, as a part of a regular hair regime.
ELI: Your shampoo and conditioner should suit the texture of your hair – keep in mind – one shampoo does not suit all hair types. Treatments are also something that should be used to keep your hair feeling soft, shiny and easy to manage. Oils can also be used as a finishing tool for shine and a silky smooth look.
Some friends tell me that they never get trims – because they like their hair long. I think this is one of the biggest hair care mistakes women can make. Tell our readers why it is so important to get regular trims.
ELI: Take care of your most important asset! Regular visits to a professional salon with licensed stylist are crucial for all your hair needs. Getting a trim contributes to hair growth. It allows the ends of the hair shaft to breathe, which helps the hair nourish and grow, not to mention your hair will feel and look healthy. This all means a better blow style and a nicer finish at the ends.
You are very active in the community – supporting so many charities. Why do you feel it’s important to give back?
ELI: It was always very important to me, even before I was a stylist and salon owner, to help and give back any way I could. The community is aware of helpful efforts and it does not go without appreciation and gratefulness. Giving back has help me grow and helped my business in ways I never knew it could.
The feeling of helping people in need is amazing, it is something that money cannot buy.
– Eli Saikaley
Go above and beyond.
Getting involved in the community makes you stand out, you earn respect and giving back makes you feel good. Recently we donated 150 gift cards to the 12th Jeanne Fuller Red Dress Charity Golf Classic in support of the Canadian Women’s Heart Health Centre at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute. We have been heavily involved with Hair Donation Ottawa over the past few years. Last year we organized Cut for a Cure raising funds for the Tree of Life Campaign, with the support of 11 other salons in Ottawa.
LAILA: For the past few years we have also been involved with the Shoebox Project. They collect $50.00 of gifts in shoe boxes and distribute to homeless and at-risk of homelessness women in Ottawa.
This is one industry where it shows when you love your craft.
– Eli Saikaley
Over the years, have you seen a shift in the salon culture?
ELI: In the past, a visit to the salon was more of a social event. Hair salons were a place where clients would go to get pampered, have a cup of coffee and catch up on all the latest gossip. But now everyone is in a hurry – running on a tight schedule. Our service has to be efficient.
Working in a salon environment is much different than being in a classroom. I think new stylists underestimate how much work goes into building a clientele – it involves a lot of hustle.
LAILA: When you are a stylist, it’s all about building your own individual network.
ELI: When I visit schools, I always encourage students to ask me questions. I am always open and honest with them. It’s hard for new stylists starting out. They need to choose a salon where they want to be for a long time and make the most of it. Get to work on time, do good work and start building a clientele. You can’t just depend on walk-ins – they have to meet owners halfway. Stylists need to get out there and promote themselves using social media. You need to be self-motivated.
Stylists will change salons throughout their careers – it’s inevitable these days. But just like any other profession, if it happens too frequently, it doesn’t look good for anyone. Recruitment and retention seems to be a major issue in this industry.
ELI: Shops can grow their team organically. Although we have had our share of stylists come from other shops, I don’t poach and I have never been poached. There is not one salon that I can’t reach out to for help – because I have never crossed that line.
There are certain areas of the city, where it is more cut throat. One person started and now they are all doing it – and as a result are all equally guilty. You offer a stylist more money in commission and they switch salons if they are not happy.
LAILA: In this industry – if you give a stylist that much more – the shop is losing in the end.
Trust is built with consistency.
– Lincoln Chafee
Owners have all the overhead fixed/variable costs of having a business including attracting/retaining clientele which requires time/resources. The most frustrating part is owners are investing in building stylists that can potentially leave. It’s a massive risk but that is how the industry is built.
There are so many options when it comes to commission structure and rates – each have pros/cons. And, if there are different scales/rates, tracking everything can become a bit of an administrative nightmare.
Commission Structure: hourly rate, annual salary, commission based, hourly plus commission, commission split based on each stylist…
Commission Rates: graduated scale commission system, 30-percent commission across the board and increase the commission rate once the salon reaches a certain goal, commission rates based on each stylist…
To make things more complicated, today you have stylists that become brands in their own right. This is not an easy thing to do – you have to work on it 24/7 in and away from the salon. These stylists have a good engagement with followers on social media, demonstrated longevity/consistency in the industry and bring in clientele to the salon.
Many salon owners I’ve spoken to don’t bother with non-compete clauses in employment contracts because it’s not worth the effort.
ELI: Some owners use them as a scare tactic but it’s true they are too hard to enforce. When it comes down to it – if a stylist wants to leave – they are going to leave. Now with social media – stylists are accessible to everyone. They can take a day off and do clients from home instead of booking through the salon – and they don’t have the expenses salon owners have to deal with – it’s not a level playing field anymore.
LAILA: You kind of hope something like that would stand – but it’s not realistic.
I read an article where they surveyed 250 salon owners/managers and asked them what were some of the biggest challenges they face – the top three were: managing and motivating staff; getting new clients and retaining existing clientele.
ELI: I agree. Talking to salon owners over the last 5-10 years at hair shows, courses and seminars, I realized we all have the concerns and issues, whether it is Ottawa, Toronto, Barcelona or Los Angeles.
Finding good talent – keeping good talent.
ELI: It’s hard to find self-motivating staff and when you do see them – they’ll be tomorrow’s salon owners. They’ll fill their books quickly – and then they either want to stay with you in some form of partnership or leave and open their own shop. It happens all the time. It’s a tough business.
If you don’t dress the model and do her hair and makeup – she is not going to go on the runway.
– Eli Saikaley
When stylists walk into the shop they see it clean, shiny and ready to go – it’s deceiving. Most don’t know the stuff owners do in the evenings, Sundays and Mondays. Picking up product, fixing the broken sink, interviews, paperwork. On stage things always looks good – but they don’t see what happens behind the scenes.
WORKING YOUR WAY UP THE LADDER
What about young stylists – coming out of school – do you find it’s hard to train them so that they can be successful working in a salon setting?
ELI: Our industry has weakened over the years. Students are not being prepared for what the industry is really like. So even though they are coming out of the schools – our retaining ratio is not high.
When I speak at schools – I talk about the business and the industry, what to expect when you get into a salon environment. I still think that the schools are not preparing students for the reality of what life will be like when they come out of their program. They won’t be ready to stand behind the chair, demand a high percentage, and cut hair. Everyone needs to pick up a broom at some point. There is always a pecking order no matter what industry you are in – you have to pay your dues. People are not going to trust you until you prove yourself.
Every salon is only as good as the weakest link. A bad guest experience can take a brand and demolish it in seconds. Some salon owners have gotten desperate and will give brand new stylists walk-ins but it is risking their reputation. They market them as a new hair stylist – not charge as much in order to fill the shop. The danger is that if they give someone a bad haircut, the shop is painted with the same brush as them. They don’t see it as one bad haircut from a less experienced stylist, they associate that experience with the whole salon. That is what customers remember – it hurts your reputation.
We need more unity.
It would be different if salons agreed not to hire anyone out of schools unless they have apprenticed 2000 hours behind the chair or touch a pair of scissors until they have mastered shampoos and blow dries. It is better than it was in the 70’s and 80’s but it is still a cut throat business. Now people want success instantly, and are willing to step on peoples toes to get it.
I came home after a year and although my profession was only hairdressing, I knew I could change it. – Vidal Sassoon
Vidal Sassoon changed the hair industry from the way he cut hair to being one of the first celebrity hairdressers. Do you think new stylists have on rose colored glasses when it comes to success?
ELI: Vidal Sassoon wasn’t just a hairdresser. He built an empire, he traveled the world.
I would say 20 percent of the hairdressers in Ottawa are successful – working hard and making a good living. Anyone coming in this industry thinking they are going to make it right away is mistaken. That is why a lot of people quit in the first two years. They think – I’m not making $100,000 a year so why should I stay. You get what you put into it. It’s pretty straight forward.
SUCCESS: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
I always like to use the example of coffee – Starbucks or Tim Horton’s both sell coffee but one is brewed from coffee grounds in a package and the other is brewed from freshly ground beans. But it is more than that – it’s about the experience.
Starbucks has been responsible for creating the concept of a third place between home and work where people can relax, enjoy a cup of coffee and experience the inviting ambiance. – Martin Roll, Business & Brand Strategist
Likewise, some salons charge $30.00 for a haircut whiles others may charge $100.00 – but it is not without merit. The level of service and the skills/experience of the stylist are different – just like with any profession that comes with a premium.
LAILA: It comes down to what you are willing to pay for. When it comes to pricing for services in this business, you are paying for the level of experience of a stylist. A Master Stylist has more skill and can work more quickly than a Junior Stylist, so you won’t get the same results.
ELI: It goes above and beyond the haircut. It’s about the experience. I believe that a client will find a stylist to suit them – personality, culture, interests. If you click with a client – they will come back. You can get an amazing haircut but if the stylist is not for you – it doesn’t feel as good.
LAILA: People need to start thinking about salon services differently. If you pay for a haircut and it lasts 6 weeks – that has long-term value. But, some people won’t look at that – to them a haircut is a haircut.
ELI: The price you are able to charge is relative to where you live. Stylists in Montreal and Toronto don’t have the same problems as Ottawa in terms of pricing. It’s a different lifestyle and culture. You go to Yorkville – it can start at $300 for haircut and color – START.
My mother once told me that the best model for a shop would be to keep it small with a maximum of four good stylists that all respected each other.
ELI: In the beginning Silver Scissors started out as a small shop with 5 chairs – we did that for 26 years and we were very successful. Now we have a bigger space, employ more people – we still do the same amount of services but it is just on a bigger scale – more administrative work for Laila – more staff – more products and a greater overhead.
We’re established –we’re lucky. But today with rents, expenses and the competition and underground economy – good luck. For salon owners you could make more money as a stylist. Our industry is a lot of fun; it can allow you to make a good living, a great lifestyle, touch a lot of people and make a few great friends along the way. But as an owner it’s a different story – the burden is too high. I wouldn’t open another salon right now, there are too many challenges.
Instead of owners who’ve learned how to work well in their business, today’s owners are people who’ve learned to work well on their business.
– Brian Perdue, Blueprint for Success
I strongly believe that salon owners who don’t have a partner are at a huge disadvantage. They might have staff and stylists that help run the salon – but not having someone with long term vested interest means that there is no one to share the burden.
Now Laila for the most part you oversee the day–to-day management of the shops and, while Eli you are involved as well, your primary role is as the Artistic Director. I think when you work with family, it also gives you reassurance that you have each other’s back. Do you think a stylist who owns a salon can do both –without the help of a partner?
ELI: Laila and I have been doing it for a long time now – it’s something you build up to. I’m lucky because I have family with the same interests as me – keep the customers and staff happy – that is the biggest thing.
You can do a bit of both – but it’s not for everybody. You can be a great hairdresser but open up a shop and not be successful. Just like a great chef can be a terrible restaurateur. When you’re not cutting hair, you have to be thinking about the business – promoting, marketing, making sure the shop is clean, your shop is filled, and your orders have been done.
RISING OPERATING COSTS
On January 1, 2018, the Ontario government increase the minimum wage. How has this added overhead cost impacted the salon industry?
ELI: Overhead costs – 13% HST off the top – the new minimum wage plus CPP, Income Tax, and unemployment. Now statutory holidays went up from 4% to 6%. We can’t just up our prices. You’re not the only hairdresser on the block anymore – other salons are offering longer hours, evenings, weekends, lower prices because they are bringing in junior stylists.
How can salons compete with rising operating costs?
ELI: I always love talking to other salon owners, at classes and when I go to hair shows. The answers are always relatively the same in – New York, LA, Ottawa.
Salons need to get more creative. Rent and other fixed costs are just that, fixed. But for labour costs – you can’t challenge the government. You have to tweak working hours with staff, be smart on support team and your bookings.
In some restaurants you may have 3-4 people come to your table throughout your meal while others may assign each server a section for their shift. Some customers have a preference, others don’t care. I think from a business point of view – as long as you can maintain a high standard of customer service and flip tables – you should use whichever business model works best. I find these two models are very similar to the salon industry.
ELI: Like most stylists I was trained to complete a service from beginning to end. So, depending on the type of service, factoring in breaks, the average stylist could do 4-5 clients a day. We are one of the few salons that run differently. My brother-in-law – who trained in Paris – said to me you need to work with the strengths of your team.
While some clients can’t see their stylist because they book 3-4 months in advance, at our shop, we are able to take you in 2-3 days. You will have a consultation with your stylist but one of our technicians will do the color – then someone else will do the shampoo and blow dry. A client will either love that type of service or hate it. But it’s worked for us for almost 40 years – because we are still doing hair. In the end as long as their hair looks good the client is happy.
What is the biggest issue being faced by the beauty industry?
There is no governing body to protect salon owners.
You have some salon owners paying $5000 -$6000 in rent, paying assistants, employees, technicians. Then you have some salons run out of basements – not paying income tax, insurance in case you slip and fall, unemployment insurance. It is not a level playing field. We don’t have a governing body knocking on doors of home salons.
I am glad I am in the latter part of my career – there are just too many things working against salon owners now.
I read an article that suggested salon owners show their teams the cost of operating a salon. Do you think that would help them see the bigger picture?
So over my career from time to time, people have suggested the same thing to me. Show your team the breakdown of fixed costs – regardless if we make $1000 or $5000 a day.
But speaking from experience – owning seven different hair salons over the last 35 years –it just doesn’t sink in. When you do explain it to stylists, they might be surprised, but in the end they still don’t want their income to go down. At the end of the day, they can always leave and take their clients somewhere else. But it might be enough to scare them from opening their own shop – or realize that salon owners are not that greedy as people would make them out to be.
I think people tend to romanticize the industry – get caught up in the glamour. They don’t stop to think that you’re on your feet all day – working long hours during holidays. To be a successful and have longevity – you need to have the skill, the passion, the artistry and the people skills.
ELI: You’re not in the industry to make millions – you’re in it for lifestyle and rewards. When a client leaves happy and says thank you, I’ll see you next month – that’s a great feeling. It makes you feel good and you know you have made someone happy.