Clara Senger of Argyle Salon in Bellingham, Washington, has been working behind the chair since 1997. After a six-year stint managing dozens of employees at a franchise salon, she decided to open her own independent salon in 2005. It started as a six-chair commission salon where Clara and her team spent the better part of a decade making Northwest Washington clients look and feel gorgeous.
Since 2016 Argyle has resided within the seven-story Bellingham Herald building, the local paper’s original headquarters. The location was built in 1925 and housed reporters and other staff, with the printing press room sprawling the ground floor, where Argyle now dwells.
The mostly wide-open first-floor space boasts 17-foot ceilings, the original hardwood flooring, and ample natural light that pours through the windows on two sides. Wonderfully light and airy with vintage architecture, this historic location in the heart of downtown Bellingham is ideal for a salon. Argyle, which has seen success and growth over the years, now offers 20 stations in an all rental salon business model.
Making a Change – From Commission to Booth Rental
How did a small commission-only salon go from a handful of stations to 20 in a booth rental business? If you ask Clara, she’d likely say, “Slowly.”
“It was not part of my business plan to start a commission salon and then go to a booth rental salon. Having a commission salon at the time was pretty normal for our area. I don’t think there were a lot of booth rental salons. We set out to be a commission salon because we wanted a real team environment—one where if any of our clients couldn’t get in with their regular stylist could see someone else, and people would be comfortable with that,” Clara stated.
For the first five years that Argyle was open, the salon was strictly commission. However, at one point, a couple of stylists wanted to become booth renters. They told Clara that they loved the salon but wanted to move away from a commission structure. At the time, she was not in a mindset to offer the option, so the stylists left.
“Over time, other people came to me saying the same thing,” Clara added. “The important thing to me was the team of people we were building—I didn’t want to see them go. I wanted to see them stay but still feel successful and happy with what they were doing. That’s when we decided to do both, so we did both booth rental and commission for the next five years. It was ideal because some of our more senior stylists could booth rent if they wanted to. We were also bringing in new stylists sometimes straight out of a beauty school with no clientele, so they started commission stylists.”
When Argyle moved into the new facility in the Herald building, the salon only had two stylists that we’re still on commission. Financially, Clara didn’t think it made sense to keep this structure because the business paid a lot in taxes and other employee expenses. She felt that with many stylists on commission, they all paid into the system with their sales but with only a few employees, it did not even out. However, it didn’t make sense to have everyone become rental until they were ready to do so. After about three months in the new space, the two commission stylists went to booth rental, and the salon has been strictly booth rental ever since.
When it comes to not having commission positions available, Clara says that it has not been an issue so far. “I thought that eventually, it might be, but we haven’t experienced a lot of turnover over the years. Because we have been in Bellingham for as long as we have and have a good reputation, I haven’t had trouble finding stylists. Usually, if we have an opening, I just share it on our local stylist Facebook page, and I see people. I’ve also had many stylists who have a friend looking for a change and have them talk to me.”
She added, “I have had a couple of people move in from out of state and have found our salon but have no clients. We are in an excellent location right in the middle of downtown, being around for as long as we have, building up our reputation, that clients want to come here. Same for our standing with stylists: we are a very supportive salon, and even though we are booth rental, we try to have a team atmosphere and help each other, take classes together, be encouraging and supportive of each other. I think that has helped us with finding new stylists, so even when they started from out-of-state, they’ve been super busy from the get-go.”
Booth Rental vs. Commission
When asked about the benefits of having a booth rental salon, Clara replied, “It has been good for us mainly because people have wanted to stay. We didn’t have stylists leaving because they didn’t like the salon or they didn’t get along with others in the salon; it was more because they wanted to booth rent. So for that reason, it has been good for us. It’s nice not to have a revolving door of people.”
“For me, as an owner, I feel like it’s been a little easier. I definitely did enjoy that part of my job having the younger stylists come in and shadow and train with us, but it’s also more work,” she added.
Having a booth rental salon has helped Clara step away from the salon a little more and allow time with her two kids. Stylists are in charge of themselves and their schedules, so the load has been lightened slightly for this salon owner.
Another positive aspect of having a booth rental salon, according to Clara, is the recurring income. “You can count on it, and you know exactly where it’s going to be. It does make it easier to have a better idea of the income every month. With commission, it depends if they’re busy or not. If they go on vacation, take a week off, call in sick, or simply don’t have a full schedule, nothing is coming in, and I’m still paying out.”
Clara also points out that people seem more motivated when they are working for themselves. They are responsible for paying their own insurance, rent, and other expenses, so they are typically more appreciative of what goes into running a salon. They also feel more attached to it; it’s their business, and only they can make it successful.
Unlike most seasoned booth renters, some commission stylists during Clara’s franchise management days could not comprehend what went into running a salon. They would complain that the salon was taking their money in commission when they did the work. They failed to understand that it was essential to take a cut to supply their color, styling products, back bar, and other expenses and still have enough to keep the lights on.
The Teamwork Aspect
“I like having the stylists feel more independent, but we also do have some guidelines in our lease that they agree to as far as the team aspect. For example, we tell them that we have classes, and we only want people who desire to keep learning because that’s what we’re about at the salon. I want them to keep learning, keep educating themselves – not stick with the same old, same old.
“We definitely say in the lease that they sign we have ‘this much’ education, and they are expected to be present with at least a certain amount of it. I like to put that upfront because those are the types of stylists we are looking for. If somebody reads that in the lease and says, ‘I don’t think this is fair, I am a booth renter, and I should not have to go to classes,’ okay, well, then maybe our salon isn’t the right environment for them.
“We did write into our lease agreement that stylists are expected to attend salon meetings too, but I never said they have to attend every single one. I feel like there’s always a couple of people who can never come for whatever reason. It used to bother me but now I kind of let that go. I would think this would be important to everyone, but I finally realized that the people who feel like it’s important would be there, and I still need to show up for them. During the meetings, I talk about whatever needs to be talked about, sometimes one of our stylists gives a product class or mini-demo, and then for the others who couldn’t make it, I just do meeting notes and provide them with an update.
“However, If we find that a stylist is really not interested in ever attending meetings or classes, at that point, we’ll sit down and talk about it to decide if Argyle is the right salon for them or not,” Clara concludes.
Other Things to Consider
There is specific licensing required for any salon business in the state of Washington, including booth renters. Naturally, this varies from state to state, as does the option to be a booth or suite rental salon. Clara points out that it’s vital to know the laws and restrictions in your area before setting out to open a rental salon.
“The way that I understand it, for Washington state, if they are a true booth renter, we cannot exchange money with them. For example, I can’t claim them as a booth renter but say I’m going to pay them a commission on any retail sales. I also can’t take their money at the front desk and then pay them later, so we’ve always kept a really clean line with all of that. They write me a check every month for their rent, and that is it.”
Scheduling, Processing Payments & Client Data
When it comes to their salon software, the team at Argyle use Rosy. That way, the receptionist can schedule appointments for the stylists and check clients in, but each renter handles their own client data and financial reports. They also process their own payments on their own devices, so income for services goes directly to each stylist. As the owner, the processes this booth rental salon owner makes are her own tickets and any retail sales.
Booth Rental Retail Tips
Argyle stylists do sell retail, but the salon doesn’t pay commission on it. Instead, Clara has worked it out to provide all of their styling products and back bar shampoo and conditioner as a thank-you for selling retail. So far, it has worked out pretty well.
“More recently, I wanted to have more of a retail incentive. I learned in the past that even getting just a small amount back on retail is a real incentive for people sometimes. Being a rental salon, I can’t do that, so about a year and a half ago we devised another option. If they sell $500 worth of retail in a month, I give them a certain amount off their rent. If they sell $1000, they get a little more off their rent. It has motivated some people to educate their clients more about retail. This, in turn, sells more retail, giving us the ability to provide back bar for our stylists and our stylists feel like they’re getting something out of it also,” Clara continued.
Words of Wisdom
4 Salon Booth Rental Tips
As far as advice for another salon owner looking to go from commission to rental, this Friends of Rosy VIP offers this advice:
Keep an open line of communication
Any changes that you are making with your salon are best done with open communication. My advice would be don’t spring it on people. Ensure you have really open communication with your team, especially if you’re already working as one business type and switching to the other.
As an owner, I own a salon to create a space for people to love coming to work, and I always want to consider my team’s ideas. I don’t feel like ‘I own the place, and it’s mine, and if they don’t like it, you can leave…’ or whatever. It might not be everybody’s way of owning a business. Still, I really take into consideration a lot of thoughts and ideas from the team because I feel like the environment and the culture that we are trying to create is for the people that work there. Even if it makes me happy, where will my team be if they are not satisfied? I’m not going to enjoy coming to work much either if the team isn’t working cohesively. I want to work in an environment where people are happy and enjoy themselves and feel like they have input.
Be very clear with your ideas and goals
It wouldn’t have worked out as well, at least for me, if I hadn’t been upfront with everyone. Having said what I expected and how things would work and what I expected from each person as a booth renter was important. Even though I know I’m not going to make their hours or tell them what color lines to use, etc.; I told them that I expected them to be at classes and be interested in furthering their education and that type of thing.
Have a written booth rental salon agreement
Make sure you have a written contract: nothing insanely long or demanding, but something that does protect you and outlines the responsibilities and expectations of both parties, including what happens when they’re late with the rent, the term of the agreement, and what happens if either party needs to break the lease before the term is up.
Don’t be too controlling
I’m pretty flexible with things, and I don’t have tough rules about some things like a dress code. I feel like people’s clothing and their look is a real form of expression. We’re all adults and are responsible for putting effort into our look. These are all some of the reasons booth rental works well for me because I don’t feel the need to make a lot of rules. Offering a basic structure and a work environment where our team feels supported and has room to create is what drives our culture.