Making The Cut

Making The Cut report header

UK hairdressing, a buoyant industry populated by ambitious entrepreneurs, is facing a series of challenges that could impact on future growth, a new report shows.

Making the Cut, a report produced by Creative HEAD in collaboration with the National Hair & Beauty Federation, the Freelance Hairdressers’ Association and the British Beauty Council, asked 100 salon owners and 100 self-employed hairdressers about their plans to grow and what holds them back from realising their ambitions. It reveals how, even before Covid-19, a perfect storm of market saturation and rising Minimum Wage costs was devastating traditional salon employment models, leading to a clear trend among salon bosses towards freezing recruitment, reducing hours for existing staff and taking on self-employed chair renters instead of directly employing people.

Key findings from the report include:

The traditional concept of hairdressing as a 9 to 5 job in a salon with a single employer no longer constitutes the way a substantial proportion of hairdressers make a living – 60% of all hair professionals are now self-employed, and Covid-19 will grow that number still further.

A lack of fundamental business skills, and awareness of how and where to acquire those skills, is preventing growth. This is particularly acute among self-employed stylists, who often go from ‘hairdresser’ to ‘business owner’ overnight.

Additionally, there is a reliance on inefficient technology – 75% of salons still use paper appointment books – is holding the industry back. Only 3% of appointments are currently booked online.

Making The Cut report colourist image (photo by cottonbro for Pexels)
While many hairdressers choose to go self-employed, an increasing number of salon owners are opting no longer directly to employ their workers, instead engaging them as self-employed sub-contractors in their business. Salon owners who continue to employ their staff cite unfair competition, highlighting the associated costs and VAT payments which they often have to pass on to their clients. Meanwhile, salons with only self-employed people working in them avoid employment costs, employer National Insurance Contributions at 13.8% and VAT and can charge lower prices.

Employment in UK hairdressing is highly female-dominated and characterised by young people: almost half the workforce is aged 16-34 and 88% are female; 82% of the UK’s 44,800 salons are owned and run by women. As the country begins to rebuild after the pandemic, it will be critical to ensure women and young people have more opportunities to work – offering the flexibility these groups need to juggle other commitments, hairdressing can be an important part of the puzzle in the recovery of the UK economy post-Covid.

Despite the unique employment opportunities for females and young people, there is still a stigma around hairdressing as a profession, with teachers and parents believing it’s not a ‘serious’ career: 51% of consumers think hairdressing is low-skill and 75% were not told about hairdressing as a career option when they were at school. Consequently, young people entering the profession fell by 13% in 2018/19.

Sustainability is becoming an essential way of UK hairdressing life – one-third of the salon owners we spoke to said they aimed to run their businesses along more sustainable lines in the future. Currently the UK hairdressing industry recycles just 20% of the plastic it uses, but initiatives such as Green Salon Collective are seeking to change this. It collects salon waste and finds new uses for it that benefit the salon, the community and the environment – for example, hair clippings are turned into hair booms that can be used to soak up oil spills from rivers, seas, parks or gardens.
Making The Cut report - photo by cottonbro for Pexels

“Making the Cut has shone a unique spotlight into the nation’s hairdressing businesses,” says Creative HEAD publisher Catherine Handcock. “What we see is an industry of ambitious, young, predominantly female, entrepreneurs who are sadly held back by a lack of fundamental business skills.

“The report also clarifies some of the reasons behind the massive swing to self-employment in recent years, which is not without its problems. However, it will be important for the future of UK hairdressing as a whole to seek to empower independent people, rather than necessarily trying to employ them.”

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