How we work now – Matthew Sutcliffe, TINT

He’d won The It List It Guy award and the L’Oréal Colour Trophy, and going self-employed felt like a door closing on profile-building opportunities. So with his own salon concept TINT, it would all be different…

Myself and my co-founder Steve have been hairdressing for more than 20 years and have worked in employed and self-employed salons. Steve was my manager at Westrow, a fully employed salon, and he left to go self-employed in 2014.

In 2015, I left an employed salon. I was not only scared that I had to support myself financially, but also worried I wouldn’t have any support in terms of education, team experiences and industry PR that an employed salon brings. I had just enjoyed a great couple of years winning the L’Oréal Colour Trophy, The It List It Guy and then winning a place on the FAME team. It felt like a self-employed salon was a massive step backwards in my career.

I found there’s a different buzz and energy in a self-employed salon. Everyone seems to work twice as hard to maintain a good clientele and the financial benefits can be amazing. For example, you would never see a stylist book in a fake client just so they can go home early! That type of attitude just doesn’t exist. By 2017 I was facing a dilemma. I loved working at a self-employed salon but I missed employment benefits and felt I was losing everything I’d worked hard for. I felt totally on my own.

But from 2016 to 2018, my income had quadrupled. This was a massive turning point. It gave me an opportunity to be my own boss and be in control of my own destiny. I invested in monthly PR, set aside cash for photo shoots and competitions before planning and saving for TINT.

We decided that if we were going to set up a salon, it needed to have everything we would have wanted when we first went into hairdressing. We knew from experience that a good brand, regular training and opportunities should be at the heart of it. TINT is a 2,000 sq ft warehouse style salon, which has its own education area, photo shoot set, and 16 plus styling stations. It’s built purely for progression.

Our business Is plan is broken down into a simple design. The stylists are our clients and they pay us. For this fee, they will receive all salon benefits like receptionists, assistants, training, competition training and industry opportunities, photo shoots, team building exercises, clients, PR, access to an online database from an app and everything else you would expect from a fully employed salon.

As owners, it’s our responsibility to keep our standards high and maintain our promise to our client, the stylist. We only employ a receptionist and assistants. We do not have any stylists on commission-based wages. All self-employed staff pay TINT for our services. This is to comply with IR35.

The stylists at TINT are all very experienced hairstylists and we require them to do a trade test before we hire our facilities to them. It’s exactly the same format as an employed salon. Legally they can pretty much please themselves in terms of choosing their hours and taking holidays. This type of agreement is widely used in many industries now. ‘Flexitime’ is an example of how companies are changing the way they approach staffing rules.

To conform with self-employment laws, we can’t enforce anything on the stylists as they are not employees. But we do have ‘house rules’ that we all agree to stick to. This makes life a lot easier. Examples of these house rules include looking after each other’s clients, making drinks if needed, even washing up if necessary. We also expect to be paid weekly and on time. These rules aren’t in writing but an understanding of the importance of working as a team and helping each other with such simple tasks is part of the culture. We’re not at a point where we feel a written agreement should be in place as a lot of us have known each other a long time and we have a mutual understanding of what TINT needs to succeed.

Stylists can literally do as they please with regards to flexibility. In fact, the less a stylist is working at TINT, the less the facilities are being used, therefore fewer overheads and more profit for TINT! However, it doesn’t really work like that. TINT’s 14 stylists seem to work all the time, which is great and it’s created an amazing energy in the salon.

We’ve never been in a situation where stylists have tried to be rebellious towards us. We’re a very strong team and would do anything for each other. Our culture is very different. Nobody fights over clientele. We always study the job in hand and find the stylist perfectly suitable for that stylist. Everyone knows that if we work together like this we will all benefit in the long run. If we have ever seen something we don’t like we simply just sort it out on the spot like adults.

We have regular meetings and training that everyone comes to. However, this is not compulsory, it just wouldn’t be Team TINT if you didn’t. We are all striving to be the best and put TINT on the map. This is down to our co-op approach.

From our point of view, our accounts are very straight forward. We receive payments via bank transfer from the stylist and colour product purchases from stylists, and we take card payments for the retail products from customers. We accept cash on retail purchases only. All bills and payroll are direct debit or bank transferred. Our accountant runs the payroll and presents our accounts annually to HMRC.

All stylists must pay us for our services and everyone pays the same. We do not pay anyone a percentage. Paying a percentage is a form of tax dodge and does not comply with IR35, where people who work at a regular place invoice companies for their work. This can be seen as PAYE avoidance.

Because the stylists are self-employed, they take their own payments for hair services. They all have their own card machines to accept payment and if they do handle any cash, they will record it accordingly. We’re very keen to follow the correct procedure. All stylists must have an accountant as well as their own insurance. Our system logs all services and payments taken by the stylists so they can print this off annually to cross check with their bank statements. This would then be given to their accountant, who would prepare the accounts ready for HMRC.

One pitfall is retail. We cannot enforce retail sales, so they can be low at times. We have to rely on training to try and encourage more sales. We house a full L’Oréal Professionnel range of colour and styling products. Our stylists buy colour products from us by simply selecting their name on the computer and scanning. They receive a bill every week. The reason we house products is because we wanted stylists to always have access to every colour if needed. Secondly, if everyone buys from TINT, it allows us to get all training benefits and kickbacks from the manufacturers.

We have our very own NVQ-qualified assessor, Leanne Brown, so our trainees are in safe hands. Their wages are the same as at any employed salon and they receive commission on any retail sales. Our trainees are TINT’s future and we spend lots of time with them. I think TINT is a really exciting place to become a hairdresser. We feel we’ve highlighted an area in hairdressing that has been a problem for a while. It’s not just about the doors we can open for trainees, but also the fact that so many young people don’t want to go in hairdressing because of the low wages. Even my mum said to me: “why would you want to be hairdresser, it’s low paid?”  Our trainees go to college once every two weeks and receive one day per week (20 per cent of their working time) in-house training. After their training they will do a final test. If successful, they will have the opportunity to apply for a chair at TINT. They could be potentially earning £50k+ within eight years of becoming a stylist.

Not every self-employed, “rent a chair” salon operates like this. The training can be non-existent and opportunities very rare. I would recommend to anyone wanting a career in a self-employed salon to do their homework first.

It’s very difficult to put a finger on whether they’ll be more salon models like TINT in the future. Cultures in work places are certainly changing. We believe we’ve created something really special.