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The Long and Short of a Great Relationship With Your Hair Stylist

Create a good relationship with your hair stylist with these tips.
Create a good relationship with your hair stylist with these tips.
TLC

When Nancy London learned her family was relocating from Connecticut, "the most traumatic thing was leaving my hairdresser of 20 years."

For many women, the bond with a hair stylist is the most important service relationship of their lives and may endure longer than friendships, jobs and even marriages.

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Says industry consultant Geno Stampora, "You see a beauty professional before any important time in your life … marriage, graduation, reunions … They're a close friend, yet there are no ties."

Stampora, whose Virginia-based Creative Consulting works with salons nationwide, says for some women finding the perfect match is an endless quest. Up to 80 percent switch stylists after the fourth visit. And it may feel like adultery — complete with guilt and fear of discovery.

Then there are cases like Cathy Flaherty, who along with two daughters and "90 percent of our friends," loyally followed a Vienna, Va., stylist "from shop to shop" and — for years after he had moved to California — "would get the royal treatment" during appointments on his return trips.

So what's the secret to maintaining a good relationship with your stylist?

"The main thing is to keep your appointment or call in advance if you have to cancel," says Rose Campbell of Salon Christophe's Washington, D.C., location. "And don't do a bang trim at home."

Attitude also is important. Says Martyn Duff, Vidal Sassoon's Boston-based regional creative director, "One of the things is to keep your hair exciting. Keep your mind open to change. Make sure you've got a good rapport."

Honesty is a major factor. "The thing I like from my clients is to be up-front with me about what they want, not to be intimidated with me, to bring pictures of what they want, to have an open mind," says Janice Tice of Houston's upscale Urban Retreat.

John Sahag, whose Madison Avenue Workshop salon clientele includes celebrities from the entertainment and fashion worlds, suggests that "it's incredibly important for us to be in full contact with our ladies, always to consult," and to ask such questions as "how do you feel about the length?"

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Ultimately, it's important to remember your stylist wants to keep you happy — and deserves a chance to do that. Confides Stampora, most stylists need to see 400 to 600 clients monthly for financial success.

During your appointment, avoid discussing religion, politics, sex and other stylists. And although inviting, using the stylist's chair as a therapy couch "can be very hard on the stylist. We're here to do hair, we're not professionally qualified" to deal with personal problems, says Campbell.

If you like the finished product, say so. Ask if the stylist accepts gratuities; 15 to 20 percent is generally appropriate. But some stylists like Necole Cumberlander, owner of Cleveland's Noir et Blanc, are uncomfortable, noting accountants, lawyers and doctors are not tipped for professional services. "I want my clients to look at me in a different light, that it's a professional service I'm providing for them." The best way to show appreciation, stylists agree, is to refer new clients.

If you're unhappy with your hairdo, be specific and courteous. "Say, 'This is not really what I have in mind; I'd like to see something different,'" recommends Tice, who emphasizes disasters can be averted. "Don't ever walk into a salon and just get shampooed without a consultation."

If you still want an adjustment, remember: Other clients are waiting. You might try "to live with it for a while," says Sassoon's Duff. Still unhappy? Let your stylist know. If that doesn't work, or you want to change stylists, speak with the manager and "don't be afraid to jump around the salon," says Winn Claybaugh of Utah's Von Curtis Academy of Hair Design. Some salons even post signs encouraging clients to experience other stylists.

Frank Zona of Zona Salons in suburban Boston agrees people are increasingly establishing relationships with salons themselves. "Service providers change jobs relatively frequently, and if a business is well-managed, it is likely that there are many capable employees there."

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Still feeling guilty about leaving your stylist? Consider a note of appreciation while expressing a desire for a change, suggests Portsmouth, N.H., stylist Sheila Philp.

Tips for a good relationship with your stylist:

1. Keep appointments. Be prompt.

2. Have reasonable expectations, communicate honestly and be up-front.

3. Avoid discussing religion, politics, sex or other stylists.

4. Remember your hair stylist is not a psychiatrist.

5. If you're unsatisfied, be specific. Be flexible in requesting an adjustment.

6. If you are pleased, say so. Tip 15 to 20 percent if appropriate.

7. Refer new clients.

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