Recently, one of my longtime Detroit clients stopped by my shop on her way out to a job fair taking place out of state. With a note of shame, she shared the humiliation that she and her husband were facing. Both worked for the auto industry, both were in their mid 40s and both had been laid off after 25 years on the job. She cried as she told me this would be her last appointment.
I fought back my own tears as I tried to shampoo her pain away. Then I offered her my “this-too-shall-pass” special. That made her laugh, which made me smile, the kind of smile that made me remember what really matters: making my client happy.
Because I’m based in the Motor City, about 2 out of 5 of my clients are in some way connected to the struggling auto industry. In addition to fighting Miss Recession, I’m battling against “kitchen beauticians”—people buying professional products (relaxers, color and conditioning treatments) and doing their own hair. For a hairstylist, it’s hard out here!
I’m doing my part, prioritizing my own wants and my needs. (Or is it needs and wants?) This has been my profession for 21 years. But unfortunately as a hairstylist, I am not a need for most of my clients just now. Detroit is hurting, and my business is hurting, too.
My career prospects looked brighter when I started as a shampoo girl in Inglewood, Calif., in the mid-1980s. That was way back when nice paychecks kept up the Anita Baker hairstyle, and no one worried about tomorrow.
Now I’m a 45-year-old stylist in the hair capital of the Midwest … and Miss Recession has me scared! To put it in perspective: When I first started as a stylist in L.A., I worked six days a week and averaged $60 per day in tips. A regular shampoo/style was $25. Today I work four days a week, averaging $35 per day in tips. A regular shampoo/style is $45.
I do what I can to cope. I have a posted price list, but at the end of the day, I base my prices on the lifestyle of my client. If my client is a student, a single mother or a worker about to be laid off, I will do what I can to keep her. I’ve had every kind of special you can think of. Currently I am running a “till THINGS get better” special.
My regular “life is golden” prices? Relaxer ($80). Roller Set ($45) and Press and Curl ($60).
But currently, I’m running the RS (Real Sweet) special, where you can get a relaxer and roller set for $60. Curls-only is $20. A wet set runs you $35. My press-and-curl clients pay $50 per session, which includes my mandatory steam heat treatments.
I’m an optimist. I like to think of my tint bottle as half full! I will continue to be passionate about healthy hair. Someday, the layoffs and foreclosures and relocations and kitchen beauticians will pass. I’m convinced of it. And then I will be able to end that “till THINGS get better” special.
Paunice Savage is a hairstylist in Detroit.
MORE FROM THE ROOT'S HAIR CHRONICLES:
Delece Smith-Barrow: Will black salons survive the recession?
Michel Martin: Sometimes a haircut is just a haircut.
A'Lelia Bundles: A 5-part manifesto on hair peace.
Yodith Dammlash: A candid look at the tangles between black women and their hair.
Bijan C. Bayne: How black men have shaved, conked and cornrowed through history.
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