The Style Guy was a monthly column that appeared in Birmingham Magazine for nearly ten years. It was written each month by Sanctuary owner and stylist Todd Cargo.
Of the many clients that pass through my salon doors every week, a certain percentage are new clients who have come in the hopes of discovering that I or one of my stylists might be the hair-savior they've been looking for. Perhaps they've had some poor experience elsewhere, or perhaps they've damaged their hair and are in desperate need of repair, or maybe they're new to Birmingham and just haven't found anyone they click with yet. Whatever the reason, this influx of new people have certain expectations when they come in to a salon, and as hairdressers it's our job to do our best to meet those expectations. When it comes to building a relationship between a client and stylist, trust is the most important thing. The client has to trust that their stylist knows what they are doing and the stylist needs to trust that the client has every faith in them. That faith can be tested from time to time when neither party is communicating their expectations clearly. Let's say that a client sees a hairstyle in a magazine that she wants but her stylist knows that her hair type, texture, and thickness won't support that style. Does he relent and do it anyway giving her disappointing results--even though it's what she asked for? Or does he stand his ground and say no because he realizes the outcome will not be flattering on her? The obvious answer seems to be the latter, but ONLY if there is trust and faith between the two parties. She must have faith that her stylist knows what he's talking about and be willing to scrap the new hairstyle idea if he tells her it won't work on her hair. It can take a little time to develop this kind of open trust, but this is the most important thing in a successful stylist/client relationship. When you are searching for a new hairdresser this kind of faith, or the possibility of developing it is the single most important element you should be looking for as you test new stylists. If you are not able to let go and trust that your stylist knows more about what is and isn't possible with your hair, then you'll probably end up disappointed and feeling frustrated with the final results. Likewise, the stylist has his own end of the bargain to hold up. He's got to be open to hearing and understanding his clients' needs and preferences as well as be open to new things and not just become sedentary in the tried and true. If his client is looking for a change then he must find a suitable change for her that will work with her hair. If he can find ways to deliver what the client wants, and the client can let go of enough control to trust that he knows what's best, that is when you have a successful relationship where both sides' expectations are met.
Once a trusting relationship is built between stylist and client, they're both responsible for maintaining that bond. The biggest threat to that relationship is time. Once enough time passes, often years and years, each party begins to take for granted that the other will always be there. Perhaps the client will grow dissatisfied with her hair and will want something new and radical, but because the stylist has been doing the same thing with her hair for a long time she may forget that he is capable of other styles. She might say to herself, "He just does it that one way. I should find someone else and get something new." If this happens it means that she's forgotten the bond between them and lost her faith in her stylist. On the stylist's end, if he misses all the signs of her dissatisfaction and allows himself to fall into a rut of just giving her the same thing every time without even asking if she'd like to try something new, he's eroding the bond of trust as well. Time and familiarity is often to blame for the breakdown of their relationship; They just got too comfortable with each other. A lack of communication can creep in; He thought he was giving her what she wanted while she thought he was giving her the same old boring "do". An over-estimated feeling of security can often undermine their mutual feelings of trust; He thought she was a life-long client and friend that would never quit him and she thought he was a genius who'd always give her what she wanted. The bond between stylist and client falls apart once the two stop discussing the hair and assume that the other can read their mind and should automatically know what the other is thinking. Once appointments become more about catching each other up on one another's lives with no talk about hair at all, that's when you know you need to stop, reconnect on a hair level, and start a discussion on what path you each want the hair to take. We all have to keep in mind what is expected of us on our part and we should vocalize what we expect from the other. This relationship is like a marriage; without trust and communication nobody's needs are met and the next thing you know, someone's sleeping on the couch.