Hair styling is creative, demanding and always tuned in to the latest fashion trends, but it relies on good customer service just like any other business.
In a video interview with Knowledge at Wharton High School, Philadelphia stylist Alan Gold talks about a career that started out in law school but quickly segued into hair styling — a move that has established him as one of the industry’s most successful stylists. In addition to working runway shows in Paris and weddings in Curacao, and catering to such top models as Christy Turlington, Amber Valetta and Maggie Reiser, Gold never forgets that he is in a notoriously fickle business. His success relies on continuing to attract celebrities but also “the everyday girl,” as his website states.
How does he do that? “Everybody comes in with a common denominator, and that is a need” to be fashionable, he notes in the interview. “As a good stylist, you have to listen to what that need is. If you fulfill that need, the client comes back and you become credible.” Part of the process is “looking at the whole package. You can’t put a head on a body that doesn’t match. You also have to ask questions: How often will the client be coming back? Is there an end goal [he or she] is working toward? Ask about their ability to care [for their new look] after they leave. What are their intentions or not, as the case may be? Some people want wash and wear. Others want to be ready for their close-up.”
It’s not as easy as it sounds. “Somebody comes in and says to you, ‘I want this.’ You listenand you listen. And really, that’s not what they want. Then you have to explain to them what will give them what they want and why. They may not always understand, but you have to help them understand and take them on the path and the processes to get there.” There’s nothing worse than “back in the day when … a 200 pound woman [wanted] a Dorothy Hamill hair cut…. That’s not something I will do…. If somebody comes in with a picture and says, ‘I want this.’ I – not often – have said to clients, ‘I’m not the one for you. This is not what I do.'” Just giving somebody always what they want isn’t the answer, he adds. “You have to educate them. It’s about integrity for your client and for you. ”
At the end of the day, Gold says, the client has to leave and be able to sustain a good feeling about their hair treatment “for a whole month. It’s not a one-time picture. If it’s a one-time picture, that client is not going to come back. That’s how our industry has changed. People used to come to salons far more frequently. Now, [they come] once a month. They lead their busy lives. Everybody’s working — men, women — whether they have to or [not]. So you have to give them something that’s going to live more than one visit.”
In the KWHS interview, Gold talks about why he resists the urge to push products that manufacturers claim are newer, better, longer-lasting but that aren’t; which of his high-profile clients was the most fun to work for; and why the business of hair styling is “40% emotion and 60% talent.” As he says, “I still get excited about it today. Whatever I go to do, when I come into work I am excited to be there. Even if it’s the same client I’ve seen for 30 years, even if it’s another runway show that I’ve done before for somebody. You have to have some juice in your veins to make it work. If not, you’re just a human clip. You’re just standing there going through the motions.”