You spend time, money and effort ensuring staff become valued members of your team – and then they leave. The key is to remember training and mentoring should not stop when the apprenticeship finishes, argues Ian Cuthbert.

At Paterson SA our philosophy is simple: “every decision is client focused, yet team led”. This shows, right from the beginning, the importance for us of team retention and the careful management of our people. Of course, no salon is going to be the same and all salons will experience turnover of staff but, for us, it comes down to four key areas: recruitment, teaching real-life skills, onward training and constant refocusing on service.

Training salon staff


We believe the notion of team retention has to be embedded right from the start of someone’s career, in fact even before the interview and selection process. We look for people who we feel will have the right “fit” as well as the right skills or potential, so people who are passionate, committed, have good dexterity and confident interpersonal skills.

We assess the extent to which candidates listen and learn (through a practical blow-dry session, which is evaluated and scored), how proactive and self-motivated they are but also how reactive they are, in terms of understanding something before acting. All these can become crucial as their career progresses, and can give us an idea of how someone is motivated and what will motivate them in the future.

Teaching real-life skills

The key here is our PSA Academy. We have a commitment to educate all our assistants to NVQ Level 3 in hairdressing as well as in photographic work. But they also complete our own in-depth and intensive PSA education programme as part of their two-year apprenticeship.

Each new team member has an individual training plan and is assigned a mentor. We use a system called “representational analysis” to determine whether they learn primarily through auditory means (in other words through words and explanations, lists and questioning), visual (learning through watching, copying and demonstration), auditory digital (learning through systems, order and control and structure) or kinaesthetic (or learning through internal emotions and connections, feelings and empathy).

Throughout the programme we also run regular service training sessions based around the psychology of the client, body language and communication skills.

Onward training

Having completed their initial two years, the next priority is to ensure we keep people engaged, motivated and mentored throughout their career, which is where our onward training kicks in.

Both the stylist and their manager are required to monitor clearly set goals. Monthly “one2ones” are set aside for discussions on setting goals and objectives. Each stylist makes a “goal chart” which includes a visual representation of their goals and with positive affirmations supporting them.

These we find very useful in providing a daily reminder not only of why they do what they do and what they are striving to achieve but also as a management tool that helps connect team-members to their future within the business.

Another important element is our schedule of “evenings of inspiration” that run throughout the year under the title “an audience with….”. These, as the name suggests, are designed to inspire the team, with the team suggesting the topics for the 45-minute seminar. Although attendance is not compulsory, the numbers are always high.

Recent evenings have included avant garde workshops, barbering seminars, art team presentations, goal setting and public speaking. Future topics for this year include dressing hair seminars, photographic seminars and a physiotherapist delivering tips on posture and caring for back and shoulders.

Refocusing on service

The final strands are our PSA “Service School” and “Friday morning” meetings. These have one very simple objective – constantly to re-evaluate our clients’ insalon experience.

The Friday morning meetings, which are run once a month, have been a part of the PSA culture for the past 25 years. They are, very simply, time set aside to review the previous month’s performance and to focus on client service going forward.

The Service School has been running for five years now and involves all team members spending a whole day out of salon for activities and training, all focusing on the whole client experience.

Ian Cuthbert is development director of Paterson SA, which runs salons in Edinburgh and Dalkeith. He has worked at PSA for 14 years, looking after front-of-house training, hairdressing team development and salon coordination across the group. 

What worked for me

Layla McArthur has been working at Paterson SA since the age of 15, rising from assistant to stylist to PSA “Stylist of the Year” and finally to salon manager in the company’s Lothian Road salon. She is also part of thePSA art team and has had collections published worldwide. 

“My first memories of PSA were as a child walking past the salon and dreaming of working there. Right from the very beginning of my career it’s never stopped being fun and exciting, as well as focused and educational. 

“The ongoing support I had as a young stylist was very important. Feeling part of the various focus meetings, being offered the chance to go on external training courses such as ‘Zest for Life’ and having the opportunity to do advanced training all made a huge difference. 

Initiatives such as the Service School I always found very useful, in that they help to refresh your mind and gave you the skills both to learn and to lead by example. The ‘audience with…’ evenings can be very inspiring and motivational, both for the team and me. They allow team members to demonstrate their passions. 

Now that I have become a manager, having access to thePSAAcademy has been essential. It’s so important to have a training standard for your next generation of stylists and a structured, motivated training plan that you and they can follow.”

Ian Cuthbert, Development Director of Paterson SA