Landing a Commission Barber Job or Renting a Chair: The Pros and Cons of Each

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As you approach the end of your barber school training program – or maybe long before – you’re going to find yourself thinking a lot about your compensation options as a professional barber. This generally comes down to two different models:

Working as a commissioned employee – Paul McGregor, the barber who originally invented the shag hairstyle, might encourage you to work on commission. Some of his more famous clients who wore his shag cut include Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger, Jane Fonda, and Jennifer Aniston.

OR

Renting a chair in a barbershop and more or less being your own boss – Peter Coppola might suggest you rent a chair or booth. The son of Italian immigrants in Manhattan, he was responsible for challenging New York’s ban on cutting men’s hair in beauty salons. He would go on to found a highly successful line of hair products and open up a shop with Paul Mitchell.

Now, do you want to start working on commission, or do you want to take your chances with a chair/booth rental?

If you’re confused about which model is best for you, don’t worry. This article should help to clear things up, and you can always transition from one method to the other.

Chair Rental VS Commission in Brief

Renting a Chair – Chair rental, also referred to as booth rental, is when you pay a weekly or monthly fee to the owner of a barbershop. In return you get to use a chair in the barbershop to see clients, and once you’ve paid your rent then you get to keep the rest of what you make. This is more of an independent business model, where you manage and operate your own barbering business inside a preexisting establishment.

For anyone in New Jersey or Pennsylvania – sorry but your state forbids booth and chair rentals.

Working on Commission – Commission is where you get paid a percentage of the total amount that you earn in a barbershop. Commission agreements typically range from anywhere between a 70-30 split to a 40-60 split. Say you earn $100 in one day. If you’re on a 70-30 split, you would keep $70 of your earnings and give $30 to the barbershop owner. If you’re doing a 40-60 split, you would keep $40 and pay the owner $60. In another example, say you make $180 in one day, and you’re on a 50-50 split with the owner. In this instance you each get $90.

Some barbershops opt to pay you a bi-weekly salary/wage, plus a bonus commission.

When you work on a commission basis you would be considered an employee who works for an existing barbershop rather than being self-employed as is the case when renting a chair or booth in an established shop.

Natural Progression

As a new barber you will typically start out working on a commission, and once you build up a base of steady clientele you can transition to renting a chair/booth. While this progression can be considered a traditional model, some barbers work their whole careers renting, while others work their entire career working on a commission.

A lot just depends on your own personal preferences. Some barbershop owners or managers may also require one model or another, so if you want to work in such an establishment you must adapt to their preference. This is especially true for smaller barbershops – they usually don’t rent chairs.

Renting a Chair Versus Working on Commission – Pros and Cons

When deciding which model is right for you, consider these pros and cons:

Pros of Renting a Booth/Chair

  • More independence
  • You are basically your own boss
  • Make your own hours/schedule
  • Work with your own clientele
  • Make your own prices
  • Make your own promotions and advertising
  • Choose your own products and what you retail
  • Can potentially earn more than you would working on commission

Cons of Renting a Booth/Chair

  • More risky than commission if the number of your clients diminishes or if they don’t show up
  • Can be more stressful at first
  • Work with a regular set of clientele, with not as much new client experience
  • Managing your business is more complicated – taxes, book keeping, business license, advertising, insurance (including health insurance), etc
  • You may potentially be putting in long hours during busy times
  • Costs more to get started – you have to buy all your supplies

Pros of Working on a Commission

  • More stable than renting a chair (safety net) – if you have a slow day you still earn something, as opposed to having to go into the negative like you would if you rented a booth or chair
  • Can be less stressful at first, and easier to transition to when you are fresh out of school
  • Meet lots of potential clients
  • Simplified business model that supports you as a representative of the barbershop
  • Cheaper to get started – you typically don’t need to buy all of your own supplies
  • Don’t have to take work home with you – once you close the door the work stays there
  • You typically don’t need to worry about booking appointments – someone else does that for you
  • Your barbershop will take care of all the advertising and marketing
  • More of a chance that you can get health insurance, paid vacation, and other benefits through a barbershop that does the commission model
  • You typically don’t need to do your own business taxes and other paperwork

Cons of Working on a Commission

  • No matter how much you earn, a significant portion of that will be going to the owner or manager
  • Not as much freedom as renting a chair – your hours, prices, and products are set
  • Commission barbershops may not allow you to take your clients with you if you go to another establishment or transition to the rental model

From the Owner’s Point of View

When considering whether to work on commission or to rent a chair, you get a more complete picture if you also keep in mind the perspective of the barbershop manager or owner. These are the important factors from their perspective:

Manager Advantages for a Commission Barbershop

  • Potentially a supportive team environment
  • More retail business and the potential for better profits
  • Consistent talent and a standardized offering of services that attracts customers
  • Standardized business model for each employee – taxes, continuing education, benefits

Manager Advantages for a Booth/Chair Rent Barbershop

  • Can expect a guaranteed amount of income
  • No need to negotiate different commission terms
  • Employees work independently and do not need oversight
  • Simplified business model – no need for advertising, promotions, or complicated employee taxes
  • Easier shop maintenance – no need to buy supplies, tools, and accessories

What the Professionals are Saying

The booth/chair rental versus commission debate is one of the most popular topics on websites like BTC – Behind the Chair. Many other beauty and styling professionals also face this question and have a lot to say.

Here is a summary of the main opinion points out there regarding booth/chair rental vs commission:

  • Success depends on the individual – some experienced professionals lose money when they do booth/chair rental, while other inexperienced fresh barber school graduates may succeed
  • The most successful chair renters have at least some business background
  • It can take between three to five years to build up a dependable base of clientele
  • Booth rental can be riskier, but also pay off
  • A lot depends on the barber shop you’re working at when choosing booth rental or commission – like how much support the establishment is going to provide
  • If you choose chair rental, make sure you understand the rental contract
  • New barbers are recommended to work a few years on commission to get an understanding of the business, and build up their clientele, before switching to the chair rental model

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