By Debbie Miller
People • Community
What the “Gen C” Shift Means for the Salon and Beauty Industry
Industry expert Debbie Miller explains how salon owners can make the most out of “Gen C”
We often believe people roughly the same age think and behave in roughly the same ways: Millennials do this, Gen Z-ers prefer that, etc. But people are people, and even characteristics you’d suppose come from shared history run deeper than that. This is why concepts like “Gen C” are so helpful, because they categorize by qualities other than age.
And what is Gen C? They’re the connected generation. In the salon world, they’re the ambitious, tech-savvy, do-it-yourself stylists that have a serious drive for autonomy. They’re also the clients that expect the service to be seamless and digitally integrated, and the owners at the forefront of every trend, crafting shops that stylists dream about, clients love, and competitors copy.
If you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance you’re Gen C. Great! Keep reading, because we’re going to explore the Gen C phenomenon, its impact on the salon industry, and how you can leverage this trend to grow your businesses.
Digging deeper on Gen C
As I touched on earlier, this generational model isn’t determined by age, gender, or other demographics. Instead, the members of Gen C are defined by their behavior.
Gen C is comfortable online. They’re early adopters of tech and active on social media. They are both voracious consumers and avid creators of digital content, and they’re usually among the first to explore any up-and-coming platform that provides them the opportunity to do either. While some seemingly come out of the oven fully baked, many Gen C-ers pick up the skills and behaviors over time.
The growth of this generation has paralleled the rise of social media and the digital transformation of many industries, and they are certainly making their presence known in our space. As their numbers continue to climb, salon owners should understand how to adapt their businesses to make the most of this movement.
4 keys to Gen C success
1. Get to know what makes Gen C stylists tick
For one thing, Gen C stylists are more enterprising than their colleagues. They see through the “E-myth”: the misconception that entrepreneurs are the people that open businesses when it’s often technicians. Consequently, many of these ambitious professionals look around their work and say to themselves, “I could do this, and I could probably do it better.”
They also have more survival skills. If Gen C stylists decide to establish their own shop, they frequently bring a social media following and knack for marketing to the task, giving them an immediate leg up. This edge can allow them to build a business rivaling veteran establishments with surprising speed, and incumbents can undoubtedly get caught off guard.
This ambition and self-sufficiency mean salon owners have to approach Gen C stylists differently — and definitely not fall into the trap of considering them competition. To harness the power of these creative beauty professionals, salon owners need to support them on their path.
And that process begins with finding them.
2. Know the 4 types of stylists
In general, salon owners can categorize their stylists into one of four quadrants:
The High-Potential Gen-C: These stylists are still developing the skills to excel at their job, but they have a high number of social contacts and they are very comfortable online. They also have an intuitive understanding of technology and pick up new skills fast. They live in quadrant A of our matrix.
The Mature Gen-C: These stylists are most profitable Gen C-ers. They have the right skills, a thriving following of loyal clients, and technical savvy. These folks live in quadrant B — they’re the more seasoned version of those in quadrant A.
The Steady Earner: These stylists don’t understand or adapt to technology, but they do have the skills and drive to attract clients and bring in revenue. They are in quadrant D.
The Underachiever: They don’t understand or adapt to technology, nor do they have the skills or drive to generate revenue. These are in quadrant C.
It’s important to note that these types are just sketches, and people can move from one type to another. In fact, I’ve been each of these types at different points in my career. That said, the categorization is valuable, because it can help you create a plan of action for developing your staff and realizing the potential of your Gen C stylists.
This leads us perfectly to the next part of this article.
3. Nurture the Gen C in everyone
First off, drop the Underachievers. They are dead weight on your entire salon, and it’s not the best use of your resources to try to turn their attitude around. This group can change, but often what keeps them in that quadrant is their attachment to naming, blaming, and denying.
Your High-Potential Gen Cs need to focus on building skills, so consider developing them through an associate program. You could even leverage them as assistance to your Mature Gen Cs — in the process, you’ll extend the duration and profitability of your relationship with your most ambitious stylists.
Your Steady Earners also need support, but in a different capacity. They’re not the most technologically inclined, so training them on the latest tools and systems will boost their earning potential. Given the critical mass of your culture will shift toward Gen C, they may end up leaving eventually. But you should give them ample support regardless.
Lastly, how do you meet your top stylists where they’re at? Given how entrepreneurial Mature Gen Cs are, wouldn’t your investment in them quickly go to waste? It’s a completely fair question, but the answer is no. The truth is, any other strategy — like competing against or stifling them — will only cause them to leave earlier. Instead, approach them with a vision to help them achieve their fullest potential. Offer direct mentorship, particularly on the ins and outs of running a business, as this is likely a skill they’ll be highly interested in developing. The result is that they’ll likely stay around much longer and you’ll earn credit in the community for all your great support. In other words, karma is a real thing. Use it to your advantage.
4. Give your salon a Gen C upgrade
My final piece of advice is to make your salon as Gen C-friendly as possible. Pay attention to a few aspects of your business, and you’ll be able to attract the productive stylists and forward-thinking clientele you want.
This begins with making sure your salon is technologically up to date. If you’re still relying on over-the-phone booking, paper forms, or clunky payments processes, it’s time for an upgrade. Gen C clients avoid these sorts of things like the plague — as do Gen C stylists.
Secondly, showcase your work online. If your stylists have the chops, make sure people know about it everywhere the internet is available. While not all salons can afford the investment, I would even consider bringing in someone to capture high-quality shots, craft posts, and cultivate your following.
The payoff: Why you should go to all this trouble
From employee development to embracing innovation, there’s undoubtedly a lot that goes into riding the Gen C wave. But those challenges come with rich rewards for the salon owners that face them. If you’re able to lean into the Gen C shift, you can expect to recruit talent more easily, increase stylist retention, boost your staff productivity, and ultimately grow your revenue. Yes, it’s a big task. But I have faith in you.
After all, you’re Gen C yourself.
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