Steve Waldman has built a career that many salon pros could only dream about. For nearly three decades, the hair veteran has been a major fixture in the salon industry as not only a longtime stylist and salon owner, but also as a Global Artist and Technical Director for the hair giant, Matrix. Now as the Technical Director for Hair Cuttery Family of Brands, Waldman is using his creative insight and extensive experience to spearhead the educational programming for the newly-relaunched brand.
The Tease spoke to Waldman to get all the details on his start in hair, his innovative approach to training salon professionals, and what we can expect with Hair Cuttery’s rebranding.
The Tease: Tell us a little bit about your background and why you first decided to build a career in the hair industry.
Steve Waldman: Originally, my expertise was in music. I studied music in school and I was a professional musician. Creating music is really the work of the right and left sides of your brain combined. It’s math and it’s also creative and artistic. But, when my music career ran its course, I began looking for something else that inspired me in the same way— the science and the art—right brain and left together.
I came to the hair industry in 1993 and honestly thought that it might be a brief break until I figured out what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. And now, almost 30 years later, I’m here for the rest of my life! Being able to be an architect when I’m designing hair cuts, a chemist in the lab mixing hair color formulas — and at the same time, building interpersonal relationships, have amounted to the makings of a dream career.
When I was in the music business, I enjoyed being in a band. Well, working for HCFB, I’m now in the biggest band ever! And with our training team, the sum is greater than its parts. And I love that my career has taken me from behind the chair to salon ownership to training because I love the collaborative nature of what we do. I love having this opportunity to give back in the same way as the people who were so generous with me at the beginning of my career, lending their talent and their passion.
Throughout your career, you’ve trained thousands of stylists across the nation. How has your own experiences in the hair industry as a stylist and creative consultant influenced your approach to training salon professionals and educators?
Waldman: Building a career as a trainer and having the opportunity to travel around the world to witness the relationship between salon professionals and their guests, and also salon professionals and their art, has caused me to realize that it is a unique individual relationship foundationally. It isn’t one-size-fits-all. More than anything, understanding this dynamic has allowed me to meet people where they are and truly see the value in doing so.
Being an effective trainer is not about the things I learned from a book, or the color formulations, or the artistic techniques. It’s about the ways in which people are connected and interpersonal relationships. This realization helps me when I’m behind the chair meeting my guests where they are and making sure I’m empowering them with what makes them feel good and not what I think they should be wearing.
Through training, we are ultimately building confidence. As we train bow technical and soft skills, we’re diminishing the anxiety of trying on a new look or trying a new technique and we’re doing it in a way that empowers and instills confidence in our salon professionals. At HCFB, we look at everything as “how will this affect the experience of our guests?” The guest wants to feel confident, empowered, beautiful, and handsome and wants to be sure that the salon professional is confident in their techniques. At HCFB, we’re in the interpersonal relationship and confidence business. And we just happen to use hair as the medium with which we work.
You’re currently the Technical Training Director at Hair Cuttery Family of Brands. What brought you to the company and what does your role entail?
Waldman: I was working as a global artist and technical director for a hair product manufacturer and I started to feel disconnected from the salon experience. I did platform work and trade shows, photoshoots and developed products, but at the end of the day, when I had finished my training experience, I got on a plane and went on to a different city. I wasn’t there where the rubber meets the road to really see how effective our training was and its effect on the guest experience.
When HCFB approached me about the open position, I was really excited because I wanted to be able to make a difference. I didn’t want my training classes to be a theoretical exercise, something that happened in a classroom. I wanted it to be something that happened in the salon with a guest. And the opportunity at HCFB removed that layer of distance from me and the salon experience.
What mattered to me the most was being able to do all of the things I was doing before — develop curricula and deploy training — while also being in the salon to make sure that training was working. HCFB gave me the best opportunity to set our salon professionals up for success with the investment, time, and belief that training is vitally important. What we do isn’t just about having a guest that looks great for that one day. It’s about ensuring their hair looks great every day and that’s achieved through education. When we train our stylists, we are also educating them on how to train their guests to take care of their hair. At HCFB, we live in a culture of training and we view our guests as partners on that journey.
Talk to us about your creative process for creating educational content programs for Hair Cuttery Family of Brands. Where do you pull much of your inspiration from?
Waldman: It’s our goal to always remain relevant. One of our company’s pillars is that we are technology enabled. So when creating educational curricula, our team uses social media and other tech platforms to see what trends are influencing our guests. We live by what our salon professionals are inspired by and we aim to be forward-thinking in the training we develop. Training is one-part foundational technique and one-part inspiration: what are we doing to inspire our guests and what are we doing to ensure we have the foundational elements needed to stay ahead of the curve. We want to be inspired by trends, not fads. So, step one is understanding what’s current, and step two is breaking those trends down into strong foundational principles that our salon professionals can use practically.
Our creative process usually involves reinventing classic looks. We want to make sure that our looks are ready to wear. So, we keep our ear to the ground and listen to the conversations our salon professionals are having with guests. That’s where we gain insight and understanding. Yes, we look to trends and pop culture, but we don’t want to get caught up in that. We want to be relevant to our guests and the needs of our salon professionals.
As someone who’s so rooted in education, where do you feel we’re headed in this increasingly digital age?
Waldman: If you would have asked me this two years ago, I would have thought that digitizing education would de-personalize the experience. But, I realized that it has empowered the learner to really create their own journey. At HCFB, we’ve created a blended platform that includes digital learning in our online learning management system that can be taken when it’s convenient and can be broken into segments that really work with different learning styles. Generally speaking, a lot of stylists ended up in hair school because they felt stifled behind a desk learning from a book. We’re tactile learners and want to learn with our hands. Our new learning environment really allows the learner to create their own experiences.
From a technical standpoint, we always make sure we remain agile and relevant. Think about it —if you live in a certain part of the country, it may not be as easy to make it to big hair shows in Miami or New York. But now, everyone has that accessibility thanks to technology. Geography and timing are two things that used to be hindrances but no longer are. And in a culture like ours at HCFB, that is very true. More than anything, this digital age has personalized the training journey. We’re finding that we’re able to connect with people we weren’t able to connect with before and create really fine-tuned learning paths and experiences.
As of 2020, Hair Cuttery has relaunched under new ownership as a brand-new brand. How has the company worked to redefine how the Hair Cuttery Family of Brands should operate in our post-pandemic world?
Waldman: We were so fortunate to be a company that stayed open for most of the pandemic. So, we don’t know any different—this is what we do. The pandemic forced us to adopt more stringent operational rules with capacity and cleaning standards. The attention to detail was alway there but it’s part of our core DNA now.
Also, being available for our guests is critical. Having worked through scheduling challenges during the pandemic, we now truly recognize what an asset technology can be. As a company, we are redefining how our relationship is built with our guests using technology—all the way through from booking the appointment to the initial consultation. We’re making sure the experience is really tailored to the guest and redefining how we make that guest/salon professional relationship more customized. We got you covered with creating great hair experiences. And then for the other stuff, we’re going to let technology do its job.
Following Hair Cuttery’s massive rebranding, what are some key areas that the company is now looking to focus on?
Waldman: We currently have more guests than we have salon professionals. This is true for many industries right now as we all ramp back up post-Covid. So, when we look at our focus, our focus is on recruiting and ensuring that this is the best job ever. And that’s going to be executed quite comprehensively with our stylist app, compensation plan, and training and education offerings. Our rebranded focus is on the stylist because the best guest experience is going to come from the happiest, best trained stylists.
We are creating an employee-centric organization with an end goal of giving the guest a five-star experience.You can’t create happy guests if you don’t have confident, enthusiastic, and inspired employees. With training and education, we are coaxing that talent out of our team members and empowering them to take control of their salon business. My motto is: If you’re not having a good time, you’re not doing it right. This is supposed to be fun. And if it’s not, let’s find a way to change that.
Looking ahead to the future, what’s next for the brand?
Waldman: When it comes to training, we are continuing to evolve our blended platform. Before Covid, our training was almost 100 percent live, in classrooms, face-to-face. During Covid, it was almost 100 percent virtual. Now, we’ve mastered both and can use that blended platform to our advantage in a very intentional way. So, what’s next is finding a way to stay authentic to our message: Offering the best job ever for our salon professional and creating the best experiences for our guests.We plan to do so by utilizing that blended platform and grow both our virtual and classroom learning experiences. By continuing to maximize technology and the digital platforms alongside live training experiences, we can empower our salon professionals throughout their own individual journeys.
For more information about Hair Cuttery, be sure to follow @haircuttery on Instagram.