I recently became unemployed. I did what no professional should do and walked out in a temper, quitting on the spot and handing in no formal notice. It’s an additional faux pas to do this in an economic climate where unemployment is high and in an industry that’s turning out more skilled professionals than there are jobs available.

I’m a big believer, though, in doing something that means something, rather than doing it for the sake of it. I think that trying to be good at something your heart isn’t fully in, running down a path whose destination you don’t want to be at, is counterproductive in the long run and will just leave you short of breath and underwhelmed. To put it in layman’s terms, “what’s the point?”

If you’re asking yourself that regularly in one job, here’s my advice – ask yourself what you think the point in your work should be, then find a way of getting to the point. I don’t like being unemployed – I have bills to pay and I want to achieve things with my life – but I won’t regret my actions, because I wasn’t happy. Now, I’d love to make a big, motivational speech about chasing your dreams and doing something meaningful, and then tie it in with some business buzzwords like ‘intrinsic motivation’ and ‘positive mental attitude’ to give it credibility, but I’m not a motivational speaker and I’ve not really achieved any big dreams. Unfortunately, what I’m here to do is talk about why Supercuts didn’t work for me and is unlikely to work for any hairdresser who wants to dream big.

I’d like to say up front, I’m not saying that the people at Regis, the parent company of Supercuts, are bad people. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t work there, full stop. I certainly don’t want to smear the name of any employees or the quality of their work. This is simply an informative article of non-sensitive information that illustrates my decision to no longer work there.

But how did I end up there? Well, having graduated a Foundation Degree in Salon Business Management a few months before, I applied for a job I saw online, listed by Regis, for a Salon Manager. I knew of Regis and thought working for a company the size of theirs would be a good first step for me, having the support I’d need but getting the management experience I didn’t have. In fact, not having said experience, I never thought I’d get it, so was pleasantly surprised when I did.

I had one big reservation –it was one of their Tesco salons. This was a problem for me for two reasons – one, I already worked for Tesco at the time and hated it, and two, when I heard of Tesco branching out into hair salons I scoffed and thought the idea to be invasive to the hairdressing industry and greedy on Tesco’s part. However, the pay was slightly higher, the hours better and the actual job was in my professional field and had the word ‘manager’ attached to it, so I jumped from the frying pan into the fire.

When I say my pay was a little more, I mean my wage at Tesco for a GA (the basic wage paid to all shop floor staff at the bottom of the pecking order) was, at the time, £7.14/hr. Tesco pays the best of the ‘Big 4’ supermarkets, and by a good margin. My job for what would be the equivalent of a department manager in Tesco (such as Checkout Manager or PhoneShop Manager), as Salon Manager, was £7.50/hr. A mere 36p more to run a department and its team, deliver KPIs and still do practical hairdressing on top of it. People told me it was a bad wage before I even took the job, but I wasn’t losing anything by taking it. Imagine my dismay when I found there were people in the company working for £6.00/hr, (and still are).

Regis wages are borne of a larger problem, in the form of one of their KPIs called ‘Wage Percentage’. It’s a smart idea that suffers a few problems in its execution. The intention is that an employee should earn in pay no higher than a set percentage of their net takings, ensuring that they are profitable to the company and not a liability. It’s stark, but it’s efficient in principle. The problem is, of course, that people are required to work their contracted hours for their contracted wage, which means a precedent has already been set for the exact minimum they have to take in net sales. That’s all well and good, until you enter a market like the one Supercuts and Hair & Beauty by Regis (HBBR – the Tesco venture) operates in – which is budget. Budget markets are price-sensitive and you have to work much harder to get people to spend more. Furthermore, the site I was working in was deathly quiet.

So what happens to counteract this lack of money flowing in? Firstly, additional pressure is put on the existing employees to hit their wage percentage targets, using several other measures such as Average Bill, Pounds per Hour (PPH) and specific sales targets that are set to achieve these things. They’re expected to pressure these price-sensitive clients to spend more and more to hit these targets, taking no more home than they were before, save perhaps a little commission made from product retail. Secondly, newer staff taken on, where needed, are offered much less fruitful wages. Speaking from experience, there is no ‘set’ wage to offer for salon positions, even to managers. So Regis are essentially tracking the productivity of their staff on a KPI that hasn’t been built to be stable from the ground up. There’s no solid wage structure, the wages themselves are too low to be motivating and the company expects results that are much higher than is achievable.

There could be some scope to help this out if it weren’t for the way the company operates from a customer perspective. Supercuts has two major USPs, the bigger of the two being a non-appointment system, the other being a flexible price menu. This offers clients a service that they can afford at a time that suits them. Wonderful, in a perfect world. But this means two things for the stylist – one, they’re constantly having to haggle the price up where the client is trying to pay the ‘from’ price shown on the window, and two, the stylist has no opportunity to build a loyal client base where they can guarantee their clients they’ll be available to them. Not that it matters; if the clients who frequented Supercuts were able to pay more and wanted a guaranteed appointment, they’d go somewhere more reputable where you get more value for money. At Supercuts, you don’t even get a complimentary drink.

All this means that the Supercuts ethos is, ‘get them in, get them to spend as much as they’ll go to, get them out again as fast as you can, and do that all day’. A typical day is a 9 hour shift with a half-hour lunch. In busier salons, you work yourself to exhaustion trying to get a better PPH, a better Average Bill, a better wage percentage, for a very low wage.

I ended up working at Supercuts rather than HBBR because I wanted to relocate to London. Collectively, Supercuts and HBBR form the ‘non-appointment’ division of Regis, so it’s easy to move around these salons if needed. As most people are aware, the cost of living in London is tremendous. I dropped down to a stylist role because I’d moved from a quiet, residentially-located salon in the West Midlands to a busy, city-centre salon with plenty of clients to go around. The pressure was on; I had to work faster, harder, charge more, be pushier with product retail and have less break time. My wage dropped from £7.50 at a managerial role to £6.50 despite the hiked living costs and harder work. During the three months before quitting, I’d worked in various intervals at five different Supercuts salons around the capital, and grew more disillusioned with each.

The thing is, even selfish reasons aside – the hard work, the low earnings, the impossible demands – what way is that to practise hairdressing? I learned that building a relationship with your client is paramount to them sticking with you. A client should be able to trust the stylist; how can they do that when they don’t know who they’re going to get? You should know that your stylist is charging what they are because they’ve evaluated your needs, know where you want to be and know what that will cost, not because they’re trying to get the price as high as they can. You should get a coffee when you arrive, you should know that your portion of time has been set aside especially for you, that perhaps your stylist has prepared some ideas in advance because they know your taste and the direction you’re going in.

What it all boils down to is that the way Supercuts runs isn’t conducive to long-term success because they offer the bare minimum you can get for the price you’re willing to pay, and the Supercuts client wants to pay as little as possible because they don’t get a prestige experience. It’s all working downwards, caught in a cycle where money doesn’t want to move and standards remain low. A somewhat troubling deficit does exist in the brand’s financial health, too, hence the severe need for refurbishment at many sites. I’ve seen torn seats, dirty floors and branded visual merchandising material that is so out of date that the packaging depicted isn’t even current. And I couldn’t be a part of that any longer. The hairdressing industry can offer a person wonderful things, you can dream big, set your sights beyond the stigma that it’s a poorly-paid, unrewarding profession – it’s out there to grab if you work hard. But if you submit yourself to a company that enforces that stigma, you’ll never get any further – and that’s just not good enough for me.