A light, fun read about the Handeland’s time in the hair industry…
By David-Elijah Nahmod
If you’re looking for some light, fun reading, look no further than Tales From the Chair: Adventures and Sordid Tales From my Life in the Hair Business by Len Handeland. The author, a former San Franciscan who now lives in Palm Springs with his husband, worked as a hair stylist and colorist for twenty-seven years, which included stints as a salon owner.
Over the years Handeland has seen it all. Drunk clients, hair professionals who gossip about clients, clients who don’t tip, and inconsiderate clients who had to be “fired”. Handeland writes about these topics, and many others, with wit and candor. Whether you’re someone who patronizes a high-end salon or not, Tales From the Chair will leave you with a newfound respect for hair stylists and hair colorists.
In an interview, Handeland addressed why he wrote the book.
“I wanted to offer some sage advice to those just starting out in my former industry,” he said. “And to help those that professionally see someone for their hair. Perhaps their hairstylist has had similar feelings about them? The public should understand the challenges of the hair professional despite it appearing glamourous and fun. It’s hard work and frequently challenging dealing with the public. These are the many reasons I decided to write my only nonfiction book, the other two books being fiction.”
Handeland goes into a good amount of detail regarding badly behaved clients, such as people who don’t show up for appointments or cancel at the last minute. He also writes about clients who show up carrying expensive shopping bags, then complain about the price of hair styling, saying that they “can’t afford it”. This, Handeland says, is insulting to the hair professional who puts a lot of effort into doing good work and pleasing the client. Incidents like these leave a bad aftertaste and can lead to a client being asked not to return. The author admits that there can be a downside to this. There’s always the chance that such a client will leave a bad Yelp review.
“Unfortunately, we live in a society where people are swift to post something negative and rarely take the time to post anything positive,” Handeland says. “The hair professional must ask those appreciative clients who verbally thank them after every hair appointment to express that gratitude in writing by posting a positive review. I was very fortunate to have many of my former clients leave me positive reviews on Yelp and other online websites.”
Most people, the author feels, can tell if a review was written out of sour grapes by a client who was difficult to please. Many positive reviews will always override a single negative review.
“As I mentioned in my book, you can’t always please everyone which is the motto and philosophy I learned to embrace,” he said. “It’s essential to remember that it’s equally the hair professional’s decision of who they want to see professionally as it is the hair client’s decision of who they want doing their hair. It is, after all, a two-way street, and all of those elements translate into a positive and healthy professional relationship.”
Handeland also writes about the other side of the coin, hair professionals whose on-the-job conduct is, shall we say, less than professional. Among the topics discussed are those hair professionals who create a toxic work environment by gossiping, either about their clients or about co-workers. Also discussed is the inappropriateness of using obscene language on the job. Handeland recalls one instance in which he tore up the contract of a hair stylist who was working as an independent contractor and asked her to leave the salon. Other stylists applauded as she made her way outside.
Another topic that is touched upon is regarding what forms of payment a stylist or colorist will accept from clients. Handeland advises against accepting cash only, suggesting that stylists may prefer cash so they can underreport their income. It is best, he feels, to always accept credit cards, which may be the most convenient method of payment for the client.
Handeland discussed how he came to decide which topics to raise and which ones not to raise in the book.
“I tried to think back when I first started in my former profession of being not only a hairstylist but also a hair salon owner,” he said. “I had many questions back then, but unfortunately I learned the hard way by making mistakes and learning from those mistakes. I wish there had been a book like this. I surely would have read it, perhaps the mistakes and some awkward encounters could have been avoided. I don’t profess to speak for everyone in my former industry. Still, surely there must be significant hair professionals out there who have similar feelings, having encountered some of the same experiences as me.”
Handeland reports that some of his former clients have read the book and that the reaction has been favorable. The book, he says, has been doing very well overall. There’s a simple message he hopes that people will take from his writing.
“Your hair professional is not your servant,” he says. “This is the individual that you see that greatly enhances your appearance. Have respect for one another. Any relationship that is not based on mutual respect is destined to fail. That the hair professional needs to respect themselves can be applied to many different areas, from a hair professional’s pricing for their services, to not allowing others to be verbally abusive or to continually no show or cancel at the last minute without a valid reason, all of which are covered in my book.”
Tales From the Chair: Adventures and Sordid Tales From My Life in the Hair Business is now available in paperback at Amazon.