Rent a Chair or Work as a Commission Barber?

Rent vs Commission Chair

What Are the Pros and Cons of Each?

The barber scene in Miami, FL has been growing steadily. Everywhere you look, there are all manner of barber shops. As you near the end of your barber school training program, or maybe even before, you may find yourself thinking a lot about how you will be compensated. What are the options for a professional Master Barber – should I rent a barber chair or work on commission? This typically comes down to two different types of employment models:

Working as a commissioned employee. Some barber veterans may encourage you to work on commission. On the other hand, renting a chair or a booth in a barbershop which is like being your own boss. Both employment models come with pros and cons. When starting out, it may be a safer option to take on work as a commissioned professional at a well-established barber shop and begin building your own clientele from referrals. However, if you are fortunate enough to train at a good school with reputable instructors, you may have an opportunity to build clientele early on, while practicing on people while you are still training. Many schools such as Miami Barber Institute provide free haircuts to the public as a way for the students to gain real-world, hands-on experience.

Deciding on which employment model may be right for you may feel scary, don’t worry, this article should help to clear things up, and you can always transition from one method to the other at any time.

Renting a Chair at a barber shop: This may sometimes be referred to as a 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. Once you pay 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 pre-existing establishment. The clear benefit is the automatic exposure to new clients as well as having a point of contact or operations. Be careful, some states such as Pennsylvania forbid the rental of chairs or booths.

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. In some cases, there are some barbershops prefer to pay you a bi-weekly salary/wage, plus a bonus commission.

Keep in mind that 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.

After passing the state exams and getting the Florida barber license, new barbers typically start out working on a commission basis and once they build up a base of steady clientele. Eventually, they have the option to transition into renting a chair or 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.

There is no best practice for choosing an employment model, it really just depends on your 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

  • 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
  • Its riskier – if the number of your clients is too low or if they don’t show up
  • Can be more stressful at first
  • It can be challenging to get new clients, so you would have to self-promote
  • You will have to manage yourself like a business. This means taxes, bookkeeping, 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 must buy all your supplies
  • More stable than renting a chair – 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 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
  • Better 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
  • 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 Barbershop 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:

  • Potential to cultivate 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

Take comfort in knowing that many other beauty and styling professionals also face this question and have a lot to say, so it is a good idea to connect to industry information regularly. In summary, below you will find a short list of the highlights:

  • 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