Bad Hair Days

A Clayton salon owner claims his former stylists are poaching his upscale clients.

O'Brien says that he, too, has taken his share of stylists to court for violating non-compete agreements. He doesn't rule out more lawsuits so long as the number of rental-booth salons continues to rise. As a board member of The Salon Association, an Arizona-based lobbying arm of the hair-care industry, O'Brien says rental-booth studios now comprise nearly 90 percent of the salon industry nationwide. In Missouri, rental-booth operations account for fewer than half of all hair studios, according to the state's cosmetology licensing board, but the gap is quickly narrowing.

The reason for the rising tide of rental booths is simple, says O'Brien. "At its roots, it's a tax issue. Rental booths promise stylists more money, but it's only because there is no third-party salon owner making sure the employees pay their taxes," he explains. "Many of these rental booths operate on cash only — no checks, no credit cards — nothing for the IRS."

Even more troubling, says Denise Edgar, owner of D-Zine Hair & Art Studio in University City, is the dubious manner in which rental-booth salons solicit the stylists in her employ — they send recruitment letters directly to D-Zine.

Cuts both ways: Steven Preston Kootman is ready to take 
his former employees to court.
Sarah Cross
Cuts both ways: Steven Preston Kootman is ready to take his former employees to court.

"Then there are the fake appointments," Edgar adds. "They'll book an entire wedding party for haircuts and coloring, and then no one will show up. Their objective is to get your employees so frustrated that they'll leave for another salon."

A non-compete can guard against such subterfuge. At the same time, clarifies Edgar, the contracts are not meant to be "leg irons" for employees who have justifiable reason to leave an employer.

Kootman says his goal is not to prevent his former stylists from earning a living; he just doesn't want them interfering with his business. On that issue, the salon owner remains as prickly and defiant as the spiked and tussled coiffure atop his head.

"They say I'm the Big Bad Wolf and I'm lawsuit-crazy," Kootman says. "Well, I'm here to say Little Red Riding Hood is not as innocent as she sounds. This isn't a fairy tale. It's business, and they broke the rules."

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