Chain vs. small salons: apprenticeship pros and cons Chain vs. small salons: apprenticeship pros and cons

Chain vs. small salons: apprenticeship pros and cons

If you’ve just received your NVQ2 or haven’t even applied for an apprenticeship yet, you’ll have probably thought about the type of salon that would be best for your training.

Both chains and independent salons have their pros and cons, so it’s worth thinking about which of these two types of workplace is best for you.

Starting your career in a chain salon

The pros

Chain outlets offer a similar standard of product and service across their entire networks. Most chains have a well-established brand, so customers know what to expect when they enter a branch, whether it’s in Beijing or Bracknell. Having standardised structures in place is beneficial not just for customers, but for staff too.

These outlets are likely to have set training and induction processes. And as you won’t be their first apprentice or junior stylist, the chances of being thrown in at the deep end are greatly reduced – at least theoretically!

For instance, Toni & Guy runs a network–wide apprenticeship scheme with City & Guilds. The hairdressing company aims for all their apprentices to continue in the programme up to NVQ Levels 3 and 4. As well as hairdressing, their training covers customer care, reception, retail, and health and safety.

Once you’ve finished your apprenticeship, you have a good chance of staying on at the same salon chain. This could be very good for your career, as chains can provide long–term opportunities for promotion or perhaps transfers around the country. This is less likely to be the case at an independent salon, where you’d probably hit a ceiling fairly quickly.

The cons

As touched on before, chain salons have strong brand identities and processes in place. This can be advantage, but these systems can also feel rigid to those who value their independence and freedom. This is unlikely to be a problem at the start of your career, but you may feel differently as you gain experience and want to things more your own way.

Starting your career in a small salon

The pros

Small independent salons are often fairly informal places to work. You could find that you’re able to get to know clients well, even in a junior role. If you do a good job, you can have a bigger impact on the business than you would at a larger company.

If you’re lucky, people will be interested in what you’re learning in your NVQ2 and could be open to ideas from salon’s ‘new blood’. By contrast, the scope for having an influence at a chain salon is more likely to be limited.

Independent salons sometimes have other added benefits tailored to a local area. For example, a small salon may have a long working relationship with a local college and have built up an excellent reputation for developing talent.

The cons

Independent salons differ enormously. This means that the advantages of working at them can be varied from place to place, and will depend on their individual culture.

Some small salons could have working environments where people enjoy sharing insights and want to improve continually and stay up to date with cutting–edge trends and technologies. Other small salons might feel more set in their ways, which may mean working at an independent could be as rigid as a chain.

Promotion opportunities will be limited at a small salon if you decide to stay on after qualifying. It may be that you’re restricted to renting a chair with little or no opportunity to move into management. However, you could apply for positions at other companies when the time comes.

Finding out about what an apprenticeship is like at a chain salon is a lot easier than investigating whether a particular small salon would suit you. Chain salons have detailed information online about their apprenticeships and career opportunities. You’re also more likely to find testimonials from past apprentices.

Unfortunately, it can be trickier to figure out if a particular small salon is a good fit for you. You may even end up having to go through a couple to find the right apprenticeship. On the other hand, every salon in a chain will have its own unique personalities and dynamics, which could make your apprenticeship a lot easier... or more challenging.


Chain salons tend to offer more predictability, while small salons will probably be more varied in terms of the quality of your experience as an apprentice. Whichever route you take, it’s important to do your research beforehand.

If you find yourself working at a freelancer, either at an independent salon or a chain, you may need to take care of your own hair and beauty insurance.

We’ve also created an interactive tool to help you style your own pathway to success, with information on everything from starting out in hair and beauty, to managing your taxes and VAT. Click here to take a look.

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Last Updated: 21 Mar 2017