Ask Angel

Hiring and Training Counter Staff

Dear Ms. Angel,

I’m at my wit’s end and I don’t know what to do! I’ve been reading your articles forever, and I finally need some help from you myself. I have run my own piercing business for many years now, but this has been a recurring problem. Lame counter help is driving me batsh*t!

I just cannot seem to hire staff that “gets it” no matter what I do, and I find myself needing to start over with a new employee yet AGAIN.

Do you have any advice or ideas to help make this part of my shop run more smoothly?


Dear A.

I’ve generally found the maxim “good help is hard to find” to be an unfortunate truism. That said, there are measures you can take to greatly improve the likelihood of hiring an effective employee, whether counter staff, piercer, or another team member.

Prior to beginning the interview phase, write up a thorough and honest job description including the position title, a summary of the role, and a comprehensive bullet-pointed list of specific duties and responsibilities. Enumerate any qualifications, certifications, or attributes you deem essential.

From this, you can define and prioritize characteristics of the ideal individual, such as strong verbal skills or organizational expertise, capacity to take direction—or to work independently, etc. This solid foundation should help you to focus your search on contenders who are a reasonable fit, and applicants can see what the position entails.

A proficient piercer or manager does not necessarily make a good interviewer. Poor interviewing skills are likely to result in failures down the line. There is a wealth of useful resources online( i) to upgrade your competency, and it is well worth the time and effort to study up and establish solid strategies for conducting the hiring process.

Have candidates fill out an employment application and submit a resume. I also suggest requiring an essay (without a stipulated word count) on why they want to work in your studio. This can be very revealing about their attitude, and their writing and reasoning capabilities.

Always contact listed references. Due to previous employers’ fear of litigation, sometimes you need to listen very carefully to receive an important message that is being presented. Before extending an offer, it is wise to run a background check (ii) including credit history, especially if tiny pieces of expensive gold jewelry are readily accessible.

Once you have decided to take someone on, it is sensible to institute a trial before committing to a permanent employment arrangement. You should set a 60- to 90-day probationary period in which benefits and vacation time do not accrue. Be explicit about the trial’s length, compensation, and expectations. After both parties verbally approve the trial, write a job-offer letter to confirm and clarify the terms and conditions negotiated in the spoken agreement.

I highly suggest that you initiate a discussion about whether the job has prospects for later advancement—or not. Be frank about possible opportunities, whether a piercing apprenticeship, store management, or other appointment. Avoiding this matter is a great way to set up your new hire for unrealistic and unmet expectations. I also made it a point to impress upon applicants that the body art industry might seem “alternative,” but the position is a regular job like any other. And it involves repetitive, mundane tasks and requires considerable patience with patrons who will ask the same exact questions every day.

You should also maintain realistic expectations. Employees as dedicated and driven as owners are all but mythical creatures. Though it is reasonable to anticipate that your staff will consistently follow the practices and procedures you establish during their training.

Carefully monitor on-the-job performance and keep a written record of issues to discuss during periodic, but regular reviews.

Unless you appropriate a worker from a competitor or a colleague, you’ll likely be training someone from scratch—even if you take on a seasoned client. Hiring someone from your own customer base is a common method for studio staff selection. It does make sense to employ folks who have a personal interest in the products and services you provide, and some familiarity with your approach. A piercee who already displays the studio’s wares can be a plus, but standardized, meticulous screening is still critical.

Things are pretty different on our side of the counter. If the individual has never worked in a studio, don’t presume that they will know much about the job, even if they’ve spent a lot of time in your retail area and piercing room. You need to be prepared to offer up a significant amount of thorough instruction.

Support your training with a detailed employee handbook/studio manual. The contents should be specific and include policies, rules, and processes: everything you want your employee to know. New personnel will promptly understand what is required of them, and what they can expect from the company. Put in a disclaimer that the handbook is not a contract or other promise of employment.

Your new hire should sign an acknowledgement form that they’ve read, understood, and agreed to abide by the contents of the guidebook. Non-compete and confidentiality-agreements that must be signed are also common. You’ll customize the contents to suit, but it should incorporate clear policies and items such as the following:

  • Company history, mission statement, and/or goals
  • Code of conduct and business ethics
  • Work hours, overtime, breaks, and lunch periods
  • Compensation and benefits (hours, paid holidays, sick leave, vacation time)
  • Smoking, drugs, and alcohol
  • Dress code
  • Workplace visitors
  • Employee discounts
  • Cell phone use
  • Social media guidelines
  • Use of company equipment, computers (email/internet), copiers, etc.
  • Emergency procedures in the event of robbery, fire, or natural disaster


Additionally, the studio training manual component should contain in-depth documentation on everything they’ll need to know.

  • Greeting patrons and intake process: ID requirements, release forms, sequence of events (i.e., piercer consult before paperwork or after?)
  • Ringing up sales and taking payments
  • Initial jewelry styles and size ranges by piercing
  • Minimum prices for piercing and jewelry by body part
  • Policy and requirements for piercing minors
  • Studio cleaning/maintenance schedules and procedures
  • Refund policies
  • Handling worn jewelry
  • And so on!

Staff instruction might include checklists with fields that must be initialed and dated. These are great tools for guidance and accountability with everyday tasks like opening and closing the store, cleaning, and restocking—even after training is concluded.

Complete regular, methodical performance reviews with unambiguous feedback, and by the end of the assessment period, you’ll both know whether they’re a good fit. Do not expect a trainee to change substantially in the long run; if they don’t work out well during the trial, they won’t later, either. Once you realize someone is wrong for a position, it is foolish to suffer through retaining them; cut your losses and start over.

Laws and regulations governing employment vary from state to state. It is crucial to learn about best practices for hiring (iii), and to be certain that your actions are suitable for your region. It is wise to seek local professional legal advice.

Apply these sound principles and conduct yourself in a consistent, businesslike manner throughout the hiring process. This should help you to select and employ the right person for the job, and engage in a successful training program that will result in a productive and mutually beneficial work situation.