In the Petersen household, we are really particular about our hair. My daughter and I wear our naturally curly textures, and my husband and stepson love the clean look of a fresh haircut. So when Walmart offered us the opportunity to try getting low-cost haircuts at the SmartStyle salon located inside our local Walmart store, we were definitely curious to see how the service would hold up.
I wish I could say that our experience was an awesome one, but alas, it really wasn’t.
Unlike many salons, SmartStyle doesn’t require appointments. This is a great idea in theory, because it means you can walk in for a cut at any time. However, it can be challenging if you walk in during a busy time when there are several customers ahead of you. This was the case for us.
I’d be lying if I said I was impressed by the customer service. We had called the salon the previous day to make sure that there was at least one stylist on staff who was familiar with cutting and styling naturally curly hair. We were assured that there were, and though the person we spoke to wasn’t exactly rude, she was very short with us and rushed through our questions. Sadly, we had a very similar experience in person.
There was a 2-hour wait because the salon was short-handed, so we left to run some errands and came back to the store. Even then, there was still a wait, so we decided that just my stepson and I would get a cut so we wouldn’t end up spending the whole day at the salon. For this reason, I genuinely wish that appointments were at least offered as an option, with walk-ins still accepted, because it would help customers plan their trips to the store with better accuracy and less wasted time.
Also, while the stylist was able to tell us that my stepson’s haircut would be the regular $15.50 price shown on all the signage, she wasn’t able to tell me how much it would cost to cut my hair, even though I explained exactly what I wanted.
When it was our turn, my stepson went first. He told the stylist that he wanted a “temple fade” haircut, which is one of the most basic haircuts for male African American hair and one that has been popular for at least 15 years. We were disappointed that the stylist had no idea what we were talking about, and we had to look up a photo of the style. That honestly left all of us a little worried about how his hair would turn out.
And alas, we would up being disappointed with the outcome.
While the fade of the haircut was decent, the edges were really crooked and uneven, as you’ll see in the detail photos above. I didn’t realize that at the time, or I would’ve asked the stylist to fix it. But the look on my stepson’s face said he wasn’t happy, and he later said he never wanted to get his hair cut there again.
By the time it was my turn for a cut, I admit I was feeling pretty wary. The same stylist said she’d need to wash and blow out my hair in order to cut it. I almost never use heat on my hair and never straighten it, chemically or otherwise. I had washed and conditioned my hair before heading to the salon so my hair would be fresh and clean in preparation for a cut. We had specifically asked if there was someone on staff who could handle natural hair for precisely this reason.
I had no desire to have my hair blown out, as it is preferable to cut natural hair in its curly state to ensure that the proper shape is achieved when the hair shrinks. However, the stylist insisted that she couldn’t cut my hair without blowing it out first.
I honestly didn’t feel comfortable having someone cut my hair who clearly was not familiar with natural African American hair, so I declined to have my hair cut.
As a point of reference, when I did my big chop back in 2009 (when I cut off the chemically relaxed ends of my hair to reveal my fully natural texture), I actually had it done at a SmartStyle salon at a different Walmart by a stylist who had natural hair herself. She didn’t blow out my hair and cut it as it was.
Overall, we left pretty frustrated by the whole experience. While I appreciate the convenience of an in-store salon option and the fact that the haircuts are really affordable, those factors alone would not be enough to make me use SmartStyle again. I’d rather pay a little more for a skilled, quality stylist with experience dealing with hair like ours than to take the chance that an inexperienced stylist will botch my family’s cuts. If the salon in our store had another stylist with this kind of experience, we might consider going back, but not otherwise.
DISCLOSURE: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received product samples and compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.