Carol Bruns trims a man's hair at Bang Salon on U Street NW. Stylists at the salon’s four locations now charge based on their ranking. (Jeffrey MacMillan/Capital Business)

Nikki Esoldo never thought it made much sense for all hair stylists to be paid the same rates. The co-owner of the Bang Salon chain in the District figured those in high demand and with a roster of repeat clients should be rewarded for the business they generate.

If nothing else, performance-based pay could serve as an incentive for stylists to up their game. It was just a matter of creating a fair system. Now Esoldo believes she has found a way that works.

Bang Salon has implemented a tiered pricing structure, whereby all 44 of its stylists are assigned one of five rankings that determine how much they are paid for services.

A stylist at “level one,” for instance, can charge $39 for a woman’s haircut, while a stylist at “level four-A” — the highest designation — can charge $59 for the same service. Each stylist is rated based upon a myriad of performance metrics, including customer retention, level of demand, skill set and sales.

“We’re creating a career path,” Esoldo said. “Stylists can grow as much as they want within this system.”

Stylists Brittany Wilson and Katie Mayfield color customer Lauren Bonilla's hair at Bang Salon on U Street NW. (Jeffrey MacMillan/Capital Business)

Esoldo began working on the program two years ago, after attending a seminar on establishing career goals for staff. She hired Summit Salon Business Center, a Plymouth, Minn.-based consulting firm, to design and execute a system.

Esoldo and Summit poured over client numbers and quarterly business and development goals to come up with the system. Last August, they began tracking the performance of each stylist using the system. After three months, every hairdresser was ranked.

“There was a lot of conflict in the beginning,” said Elena Gioacchini, manager of the salon at 1515 15th St. NW on the ground floor of the Metropole condominiums. “Older stylists, who have been with the company for a long time, were upset that some younger stylists were on a higher level.”

Of the 44 hairdressers, 13 hold designations higher than level two — the most common rank. Gioacchini noted that stylists are offered training, coupons for customers and a referral program to help them reach a higher level on the scale. No one can be demoted, but it could take about a year’s worth of monthly evaluations to move up.

“It’s change, it’s scary, and it’s a completely different way of looking at your business,” said Patrick Guaniere, manager of the salon located at 1612 U St. NW. But he said he told his staff “if you commit to it and work with us, you can really be successful.”

The stylists may be coming to terms with the system, but what about customers?

“There are very few things I’ll spend money on, but getting my hair done is a treat, so I’ll pay a little more,” said Caitlyn Staples, an elementary school teacher in Alexandria, who goes to the Metropole location. “And I’ve developed a relationship with my hairdresser.”

Customers can pick their stylist based on price, but Esoldo expects many people will stick to their favorites.

Bang Salon, which is co-owned by David von Storch of Vida Fitness fame, has been on a steady growth trajectory since it started 11 years ago. Esoldo said 2011 sales at all three locations were up 14 percent over the prior year.

A fourth location just broke ground at the Navy Yard, with a target opening of 2014. Similar to the other sites, the new salon will be housed in a Vida Fitness gym.