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Business Observer Friday, Jul. 18, 2014 6 years ago

School Highlights

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There's no shortage of salons that need to hire qualified cosmetologists. One school in Fort Myers is expanding to fill that need.
by: Jean Gruss Contributing Writer

The recession seems to have left hair salons relatively unscathed.

Sure, consumers may have cut back on the frequency of salon appointments. But by and large, salon owners say their customers don't forsake their hair.

Chris Lewis explains it this way: “There are certain things a woman will never give up,” he says. “A hairdresser is one of them.”

Lewis is president of The Salon Professional Academy, a cosmetology school that recently expanded into 10,000 square feet at Royal Palm Square in Fort Myers. The school graduates about 60 students a year who pay $16,000 in tuition to attend the one-year program.

The school expanded from 7,000 square feet in North Fort Myers, and Lewis says the 36 hairdressing stations will help boost graduation numbers. “We're hoping to double,” he says.

Lewis and a group of local investors paid $1 million to acquire the franchise rights for the area from hair-care manufacturer Redken that includes Charlotte, Collier, Hendry and Lee counties in 2006. They spent another $160,000 to expand the business to the new location earlier this year, he says.

Like many higher-education programs, students at the cosmetology school are eligible for the same state and federal subsidies as those who go to other colleges and universities, Lewis says. With the help of financial-aid counselors on staff, 80% of the academy's students receive some financial aid.

Lewis says the school's goal is to place its graduates in well-paying jobs at salons throughout the area. He says 95% of graduates leave the school with a job.

The key to training successful graduates is helping them develop both artistic and business skills they'll need in the workplace. “This business can be very, very good to you,” Lewis says.

Often, hairdressers work on commission or as independent contractors, renting out a chair at a salon. So the academy teaches the students sales techniques to fill their appointment book. “You have to be responsible for bringing in your customers,” says Lewis. “They need to fill the time.”

Students learn how to interact with clients to determine their hairstyle preferences and how to be effective at booking customers' next appointments. Pre-booking customers' next appointments like you do at the dentist or doctor is a sure way to fill a schedule, Lewis says. (A tip: “Guys are some of the most loyal clients,” he notes.)

The successful students earn top grades in part by how well they fill their appointment books. Students begin at level 1 and the best reach level 4. Each level wears a different color (level 1 is all black, for example), so it establishes a visible and competitive hierarchy in the school.

When they graduate, students at level 4 already have a steady book of business and are most appealing to hair salons that are looking for staff. “They've got these business-building skills,” Lewis says.

Follow Jean Gruss on Twitter @JeanGruss

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