Lookin’ good

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Published: February 14,2000

One of the hottest professions in Mississippi and the nation in terms of jobs growth is hairdressing.

Are there suddenly more people out there who need hair cuts? Why would there be a projected growth of 37% for hairdressers and hairstylists in Mississippi through the year 2007?

“Since the Baby Boomers are going to run the world, everyone wants to look good,” said Helen Farmer, school coordinator for the Mississippi State Board of Cosmetology. “The profession is growing because they are bringing in male as well as female clients. The fellows have found if they take care of their skin and use a good maintenance program, they are going to look better longer.”

Melvin Dalton, executive director of the Academy of Hair Design, the largest training facility of its kind in the state with five campuses, said there is increasing demand for the services of a professional hairstylist.

“People want to look better these days,” Dalton said. “They are getting out of the home and going to professionals. They used to sit at home and get a haircut. But the hair style that comes out of the kitchen isn’t what is going to work these days. Hair styles are more trendy which is requiring a professional cut and style.”

Due to changing trends and times, people are putting more emphasis on their hair, spending more money on it than in the past. Hair is a considered a fashion item just like clothes. Dalton said that the “chemical side” of the profession, chemical alterations of hair such as specialty perms and colors, are becoming increasingly popular.

“These are things you can’t just go to the local drug store and buy,” Dalton said.

Dalton said that national statistics show that there were 10,000 openings for hairstylists last year that went unfilled. The Academy of Hair Design trains hundreds of students each year. Dalton said students enter the program because of the flexibility of the profession, and the ability to complete a 15-month program and have a marketable skill.

“It adapts well to raising a family,” Dalton said. “We’ve seen a lot of single mothers going into the profession. We do pre-interviews with students, and ask why they have chosen this profession. The number one reason why is because they can complete the program in as little as 15 month and become self sufficient.”

Farmer said cosmetology schools in the state stay full the year around.

“Usually our successful students are talented individuals who are maybe a little temperamental,” Farmer said. “They are artistic. This is very much an artistic outlet. When working with the hair or face, there has to be talent in the artistic area or you can’t be successful. For most people it is not just a vocation, but also an avocation.”

Not all students who graduate go to work in the profession. Farmer said many acquire a license and “store it in their hip pocket as something to fall back on.”

But for people who do want a job, there are plenty of openings. Both Farmer and Dalton recommend that graduates first work for someone else for a year or so before striking out on their own. Starting salaries are about $20,000 per year, and can be less or more depending on how hard the stylist wants to work.

“There is no limit to income,” Farmer said. “It depends on how much effort they want to put into it. If they are there on time, and are there all day, they are going to get clients. If they have a feeling they should only be in the salon by appointment, probably they are not going to be that successful.”

Farmer said impulsive, walk-in visits are common, and a reason why a stylist needs to be at the salon regularly.

“The general rule is when you open a salon, people are going to drive by and look at you for a year before they even try you,” Farmer said. “If they don’t see you there on a regular basis, they are not going to come in.”

People skills are important in the profession, and are taught at the cosmetology schools. Farmer said one particularly important thing to remember is to listen more than you talk.

“The client doesn’t come in to hear about you,” Farmer said. “She comes in to tell you about her. For some of our older citizens, a trip to the hair salon may be the only time in a month that anyone touches them, listens to them and appears to care. That’s pretty valuable.”

Dalton said the biggest challenge he sees is getting students to stay put. Many tend to bounce around from job to job. But clientele usually won’t follow a hairdresser shifting from place to place, so being at the same place for regular hours helps build clientele—and boost income.

“With any job you’re going to have to work your way to the top just like any corporate profession,” Dalton said. “The average cosmetologists leaving school can expect to achieve a high success rate within their fifth year. You’ll make a good living. But you won’t be that successful until you’re out there for a minimum of five years.”

Salon owners usually get a 40% commission from each hairdresser in the salon. So going out on her own can be profitable and give the stylist greater control over her schedule. But Dalton warns there is a flip side, the responsibility of operating the business properly by making sure all the bills are paid and that supplies are adequate.

Dalton said that about 98% of their students are female. They get a lot of calls for men, but most men are looking into barbering. Dalton said there isn’t that much difference between the two programs with both requiring 1,500-hour program and state examinations.

Enrollment last year was the best seen in the past five years, and impetus for growth. Dalton said the Academy for Hair Design, which started with one campus 13 years ago, is planning to expand from five to seven campuses this year.

“We wouldn’t be opening more and more training facilities if we didn’t see a bigger demand,” he said.

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com.

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