[Best of Beauty U] So, You Want to Be (Not Really) a Millionaire

These two posts (yup, I’m combining them into one, stay with me) still kinda break my heart, because I think it was when we started to realize how slim the odds of beauty industry success really are, when you’re starting out at a place like Beauty U. We never saw Simon Scott again, and Meg and I ended up not signing up for the class he was peddling, but we heard all the time from everyone except Mr. G that it was a pretty huge waste of time.

And dude doesn’t tip waiters. I really don’t have anything else to say about that.

Simon Scott, the founder of Scott Consulting, which offers business training for the beauty industry, is a born guest speaker. He makes jokes about his “Austin Powers accent,” wears a shiny pin-stripe suit, and says “hello” whenever he thinks he’s made a particularly great point. He also insists we give a round of applause whenever a student answers a question.

“Fact,” says Simon, giving us a faux-stern look over his horn-rimmed glasses. “80 percent of students who graduate beauty school leave the industry after five years.”

“Fact!” says Simon, warming to his theme. “Beauty salons have the second highest failure rate of any business.”

We’ve been restless and chatting — about Simon’s accent, where to order dinner during break, Miss Susan’s oddly vertical updo — but that shuts us up quick. He asks us to volunteer ideas as to why so many beauty school graduates drop out, and some of them (“no money,” “bad hours,” “no one is hiring”) sound like they might hit pretty close to the mark. But Simon shakes his head mournfully at all of these.

The reason (say it with me now) is No. Business. Skills.

And we’re in luck because Scott Consulting has just what we need to fix that.

“Fact.” Simon is conspiratorial now. “Customers don’t care about your life. They’re paying for your full attention while they’re in the salon and they don’t want to hear you yammering on about your kids or your dog.”

Over the next 75 minutes, Simon does his level best to pack in this and as many other Business Skills as he can teach us. Some, like “stop tipping waiters,” are supposed to improve our personal lives as well. “If you tip everyone all the time, even if they just give you mediocre service, how can you reward someone who gives you really great service?” Simon asks, faux-socratic now, apparently having never waited a table in his life.

Hairdressers, Simon wants us to know, make 42 percent of their annual salary from tips. That’s enough to take you from $14 to $24 per hour or $48,000 per year (his numbers, note that the Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates your median hourly wage as $11.13).

“So you see how important it is to give really great service,” Simon sums up, since in his world, one only tips on merit, and never, say, a moral imperative to do your part for an unfairly compensated workforce. “It truly accounts for almost half your income. Hello.”

Then he asks us how much we think we can earn, provided we develop our Business Skills, and are still in the industry five years after graduating.

“Maybe $100,000?” asks Rachel, a cosmetology student with freshly henna-ed hair. At Simon’s urging, we give Rachel a dutiful round of applause, I guess for using her words.

“One Hundred Thousand Dollars,” says Simon, pausing for dramatic effect. “Yes. That is what top stylists can make — that is what you can make! — in this industry. With the right business skills.”

At that, everyone breaks into applause.

Tonight we’re summoned over to the cosmetology classroom to find out exactly what Simon Scott was up to the other night when he promised that we could earn $100,000 a year — if only we had the necessary business skills. It was this:

Starting in January, Beauty U will be offering the 16-week Scott Beauty Business Sense Program to all Beauty U students. We’ll tackle it 90 minutes at a time on Wednesday nights, in between working on clients and studying the rest of the Beauty U. curriculum. All we have to do is sign up by the end of the week and agree to pay $100 for the Scott’s Beauty Business Sense textbook.

It’s clear that Beauty U’s president, Mr. G (which stands for Gary) is expecting merriment and rejoicing as he stands before us, smile bright with hope for our starry, well-compensated futures. “I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t think it was necessary,” he says, reminding us that he used to be an auto mechanic. “Girls, I worked as a shampoo boy for two years when I started out in beauty. I lived at home with my mother. Eventually, as you know, I became successful. But it took a long time and it could have happened a lot faster if I had the Scott’s Beauty Business Sense knowledge.”

It’s a ringing endorsement, and I think an honest one at that, but it goes over like a lead balloon. Loretta wants to know what we’ll do during those 90 minutes if we don’t sign up.

“You won’t be sitting by yourself in an empty classroom, I promise!” Mr. G. doesn’t want this to look like extortion, after all. “You’ll work on all the people skills and business skills we already teach here. That’s the funny thing about Mr. Scott’s program — when I was reading through it, I kept thinking, hey, we already teach that. It’s just that the information is presented in a bit better of a way.”

Oops. $100 more for information we would have learned anyway? Side conversations spring up around the room. The general student consensus is that $100 may not sound like a lot, but you try coming up with an extra $100 at the holidays, and anyway, aren’t we paying Beauty U. a lot of money already? We are, in case you’re wondering. The esthetics program I’m taking costs $8500 and cosmetology is over $12,000. Recent high school grads can qualify for education grants, but most of the older students are doing it on a mix of loans and out-of-pocket spending.

Mr. G understands all of that. He’s standing next to one of the cosmetology student’s plastic mannequin heads, which is speared on a pole to make it the height of a seated client. He starts nervously stroking the mannequin’s shiny locks as he reasons with us. “Look, I don’t want you to give me $100 if you need to buy your kid a Christmas present,” he says. “Pay us in installments. Pay us just $5 a week if you want, I don’t care.” He also tells us that the Scott’s Beauty Business Sense book costs over $350 retail and Beauty U is picking up the difference. “I wouldn’t even charge you the hundred bucks, but I’ve got over 200 students here and I can’t afford to pay for everyone.”

There’s an awkward silence. “Thank you Mr. G,” says one of the cosmetology girls after a minute. “That’s a lot of money.”

“It is a lot of money,” Mr. G. agrees, patting the mannequin’s head with more authority now. “And I’ll be honest with you, tuition is going up next year and those students are going to pay the $350. You’re getting a big discount here.”

“And it’s not just one book you’re getting,” Miss Jessica, director of all the evening classes, jumps in. “It’s actually four textbooks, one for each cornerstone of the program, plus four CDs.”

“That’s right, it comes with CDS!” Mr. G. is thrilled about the CDs and begins to twirl a curl on the mannequin’s head. “You can listen to those in your car, you can download them to your computer, you can put them on your iPod what’s-it, whatever you want.”

Four textbooks, four CDs, 16 weeks of classes (over $350 in value) — all ours for 20 easy payments of just $5? “If they throw in a free ShamWow, we’ll all be sold,” murmurs Meg.

For me, a more profound endorsement comes from Miss Stacy, after we’ve dispersed back to the esthetics classroom. She graduated from Beauty U two years ago and now works at a local spa when she’s not teaching here at night. “I’m only booking maybe three appointments a week because I still haven’t built up a clientele,” she says. “They didn’t teach us how to do that here at all.” She doesn’t offer specifics, but since estheticians work on commission (and tips), this most likely means Miss Stacy is clearing less than $200 a week there.

“I don’t know if this new program will really be any better,” she adds. “But it can’t be worse.” It’s the first time I’ve heard one of the instructors admit that her post-beauty-school career isn’t everything she hoped it would be.

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