[Best of Beauty U] My First Real Client

It’s fun to read this one and realize how much better I really did get at working on clients. The weirdness of touching strangers more or less disappeared. I got more used to the odd sounds and awkward comments. I always felt more comfortable with the client in the spa bed than out under the bright lights of the salon floor, though.

Last week, when I was finishing up my Three Months Down report, commenter Kate Ashford asked:

I have a question: How does the working-on-not-fellow-students clients thing work? Do people know you’re students? Do they get a discount? Does the beauty school have a spa that customers use, with the knowledge that they might be peeled and spackled by beauty students in training? And how are you feeling about working on real people? (Not that students aren’t real people, of course.) But it’ll be pretty different, no?

The answer: Pretty damn different, indeed.

First, the facts:

At Beauty U, we spend the first twenty-odd weeks dividing our time between book learnin’ (the beloved Milady’s Standard Fundamentals for Estheticians) and practicing what we’ve learned by working on each other. Once we finish every chapter in the textbook, we graduate to “senior student” status and are eligible to work on any client who walks in the door.

From the outside, Beauty U looks like any other strip mall salon. The main room has all the chairs, mirrors and sinks-with-chairs set up for the hair dressers and behind that is the spa, with all of our facial beds and the waxing station. Whenever we do book work, we shuttle off to a couple of small, windowless classrooms at the back. When we’re doing the hands-on stuff, we work on each other out in the spa, right alongside the senior students working on regular clients. So those folks know they’re coming to a beauty school and will have their facials, hair cuts and other treatments performed by “senior students under the supervision of an instructor.” That’s actually the draw because our services are much cheaper than average salon or spa prices. Think $25 for a facial that would run you $60-80 anywhere else. And we’re always running specials; right now I’ve got a stack of coupons that will entitle you to a free European facial and 25 percent off our retail products.

Now, I’ve still got about two months to go before my class finishes our Milady’s time and is deemed real-client-ready.

But tonight, three of the four senior students are out with the flu.

Only Becky made it in and here we are, with two real people clients, a body treatment and a microdermabrasion facial, scheduled for the same time. Miss Jenny and Miss Stacy look at each other in horror. They can’t work on clients at Beauty U because, as Miss Jenny says, “we don’t perform services for these kinds of prices anymore.” (Plus, she has to teach the class, which she can’t do if she’s behind a curtain giving a facial.) Becky obviously can’t perform a body treatment and a microdermabrasion facial simultaneously.

And so, before I know what is happening, I find myself up and off the bench.

“Is she ready?” says Miss Stacy. “She hasn’t even learned micro yet.”

“She’ll be ready.” Miss Jenny is sure. She squares off with me, and it’s like Coach Taylor bringing in the rookie for the final touchdown. (Everyone here watches Friday Night Lights, right? Okay then.) “You’re ready to do a facial, aren’t you? You’re not afraid to work on a real client, right? Well okay, get in there.”

I scrub up and plug in the steamer while Miss Jenny heads out to explain to the client in question that she can’t have microdermabrasion tonight because nobody qualified to do it is available, but I can give her the best damn European facial she’s ever had and it’s $15 cheaper anyway. My client, Jody, is apparently happy with that, so a minute later, Becky and I are walking across the salon floor to pick up Jody and her friend Betty from reception.

They’re Beauty U regulars, middle-aged soccer moms out for a girlfriends facial & body treatment night, on a budget.

I’m nervous, obviously, though it’s not the facial itself that’s freaking me out. It’s all the logistics around it that suddenly seem so awkward, even though we’ve been running drills for weeks and, after all, I’ve been on the other side of the spa chair plenty of times myself. I lead Jody into my curtained-off area in the spa and tell her to go ahead and change into the spa robe and then get into bed. And when I say “get into bed,” I have to try very hard not to giggle, because dude, I just told this strange lady to take her clothes off and get into bed.

I mean, of course I did, and she obviously knows that’s what she’s going to do, but still.

So I go hover outside while Jody changes, and Miss Jenny rushes over for a little coaching. “Her skin looks pretty sensitive; micro wouldn’t have been good for her anyway,” she whispers. “You can try upselling her to a Vita-Cure facial, maybe — oh wait, you haven’t done that yet — or how about a paraffin hand dip?”

I peer through the crack between the curtains and see Jody standing in her striped Hanes underwear, still folding up her clothes. I bolt back like I’ve been shot and return to pacing nervously around the spa door — I swear, I did not mean to spy on her, but how else am I supposed to tell if she’s ready for me?

Of course after that, I wait too long and by the time I poke my head back in, Jody has tucked herself in the facial bed and is clearly wondering if I’ve died. So I overcompensate with chatter as I give her face a quick cleanse and examine it under the creaky magnifying lamp. Does she have any concerns with her skin? What products does she use at home?

Jody keeps her responses short (“no” and the name of a skin care line I’ve never heard of) and that “I’m here to relax, please don’t talk to me” cue is one I can read right, so I shut up, forgetting that I’m supposed to use that info, however flimsy, to plot what products to try to sell her later.

Once I’ve got the steam going, we both start to relax — Milady’s claims steam is good for your skin because it hydrates and melts sebum clogging your pores. But I’m just as convinced we use steam during professional facials to make them seem more professional. Even as I’m painting exfoliator under Jody’s nose and massaging her shoulders, the thick cloud of steam between us feels like an important barrier, giving her permission to stop thinking about me sitting at her head.

I get in my groove after that, so when she speaks suddenly as I’m applying her mask (to say “that smells good”), I jump. And check the time — facials are supposed to take an hour, but I realize I’m not clear on whether that’s an hour plus time for them to change before and after, or an hour total, and anyway, I can no longer remember what time I started, or how many minutes the mask is supposed to stay on.

Meanwhile, Miss Jenny pops her head in every so often, to check my technique. Since Jody has sensitive skin, she’s anxious that I not let her steam too long or extract with too much vigor. But I can tell she’s also proud — the first of her students, working on her first client! It’s sort of stage mom-ish, but sweet.

And then I’ve got Jody toned and moisturized, and it’s over almost before it began. I slip out so she can dressed (pulling the curtain more tightly behind me this time) and collapse into a chair next to Miss Stacy to ponder the client consultation form. I don’t have anything to write next to “What did you upsell?” and “Products recommended,” so I leave everything blank and just scribble my name at the bottom.”Eh, worry about that stuff next time,” says Miss Stacy, as she signs off for me.

Every Monday at roll call, Miss Susan announces the prior week’s top upseller and top product mover. I won’t be getting any such gold stars, but I don’t care. I wave Jody out and ten minutes later, Miss Stacy wanders back from reception with five folded singles for me. A 20 percent tip and Jody’s  face didn’t fall off or turn red.

I’m calling this one a win.

[Photo: I already spent my actual five dollars, so this is “Five Dollar Note [macro]” by thefixer via Flickr.]

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