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Not all technique

‘Drama...glitz’ also important lessons for D.C. beauty school students to learn

(Published July 17, 2000


Staff Writer

A bubble gum smacking woman dressed in bright, gaudy colors stands over her trapped client. Multiple gold hoop-earrings clank together as she flails hands with long manicured nails and talks about the scandalous personal lives of everyone who has ever stepped through her beauty shop’s doors. Her client, uncomfortable and annoyed, frequently checks her watch and silently prays the hairdresser would just hurry up.

It’s the television-inspired stereotype that shapes America’s view of the minority cosmetologist. And it’s one that two Northeast Washington beauty school owners are working to eliminate as they provide life lessons intermixed with anything-but-typical cosmetology courses that use mentoring and teamwork while teaching trade skills.

Chet A. Bennett, founder and chief executive officer of Bennett Beauty and Barber Institute, and Alfred Dudley, director of Dudley Beauty College, have trained more than 4,000 cosmetologists in an environment where administrators, students and teachers are molded into a family-like unit.

Students learn from the beginning that when they graduate, they have a support system of fellow graduates that spans the nation along with the constant support and advice from their alma maters. That assurance, nurtured by the phone calls home when a student is absent and the personal conferences when a student needs encouragement, has a problem, or just needs a listening ear creates a bond evident at both schools’ annual graduation ceremonies.

"Graduation time is a boo-hoo session," said Bennett. "You see some of them who put on a cap and gown for the very first time in their lives and walk across the stage and get a diploma. It’s very emotional."

Dudley said his school’s annual graduation ceremony "is exciting. Friends and parents come…some never graduated from anything before." These ceremonies often attract audiences that fill the auditoriums of the local high schools where they are held.

The students who attend the Bennett and Dudley schools appear ambitious and family-like. They come from all over the metro area and from all points in life. Students’ backgrounds vary — some are welfare recipients, former doctors and college graduates, while others have never graduated from high school. Despite their diverse backgrounds, students can be seen conversing, smiling, hugging, comforting and encouraging one another whenever they are not with clients, which is not often in either cosmetology clinic.

Tuition, Bennett said, "is not a drop in the bucket. Most of them struggle to pay." Set at $6,000 and $5,600, program costs at BBI and DBC (respectively) are offset by loans, scholarships, federal aid and fundraisers so that no student is turned away by the financial burden.

Although financial help brings in students who otherwise could not attend the schools, the staffs’ mission is to keep them enrolled for the duration of the course.

"A lot of times, if they don’t graduate from high school, they don’t graduate from (the school) because it’s a pattern," Bennett said of students. "So what we do is we have to reinforce them over and over again" — with words of encouragement, contests and a supportive environment, he said.

Completion of the programs can also be difficult, as the course curriculum is not only about how to do hair, make-up and nails, despite the television depictions of beauty schools.

"There’s a stigma on cosmetology and beauty school drop outs," Bennett said. "(People) think if you go to beauty school, that means that you’re not intelligent enough to go to college — any type of university, community college or what have you."

The beauty school programs, however, require creativity and cognitive thought and dedication to studying and practicing. Training for cosmetology licenses requires 1,500 hours of beauty clinic work. And to pass the Cosmetology State Board Exam, students must learn theory, physiology, anatomy, cell structure and function, bone structure, and electricity and light therapy, said Bennett.

When students complete their training, Dudley said, "If they applied themselves, they would have obtained skills in hair preparation as far as hair care, latest styles, hair cutting procedures, methods of analyzing hair, and technique in recommending proper products to use."

Beyond those skills, however, Bennett and Dudley want to impart to their students the wisdom for running successful independent salons. Their similar approaches to training cosmetologists interweave the skills of the trade with business sense and entrepreneurial methods.

Dudley Beauty College trains students to be cosmetologists with both beauty skills and retail sense.

"One of the things that’s missing in Afro-American beauty salons is retail," said Dudley. "You go in our shops and usually you see televisions… in a space where retail products could make a lot of money."

Aside from the beauty trade skills, it is the college’s "goal to train young Afro-American cosmetologists how to take advantage of that money that they let walk out the door in retail," he said. Dudley said he encourages students to provide clients an opportunity to purchase personal care products used in the salons because those in-shop retail sales will help increase income potential.

Having a line of over 150 hair care products, "about 99 percent of all products we use (at Dudley’s school) are products we manufacture," Dudley said. He said his students are taught the benefits of each Dudley product to "train them so when they go out in the field they will continue to use Dudley products … and upgrade the field of cosmetology."

Working to create a "new breed" of cosmetologists, Bennett wants students to know that a successful beauty salon begins with a strong clientele base.

"How you build that is your personality — you have to be punctual, you have to dress professional, and you have to know what you’re doing," Bennett said.

"Your technical skill – which is actually doing hair – is only 20 percent of it… It’s the drama, it’s the glitz, it’s to get that lady there, it’s the consultation, it’s calling (clients after the services). These are things that (students) need to know."

Simple trade rules include maintaining personal hygiene and a professional image. "There’s no such thing as chewing gum with your clients, you’re not talking over your clients, you’re not going around talking about what you did last night and all that other type of stuff," Bennett said. "You’re treating your clients special."

The cosmetology training industry in the District is competitive, with six D.C. schools and additional schools in the suburbs, attracting city residents. Despite the number of schools available, the Department of Labor reported that in the year 2000 demand for cosmetologists is expected to surpass the number of students entering the field. Bennett attributes this to a demand for "more personalized services."

Dudley agreed saying, "Demand is so much greater than the supply." Citing the college as an example of recruiting trends, he said, "You look out there at the wall (postings) and you see all those salons hoping to get one of the Dudley students, ‘cause they know we really give them good training here."

"So as far as job placement, we prepare them (and) the jobs are waiting for them," he said.

Cosmetologists hoping to extend themselves beyond employment in other people’s salons can hone their entrepreneurial skills and branch out on their own, an effort that Bennett "admonishes" his students to make.

To support graduates, "we’re going to start a program in the fall where we’re actually helping them secure properties and … get established in their own salons," Bennett said. "It’s one thing to teach and then it’s another thing to actually work with them and apply it to their lives."

Underlying a deep concern for the fate and success of their students is a fear that African-Americans will not continue to operate their own hair care industry and manufacture the specialized products they use, said Dudley.

"We want to save this industry – we don’t want to lose this. There’s a lot of money," he said.

"Dollar for dollar I don’t think the Afro-American has any kind of business that can touch cosmetology because it’s one of the businesses that doesn’t cost a lot of money to get into," said Dudley. "It’s not unusual for a person to come and take a nine-month course and within a couple of years be making $60,000 to $70,000 a year. They can make as much money as some of those doctors and lawyers."

Add the money made through selling products used in the salon and that yearly income shoots up more, Dudley said.

To prepare their students for the increasing demands on cosmetologists, the two schools are working to improve their curriculum and programs.

Bennett Beauty Institute will soon assume the name Bennett Cosmetology University, and plans are in the works to create a "campus setting" with bookstore, cafeteria, mailroom and research labs and a child care facility, Bennett said.

The Dudley Beauty College hopes to expand its program to include every race and ethnicity, said Dudley.

"We don’t want to be just for Afro-Americans. We’d like to cover the whole world, all the people," he said. "We want to go across that line."

Both schools also bring in beauty experts to teach students cutting-edge styles and trends and the methods to achieve them.

Since its founding in 1996, Bennett Beauty and Barber Institute has operated on the second floor at 680 Rhode Island Ave. NE in the Rhode Island Avenue Shopping Center.

Dudley Beauty College, opened in 1989, is located at 2031 Rhode Island Ave. NE. Seven associate schools are located in Florida, Illinois, Maryland and Charlotte, Durham, Greensboro and Kernersville in North Carolina. Joe Dudley, Alfred Dudley’s brother and founder of the Dudley Products empire, helped found the schools.

Other D.C. cosmetology schools include The Penn Avenue Hair Academy, The French Institute, Flair Beauty Institute and South Capital Beauty Academy Inc.

Flair Beauty Institute, owned by Elizabeth Rosales, was opened in March 1997 as a manicurist’s training school and in June 1997 began offering cosmetology training. Located at 3328 Georgia Ave. NW, it offers an easy payment plan and a matching tuition grant. Part-time and full-time students train on their own schedules. Patricia Williams, the director, said instructors also operate their own salons outside of the Institute, where graduates can work. The courses currently available are cosmetology, manicuring and aesthetics, and instructor and manager programs.

South Capital Beauty Academy has trained aspiring cosmetologists since 1992 at 3935 South Capitol St. SW through part-time and full time courses. The school offers a course in basic cosmetology and courses for aspiring manicurists, instructors, aestheticians and managers/owners. Academy owner John Curtis said the school provides training in "skills, attitudes and work habits" to help students acquire "acceptable work positions." Tuition information is available by contacting the school and an internal financial aid program is available for students who qualify.

The Penn Avenue Hair Academy, located at 730 15th St. SE, began instruction in 1997 under the direction of Mildred King. Academy officials said people interested in enrolling can contact the school for information pertaining to costs and available programs.

The French Institute is located at 4000 Albemarle St. NW. Information can be obtained directly from the school.

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator