Image: James Noon
Janet Hostetter  /  AP
James Noon goes under a dryer with his newly knotted dreadlocks at Aveda Institite, a beauty school in Minneapolis. Noon is a monthly customer.
updated 7/10/2007 5:55:06 PM ET 2007-07-10T21:55:06

Peggy Baker’s been going to the same hair salon for 40 years, but she never knows what to expect. Uncertainty is part of the fun.

Once a month Baker, 83, visits the Auburn Career Center in Concord Township, Ohio, and pays high school students to shampoo and set, color or cut her hair.

“They have young ideas,” the Chardon, Ohio, resident said. “They know the best shampoos, the best colors and the best styles.”

Baker loves visiting with the teenagers, listening to their advice on hair care and watching them develop their skills. “Sometimes ... you may look a little different,” she said. “The teachers make sure you don’t go out looking funny.”

Beauty schools are popping up all over the country to fill the demands of the growing spa and salon industry, according to the American Association of Cosmetology Schools, headquartered in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Budget-friendly services
That means that more people are discovering what Baker’s known for decades: Cosmetology programs are a cheap way to receive regular salon services. Prices range from a few dollars to about half of salon prices, depending on school policy. Advanced students do the work under the supervision of licensed instructors.

Jayne Morehouse, a spokeswoman for the cosmetology school association, said more of the schools are stressing service and working to attract customers.

“The schools make themselves more known,” she said. “There’s more marketing.”

Jana Deen, a lawyer in Cincinnati, regularly treats herself to pedicures, manicures, facials and hair services at the Aveda Institute near her home.

“I take advantage of about everything they offer,” said Deen, 49. She appreciates the price break but said the school’s atmosphere is what keeps her coming back. “I really like the students. They’re so eager. It’s always a little bit different.”

James Noon, who has his dreadlocks cared for at the Aveda Institute in Minneapolis, said the soon-to-be stylists look forward to his visits because of his unusual hairdo.

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“The students are very enthusiastic whenever I come in,” said the 47-year-old. “I’m a teaching tool.”

He pays $28 a visit compared to $150 to $200 at a traditional salon.

Time-consuming visits
The downside? It takes several hours per visit for him, since the students are learning and spend time conferring with teachers.

“It’s an inconvenience to sit there for so many hours,” Noon said, but he’s always pleased with the result.

For Jo Ellen Zembruski-Ruple, it’s all about saving money.

“I started going to these training schools over 12 years ago,” said the Manhattan resident. “I find them fabulous.”

Zembruski-Ruple visits the schools for hair care and facials. She’s referred at least a dozen friends to Atelier Esthetique Institute of Esthetics in New York City.

“I share my bargains with everybody,” the 47-year-old said.

“It’s been a perk for my skin to go more often because of the cost,” she said. “I get compliments on my hair all the time.”

Zembruski-Ruple said she always gets “good to excellent” service from students, and she attributes their success in part to the attentiveness of the instructors.

Some styles backfire
Without that, being a guinea pig for inexperienced cosmetologists can backfire. Michelle Foster thinks a lack of supervision from teachers at a Chicago-area cosmetology school played a part in her permanent that didn’t take.

“I saw the teacher once at the beginning and once at the end,” she said. “I’ve been to other schools and there’s always been a teacher close by.”

Foster, 28, also was disappointed by the way the school responded to her complaint.

“They offered me like $10 off,” said Foster, who thinks the service should have been free.

Instructors do play an important role, agreed Virginia Meyer, vice president of education for Aveda. The teachers will stand “side by side” with students as they talk with customers, she said.

“It’s a bit of a delicate dance,” she said. “You’ve got to watch their face and body language.”

Brittney Haladyna, 17, a recent graduate of Auburn Career Center, said she typically started appointments by offering the client a glass of water. That helped put them at ease, she said. After that, she would ask the client to describe what he or she wanted done to their hair or nails.

“Communicating with people and understanding what they want is a big part of our job,” said Haladyna, of Thompson, Ohio. “It helps to be friendly and make them feel comfortable.”

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