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The Evolution of the Beauty Industry, One Student at a Time

Smartboards and laptops instead of blackboards and notebooks; interactive DVDs; state-of-the-art equipment and software... sounds like what you'd expect to find in the college classrooms of MIT or CalTech. While that may very well be, it's also the new standard in today's top cosmetology schools, led by Empire Beauty Schools, the largest beauty education provider in the nation. "The technologies are literally off the charts," says Frank Schoeneman, CEO of Empire.

The vision he and his team of educators have been implementing is to fuse education and entertainment - "edutainment," as he calls it, to engage students and bring them out of their comfort zone. "Cosmetology students don't learn by reading textbooks," he says. "They learn by touching, feeling, seeing." In other words, you won't find traditional lecture halls full of students carrying heavy textbooks. Instead, the classrooms at Empire mimic the finest working salons to truly prepare students for life after earning their cosmetology license.

An Industry Revolution
Beyond preparing students for lifelong careers, Schoeneman is confident that the classroom makeover will help remove old stereotypes about beauty schools. Of the 11,000 students in Empire schools, Schoeneman estimates that the majority of them have had some post-secondary education experience. "We have so many students that were forced into college, hated it, and then come to cosmetology school," he says. This is due to what he calls the "perfect storm" that nearly every prospective beauty school student faces: guidance counselors, moms and dads, and friends who often try to talk them out of going the beauty school route.

"There's the dumb hairdresser stigma. The beauty school dropout stigma," he says. But he's starting to watch that all change. "It's not true anymore because the appearance of our schools have become a lot more professional," he explains. "There's more of a fashion edge to what we do now."

And if you don't believe him, he says to turn on the TV and hear celebrities giving their stylists all kinds of credit for their success. "You see more of us [stylists and cosmetologists] on television right now. Not only is it cool, but you can make a lot of money, and work with celebrities. We've improved ourselves."

Creating Your Brand
That improvement, says Schoeneman, comes with a strong educational foundation that goes way beyond teaching hair cutting techniques. "I call it the 80/20 rule. Twenty percent of success will come from technical skills, and 80 percent will come from the ability to sell yourself," he says. "There are a lot of those people out there who will have better skills than you, but there's nobody better at being you, than you. If you're able to develop the people skills to know your product, to know your services, to figure out how and when to apply them to the right customer, your branding has been set."

Students at Empire Beauty Schools may notice that the emphasis is not just on getting them the basic education to pass their licensing board exams. "I want to get them through retirement and beyond with real life skills to make them better professionals, better coworkers, and better people," says Schoeneman.

So just what do students learn at Empire? For starters, there are those technical courses in cutting, coloring, and other cosmetological concepts. Then there are the business basics that are taught in a real working salon setting like inventory control, customer management, customer databases, working a register, etc. What Schoeneman feels is most important, however, are the communication skills that his students cultivate - namely to learn how to be active listeners. "We give students the ability to take the basic knowledge of cosmetology to the next level of sales, consultation, and maybe even helping clients with problems in their life," he says. In short, Empire's goal is not just to teach students how to give a good haircut, but how to provide a great salon experience for customers who keep coming back.

Cultivating Better Citizens
Often, students go into cosmetology to help others feel good about themselves. Schoenemen takes that one step further by spearheading several Empire initiatives that encourage all students to give back to society.

"We're trying to demonstrate to our students that this is how they should lead their lives," he says. "At the end of the day, we're hoping that there are 11,000 people that go out there and say a big component of my success is that I helped others."

The company has taken leadership roles in charitable causes such as KidsPeace, which assists kids with developmental and behavioral problems or disadvantages. Its latest cause has been to aid victims of domestic violence through national programs like Cut It Out, as well as on a local level aiding women in shelters.

"Our students are getting excited about helping this cause," says Schoeneman. "We're seeing this nationally take off, and it's really doing a lot of good."

Schoeneman admits that he does have one ulterior motive for encouraging students to take up such causes. "Every day of my life, I'm trying to find out how to get our students and graduates to be passionately committed to giving back to their society. That's because I believe passion is the most important emotion in business success. That is what we're trying to give to our students."

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