Jennifer Bailey owns a barber school in Lexington, Kentucky. She has been involved in barbering and barber education for over 27 years. Her father, Roger Bailey, opened the original school in 1962, and Ms. Bailey took it over in 1998. The school moved to its current location in 2009. We asked Ms. Bailey about her experiences and her recommendations for starting a successful barber school. Here's how she replied:
I was two weeks out of high school when I went into barbering. One of the biggest differences between a barber and a cosmetician is that we use the straight razor, and that interested me. My father and a partner purchased an existing barber college, and he became the sole owner in 1967. He purchased the school before he had his instructor's license, so he went to college for two years, which was the rule back then, and obtained his teaching license. He and I have owned many barber shops and other barber schools throughout Kentucky. We've probably trained about 90 percent of the barbers in the state.
Gain Experience and Become Licensed
A barber instructor has to know and teach everything, from shampooing to coloring and cutting the hair of people from different ethnic groups. You have to teach students to cut white hair, black hair, Hispanic hair -- you have to be very versatile. Kentucky requires you to first obtain a barber's license -- you need 1,500 hours of education and must pass written and practical tests -- before getting an instructor's license. To become an instructor, you have to work in a barber school for one year -- in all parts of the school, such as the cutting floor, the classroom and administration. Then you apply to the Barber Board for certification to teach.
Locate and Equip Your School
Before you pick a location, you have to verify that the zoning laws permit a barber school. The Barber Board limits the number of barber schools in any area. Look for a building in a densely populated location and of sufficient size -- cutting room, classrooms, break room, etc. -- to cover your overhead and earn a profit. For example, 5,000 square feet would hold 60 students and a couple of classrooms. Nowadays, schools usually buy their equipment and supplies online, and schools often look for used equipment to keep costs down. There are supply houses that cater to barber schools and shops. Kentucky state law requires at least one barber chair for each two students.
Obviously, you have to advertise, maintain a good reputation and keep your costs down. We use DVDs that feature platform artists (on-camera barbers and customers) to supplement some of the student's education without the cost of live demonstrations. But the biggest problem is obtaining financial help for the students. A barber school can go through a two-year accreditation process from a federally recognized agency so that its students can apply for federal loans and grants. Accreditation usually costs $30,000 to $40,000. There are also programs that people may not know about -- veterans, dislocated workers and those receiving vocational rehabilitation can receive financial aid. The students need to practice on the public. We charge $6 for student haircuts as compared to the regular rate of $15 in a Lexington barbershop. We also do a lot of service work, such as free haircuts for veterans and kids in emergency housing, to ensure we have enough customers for our students. Teaching is a hands-on profession and I tell students they can't learn to cut hair from a book.
Making It Work
When you run a barber school, it's important not to limit yourself, but rather go to conventions, network with other instructors and stay current on the latest products. I require my instructors to attend two conventions a year. Be receptive to students of all ages and interests. I accept students who don't want to stand behind chairs, but would rather become platform artists, run their own barbershops, work at a supply house, make barbering DVDs or teach. You can even be on the Barber Board -- you don't have to limit yourself. I also have a program to train barber instructors -- I recommend about three months of additional training before taking the instructor's exam, which is very difficult. A barber school owner should be prepared to spend a lot of time filling out the paperwork to satisfy the Barber Board and to arrange financial aid for students. I think many people don't realize how much education is required to become a licensed barber or barber teacher. Running a barber school requires a lot of patience, dealing with different personalities and keeping an open mind.