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School finds recession beautiful for growth

By MARY STONE

The recession, for some, is the opportunity to recycle their professional skills into a new career.

And for places such as the Continental School of Beauty Culture Ltd., the recession presents an opportunity for expansion. With enrollment up 10 percent in 2009, the Henrietta-based company is expanding into Syracuse.

Under a lease agreement, renovations on a 15,000-square-foot school and training salon are under way in Mattydale, Onondaga County. The new location is scheduled to open in February.

It is the company’s sixth school.

Beauty is one of few industries that are growing right now, Continental School of Beauty’s owners say.

Their school has 1,000 students, including 300 enrolled in Rochester.

Vice President Barbara Silver-Shumway runs the 85-person company with her husband, President Charles Shumway. Her father started the business in 1961.

A distributor of professional beauty supplies, Myron Silver had been looking for ways to introduce new cosmetology trainees to the brands he sold as a means of developing his customer base.

He had purchased local distributorship F.H. Loeffler Co. in 1956 and tried

marketing products to beauty schools in Western New York. He soon found that many schools already had direct contracts with manufacturers. His solution was to start his own school.

Silver, without any salon training, teamed with Arthur Resso, a local hairdresser, and in 1961 opened the Continental School of Beauty above F.H. Loeffler on St. Paul Street.

Silver-Shumway worked for 25 years with her father and eventually took over leadership at Loeffler Co. before and, for a time, after its sale 10 years ago to Beauty Systems Group, a division of Sally Beauty Holdings Inc.

Her father, now 87, continues to work at Continental School of Beauty, mainly developing strategy.

Today, the school is run by a local staff of 40 administrators and instructors based in a 50,000-square-foot company-owned building on Jefferson Road. Approximately 20,000 square feet of space there is used for the company’s school and spa, where, at reduced prices, students provide services to the public as part of their training.

It is a fundamental part of the certification process, which is controlled and monitored by at least five separate governing bodies, Charles Shumway explained.

Training is not as long as education programs at two- and four-year schools, but many of the same federal and state rules apply, including financial aid rules, Shumway said.

"A lot of people have a very misguided conception of what beauty school is like. Our students receive the exact same Title IV financial aid that anyone going to U of R or Harvard has. They have the same forms," Shumway said.

Tuition costs vary according to the program. Continental School of Beauty offers five. Its most popular hairdresser and cosmetology program is 1,000 hours and costs approximately $11,500. The program, taken full time, can be completed in roughly eight months.

The salaries for salon professionals are on par with professionals in other industries, Shumway said.

"There has been a perception over the years that beauty school is an alternative for people who can’t go to college. In fact, beauty school is very competitive," he said.

In the United States, hairdressers earn the most in the Northeast, where the average salary of $48,348, states a 2007 survey commissioned by the National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences and conducted by JBL Associates Inc.

U.S. News & World Report listed hair-dressing as one of the 30 best careers to have in 2009. A story in a December 2008 issue listed the median U.S. salary at $35,800, not including tips. Overall, salaries for hair-dressers range from $27,500 to $55,500.

With the recession, a lot of people are pursuing beauty enhancement education in search of a second career, Silver-Shumway said.

"Maybe they lost their job. Very often we hear people come in and say, ‘I always wanted to do something like this, but I never had the opportunity.’ They decide after being downsized that they were going to follow their dream, and enter the industry for that reason," she said.

"We have had every type of background go through our program. We’ve had dentists, Harvard dropouts, it’s truly amazing," Shumway added.

The school began expanding to keep up with demand in the 1970s, adding a location in Buffalo. Continental School of Beauty has since expanded to West Seneca in Erie County; Batavia, Genesee County; and Olean in the Southern Tier.

Opening the new Syracuse location will cost $400,000 to $500,000, Shumway said. The company declined to disclose annual revenues.

The influx of new spas and the growing range of services they offer have helped sustain growth at Continental School of Beauty, Silver-Shumway said. The school offers placement services to its students and often has no trouble finding openings for them.

It is gratifying to find people work, Silver-Shumway said, and help them define their relevance, especially in a down economy.

"The exciting part is the way we can impact a student’s life," she said.

12/25/09 (c) 2009 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.

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