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A suburban mom hits the Valley Forge Hair Show

April 26, 2010

This is the look of a suburban mom who just spent the day trolling among professional cosmetologists and students at the Valley Forge Hair Show. Gee, I thought I actually put myself together.

I got a fresh manicure and pedicure. My clothes were selected ahead of time. The car was packed an hour before dawn for the long ride. I put makeup on before the first cup of coffee at 6 a.m.: a skill I didn’t know I had. I even sucked in my gut as I walked around the Valley Forge Convention Center, trying to improve my posture.  I look old and tired.

Fact of the mater is, when you have no real clue of what it takes to be a professionally-licensed cosmetologist – the sheer volume of chemistry and math, styling training, the physical skills it takes to dance around a client as you cut and shape their hair, and understanding everything from growing a business to the greening of the industry – then a visit to a hair show will fry your head.

It was my daughter’s last school class trip. Now in her second year of cosmetology school, Helen is about to take her New Jersey State Board of Cosmetology and Hairstyling licensing exam. This was a sentimental trip for me. For her and her classmates, however, it was a nice break to the intensity of last-minute training before the multi-day test.

Of course I had questions. I’m in public relations. It’s what I do. Brief interviews happened everywhere. Most days I focus on housing industry issues. This show gave me a chance to look at a completely different industry and analyze all the messaging, information, marketing materials, training manuals, and communications tools. By the end of the day I managed to jam five pounds of brochures, magazines, order forms, training manuals and a few DVDs into my free tote bag. These will be the start of Helen’s reference library.

The show was impressive with its vendor training sessions from on-floor demonstrations to ballroom-centered runway shows. I have a whole new appreciation for hair color experts, who I will now refer to as art directors. A speaker with Paul Mitchell Salons stuck a cord when she said, “No matter what the opportunity is we (cosmetology professionals) have the chance to touch each and every guest with our knowledge.”

“Build within,” she said. If you build on your knowledge and help your clients do a better job when they leave you then they will always come back to you with more business, she said. They will tell their friends. Their friends will want your expertise. You’ll continue building your skills so that you are THE TRAINER.

That’s exactly what I want when I go to a salon and so infrequently get. I want advice from my professionals to help me look good after I leave their business. I want to look salon good the very next day. Often I don’t. I don’t know the right conditioner to use. Styling products are sometimes confusing. I don’t like the “Just buy it and try it” mentality when I’m spending $20 a bottle or more on a single product. I don’t know how to blow out my hair like the stylists do, because at some point they advise me to put my head down and that’s when I stop paying attention. I love going for a facial, but am hesitant to initiate the conversation about skin care products. Yet I need it. There’s usually no three-minute consultation after the appointment to discuss products that I could take home to help me finish off “the look.”

Sometimes I feel like I’m begging for that information. I would probably do more business there if I felt like the quality of the service, and attention to training me gave me more legitimate reasons to take better care of myself there.  It would be easy to just suggest that I switch to another salon. I have. The fact is it’s probably been 12 years since I have been to a salon that was really good at training (advising) its clients on hair and skin care. Salon owners would cringe if they knew this about their staff.

In the rush to stay on schedule between clients, I suppose good communications skills are the first to slip. Maybe that’s another level of training that has to happen, like public speaking.

I know my important place in the cosmetology industry. I am the appointment making, product buying public.  The biggest lesson I learned at a hair show, however, is that if I expect to remain fresh in my job then I need to be the message too. That includes my look. I can’t expect to stay fresh if I always plop myself in the stylist’s chair, looking like I need a nap, and ask for the same old suburban mom haircut and conservative color choices.  I would never let that same-old-same-old dogma fly with public relations strategies and I shouldn’t settle for it in my persona either.

Maybe I’ll have that conversation with my stylist. Helen knows already.

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