Wall St. and Business Wednesdays: Self-Styled Entrepreneurs: Salon Ownership Affords African-American Women A Comfortable Living By T. Shawn Taylor
Some days at Teazze Unisex Salon on the South Side, it's hard to tell which is hotter--the gossip, the curling irons or Sebastian, the sultry male stylist who is fond of giving free neck rubs.
Owned by Angela Middleton, Teazze is a lot like the salon depicted in the new film "Beauty Shop," a celebration of the free-flowing exchanges and cultural sisterhood particular to salons patronized mostly by black women.
For Middleton, it's a living, and a good one at that. Renting out booths to stylists--all 16 of Teazze's are occupied--plus what she earns styling hair affords her an annual income of about $60,000 a year, which pays for her Land Rover sport-utility vehicle and enables her to support her 13-year-old daughter.
"It took a while to get to that point. When I first started out, I was making close to $24,000 [a year]," said Middleton, 36, who has always owned her own shop. "I never thought about working for someone else."
In the U.S., black female salon owners are among the most successful entrepreneurs in their communities. And no wonder, considering how much money African-American women spend on hair care and beauty needs.
African-Americans spend an estimated $5.7 billion a year in the beauty and barber industry, and black women visit the salon an average of 2.5 times a month, data from the research firm Business Trend Analysts Inc./The Leading Edge Group, of Commack, N.Y., show.
A good living to be made
And in an industry dominated by women, African-Americans make up 16 percent of professionals in the nation's hair, nail and skin care salons, according to the National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences in Alexandria, Va.
"The majority of these stylists make more money than white-collar workers," said Terri Winston, CEO and publisher of Chicago-based Salon Sense magazine, a trade publication. "You have more black women owning beauty salons now. The [loans and financing] are more rapidly available than they were 20 years ago."
Black women's success in the beauty business began in the early 1900s with beauty mogul Madame C.J. Walker, who became the first black female millionaire. She produced and distributed a line of hair and beauty products for black women, and trained hair "culturists," who are commonly known as stylists today. "It was lucrative [especially] during the Jim Crow era when most African-American women were in domestic work or industries that didn't pay much," said Tiffany Gill, an assistant professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin. Gill wrote her doctorate dissertation on political activism among black female salon owners.
"It provided independence. They were able to take risks because they knew they wouldn't lose their jobs for taking a stance," Gill said.
Today, many black stylists start out either by renting booth space or working on a commission basis in a salon. In "Beauty Shop," Queen Latifah plays Gina Norris, a hair stylist who quits her job at an upscale salon and reopens a rundown shop in a predominantly black community.
Most black-owned beauty salons still are located in predominantly black neighborhoods. Even small storefront shops are known for having long waits to get to the shampoo bowl, but typically charge less than salons in pricier metropolitan areas, where proprietors can earn from $100,000 to $300,000 a year.
"In metro areas, one client could walk in and pay anywhere from $100 to $150 for a service. If they're seeing 20 clients a day, 100 minimum a week, that's very lucrative," said Winston, who estimates she personally spends between $10,000 and $12,000 a year on hair, nail and spa services.
A less raucous atmosphere
Locally, many black female salon owners are changing with the times and beginning to draw on the popularity of spas, offering massages, facials, pedicures and aromatherapy services. Like any savvy business owner, these beauty entrepreneurs see a chance to capture more of professional black women's disposable income.
Higher-earning women tend to shun the homogenous, raucous slumber party atmosphere for which the neighborhood shops are famous. That's why salon owner and stylist Janice Barnes-Davis chose not to locate her salon and spa in a predominately black neighborhood.
"I was really intent on staying downtown," said Barnes-Davis, who last fall purchased a property that had formerly been a salon and spa on Chicago's North Side and renamed it Lavish.
Eight months later, Barnes-Davis has yet to turn a profit after earning as much as $200,000 a year as a stylist renting a booth before starting a business. But knowing how the beauty business works, she is confident the tide will turn soon.
Said Barnes-Davis: "This is all part of growing a business."
This article appears in The Chicago Tribune. The author, T. Shawn Taylor, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
T. Shawn Taylor
Wednesday, April 13, 2005