Kristine Walsh, owner of the Park Avenue School of Cosmetology, looks at the demographics of the Brainerd lakes area and considers the potential to have a lot of students.
“I’m really looking forward to being here,” Walsh said.
Last week, Walsh was overseeing the renovation of the former WorkForce Center on South Sixth Street into her cosmetology school. The building with its open floor plan, along with a bevy of small side offices, was just what Walsh wanted.
“I honestly couldn’t design this better,” she said.
It wasn’t long before a student, drawn by the sign outside, walked through the doors and signed up.
Walsh said the school is licensed by the Board of Cosmetology Examiners and the Minnesota Office of Higher Education and it is accredited through the National Accrediting Commission for Cosmetology Arts & Sciences.
Parka Avenue School of Cosmetology offers federal and state financial aid options in grants and loans for students.
For consumers, the school offers an inexpensive hair cut and manicure/pedicure services. Hair cuts are typically $5 to $13 and manicure/pedicure’s are typically $20. Walsh said customers just need to realize they are in a teaching environment. She said services may take longer but people will leave with quality salon experience.
Students first spend six weeks in theory and classroom work, about 240 hours, before they are ready to go out on the floor and work under the eye of an educator. The student, client and educator consult on the salon service and educators check on the student’s progress. Walsh said they their student to educator ratio is 10 to 1 with two educators in the building. Students may join at any time and may be constantly cycling through and graduating.
At the Park Avenue school, Walsh said students learn in a salon environment so they are handling the phone, booking services, running the cash register and cleaning. For Walsh the school experience bridges the gap other institutions may leave between classroom and a real job.
“That was really important to me,” Walsh said.
Students have 1,350 hours of work before they take the state boards, a combination of practical work and written exam. Students actually graduate from the school with 1,550 hours. Tuition costs are almost $12,000. The school also offers advanced training to help students and graduates meet industry trends whether it’s razor cutting or using specific product lines for hair or nails.
“Being the size we are, we are able to respond fast to trends in the industry,” Walsh said.
The school utilizes an advisory board, which includes salon owners and meets annually. Graduates may come back to the school to keep up on skill levels. Walsh said they also work with students to help them with job placement. They also offer to help students evaluate placements and compensation packages from salons from small shops to corporate venues.
So while the work may be their first love, Walsh said the school aims to help students combine that passion with the information and skills they need to earn a living. The students in effect become their own business, Walsh said.
Originally from Forest Lake, Walsh went to the College of St. Catherine. She planned to travel the globe with a career in international business. But those plans changed after she met a logger from Park Rapids. She’s been married 17 years now and has three boys. Looking to make her career in Park Rapids, Walsh drew from family knowledge — her sister is a hair stylist and her folks have a salon — when she saw an opportunity to fill an industry need. She saw students looking for salon work without job-ready skills from handling the phone to mixing colors. She saw a need for a finishing school and met an educator in the industry. The school she opened in Park Rapids is now in its seventh year.
Walsh said as an administrator of the schools, she been able to raise her family in a small town and travel to salon industry conferences. Now she feels she’s earned a master’s in student services, financial aid, marketing and construction.
“Getting to this point was a lot of work,” she said.
But with one and now two locations going, she has an eye on possibly adding another in Alexandria.
Walsh is considering the potential to expand into massage therapy and advanced aesthetics — skin care in Brainerd.
“For anybody who wants to work, there is plenty of work,” Walsh said. “If you are a little bit flexible and keep your skills up there really is no limit to what you can make. It’s a very portable skill.”
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at 855-5852 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @Dispatchbizbuzz.