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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Small Business Awards: Academy finds beauty business is ‘recession-resistant’

By Dan Voorhis
The Wichita Eagle

Xenon International Academy on West Douglas bustled this week with the energy of scores of students shampooing hair, giving facials and polishing nails.

The school’s 125 students practice their craft on 1,500 customers a week.

“Everyone who comes in comments about the energy,” said managing partner Kim McIntosh.

The school celebrated its 25th anniversary in Wichita last year, and while the recession and competition both present challenges, Xenon is holding its own, McIntosh said.

The school has seen some shift in its student demographics, as more older women looking to change careers. They’re joining the more-traditional students who are in their late teens or early 20s.

“The beauty business is not recession-proof, but it is recession-resistant,” McIntosh said. “During slow economic times, we’ll see a lot of nontraditional students. So it’s not a decline, it’s more of a flattening.”

Xenon has also seen an increase in competition as several new schools have opened in the past decade, dividing up the slow-growing population of students. About one-third of cosmetology students wind up out of the business within a year, for various reasons, leaving room for incoming students, McIntosh said.

To compete, she has fine-tuned the school’s operations and marketing, looking for ways to set the school apart.

One way, she said, is using the Pivot Point International organization’s training techniques to stay current. Another is a strong emphasis on social media to market the school. She said that 78 percent of Xenon students are referred by another Xenon student.

In recent months, as the economy has picked up, inquiries from prospective students have also picked up.

“I’m happy the economy is improving; I can’t wait for it to get back,” she said.

The school offers programs in cosmetology, aesthetics and nail technology.

Wichita is the first of the six Xenon Academies across the region. All are separate companies, but company founders Bill and Bob Peel are majority owners of all of them.

Reach Dan Voorhis at 268-6577 or dvoorhis@wichitaeagle.com.

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