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Sheila Wilson LaRu

ICA President Sheila Wilson on the Challenges Facing Our Industry

Sheila Wilson, owner of Master Design Salon in Memphis and newly elected President of Intercoiffure America/Canada (ICA), has been doing hair for more than 40 years.  Needless to say, she’s seen a lot of changes in the beauty industry—some good, some bad.  Let’s just say that we’ve come a long way since women had to be convinced to try hair color. Today, 80% of Wilson’s female clients come in for color, while most of her male clients get some form of color reduction, especially those who skew younger and aren’t ready to rock a salt-and-pepper look. “We used to have a separate area where men getting color had some privacy, but they don’t care anymore,” Wilson says. “They want to be right out there with the women.”

master salon laru

New technology like LaRu, SureTint’s advanced hair color management software, has also had a huge impact on the way salons do business today.  “It’s so much easier to control inventory with this type of technology,” says Wilson. “I think of each bottle of hair color as real estate, and you have to make a profit on each one.” Better inventory management, less waste and more profits are just some of the ways LaRu has impacted the industry!


She does worries about the “demise of good distributors” willing to take products back if they aren’t working without charging a restock fee. “In the old days, my distributor would come into the salon and help me if I had problems,” she says. Another of her concerns is that some salons aren’t trained to understand inventory control. “They will order vast amounts of product to save money by ordering in bulk, but oftentimes they don’t think about where they’ll store all that extra inventory. I just think there has been a huge disconnect since people started ordering direct.”

Master Salon LaRu

As for Amazon, Wilson doesn’t see it as a problem. Instead, she sees it as a distraction that could be a door for salons to walk through. “With so much new technology available that helps us connect with the consumer, we could mail out our own products, or perhaps distributors could mail them out for us,” she says. “In other words, we could circumvent Amazon and become our own type of Amazon.”


Wilson is hopeful that ICA can solve at least some of the problems facing our industry today. The gold standard for salons since it was founded in 1960, ICA has always conferred an element of prestige on its members, who must meet a series of requirements for Class A membership. “You have to be a strong leader in your market and involved in your community,” says Wilson. “You have to believe in education and mentoring, and that’s just for starters.”


So, how important is ICA in the age of social media and Instagram influencers? Wilson thinks of it as our industry’s Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. “It’s not that you have to be in Intercoiffure to be successful, but the camaraderie, the one-on-one time and personal relationships between other ICA salons makes you more successful,” says Wilson, who compares ICA to a fraternity or sorority. “We all have the same passion for our industry.”


So what does Wilson think is the biggest challenges facing salon owners today? “Hiring,” she says without equivocation. “We need staff that has a desire to learn.” Wilson is a proponent of apprenticeships and she’d like to see reciprocity among states when it comes to the number of hours required to be licensed. “If the schools taught students the basics and let them work with salon owners, who could help them hone their skills, we’d be ahead of the game.”

Master Salon LaRu

Wilson also thinks we need a complete restructuring of our industry from schools on up and is working with ICA to find a way to keep cosmetologists from leaving the industry within a few years of graduation from beauty school because they can’t make a living. “Let’s say you lower the hours required to become licensed to 1,000 at $100 an hour,” says Wilson, “and when they get out of school, they come to work for a salon owner like myself, who agrees to pay back their loans. That means they could be debt-free within two years and making money. It’s a simple fix but so out of the box that it will take everybody working together to make it work.”


She’d also like to see schools prepare students to be mentored by salons like hers where they’ll get the kind of training that could make a difference between staying in the industry and dropping out. “We’re now soliciting independent contractors to go meet someone who owns an ICA salon,” she says. “A lot of these kids are naturals, but they need a crutch, like leadership or a mentoring program.”


On the agenda for ICA are three major initiatives. “We need to become more involved with schools,” she says. “We’d like to sit down at the table with them to see how we can improve the curriculum so we have better graduates to hire.”


Next on the list is a push to make ICA a household name.  In the works is a marketing plan to make consumers more aware of ICA and what it stands for. “When the public starts looking for that ICA seal, more salons will want to become members,” says Wilson, who adds that ICA is the first organization with artificial intelligence on its website. “We’re in that culture now where people don’t want to scroll through pages of information looking for the answer to a question; they want to ask Alexa or Siri to find it for them.”


And finally, ICA is planning a campaign to target recent beauty school graduates, who are unhappy or thinking about leaving the industry. “We want them to visit an ICA salon and see if we can help before they  give up.”


While our industry has seen a number of changes disrupt the status quo in the last decade, Wilson is optimistic. “The cream will rise to the top,” she says. “Nothing will ever take the place of human touch. You can color your own hair at home, but when you get in trouble, you want a professional who knows what to do. That one-on-one personal care is what we offer, and the door is wide open when it comes to service. We just need to cultivate those relationships more.”