What most people don’t see when they’re enjoying a luxurious spa experience or salon pampering is the work that goes into training the service providers. A behind-the-scenes look at the operations of the Bellus Academy gives a view of the effort that goes into preparing the technicians for successful careers while elevating the perceptions of the industry.
Walking into the 20,000-square-foot, internationally recognized, award-winning Bellus Academy in Poway, one of four campuses which underwent a $2.5 million makeover in 2008, gives a glimpse of the hands-on activities that provide training to the prospective hair stylists, massage therapists, estheticians, nail technicians and makeup artists. About 1,000 students attend day and evening programs throughout the year at all four campuses. Currently 730 students are enrolled, including 270 at the Poway campus, and they spend six to 18 months in training.
The real-life experience extends to pampering employees of companies that sign up for Bellus’ Corporate Wellness Program, a benefits program that 25 companies including LA Fitness and Costco Wholesale Corp. have joined since it was launched last year.
“We strive to be recognized as the Harvard of beauty schools,” said Bellus President Lynelle Lynch, whose husband William Lynch bought the first Bellus Academy in 1972.
With 17 courses to choose from, students also learn during classroom instruction by way of a combination of video and lectures. Courses in esthetics, for example, take students through lessons in chemistry, biology and anatomy. State licensing requires a minimum of 600 hours of instruction for an esthetician, but an additional 600 hours are available to students who aim to work at the top luxury spas such as La Costa Resort & Spa or Hotel del Coronado.
Thoroughly professional from start to finish, the schools are accredited, enabling qualifying students to apply for grants and financial aid. When the students enter the program, they’re equipped with the finest tools of the trade, from professional grade brushes to $300 scissors.
The business side of beauty holds a special place at Bellus where students are taught such things as establishing a social media presence to building their own brand in a Best in Business class. These types of skills are necessary when 31 percent of the graduates become entrepreneurs, Lynelle Lynch said. A Financial Literacy course is also offered as these entrepreneurs need to learn about budgeting, saving and using credit wisely.
One of several beauty schools in San Diego County, Bellus’ closest competitors are Paul Mitchell the School San Diego and Marinello Schools of Beauty.
Curriculum is All-Encompassing
Joanne Berry, Bellus director of spa and wellness, said a key to the schools’ success is keeping the curriculum current or steps ahead of the latest trends with such offerings as an Inclusive Health Program that’s being introduced to keep up with interest in wellness and nutrition. The 40-hour course accredited with the National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences encompasses longevity of life and taking care of the body emotionally.
“We really want to make sure the curriculum is in line with what the students need when they get out there in the work force,” Berry said.
An important part of career readiness is signing students up to work in the field as “externs.”
Gayle Fulbright, owner of Headlines THE Salon in Encinitas, says she’s hired seven Bellus graduates out of the Externship program in the past couple of years. Fulbright said she prefers to hire Bellus students to work at her 25-year-old salon because they have a little bit more business savvy and they take their careers seriously.
During the Extern program, students get to shadow a mentor for eight weeks and experience what it’s like to work in a salon other than actually cutting hair. On Mondays, when the studio is closed for education, the externs are invited to join staff in learning the latest techniques.
“It gives our team an opportunity to interview them and at the same time the student gets to find out if we’re the right culture for them,” said Fulbright, who shares her real-world experiences at Bellus.
Four Campuses Combined to Create Bellus
Four schools under the Bellus umbrella were born of separate identities. A National City campus was formerly named Bay Vista College of Beauty, an El Cajon branch was formerly JE Boutique and the Poway location was previously known as Poway Academy of Hair Design. Another school in Manhattan, Kansas, was known as American Academy of Cosmetology and Massage Therapy.
Lynelle Lynch took on the task of giving the schools a “regal and elegant” name based on the 15th century Latin word for “beauty” with the help of three public relations companies. The transition occurred over several years because Lynch said the schools had established brands in the community and earned recognition with awards.
“How did I think I could create something that would be internationally recognized, really recognized in the beauty industry as a leader in education?” Lynch said. “I needed to make Bellus a successful name.”
Judging by a few of their recent accolades Bellus truly has made a name for itself.
In 2011, Bellus was ranked along with schools in Holland and South Africa as among the top three internationally in Intercoiffure’s “Best School Award.” In 2010 and 2011, Modern Salon’s Excellence in Education issue recognized Bellus Academy as an honoree for its outstanding achievements in marketing, technology, facilities, placement and career services. Also in 2010 and 2011, P&G Salon Professional held a student competition and Bellus students received the first place award for both years.
Diego Raviglione, artistic director for Bellus whose roles include recruiting educators with strong industry talent, said two of the Bellus staff were honored recently at the Wella Professionals North American Trend Vision Awards. Comparable to the Olympics for hairdressers, Raviglione said Matt Hom, a manager for Bellus, won a gold award, and Carrera Bailey, a Bellus color director, won a bronze. Hom will advance to represent the United States in a worldwide competition in Madrid in late October.
“Our whole goal, our whole philosophy, is that we want to produce the top 10 percent in the industry and in order to do that our educators need to be at the level that is not the average,” Raviglione said. “We want to raise the whole level all around. That’s why we have educators that win global competitions.”
Raviglione, along with Master Educator Nick Berardi, introduced the S.T.A.R. Precision Haircutting System to the Bellus cosmetology program. An acronym for Shape, Technique, Action and Result, the online haircutting and coloring curriculum focuses on fundamental techniques that enable students to grow their abilities technically and creatively.
“We take chances, we have this philosophy that we’re never done,” Raviglione said. “We’re always moving onto the next thing. The greatest strength is we’re never finished, we take it to the next level, the next step and push the boundaries of what a beauty school is and really elevate that.”