Hair comes trouble: Coulee Region salons struggle to keep up with industry demands

ONALASKA (WKBT) — If you’re looking to get a blowout, freshen up those bangs, or even get a little trim, you might notice longer wait times at the hair salon. Salon owners who say they’re experiencing a stylist shortage for the first time in decades.

An appointment at the salon is filled with the sounds of water, blow dryers and the familiar chatter between a stylist and their customer.

“They take their guests through a transformation each time they work with them,” said Sue Kolve-Feehan, owner of Sue Kolve’s Salon and Day Spa in Onalaska.

But to hear the bustle of a salon, customers will have to wait.

“We have never seen a shortage for salon professionals like we’re seeing right now,” she said.

Kolve-Feehan has been a salon owner for 38 years. For the first time in her career, she’s seeing her industry grow faster than its professionals can keep up with.

“If we have jobs for every single one of our students, which we likely do, we still cannot fill the need or the demand in the industry,” she said.

The COVID-19 pandemic left salons with empty chairs.

“We’ve lost some very seasoned veterans that were in the industry,” Kolve-Feehan said.

Others were forced to shut down multiple locations.

“Our license was up, our lease was up, and at that time it was hard to hire so we just decided to close it,” said Pam Engebretson, owner of Fantastic Sams salon in Onalaska.

Customers were left with few options.

“Longer wait times, not being able to get in, needing to make sure they set up their appointments. And sometimes I think people are going wherever they can,” said Holly Fox, owner of Metropolitan Salon and Spa in La Crosse.

In an effort to close the gap, Kolve-Feehan says she’s been reaching out to high school principals and counselors to encourage students to join the trade.

“Trying to create experiences for the high school kids to really have a chance to get to know our profession,” she said.

Kolve-Feehan says while salon academies are seeing lots of students apply, the shortage won’t end for at least three to five years, since they have to wait for students to graduate from trade schools. Some salon owners say they’re going as far as recruiting customers.

“We gotta do what we need to do and we’re willing to do whatever it takes.,” Fox said.

While the pandemic has not made it easy.

“They always say that the hair business is recession proof, but it’s not COVID proof,” said Engebretson.

Stylists are determined to make sure the trade of transformation lives on.

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