Coulee-area shows struggle to keep up with industry demands

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ONALASKA (WKBT) — If you’re looking to get a blowout, refresh your bangs, or even get a little cut, you might notice longer wait times at the hair salon. Salon owners who say they are experiencing a shortage of stylists for the first time in decades.

A salon appointment is filled with the sounds of water, hair dryers, and the familiar chatter between a stylist and client.

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

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

“We’ve never seen a shortage of 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 sees her industry growing faster than her professionals can keep up.

“If we have jobs for every one of our students, which we probably do, we still can’t meet the need or the demand from the industry,” she said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has left living rooms with empty chairs.

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

Others have been forced to close several sites.

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

Customers were left with few options.

“Longer waiting times, not being able to get in, having to make sure they book their appointments. And sometimes I think people go where they can,” said Holly Fox, owner of Metropolitan Salon and Spa in La Crosse.

In an effort to bridge the gap, Kolve-Feehan says she has reached out to high school principals and counselors to encourage students to join the craft.

“Trying to create experiences so high school kids really have a chance to learn about our profession,” she said.

Kolve-Feehan says that while salon academies are seeing a lot of students applying, the shortage won’t end for at least three to five years, as they have to wait for students to graduate from trade schools. Some salon owners say they go so far as to recruit clients.

“We have to do what we have to do and we’re ready to do whatever it takes,” Fox said.

While the pandemic has not made it easy for him.

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

Stylists are determined to keep the craft of transformation going.

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