May 2013

LeAnne Velona

The Beauty Professional| by Fred Jones


Licensure Is the Name of the Game

If you've been reading any industry news the past couple of years, you've probably heard of various state legislatures considering delicensing the beauty industry.

You have probably asked yourself: what gives with that stupid idea? This column is meant to shed light on this very real threat to our industry and provide you with some conceptual tools to help defend against it.

So far, our united industry opposition has derailed all recent delicensure attempts. But that hasn't seemed to slow down this reform movement, as we see new states pop-up with their own version of this same old song-and-dance.

It is in the best interest of our industry to arm our strongest front-line warriors -- YOU, the stylist and salon owner -- with the necessary ammunition to fight this policy challenge. You are the ones who have the best opportunity to respond to your clients if ever queried about this subject; and make no mistake, what your clients hear from you impacts the broader, public discourse, which could eventually influence your state's policymakers.

As any successful trial lawyer knows, one must understand the opposing viewpoint as well as one's own position to be an effective advocate. But you may doubt whether those who want to delicense our industry have any solid arguments.

Let's break out of our salon bubble to take an honest look at the other side's thinking. In so doing, it is my hope that you develop the intellectual fodder to most effectively respond to this delicensure argument.

Proponents of stripping away various trades licenses call into question the source of those licenses: government. They appeal to that part of our collective skepticism about government, in general. Their arguments resonate in particular with those who see the humor in the statement: "We're here from the government; we're here to help".

The libertarian-leaning line of attack is aimed squarely at the efficiency and value of government bureaucracies, asking questions like: Do you believe bureaucrats have the expertise to determine the competency of stylists?

In other words, is government really capable of distinguishing safe and skilled barbers from dangerous and poor-performing haircutters?

A popular radio show host in my hometown regularly asks his listeners: "Why does a barber need a license to begin with … it's just cutting hair?" And then he'll go on a rant about all of the various consumer protection agencies that exist, questioning not only their effectiveness, but -- given their cost to taxpayers -- their very existence.

Proponents of delicensure will often make free-market appeals to drive the point home. They will ask: Don't you trust yourself, as a thoughtful consumer, more than a nameless bureaucrat to know which salons in your town provide the best and safest service? If a salon hurts their customers -- they reason, don't you think the word will spread fast enough through social media and word-of-mouth to dry up that business?

I hope you can appreciate how such reasoned challenges can resonate with policy makers. These arguments can be especially persuasive to officials grappling with declining revenues during a poor economy, which is compelling cuts to government services.

Once you understand how some of these arguments can sway elected officials, you can better frame your own defense of licensure.

You can explain that the beauty industry has been built on a system of formal education and apprenticing -- which have historically been regulated by state agencies to protect the interest of students and apprentices. This training leads to a licensure exam that assesses the competencies -- primarily safety protocols -- of those worthy of a license. And that salons and individual practitioners are regulated to provide the public assurances that a licensed facility and individual will -- at the very least -- not harm them (and provide immediate consequences if they do).

One doesn't need to provide a full-throated defense of government bureaucracies to make the point the entire beauty industry has been built upon the concept of licensure -- from schools to salons, from young apprentices to full-fledged licensed stylists. And to undo this formal structure would substantially disrupt our industry and immediately undermine public safety.

You could end with your own rhetorical challenge: Are such costs worth the risks inherent in a brave new world of unlicensed, unregulated and unknown salons?

Fred Jones serves as Legal Counsel to the Professional Beauty Federation of California, a trade association singularly dedicated to raising the professionalism of the beauty industry. To learn more about the PBFC and receive further details about the subjects contained in his column, go to