Salon Topaz visits our campus

Beauty business: Cosmetology students learn more about salon ownership from an expert

Southern Westchester BOCES cosmetology student Kyra Smith, from Ardsley High School, knows something about being in the beauty business. She started her own hair braiding business after practicing on her family members. 

Lisa DeMaria, owner of Salon Topaz in Dobbs Ferry, was impressed with Kyra’s entrepreneurial spirt. She too began her career as a stylist, practicing on her mother, who was initially reluctant to volunteer. Today, Ms. DeMaria owns two salons – one in Dobbs Ferry and another in Savannah, Georgia. She has operated her business for 15 years and has five stylists working for her at the New York location.  

Ms. DeMaria visited with students in the cosmetology program at the Center for Career Services to talk about her experience, the beauty busines and to demonstrate a unique technique that students may want to add to their repertoire. 

Ms. DeMaria began her career working in a small beauty salon before going to cosmetology school. She worked at the Frederic Fekkai salon in New York City and trained at companies such as Vidal Sassoon and Bumble and Bumble. Salon Topaz was named “Best Salon in Westchester” by Westchester Magazine and has received honors for being an eco-friendly business. 

When Ms. DeMaria decided to open her own salon, she first worked as a stylist in a spa. When she began there she did not have an established client base until one day she offered to do a spa’s guest hair for free. When the client expressed how pleased she was with the cut, she told her friends. Ever since, Ms. DeMaria has had a strong clientele, crediting her hard work and love for the industry. 

“The beauty industry is a multi-million-dollar industry,” she said. “You have to have the commitment and motivation. It’s amazing to have a career you love. We can come in and work with our hands and be creative.” 

While Ms. DeMaria’s focus throughout her career has been cutting and styling hair, she encouraged the cosmetology students to try a little bit of everything that the industry offers, including coloring, nails and skincare. 

“There are so many amazing directions you can go with it,” she said. 

She also encouraged students to visit her salon and shadow her stylists to observe firsthand how the business operates. The most important thing they can do to help themselves, she said, is to keep an open mind. 

Ms. DeMaria said that in addition to possessing talent, she looks for stylists who have good communication skills, dress professionally, are reliable and are willing to learn. 

“Right now, my goal is educating and training the next generation of stylists,” she said. 

Ms. DeMaria demonstrated how to do a razor cut on model Jenny Reilly, who is a stylist at Salon Topaz. 

The two role-played one of the most important things a stylist ever does: a consultation with their client. Ms. Reilly was looking to have a “modern mullet,” in which her hair would frame her face and provide soft layers in the back. 

“The consultation is the most important part of working with a client,” Ms. Reilly said, adding that it helps the stylist know specifically what the client is looking for and how much time or energy they have to style their hair each day. It also helps to create a relationship and build rapport. 

“I ask new clients what they do for a living and what their daily routine is for taking care of their hair,” Ms. DeMaria said. “Fifty percent is your skills and 50% is the connection you are making with people. You want them to like you.” 

Ms. DeMaria and Ms. Reilly answered several questions from curious students. When asked how they handle a criticism of their work. Ms. Reilly said that they should be gentle with themselves when first starting out. Each unhappy client is an opportunity to learn and to do better the next time. 

Another student asked about how to find a position. Ms. Reilly suggested they look for a salon that shares their values. For her, being in an eco-friendly atmosphere was important – Salon Topaz produces no toxic fumes and is a member of GreenCircle recycling. 

Ms. Reilly encouraged the budding cosmetologists to demonstrate reliability, trustworthiness, a willingness to learn, and to not taking things personally. These are qualities that all salons want in their staff members.