Beauty shop grows roots in the community

by Amy Kingsley

Robin Daye, a technology specialist for Guilford County Schools, is applying lipstick to the back of her hand. She scrutinizes the colors, trying to determine which shade best matches the orange undertones in her skin.

‘“Can you believe she don’t have no gel today?’” says her hair stylist Jennifer Foster. Foster runs her hands quickly through Daye’s pixie cut. In an instant her expression shifts from serious to jubilant, a wide smile showing off straight teeth and a perfect set of cheekbones.

‘“When I came in here I was not very attractive,’” Daye asides to me. ‘“My daughter felt like I needed a little help, but when I left I was beautiful. Jennifer just took me under her wing.’”

Daye shows her hand to Foster.

‘“Do you like this color?’” she asks.

‘“It depends on what you’re wearing,’” Foster replies after a short pause.

‘“You don’t like it,’” Daye pouts.

Foster returns to her station, where another customer waits for finishing touches, and the director of Dudley Beauty Salon and Spa, Clastine Covington, pulls up next to Daye at the makeup counter.

‘“None of these young people like color anymore.’”

‘“What’s this color? Oh, it’s dark drama,’” Covington notes. ‘“These young folk don’t understand that us mature need color.’”

‘“Yeah, they be hatin’,’” Daye says with resignation as Covington starts to line her lips with a brown pencil labeled ‘“antique.’”

The two women and I are the only ones in the quiet foyer. Blond hardwood reflects the rays of the sun setting on the opposite side of the Jefferson-Pilot building.

On a side table between baskets filled with candy and windmill cookies, a pitcher of ruby fruit punch beckons parched customers. Underneath the table the flame of a tea candle tickles a bowl of scented oil.

A phantom song comes from the back. Customers and employees laugh and talk breezily. It’s easy to forget that this is a place of business.

But that is exactly what it is. And it is big business.

‘“I believe that cosmetology can really change the world,’” Joe Dudley says. The founder of Dudley Beauty Products stops by this afternoon for a trim at the East Market Street location ‘— one of the jewels in his corporate crown. He elaborates on what exactly beauty can mean for the African-American community.

‘“This is one of the largest business opportunities available for African Americans,’” he says. ‘“Beauty is the foundation of the economy in many of our neighborhoods.’”

Dudley knows a thing or two about the opportunities available for those who seize. Labeled mentally retarded early in life and told he wouldn’t amount to anything, the beauty mogul discovered sales in his late teens and parlayed the vocation into wild success.

Alongside body butters and hair sheen, the salon peddles copies of Dudley’s inspirational memoir, Walking By Faith: I Am! I Can! And I Will!

His goal ultimately encompasses more than personal aggrandizement. Satisfied that he upgraded the dilapidated shack he shared with 11 brothers and sisters into a sprawling ranch-style home, he has set his sights on bettering the community.

‘“I walked into Dudley High School,’” he pauses, ‘“no relation, and I saw that there were very few black students on the A/B Honor Role. So, I came up with a plan.’”

He asked all his employees if they would donate $6 a week to a scholarship fund for Dudley students. Most balked, claiming they did not have the money to absorb the financial hit. So Dudley called human resources and gave everyone an $8 a week raise.

‘“I wanted the spirit of my people behind this effort,’” He says. ‘“I wanted to say they did it, not I did it.’”

To date, the program has paid full tuition for almost a hundred students at NC A&T University. The mandate to give back to the community extends beyond the walls at corporate headquarters. As Covington leads me through the facility, explaining all the amenities available to clients, she points to the pictures of foster kids who receive free service from the salon.

‘“The business is the community,’” he explains. ‘“The community is what makes your business. Your employees and the people who buy from you all come from the community.’”

Aside from the financial impact, Dudley thinks the increased confidence imparted by a new hairstyle, makeup regime or manicure can transform the lives of those walking through the double doors.

In front of a mirror roughly the size of a Hudson River landscape, Daye can’t stop giggling at her week-old haircut.

‘“Before I went to Jennifer, whenever I got my haircut, I would go home and redo it,’” Daye says. ‘“I don’t know if you know what I’m talking about. But I love this haircut so much that I went on a diet for a week to go with it.’”

Four beauty stations form a square, and the mirrors partition this section from the rest of the flowing architecture. Another of Foster’s clients flips through a magazine while her hair sets under a dryer.

Behind her sits a row of European-style basins for their rejuvenating shampoo treatment. The bowls tilt forward, reducing stress on the neck. The shampoo techs provide a thorough scalp massage, reducing stress in the rest of the body.

A young man receiving a pedicure glances up from his book as we spin through the area on our way back to a plain white door ‘— the portal to the spa area.

‘“Back here is where we do weaves and extensions,’” Covington says. ‘“Because don’t everybody need to know about that. We carry our own hair.’”

The secluded beauty station, equipped like the others with a full-length mirror and selection of Dudley beauty products, also affords privacy for Muslim women who cover their hair in the presence of men.

The salon offers a daylong of beauty package that includes up to six hours of pampering in these rooms. A picture on the wall contains before and after shots of six sisters who make a yearly pilgrimage for the treatment.

A before picture would be instructive for the gushing Daye, who can hardly muster the words to describe her hair before Foster cut and highlighted it. Foster is trying to convince her to wear it spiked.

‘“You and my daughter want me to look just like her,’” Daye says. ‘“I’m too old.’”

‘“You’re not too old,’” Foster says.

‘“I’m old enough to be your mom,’” she retorts.

Foster retrieves her clippers and trims the bottom edge of Daye’s neckline. Next she pulls out a slender straightening iron, presses it to sections of hair to lift them off the scalp.

Every move is done expertly and to the growing satisfaction of her seated customer. Foster arrived in Greensboro about six months ago at Dudley’s behest. They met at a conference.

She grabbed the opportunity to apply 10 years of cosmetology experience and a business degree to the company. It is Dudley’s intention to create 220 millionaires through his company.

Right now, 10 beauty centers including this one offer an opportunity at wealth. Foster, a prizewinner in Greensboro for her cosmetology skills, is herself being groomed for the next one. Her short stay in Greensboro has, by her own admission, been very lucrative.

‘“I’m next in line,’” she says. ‘“The next building they get up will be mine.’”

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