Beautician resents labels in industry

– notes change in perception

This month marks a year since Jeemima Burke opened Lady J’s Beauty Salon, Cosmetology School and Enterprise at 50 Camp and Robb streets, Lacytown, opposite Republic Bank. This is not her first tilt at creating a business. Her latest effort, however, manifests her confidence that even in an industry where the competition is daunting, her talent and her persistence will take her to the top.

Burke frowns on the fact that the beauty business is often not taken seriously in the wider world of entrepreneurship. “Sometimes I believe that people think of us as school dropouts who simply take up hairdressing. That has not helped the profession,” she says. “As the market for beauty treatment services has grown, however, that has changed. The profession is now much more recognized, much more respected.”

At Lady J’s Burke operates a hair care service as well as a training facility. Her ambition, she says, is to become the best in the business.

Before creating her own business she worked in child care and as a waitress and also had a stint with the popular beauty establishment, Kevin’s Reflections. Afterwards she made several ‘stops’ on her way to Lady J’s; at Hair Locker, where she ran a nail treatment station and afterwards in Alberttown, Queenstown and Croal Street, searching all the time to anchor herself in the profession.

Jeemima Burke doing a practical class with two of her students
Jeemima Burke doing a practical class with two of her students

Burke’s pursuit of entrepreneurship is linked to her ambition to follow her late father into business. He died when she was just 14, but she remains fascinated with what she recalls was his addiction to the real estate industry. One day, she says, she might even start a real estate business of her own.

These days, however, she remains preoccupied with the profession that she knows best. In an industry that has become a multi-million dollar option for established entrepreneurs, Burke concedes that “growing up is tough.” There is no substitute for hard graft. She is familiar with the financial challenges associated with business startups. Beauty care has its own particular challenges. Setting aside the difficulties associated with securing startup capital, the beauty industry has had its own particular challenges in its efforts to win the confidence of the lending sector. She concedes that, very often, businesses in the sector come and go.

Her own persistence has everything to do with her confidence in her talents and her belief that she can make a difference. Lady J’s is not an exotic, top-of-the-line establishment. It is a small service owned and entirely operated by a sole proprietor who exudes abundant confidence in her talents and her stamina.

These days, she focuses on hair, working sometimes into the night to facilitate her clients. Her days are taken up mostly with the modest training service that she runs for students of the beauty industry whom she says, may have entrepreneurial ambitions, but who are best advised to apprentice themselves to an established beauty parlour before striking out on their own.

Her ambitions are incremental. They begin with the simple goal of sustaining Lady J’s. Afterwards, she hopes to invest in the creation of additional stations in the shop which would better position her to hire-in help and to expand her clientele. She estimates that a station, with its own dedicated hair-dressing equipment would probably cost around $150,000. In recent times she has focused her efforts on securing a small business loan, or perhaps a grant, through the recently established Small Business Bureau. That remains a work in progress.

She concedes that “business is about competition” and favours a level playing field. She wants the industry to become more organized so that people who invest time, money and energy in setting up legitimate businesses do not find themselves in competition with those who don’t. More than that, she believes that if women are to be encouraged to pursue entrepreneurship, more concessions should be granted to small operators in the beauty care sector.

Much of her planning centres around taking advantage of the niches in the sector that provide opportunities for windfalls. There is a strong connection between the beauty care and entertainment industries, holidays and entertainment events, which give rise to an increase in demand for beauty care services. When Stabroek Business spoke with Burke she was putting the finishing touches to promotional plans for her “Valentine Offer.” After that, there’s Mash and Easter and, hopefully, bigger and better things down the road.

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