It’s only natural for Alante Johnson to spend her days in a hair salon. As she trims and primps, each of her clients — giving them that extra boost of confidence — Johnson dreams of owning her own hair salon.
Yet, at Eastern Illinois University that dream is more than a mere aspiration; for Johnson, it’s a reality.
Since Fall 2013, Johnson operates a hair salon, called A-List, in Room 1705 in the Martin Luther King Jr. University Union.
Johnson isn’t alone in her endeavor with accomplished business faculty from EIU’s entrepreneurship program guiding her through a business plan and marketing strategies.
Her salon is prime example of EIU’s commitment to student businesses as directed by the Sustainable Entrepreneurship through Education & Development (SEED) Center.
Yet, to Johnson, the guidance and mentoring means living her dream every day.
It’s in the genes
The senior communication studies major and entrepreneurship minor has spent her life in a hair salon — even before leaving the womb.
“My mother is a licensed cosmetologist, and she almost went into labor in her salon,” Johnson said, laughing.
Ever since then, Johnson spent her days in her mother’s salon, and by age 13 she had her own shampooing business. And, by age 17, she was a licensed cosmetologist after attending Simeon Career Academy in Chicago, a high school that helped her earn her cosmetology license.
So naturally, when Johnson arrived on campus she wasn’t going to stop ‘doing hair’ just because she didn’t have a physical space.
Armed with her mother’s beauty chair, Johnson spent the year building a relationship with her clients and continuing to do hair on the side.
Yet, it wasn’t till she made a connection with her mentor, Mona Davenport, director of minority affairs, that her salon transformed into a physical reality.
Normally, Davenport reaches out to professional licensed cosmetologists outside campus to operate the salon in the MLK Jr. University Union, which is geared toward African-American students.
Yet, Davenport didn’t have to go off campus to find what she was looking for with Johnson.
“Unlike other hair stylists we brought in, since Johnson lives on campus, she is able to have a more frequent schedule,” Davenport said.
Right now, Johnson operates the salon on a contract with the MLK Jr. University Union.
An Entrepreneurship Culture
Through the entrepreneurship program, Johnson was guided through a business plan and encouraged to put her ideas into practice for her salon.
She works on promoting marketing strategies and giving discounts. “I have learned to speak up more about my business,” she said. “I am not afraid to get the word out there, and to network.”
A graduate assistant in the program also helped Johnson create a financial plan with all the needed calculations.
“He saved my life when it came down to the financials,” she said. “I was scared I was going to be a failure because I couldn’t understand the calculations. He created something so I wouldn’t be overwhelmed.”
The business plan and financial worksheet will be used for Johnson’s salon that she plans to open after graduation.
The entrepreneurship program is paired with the SEED Center to foster a culture of business ventures and practices.
The director of the SEED Center and program coordinator, Marko Grünhagen, refers clients to Johnson all the time, and he was very enthusiastic about Johnson’s business.
She is still in the process of researching the name for her salon after graduation, but she wants to base the new name off what her clients say about her service now.
“My clients say that I am fast, consistent, funny and very well knowledge and I always have an answer for them,” she said.
To Johnson, it’s all about building a woman’s confidence with each appointment. “I believe my clients appreciate my realness,” Johnson said. Her clients are students, faculty members and staff members.
“I feel like I give a genuine connection to people,” she said.
Right now, Johnson’s salon is fully stocked with her mother’s beauty chair, hair products and new Ebony and Essence magazines.
“The end of the service when they look in the mirror, they say ‘Oh my god’ like they never been pretty before,” Johnson said. “I finally gave them what they are looking for when they leave the hair salon.”
In her salon, Johnson serves about 10 clients per week. She is available per appointment, but she typically works Tuesday through Saturday after her classes.
Johnson starts between 3:30 p.m. till 5 p.m., during the week, but on Saturday she works from about 10 a.m. till about 9 p.m.
Johnson will graduate in December 2015. For more information about her the A-List, click here.
For more information about the SEED Center, click here.
For more information about the entrepreneurship program, click here.