This company is growing at an exponential pace by combining industry experience with strong brand identity. This company is growing at an exponential pace by combining industry experience with strong brand identity. 

Winn Claybaugh opened his first beauty school more than two decades ago, at about the same time the Paul Mitchell brand was founded. Although they operated separately for years, Claybaugh started working for Paul Mitchell in 1990 as a motivational speaker, and in January 2001, the pair launched Paul Mitchell Schools. 

The combination of Claybaugh’s experience and Paul Mitchell’s brand proved to be a success. With nearly 8,000 students enrolled today, Paul Mitchell Schools has approximately 90 locations throughout the US, and both of these numbers increase regularly as new schools are created. 

“Operating the one school for many years allowed me to develop a strong model and work out all the kinks,” said Claybaugh, who serves as dean and COO. Although the first school was located in Provo, Utah, Paul Mitchell Schools is now headquartered in Costa Mesa, Calif. “I had the staff, curriculum, and systems already set up, and I knew that if I could make it work in Utah, I could make it work anywhere,” Claybaugh said.  

But there were some unexpected challenges along the way. According to Claybaugh, one of the biggest issues he faced when trying to grow Paul Mitchell schools was the public stigma surrounding beauty schools. When the team at Paul Mitchell Schools began to expand, the industry was in a sorry state because of the poor quality of beauty schools, he said. 

Because most beauty schools are accredited, they receive state funding, and until about 18 years ago, schools weren’t held accountable if a student couldn’t pay off his or her loan. 

“When the government decided to hold schools liable for their default rates, many companies went out of business,” Claybaugh said. “The industry wasn’t very well respected. Every step of the way, we had to undo people’s perception of what a beauty school should be.”

In addition to the public’s perception of beauty schools as a business, the team at Paul Mitchell Schools had to consider people’s perception of the school as a legitimate career choice. “When a child approaches his or her parents and says, ‘I want to go to beauty school,’ it’s not usually seen as good news,” Claybaugh said. 

But he and his team are working hard to prove that their school can lead students to a successful career. According to Claybaugh, more than 230,000 hairdressing positions went unfilled last year. In a time when unemployment rates are skyrocketing, this number is even more important. 

Doing it their way

Internally, Paul Mitchell Schools operate as Claybaugh and his team see fit; the group doesn’t follow the lead of others in the industry. One simple but clear example of this is the students’ uniforms. Typically, beauty school students are forced to wear uniforms in class that look like nurses’ scrubs. At Paul Mitchell Schools, students wear their everyday clothes.

“This never made sense to me,” Claybaugh said. “Hairdressers don’t wear scrubs; most of them wear high-fashion clothes. Why should their experience in school be any different than what they’ll encounter in their careers?”

But not all aspects of the operation are decided upon by Claybaugh and his team; some, like the number of classroom hours required for graduation, are dictated by the different state governments. In New York, for example, a student is only required to attend 1,000 hours of school before graduating, but some states raised that number to up to 2,300 hours. 

“That way I see it is: the longer, the better,” Claybaugh said. “Fitting everything into 1,000 hours can be a challenge. We want our students to pass state board, launch a great career, and immediately start earning money. We teach the beauty aspect as well as the business side of building a career.”

A well-rounded experience

In addition to hairstyling and business, Paul Mitchell Schools aims at teaching its students how to be better humanitarians. Claybaugh is aware that many young men and women growing up today are more dependent on their parents than any prior generation, so the foundation of his school relies on its ability to become a leader to its students. 

“When young people come to sign up for school, they don’t come alone,” he said. “Their parents join them. Young people today have a whole committee of family members that help them make life decisions. We embrace that, and we try to model the schools as a family environment.”

Consequently, each school location has several clubs that lend support to students, just like a family would. The Quitter’s Club, for example, helps students quit smoking. But the organization 

doesn’t focus solely on helping students improve their own lives; it also encourages students to help improve the lives of other people, and it leads by example. 

Throughout its eight years in operation, Paul Mitchell Schools has always been involved with a significant amount of charity work. When the organization was founded, it established its own charity called The Andrew Gomez Dream Foundation. To date, Claybaugh and his team have raised millions of dollars, and every cent has been donated to an organization in need. 

“Our foundation is important to us because the money goes to troubled people and organizations involved with the beauty industry,” Claybaugh said. “When Hurricane Katrina hit, we donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to hairdressers who were wiped out.”

Paul Mitchell Schools also donates money to charities that aren’t involved with its own foundation. For the past four years, the organization has raised money for Food 4 Africa, and through that partnership, Claybaugh and his team feed 8,000 orphans everyday. According to Claybaugh, the charity work has helped grow his business because it generates a sense of community within the organization.  

And it seems to be working. Recently, Claybaugh was nominated for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Award for his involvement with Paul Mitchell Schools, and looking to the future, he doesn’t plan to stop expanding anytime soon. “It seems like most major companies in the beauty industry are selling to huge conglomerates,” Claybaugh said. “We’re not selling. We’re not going anywhere.”