Dakota Barber Academy teaching students 'holistic approach' to barbering
Brendan LaFrance, Leane Guerrero LaFrance and Delson Saintal opened Dakota Barber Academy Tuesday, Feb. 1, to teach more than just hair-cutting techniques.
FARGO — An all-encompassing barber college buzzed to life Tuesday, Feb. 1, with the opening of Dakota Barber Academy at 2790 University Drive S. in Fargo.
Behind the operation are Brendan LaFrance, Leane Guerrero LaFrance and Delson Saintal, three experienced barbers and stylists seeking to leave their impression on a new generation of barbers across North Dakota and Minnesota.
The group brings a deep history in the industry to the table.
Brendan, who currently owns Tailor Made Barber Studios in Fargo, has been a barber for 15 years, including having previously opened Skill Cutz and partnering with the Skill Cutz Barber College. Leane, meanwhile, had previous experience as a stylist before taking over Tailor Made’s operations management.
Saintal, raised in Fargo after being born in Haiti, decided to follow the lead of his older brother by becoming a barber. In addition to coaching wrestling at Fargo North High School, he has two years of barbering experience and is the owner of Xperience Barbers in Fargo.
No cutting corners
There is a lot more to the industry than cutting hair, the three agreed. It’s why Brendan said Dakota Barber Academy will focus on offering a “holistic approach” to instructing its students.
While students can expect to learn hair cuts new and old, Dakota Barber Academy will also educate prospective barbers on different business structures as well as tax and insurance implications for self-employed individuals. “A lot of times in the barbering industry, people learn how to cut hair, but they don’t learn too much about the business of cutting hair,” Brendan explained to InForum.
A typical day will include between four and five hours of cutting hair, with the rest of the time devoted to learning those other important skills. “The barbers' day will be highly structured from not just theory, where you learn the idea of barbering, but you learn business fundamentals,” she said. “Their day is going to be structured in such a different way that it’s not just going to be eight hours of cutting hair.”
The goal, Brendan said, is to send graduates throughout the Red River Valley and beyond. “Our biggest mission is to put skilled, capable, knowledgeable barbers out into the workforce in the state of North Dakota and Minnesota,” he commented.
The rigorous curriculum is designed to mold well-rounded barbers, ones who can handle both the shears and financials with dexterity. “If you’re expecting to just come here and cut hair, it’s probably not the school for you,” Leane summarized.
From the ground up
Saintal had never even touched a set of clippers before he decided to become a barber.
After graduating from Concordia College in 2015, he bounced around between several different careers before settling on being a barber.
A graduate of Skill Cutz Barber College, he still leans on Brendan and Leane two years into his career. “I think I pick Brendan’s brain every day asking every single question I can, then bring in Leane with the business side,” he said.
A former wrestler for the Cobbers, Saintal said finding a mentor is just one of several parallels from his time on the mat to his relatively new career path.
He’s found that the solitude of staring down an opponent is similar to fine-tuning a client’s hair in the mirror. “Wrestling in general is just a grind,” he said. “In wrestling, you’re the only person out there and that’s currently how I am right now in my one-chair barber shop.”
Always being willing to learn and never taking constructive feedback as criticism are other skills Saintal has carried over. “Just as an athlete, it’s about being coachable,” he remarked. “There’s a blueprint and then as long as you can follow the blueprint, you can get there and be successful on your own.”
A newcomer to the profession compared to Brendan, Saintal said students need to avoid comparing their haircuts to top barbers and never fear failure. “Stay on the course and just keep grinding,” he said.
No experience necessary
Saintal’s journey illustrates the reason why Brendan and Dakota Barber College welcome and even encourage inexperienced students. Brendan himself only starting off by giving at-home, one-length haircuts to his own children.
The academy’s first class will include a tight-knit group of four students. The program costs $10,900, which includes kit costs and books. Students can pay as little as $7,000, however, if they maintain 35 hours per week in the shop and make regular payments. Students graduate after completing 1,500 hours.
In an effort to keep students learning at the same pace and build camaraderie, Dakota Barber Academy plans to welcome a new class each quarter rather than on a rolling basis. “They’re going to go through their entire education together,” Brendan said. “That’s another thing that we’re looking for that’s going to be part of the experience.”
Members of the public can also drop in for low-cost haircuts, which range in price from $9.99 to $12 depending on the style and skill required.
Leane took pride in offering an alternative career path for students beyond a four-year degree. Above all, she offered one make-or-break piece of advice for incoming students. While anyone can learn to cut hair, students need to remember to build rapport with their customers, she said.
“That is the biggest thing, making a connection with your people. Remember their name, remember their family,” she concluded. “If you remember that and don’t make it about business, you’ll do fine.”