Dominicans Edge In On Black Salon Business

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Dominican hair salons are growing in popularity with black clients. In fact, Dominican hair salons are pulling customers from the traditionally owned black salons, putting a dent in their revenue. What's the reason for the switch? Guest host Allison Keyes speaks with Wall Street Journal reporter Corey Dade for answers.

ALLISON KEYES, host:

I'm Allison Keyes and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

Coming up, how the economy may be affecting what's happening in the sex lives of people over 45.

But, first, let's talk about the African-American hair salon, a fixture of the black community. Updos, press and curls, weaves, wraps, you name it, if black women want it, those salons can usually style it. Now there's an increasing influx, in black communities, of Dominican stylists who also straighten black hair and some say they do it just as well or better than the African-American stylists. Plus, it takes less time, lasts longer and costs less.

This is causing some angst and strife in the black business community. Joining me to talk about it is Corey Dade. He's an Atlanta-based reporter for The Wall Street Journal. His story "Much Ado About Straightening: Old Black Salons Face New Rivals" graces today's front page of the paper.

Hey, Corey, thanks for joining me.

Mr. COREY DADE (Reporter, The Wall Street Journal): Allison, thank you for having me.

KEYES: Corey, part of your headline says clients take a flier on Dominicans and stylists tear each other's hair out. Wow, are there curling iron battles going on out there?

Mr. DADE: To some degree, yes. Of course to another degree this is a little bit of a attention-getting headline writing at this point. But what we are seeing is that with Dominicans coming in with their skills, they're finding pent up demand among African-American women who wanted an alternative, something that was less expensive, more than anything else, but also a service that was capable and service that was faster.

And so what we're talking about is African-American women who have increasingly busier lives. They have children, they have jobs. And the traditions of sitting in a hair salon for five to six to seven, eight hours doesn't fit their lifestyle anymore.

KEYES: Although we are all used to it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DADE: That's right. That's right. And many African-American women simply just accepted it as the cost of doing business. And, naturally, when you have a monopoly like that, there are going to be weaknesses in your business model. And that's what the Dominicans are exploiting. Increasingly, you know, they are showing that they have the skill to do the hair. If they didn't have the skill to do the hair, then they would not have African-American women coming to their salons.

KEYES: What made you do this story in the first place?

Mr. DADE: I got some advice very early on when I was a student trying to break into journalism and had no clue where to find stories. And a mentor told me to write from your own experiences. And so I'm an African-American man, I've spent my life watching my mother, my sister, my aunts go through the battles of finding the right salon, et cetera. And I've also seen many in my community and many friends and relatives start to look at Dominicans as a good alternative.

I've always known they were in New York, but I saw that they were fanning in other parts of the nation. So I thought that was something that would be interesting. And I, quite frankly, I like the idea of putting something about this cultural significant thing in a paper like The Wall Street Journal.

KEYES: Why?

Mr. DADE: Well, for starters, this is not the type of story that you see every day in The Journal, no matter whether the subjects are African-American, Hispanic or whatever. But it's a lifestyle story that cuts across culture, race, business.

KEYES: You in your article said a lot of the Dominican stylists are black, and therefore know how to handle black hair. But historically, as we've said before on this program, many Dominicans don't identify that way. Are black women troubled by this? I mean, and is this why some of the African-American stylists are annoyed? They feel like they're losing money to non-black people?

Mr. DADE: Well, the black women as customers are looking at it as customers. They don't see much of a distinction or much of a problem with the fact that Dominicans are not African-Americans. They're going as customers looking for the best deal for themselves. As far as the African-American stylists are concerned, yes, that was sort of the undercurrent. They may not have always said it. Some did. But it was implied. And they feel like this is not just a business, but it's sort of a covenant that they have between black women and themselves as stylists, as African-Americans are supposed to support their own whenever they can.

KEYES: So, is this going to be a huge financial detriment to black hair salons? I mean is this going to mean, you know, Dominican stylists are going to take over the whole market?

Mr. DADE: I dont think so necessarily. I think it depends on the market. I think the one thing that Dominicans have in their favor is they're willing to market their product. They're willing to advertise and African-American stylists kind of have to come up to that realization. They usually have gone -survived by word of mouth and now they have to compete in a different way. So I think it's very much possible for the African-Americans to hold some of their market share, if not the majority of their market share.

KEYES: Corey Dade, who I'm sure, is sitting in a chair getting his hair blow-dried sometime today...

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEYES: ...is an Atlanta-based reporter for the Wall Street Journal.

Thanks so much for joining us, Corey.

Mr. DADE: My pleasure, Allison.

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