It seemed like a good enough idea at the time.
That was nearly 14 years ago.
Only problem was none of those involved had any business experience. That wasn’t enough to stop the dreams of a family-owned venture that has been educating students for more than a decade now and turning out graduates sought after throughout the country.
Welcome to the story of success for Hays Academy of Hair Design and the duo of Danielle Markley and Summer Melvin.
“None of us had owned a business before, and I had never thought about it before,” Markley said about the 2003 purchase of Hays Academy. “It really was trial and error, and educating on what success looks like in the industry was key. And we’ve been able to partner with successful businesses, especially Nuts and Bolts.”
Markley and her sister Melvin took a leap of faith in 2003 with their acquisition. Markley was a recently licensed cosmotologist, and Melvin was a recent business graduate. The partnership seemed ideal, with Markley educating students and Melvin taking care of the behind-the-scenes work.
“And taking chances,” Summer Melvin said about the keys to success early on. “We just kind of took the chance.”
They took the right chance at the right time, and soon their husbands joined into the school and business.
Eric Markley, Danielle’s husband, joined after getting his instructor’s license, and Len Melvin, Summer’s husband, opted to switch from teaching in a classroom to becoming the marketing director of the academy.
“I don’t think any of us four had a clue what we were getting into,” Len Melvin said.
The early years saw nearly a dozen students enrolled in the downtown location just north of the railroad tracks in Hays, west of Main Street. The older building was suitable for a short time, until the student population started to grow quickly.
“When we did this, we had those 12 students,” Len Melvin said. “I don’t even remember then if our goal was 20 or 25. Then it just exploded within a year or a year and a half to where our backs were against the wall. It was either a full remodel on an old, old building, or look for space to accommodate us. It all happened so fast, we didn’t even have time to reflect on how we got here or what brought us here.
“But we knew we had to make a change to fit our new goal, which was always to provide a lifestyle and a career to people. We didn’t want to have to turn people away, and certainly this facility offers that. And it offers our guests that come in the feeling of being at an upscale salon where they still get to save some money.
“We’re so thankful for those guests because they’re so important to our students’ training. We need these people coming in every day. Ninety-nine percent of them are so kind and helpful to our students that it really makes it all work for us.”
Now, Hays Academy is located on East 27th Street in a custom-built location that features a salon area, manicure and pedicure area, offices and classrooms.
The student population has grown, too, with a constant flow of students coming in and graduating — some from as far away as Hawaii.
“I think for me, where the light really went off is when we adopted the Nuts and Bolts training program and had it fully implemented in our school,” Len Melvin said. “It really changed the way we operate, all the way down to how we greet our guests and send them out and rebook them again. That’s where it really went off to me. I think we had the technical training down, but that business element was maybe the last piece we were missing with our students. Once that was implemented, everything came into the picture.”
The academy moved to the new facility in April 2006. But the school also has seen changes in curriculum, including the addition of the Nuts and Bolts Training Co. Its mission is to help beauty schools train professionals better. Len Melvin said implementing that program has changed the school and sets it apart from many in the country.
They’ve also implemented the Sassoon Cutting Program, something only 17 schools in the world teach about cutting hair without having to travel to one of the specialized academies, according to Len Melvin.
Hays Academy also became a signature Wella school, a top-of-the-line brand for hair coloring. It gives the Hays school five visits from world-renowned color professionals throughout the year. They also specialize in MUD, or Make-Up Design.
That’s what gives their graduates a solid start and sets them apart.
“We’ll have other salons from other cities call us and say, ‘Hey, I want to hire a Hays Academy graduate if they’re willing to come to this part of the country,’ ” Len Melvin said. “That’s a result of some of the partnerships we’ve made with Nuts and Bolts, Wella, Sassoon.”
Now, the school in Hays is a player on the national level, winning numerous countrywide contests throughout the year from large competitions.
“Those shows that we’re winning, to the common person, they think, ‘Oh, wow. They won an award,’ ” Len Melvin said. “But these are big, big, big time awards you can’t really understand if you’re not in the industry. When you’re in the industry, you understand the magnitude of the award and what it’s doing for these girls.”
“When we started, we set the standards high for our students, oftentimes higher than what they could think of themselves,” Danielle Markley said. “We take them through the door and give them hope and inspiration. For us, that’s what it’s about.”
The Markleys are the education managers, working the floor and offering hands-on tutorials for students. The Melvins continue to take care of the behind-the-scenes items.
That’s given the academy a strong family vibe.
“That’s one of our core values,” Danielle Markley said. “Faith is No. 1, and another is family. We are sure to treat every one of our students like they are our own son or daughter. … Even when they leave our doors, we always let them know we are always here for them at any time.”
The academy’s enrollment can fluctuate from year to year, but the numbers have risen nearly 10-fold since the start. Since 2003, more than 750 students have graduated from the academy.
Many have gone on to high-profile jobs, including one who worked during Fashion Week in New York City and another who previously worked with the Kansas City Chiefs cheerleaders.
“We’ve had salon owners tell us our students are so advanced when they come to the salon,” Len Melvin said. “That’s a result of working on people and not mannequins the whole time.”
All involved admit the clientele in Hays has helped the students grow while schooling in Hays. Now, the same is true for those coming into the school in Salina, where Hays Academy branched out in 2011.
“I never envisioned this, or even being outside of Hays,” said Summer Melvin, who also heads up the financial aid side of things. “I had just graduated from college and was thinking a starter job. We had no idea of what we were getting into. We had no education on running a business, let alone owning one.”
Now, the success the family has developed serves as its own breeding ground; all of the instructors at the school are Hays Academy graduates.
“I speak for all four of us when I say we didn’t have a clue,” Len Melvin said. “We still don’t a lot of days. The fact that we’ve surrounded ourselves with tremendous people is a key. Our staff, from top to bottom, is amazing. They make us look good and our job easier. I don’t think we had any clue to where we were headed. We had a dream, a mission to make successful people. Where that was going to be in 2017, I don’t think any of us could have forecast that.”
Or envisioned sweeping categories in prestigious national competitions as well.
Now, the Markleys and Melvins have their eyes on revolutionizing the industry.
“I think our goal, collectively, is to change the industry now,” Len Melvin said. “I think we’ve realized we can change and make positive changes in the industry to send a better message to the public about the excitement of the industry, the uniqueness of the industry and the opportunity of the industry. It’s been a shunned industry.
“The public perspective is you can’t make any money. I think we want to change that. This is a tremendous, tremendous industry. Where we are regional, probably for women, it’s a very male-dominated industry when you get coastal. The financial opportunities are endless, and there’s a flexible schedule. I think that’s really the message we want to send moving forward. We want to make industry change in a positive light.”