Cheap services and free stuff: two concepts the new Douglas J.
Aveda Institute has artfully mastered.

Julie Pannuto
Haircuts at Aveda, priced at $14, include a scalp massage and a stylish coiffure. (ALI OLSEN/Daily)

Encouraged by rumors that this student-friendly salon offered
$14 haircuts and didn’t allow customers to tip, I made an
appointment for a manicure.

At such low prices ($14 for haircuts, $28 for highlighting and
$25 for a bikini wax), I was expecting a run-down hole in the wall.
Instead, the space was equal parts stylized Zen retreat and hip,
high-class salon. While the second-floor hair salon relied on
natural sunlight to illuminate the deceptively expansive space and
featured typical Top 40 music fare, the skin care and nail salon
stood complete with muted mood lighting and the musical stylings of
the perpetually soothing Enya.

How is the Aveda Institute able to merge high design and
elegance with cheap-as-dirt prices? All of the 57 stylists are
either cosmetology or esthiology students, directly supervised by
licensed instructors. Without certification, their amateur status
doesn’t give them much leverage to charge a whole lot for
their services.

When it comes to tipping, the Institute adheres to the same
policy that all Aveda Salons (instructional and non-instructional)
use. Gina Lisenby, administrative director of the Douglas J.
Institutes explains, “(tipping) perpetuates the idea that the
salon industry is not a professional or lucrative career choice,
which is just not true.” And besides, at the Ann Arbor salon,
they are all students — do we get tipped for going to
class?

The students do, however, make money from the goods they sell
you. On the ground floor of the two-story salon is a fully-stocked
Aveda store, filled with haircare products, make-up, lotions and
oodles of doodads that kept me entertained for the 15 minutes I
waited for my appointment.

And while making the customer wait cleverly forces her to browse
through the conspicuously well-marked goodies, it is also an
opportunity to take advantage of some free Aveda stuff. Everyone
who comes into the store is offered complimentary hot beverages.
Personally, I would skip the rancid coffee and opt for the Aveda
Comforting Tea, quite possibly the best tea I didn’t have to
pay for.

As for my manicure, at first, the $22 I handed over
wouldn’t seem right for anyone who might have just seen my
nails. While it was an above average manicure (no bubbles and
smooth cuticles), the price tag is relatively high, even when
compared to a normal salon. Fortunately for me and the guilt I
might have felt for frittering my money away, Aveda salons are
nowhere near normal.

My service included the basic manicure, pretentiously named the
“Natural Aromatic Manicure.” Not only did they paint my
nails, but I received a full moisturizing treatment and a hot-rock
massage. Both therapies are exactly what they sound like —
thick lotion and heated rocks rubbed and kneaded along your hands
and arms. Both are seemingly banal procedures, but in fact
amazingly refreshing and relaxing. After spending nearly one and a
half hours with my stylist, it was clear that my money wasn’t
only paying for a mere nail painting.

Continuing with the “free” theme, all of the nail
services include a bottle of the nail color that was used in the
manicure. While I essentially paid for my polish with the jacked-up
price, I still was able to convince myself that I made away with a
free bottle of O.P.I. nail polish and that I had beat their
system.

Other services that are on the house include a quickie make up
touch-up, a “relaxing and balancing neck and shoulder
massage” and skin care or hair styling consultations.

The salon also offers a myriad of services ranging from the
already mentioned manicures, hair colorings and waxes, to facials,
full-body salt scrubs and faux tanning treatments.

Overall, the Aveda “experience” is unlike any other,
and now, one week later, as I look at my parched hands, raggedy
cuticles and fading polish, I yearn for a little more of Aveda
lovin’. For next time, perhaps I can remind myself that even
I deserve some pampering — I, too, don’t get tipped for
all my hard work.

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