Learning Experience

Students get high marks making clients look and feel good at Royal Oak's sleek Douglas J. Aveda Institute.


On the surface, having a student perform the work of a trained professional doesn’t sound like a good idea.
However, experience isn’t everything. Some people who boast about their seniority have been doing the same mediocre job for years and never aspire to improve. Conversely, some students are a quick study, charged with enthusiasm, and are as eager to please as they are to learn. I once had a student perform a massage on me at a school of myomassology, and he turned out to be better than a lot of seasoned masseurs I’ve had.
So I wasn’t too concerned when I learned that the people who would be performing my manicure and pedicure at the new Douglas J Aveda Institute in Royal Oak were students.

They told me they undergo an 11-month training. The first three months are spent in the classroom, then the students work the floor, performing facials, manicures, pedicures, scalp massages, or styling hair, and still devote one day a week to the classroom. Instructors check in before, after, and sometimes during the service.
One obvious benefit of having students work on clients is that it’s cheaper than treatments at most spas. My “Self-Renewal Manicure” was $28, and the “Self-Renewal Pedicure” was $39. Both include relaxing paraffin treatments and a bottle of nail polish to take home. When you consider there’s a no-tipping policy, it turns out to be a bargain.
Ashley, who administered my manicure, and Jojo, who did my pedicure, were pleasant, professional, and performed their tasks admirably. First, I had a manicure, and returned for the foot treatment the following week. Naturally, Aveda products are used, and I particularly liked the cooling hydrating mask that’s applied with a brush to the hands and feet. Both procedures are essentially the same: After shaping the cuticles and buffing the nails, the skin is exfoliated and hydrated, followed by the best part — a hot paraffin treatment that softens the skin. After the hands or feet are placed in plastic bags containing hot wax, the client just blisses out for about 10 minutes as the wax sets. After the paraffin is removed, polish is applied, or in my case, a colorless base coat. The pedicurist also has to buff the soles of the feet to remove dead skin. While the student gets down to business, the client wears a warm, clove-scented neck pillow.
The institute opened its doors in downtown Royal Oak in January in a sleek 15,000-square-foot facility. (There are other Douglas J Aveda Institutes in Ann Arbor, East Lansing, and Grand Rapids.) The first floor is devoted to retail, selling the well-regarded Aveda product line. It’s a warehouse-like feel, with exposed ductwork, tan brick, and lots of windows. The spa and hair salon are up a flight of stairs. The spacious salon is bright and airy, while the room where the nail therapies are performed is subdued and dimly lit, with a restful color scheme of apple-green, slate blue, and eggplant.
I have only one gripe: Douglas J’s no-tipping practice needs to be relaxed. Granted, the students receive no compensation and are there to learn, but they should be entitled to a few crumbs for their hard work, particularly when they’re paying tuition. Some spas have a policy of automatically tacking on a gratuity of 15 or even 20 percent regardless of whether the client feels it’s deserved, which isn’t right. So the least the institute could do is allow the students to be tipped if the client feels so inclined. In my two experiences, the young women’s diligence and care deserved to be acknowledged. A thank-you is always fine, but who wouldn’t want the gratitude colored green, too?
409 S. Center St., Royal Oak; 248-336-5500. 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Tue.-Fri.; 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Sat. On Monday, only the retail area is open. douglasj.com.
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