Amber Henderson, Freelance Makeup Artist & Licensed Esthetician, specializes in holistic skincare and beauty. Henderson has grown her business by achieving and exceeding sales through recruiting, training, and coaching staff.
Tell us about your education and background
Oh, where to begin? About six months before my high school graduation I had a meeting with my guidance counselor to follow up with my college application process. I applied to four colleges and was accepted into three. When she proceeded to ask me what I was going to study I gave her the generic answer "Business". She gave a sigh like her job was done and wished me well. I had no clue! I enrolled at a local community college and my focus of studies changed from Business Administration to Legal Assistant to Business Management. I was turning a two-year program into three years and couldn't pass college Algebra. So I withdrew and entered the workforce full-time.
Customer service-type jobs are where I thrived. First, as an office assistant in a dental office, then a receptionist at Supercuts, and finally as a sales associate at a clothing store. Working retail was amazing! I was around clothes that I could buy at discount, but the company I worked for really educated their employees. Learning the different fabrics and their origins, building your sales, retaining a client book, and achieving daily sales goals. Eventually, I became the store manager and then I learned scheduling, payroll, L/Y numbers, sales floor visuals, and recruiting new customers. Life was good! However part of me still didn't feel fulfilled, but I didn't know why.
The year was 2003, I was getting a facial, and at the end of the service I asked the Esthetician "What do I have to do to do what you're doing?" She laughed and replied, "It's not brain surgery you to school take a test with the state and get your license". So I started the process of researching schools, cost, etc. but a major life adjustment happened the summer of that year. My father was diagnosed with cancer, it was aggressive and terminal. So I halted my plans to assist my mom with his care, but strangely, I got confirmation that pursuing a career in esthetics was my life's work. You see there were moments when my dad's pain was unbearable but playing Nat King Cole songs and massaging his feet would bring him comfort. I saw directly the power of touch and I wanted to share that with anyone that would allow me. November 2005, at the Aveda Institute New York, my amazing journey in skincare and cosmetics, began at the age of 32 and continues to even to this very second.
What was your first job?
My first job was working the concession booth at City Park New Orleans in the amusement park area. It paid $3.20 per hour, the paychecks were bi-weekly (on Friday). On payday, you went into work, located the manager, and provided a signature that you received your check. No direct deposit in 1990. My job duties were taking customer food orders, cashiering, food prep (burgers/nachos), making cotton candy, and at closing breaking all that food equipment down and handwashing it. I broke a sweat on that job. I was 16 years old and my high school History teacher was my reference for that job, which I found odd cause I thought he despised me because I was making C's in his class. Of course, it wasn't that he didn't like me he knew that I wasn't doing my best in his class and I didn't take the initiative to tap into my resources and that's a life lesson. If you want something, you have to pursue it and tap into channels to achieve it.
Describe your most pivotal career experience
I got hired at Turning Heads Day Spa in Harlem, NY. I had read about this spa a couple of years prior in Essence Magazine. It was located in a historical part of Harlem. It wasn't doing well, then a savvy businesswoman by the name of Shannon Ayers. She had a background in Engineering and used to be a client who bought it. She expanded the menu of services and it was thriving again. I remember when I was reading the article I said out loud, "I would love to work there," and even scribbled something in my journal about it. It was about 3 months after I received my Esthetics license a friend who was working there recommended me to take their position. I was hired during the interview. I really did my homework to get that job. I researched the owner, what products they used, what services they specialize in, I even took time to walk through the neighborhood to understand its "vibe." It was like every job I had gotten up to this point was haphazard. Getting hired at Turning Heads, I was setting a standard for myself- the environment I wanted to work in, the products I wanted to work with, and presenting my experience and asking this employer what will you reciprocate- a game changer for me.
Who is/was your mentor and what was the most important lesson you learned from them?
Suzy Uransky. She was my District Manager when I worked for the clothing retailer Casual Corner Group. Suzy had a flair for finding your strengths and letting you soar recognizing your weakness and turning it into a strength. She was like your favorite teacher in grade school, some days were fun, some days correction was needed, but it's all in the delivery. The lesson I learned working with her is if you want something ASK FOR IT! I wanted the position of store manager but I assumed that I would be "given" the position because I was exceeding my sales goals. I never called out for a shift, and my co-workers respected me in the supervisor role. She said to me "We see the numbers, but how badly do you want this? Make some noise make it known."
If you were/are a mentor in your field, what advice would you give to younger colleagues?
My advice would be to build on your knowledge and the money will come. When you're in school/training you're constantly told about how many services you perform will produce this amount of money. The thing that keeps your clients loyal (and generous tippers ) is knowing ingredients, cleanliness, being honest about the results you can produce, and time management. Your clients will become your ambassadors, you will be booked, and making money.
What are you most proud of in your career?
Living in New York! I had to push through fear and go after the goals I had set. I had no connections, everything I pursued was organic. It taught me that, "No," isn't definite. It means, "No," at this moment or for this project. Stay the course. That, "No," will become, "Yes."
If you could change anything in your industry, what would it be and why?
Honestly. I like what I see right now in the skincare and cosmetic industry. When I was growing up looking through magazines or watching music videos (no social media back then) the beauty standard was, "the guy/girl next door look," which meant fresh face, athletic build, and wholesome (insert eye roll here), Now there is more diversity and inclusion and no one set standard of beauty. To me, that's so cool! I think it's only going to get better as we continue to educate and evolve.
What lasting contribution do you hope to make to society/the professional world?
This question really had me doing some soul searching. I even reached out to some friends of mine to help me center my thoughts because I was all over the place. I hope that time spent with me feels like a safe space and that my hands are creating a version of themselves that makes them feel seen and cared for. In turn, they can share that experience with others they connect with.