In November of 2013, Capri College employee and former graduate Zach Stewart submitted the following essay to the annual Modern Salon Excellence in Education competition – a contest that recognizes the top cosmetology schools in the nation for their efforts in providing quality educations and the most excellent learning environment. Hundreds of schools enter this competition annually, but only the very best are selected by a panel of industry professionals to receive top honors.
This was one of four submissions that earned Capri College top honors in four out of the eight categories in Modern Salon’s competition. Capri received top honors in: School Technology, Community Involvement, School Marketing, and School Culture. Entrants were asked to submit in 350 words or less why their school is so deserving of said award. While it was nearly impossible to wrap 50 years of Capri’s culture into 350 words or less, we took a less traditional approach on this category and spoke from one’s personal experience. Below is Capri’s submission for School Culture.
Hello, my name is Zach Stewart. I am a marketing associate for Capri College located in Cedar Rapids, IA as well as a former graduate of their cosmetology program here. Capri is one of the leading cosmetology schools in the Midwest, with locations in Cedar Rapids, IA, Dubuque, IA, Davenport, IA, and a fourth location set to open very soon in Waterloo, IA.
I feel compelled to personally take the reigns of entering Capri into the Modern Salon Excellence in Education Program because I have been fortunate to not only receive an exemplary education at Capri, but am also beginning a career with the company that provided me with one of my greatest accomplishment in life- an AAS Degree in “Entrepreneurial Cosmetology”.
It is easy for me to explain Capri’s culture because I have experienced both sides of the cosmetology education spectrum. I am honored to shine a light on how this school has enabled many former students, much like me, on their life journey to success.
In 2006, I was 20 years old and had made the decision to leave my friends and family behind in Greencastle, IN and relocate to Cedar Rapids, IA. I was born in Cedar Rapids, where Capri and the Cedar Rapids hair industry seemed to have been a part of my family history for over 75 years.
My great aunt Bonnie graduated from Paris Academy in Cedar Rapids in the 1940’s, as well as a cousin who graduated in the 1960’s. My Aunt had a longtime career in salon management in the Cedar Rapids area and prior to her retirement, she was also an instructor at Capri. I can always remember Aunt “NeNe” (as we lovingly referred to her) telling me from a young age that “Beauty is pain, and it pays to be beautiful. Everyone deserves to be beautiful, Zachary!” I didn’t understand what she meant by that when I was younger, but it seemed to resonate with me for reasons that I could not fully comprehend until later in life.
I did not foresee an education in cosmetology or a career in the industry until I had graduated from High School. It was then that I was able to see firsthand the successes that my Aunt Beth Melchior had earned. She was a Capri graduate from the late 1980’s and has been an accomplished stylist and salon owner for over 25 years in Cedar Rapids. Aunt Beth was my main influence and mentor in pursuing my education and obtaining a career in the hair industry.
I wanted what Beth had. I wanted to make people feel better about themselves after sitting in my chair. I wanted people to leave my chair feeling more beautiful than they already are. This was just one of the many traits that Beth fostered during her education at Capri. These traits built the foundation for her future success. I both wanted and needed that same foundation.
After graduating from High School, I didn’t jump straight into Capri’s cosmetology program. I was second guessing what I knew I wanted to do with my life, never admitting to myself or anyone else that Cosmetology school was where I wanted to be. I was fascinated with hair trends from a very young age, but I was also coming out of High School during a time where the perception of being “successful” could only be achieved by punching your ticket at a prestigious four year institution.
My parents and I thought it would be best to take that traditional next step, so I did just that. In the fall of 2005 I attended Vincennes University in southern Indiana. I lived in a dorm and took advantage of all the typical campus activities. I planned to study Audio Engineering, and even though my heart was in music, it was not in attending the prototypical collegiate program.
After finishing my first semester of college, I came home one weekend to my extremely supportive parents who asked me, “Are you really doing what you want to be doing?” The question caught me off guard at the time because for the last four years I was programmed to think that getting your Bachelors Degree in anything (regardless if your heart was or wasn’t in it) was the next and only step to success.
Looking back on that experience, if I had not taken that first semester at Vincennes I don’t know if the answer to my parent’s question that afternoon would have been the same. Without second guessing my response to their inquiry, I said “I’m not doing what I want to be doing. I want to go to hair school”. This was the first time that I had admitted to my parents and to myself that the answer to that age old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” was… a hairstylist!
Shortly after this conversation, I dropped out of the Audio Engineering program and made a deal with my parents that I would earn a good wage at a factory job until I could afford the move to Iowa to attend the very school that I had heard so much about growing up.
I remember that move to Cedar Rapids and my first month of school like it was yesterday. I had severe growing pains relocating to a city where I had no friends. I was also unaware of the challenges that would lie ahead for this 20 year old guy who was not only terrified to talk to women, but had never used a curling iron before.
What I did know was that I loved hair. I came into the program with the idea that hair is an art, and I would be the artist. Creating a Picasso or a Monet with my client posing as the blank canvas. Michelangelo may have had his brush – but I would have my shears. I was determined to be great and to be artistically independent with my craft.
The mere fact that I was attending an institution where I was not only allowed but encouraged to be artistic, was exactly what I needed at that time in my life. My instructors and fellow students were there to push my creativity on a daily basis, and it is that same support system that has remained within the school’s culture since we opened our doors in 1977. Capri is much more than a cosmetology school. It is much more than a place to get your license, and so very much more than the place to go to “learn the basics”.
Within weeks of beginning my coursework, I began to build what would become lifelong friendships with fellow students and instructors, several of whom are now my coworkers. I was fortunate in that I did not have to experience the “new kid in school” struggles that so many others often do. I was welcomed from day one with open arms by both students and staff and it helped me survive those early days when I doubted not only my abilities, but my decision to move to Iowa.
That sense of community is a true testament to the leadership of this family owned business and the unspoken mantra that has driven Capri to such great heights. I was fortunate enough to build a great relationship with school director Chris Fiegen (son of Capri founder Chuck Fiegen) during my stay as a student. Through Chris’s 24-7, ever so welcoming open door policy I found someone to confide in whenever needed.
Capri College Founder, Charles “Chuck” Fiegen
Having a school director that cares so much about each and every student and employee that comes through its doors is a rare asset. Chris’s attitude and actions were a tremendous reassurance about where I was investing my money and my education. With Capri being a family owned business, each school is directed by someone much like Chris who has grown into the business, made education their livelihood, and in one way or another – has a bit of Chuck in them.
Almost a year into getting my Cosmetology license I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. The band that I had helped form in Indiana in 2003 called TGL had started gaining some unanticipated exposure and success. As you can imagine, being 371 miles away from the rest of your band makes it difficult to practice, tour, write new material, and well….. be a band. With the new found exposure, we were invited to go on a national tour through the East Coast and Canada. Knowing that I had a school director that I could confide in, I headed to his office one afternoon and explained the opportunity that I had on the table. Chris listened to me with open ears, understood that I was passionate about my music career, and reworked my schedule to insure that I would still be on track to graduate. To this day, that exact tour that he allowed me to go on opened the doors to some of the greatest moments of my music career.
I returned to Capri from tour with some evolving priorities and 9 months left of school to finish. My aspirations to be an up and coming hairstylist were starting to be overshadowed by the unexpected success of the band. My heart never fled the shears, neither did my devotion to my education, but I was on the verge of something much bigger than I had ever dreamed with music.
In those last months at Capri, TGL was offered a record deal that would get our music into the hands of people all over the world. During this time the entire Capri staff worked to insure that this would not become a missed opportunity for me. Upon signing the contract I made a promise to my family that I would finish my education before pursuing music on a contractual/professional level. Recording contracts are time sensitive situations and can be pulled off the table at any moment, so I had to commit to putting in extra hours with the hope that the label would understand my situation and wait for me to graduate.
Shortly after the news of the contract, Chris and the entire staff came together to organize a concert at Capri for my band to perform alongside two other national touring acts. The entire building was transformed into a concert venue overnight, and the band played on our client floor. It was a huge success!
TGL performing live from Capri’s clinic floor – Cedar Rapids, IA
Never shying away from stepping “outside of the box”, this rock concert is just one of the many instances where Capri’s supportive culture evolved for the students. Capri thoughtfully produced this event for one student and it opened the doors for many other opportunities down the road for me as a musician. It was a great opportunity for my band, but more importantly it expressed and showcased Capri’s undying devotion to their students. They found a way to bridge hair and music together just so I could perform in front of my peers.
On the night of my graduation from Capri, I went home to sign that contract and sent it back to the West Coast. The following day I packed up the car and moved back to Indiana to write and record the last album that we ever released, titled, “Sweeter As Fiction.” Several of the songs were written about my fortunate experiences at Capri and my time spent in Iowa. It was released on September 21st, 2008 in 19 different countries.
While my music career has since then ended, I was given the opportunity to travel the country and see places I would not otherwise have been able to see if Capri College had not been so dedicated to providing me with a education that fit my personal needs. I had promised my family that I would complete my education and I promised myself that if all else failed, I would have this excellent education to fall back on.
My marketing and business management background experience began with my involvement with my band and the music industry. This experience eventually allowed me to invest in two start-up businesses in Indiana, including co-owning a bar and restaurant in Indiana. But… much like my days spent at Vincennes University, something felt like it had been missing in the years since I left Capri and the hair industry.
By the end of 2011 I was diagnosed with serious depression and I knew that I needed to make a life change. It took everything in me to overcome. Somehow, someway, I wanted to use my education and experiences I gained from Capri and get back to the person that I once was.
In January of 2013 I relocated back home to Cedar Rapids, Iowa and contacted the very man who was there during those impressionable years of my young adult life. This is the same man that provided me that quality education at Capri and the same man who always had his door open and was willing to chat or lend a hand. I reached out to Chris Fiegen, and as if time had stood still over the past five years he replied, “Come on in Zach, I’d love to catch up.” Chris had given me yet another opportunity…… and this time it was a career.
I was fortunate to have obtained a role in corporate marketing for Capri. I wanted to weave both my work and life experiences into a position that would allow me to shed the light and spread the word about how great Capri College truly was and is. I have come back around to Capri full circle after all of these years, and I couldn’t be happier. At the tender age of 27, I can honestly say that I have been granted a new lease on life.
While my story may pose as a nontraditional entry for the Modern Salon School Recognition Program, I can only speak from my heart and perhaps it is with a dash of honest romanticism. I am one graduate, although thousands have graduated since my days spent in the classroom. Thousands of students who have been treated as equally as I was and who also have received the same valuable education from some of the most talented instructors in the Midwest.
The culture of our company is not a tangible statement or something you can put your finger on. Certainly it is made up of integrity, moral values, and community outreach, but all of those hard earned facts can be found with a simple Google search on Capri College.
The phrase that my Aunt NeNe used to say means more to me now than ever. “Everyone deserves to be beautiful” transcends into what Capri College provides for their devoted clientele every single day of the year. Men and women of all ages, upbringings, and personalities leave our student’s chairs feeling better about themselves. The emotional benefits that the student’s provide their clients with help make Capri what it is.
The culture that the Fiegen family has instilled and nurtured for the last 50 years has greatly impacted thousands of lives as well as the communities in which the schools are located. It is the thousands of aspiring stylists that have graduated from here with more than just a piece of paper. It is the dreamers, the believers, the risk takers, and the artists that leave here (much like I did) with something that they did not have before: It may be a sense of pride or self-worth. It may be the feeling of accomplishment that they have so patiently longed for, or knowing that they do indeed have a purpose in life. It may be that they finally realize how talented they truly are, or finding comfort in knowing that they have a career for a lifetime.
Whatever it may be, no one leaves here without that “thing”. From my days as a student, to now as an employee – I’ve never experienced an entity that cares this much about its people, and their communities. I know that my last name isn’t Fiegen, but I come to work every day feeling like it is. I get to do what I love, and that’s culture.