Gracia Barr always dreamed of owning her own business, but when the opportunity presented itself she wasn't sure she was ready. However, the opportunity to purchase The Nail Institute and own a school that served the industry which had been so much a part of her life, was just too much the perfect fit. So with the urging and support of her husband, PJ, the Barrs plunged into business ownership.

The Nail Institute, at 2680 Overland, Ste. E, is the only school in Montana that is dedicated to the education and training of nail technicians, preparing students to take the state board exam which is necessary to become certified as a professional nail technician. The school was founded in 2010. Gracia manages and teaches, while PJ who works days for BNSF, helps out with maintaining the facility and taking care of equipment after work. The Barrs have had a year now to adjust to the world of being business owners. "I've learned so much about owning a business," said Gracia, "The freedom is amazing. Being able to have my school the way I want it is awesome." "I have been in the beauty industry for over 15 years," said Gracia, "working as a teacher for five of those years." From that experience Gracia learned what she likes in a school and how she wants to run her own school. The biggest goal, for my husband and I, is to take care of our students as a whole. If one of the students has a problem with their car or they need help finding daycare, housing, or dealing with a family emergency, we want to help. We understand about putting your family first, and we want to get to know our students as people, not just as a student or a number. I want to set students up for success the best way possible." Gracia has one teaching assistant to help in the training of what are typical classes of about six students, which begin the first Monday of each month to complete a 12 week or 400 hour training program. "So we always have new students coming in and graduates going out," said Gracia. Schools are permitted to have up to 25 students per teacher, but Gracia believe that keeping classes small allows more one- on -one training and gives students a higher level of training which improves their opportunity for future success.

Business is good. There is a huge demand for nail technicians and the training provided at The Nail Institute is second to none; and the word is spreading. One salon owner recently told Gracia that in the future they will only hire graduates of her school because they are so much better trained and prepared. Besides finding a good job market (they have a 100 percent job placement record), nail technicians make a good living. On average nail technicians in Billings make about $24 an hour, said Gracia. And, there are opportunities in the industry beyond the traditional role of being a service provider - one of which is becoming a teacher as Gracia has. The school is attracting students from a wide regional area, from Utah to Wyoming and the Dakotas. They have even had inquiries from Ohio. Tuition is $4,180 for the 12 week course, which includes books, supplies, and registration fee. For part time students tuition is $4,585. Their immediate goal is to get their school accredited with the National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts and Sciences.

The Barrs have a long-term goal of becoming a full-fledged cosmetology school, offering all three programs: cosmetology, esthetics (skin care) and nail technician - "all with the same high quality of education." Besides being able to draw more students, the school would qualify to offer student financing. The school serves clients at discounted prices of 50-60 percent less than regular salons, in order for students to have an opportunity to develop their skills. "We don't make money on that service, we just try to cover costs for products and supplies," said Gracia. "We guarantee all the work that students do. They need to learn from that experience." A complete list of services provided at The Nail Institute can be found on their website at http://thenailinstitute.com/

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