Amber Belt knows what it’s like to switch careers mid-stream.
She worked in dentistry for years, but at the age of 30 made the decision to take a different path. She chose beauty as her business, graduating from The Aveda Institute of Knoxville and opening her own spa and salon in 2018.
Then one night while working as a full-time educator at a local beauty school, she started talking to another of the employees there, Tiffany Lynch. They commented how they would love to be more in control of decision-making and even joked about opening their own school.
“We should do it,” was Lynch’s short answer to their dilemma. That next week, they were searching out locations, testing possible names.
Center Stage Beauty Academy was born, with its doors opening on June 28, 2021, in downtown Maryville. Lynch is co-founder, licensed educator, licensed aesthetician and academic director for Center Stage. Belt is co-founder, business director and also licensed aesthetician.
The current location is the fifth floor of Preservation Plaza in downtown Maryville. The two started out a few doors down, above Brackins, but quickly out grew the space and moved.
We are already needing to expand,” Belt said. “We are not looking to move. We just need more space here.”
Center Stage is a beauty school that focuses on the science of skin care. Graduates of the program receive 750 hours of instructional time in the aesthetician program where they learn how to do facials, make-up application, cleansing techniques, facial waxing, aromatherapy, advanced masks, skin analysis, chemical peels and more. Part of that program also includes practicum work on clients.
“Education is the largest part of the business,” Belt said. She said the next step for graduates is passing the state board exam to become licensed aestheticians. Once they do that, the graduates can open their own salons, Lynch and Belt said.
They currently have 19 students, with new classes starting up soon. Belt said there are options that include both on campus classes and virtual learning.
The current pool of students is varied, these two instructors said. There are those who have just graduated from high school. Some lost jobs during the pandemic. Others left careers they didn’t enjoy anymore.
There are two large beauty schools in Knoxville, including Aveda, but nothing like Center Stage in Blount County. Students come from surrounding areas like Sweetwater, Sevierville and also Loudon Counties. Belt said they work with students on a payment plan so they owe nothing at graduation.
Two of their students are getting ready to graduate. They will come on board as staff members at Center Stage, Belt said. That doubles the staff.
These two said they had a strong inkling there was a need for a beauty school here in Blount County. They needed extra space after only six months and need to expand again.
That expansion might include a hair program, Belt said, but they are still mulling that over. That would be a large investment, Lynch said.
It was a leap of faith for Belt and Lynch to start the business; Belt owed her own salon and Lynch worked at a school. But they felt like they had something to offer. Steady growth seems to have proved them right.
A next step is talking with the local high schools to form a partnership. Belt said she has contacts at Heritage High School and is looking to do the same at William Blount. Both schools have a cosmetology program that is just hair, she said.
“We could partner with these schools where their students could come here for the aesthetician hours,” Belt said.
The location and name fit great together, Lynch said. Having a beauty school on Broadway named Center Stage just seems perfect, she explained.
What began as a friendship has now turned into a thriving business. Lynch said she and Belt have meshed. “People who have seen us work together tell us we balance each other,” she said.