Barriers to Barbering: How Occupational Licensing Stifles Opportunity
Few entrepreneurs understand the challenge of dealing with overlapping business licensing requirements like barbers and others in the beauty industry. In addition to dealing with the same types of municipal-level business licensing, registration, inspections, and insurance requirements as other brick-and-mortar service providers, individual barbers must obtain a state occupational license in all 50 states and D.C. Those licenses require spending more than a year obtaining a costly education 1 —and are in addition to the barbershop facility permits barbers typically need to get from state officials to open up their own shop.
Dual requirements for occupations such as barbering can add extra layers of confusion, cost, and time to the business creation process, as entrepreneurs must navigate state requirements alongside their county or municipal regulations.
Many city officials view occupational licensing as strictly a state issue, but local leaders have an important role to play considering not only their own rules for business licensing, but the total costs in time and capital faced by entrepreneurs. Importantly, city officials may be better positioned to understand the real costs imposed on their local businesses, and can be important advocates for state reforms that make it cheaper, faster, and simpler to start a business.
City officials can also improve the business creation experience by ensuring that their websites cover not only their own municipal requirements, but also make it easy for entrepreneurs to understand and comply with state or county regulations. A business creation web portal that only shows a prospective barber the requirements of licensing their business in a particular city, but which fails to mention a state-based requirement, can lead to unnecessary confusion, wasted time, or even unintentional legal violations.
When Debbie Carlson started Faces Etc of MN, a multimedia makeup school in Minneapolis, her goal was to teach aspiring artists how to turn their passion for beauty into a sustainable career. At the time, makeup schools were few and far between, and going through expensive cosmetology training meant learning skills that were irrelevant to the makeup industry. It was a trend that Debbie intended to buck by opening Faces Etc of MN, despite the many difficulties she would face dealing with state government agencies.
First, she was denied a license by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, which had never heard of a makeup school and told her it sounded like piano lessons. After pushing back and educating officials on her business model, she was issued a license that costs $1,350 annually and requires annual completion of a packet of paperwork and requirements that takes Debbie three months to address.
On top of all that, in 2018, the Minnesota Board of Cosmetology began harassing practitioners in Debbie’s industry, assessing massive fines to makeup artists in an effort to force them to get licensed (which in turn required spending thousands of dollars on unnecessary cosmetology training). Debbie fought back, and, with the help of the Institute for Justice, convinced legislators in 2020 to exempt makeup artistry from the Board’s onerous requirements.
Her story illustrates how, even on top of local rules that entrepreneurs must navigate—like zoning, building permits, and business licensing—people like Debbie in many cases still must deal with state processes like occupational licensing that add additional regulatory burdens and complicate their desire to earn an honest living.