Selena Alexander loves helping people learn to appreciate their hair in its natural state—without having to depend on chemical treatments to get a trendy look or classic coiffure. Whether it’s braids, twists, coils or locks, she enjoys showing people all the beautiful looks they can sport with their natural tresses. Ten years ago, she began braiding hair at her home, and in 2001, she and a partner opened Naturally “U” Braid Studio on Tallahassee’s West Tharpe Street. After seven years in a secluded area, Alexander felt it was time to expand not only her salon, to meet the growing demand for natural hair stylists, but also to realize her vision for a school, where others could learn how to care for natural hair.
Selena found out about Access Florida Finance Corporation (AFFC) last year while attending a Capital City Chamber of Commerce meeting. There, Alexander learned about AFFC’s Business Plan Writing Contest. Having already spent six months writing a business plan for her braid studio, Selena decided to enter it into the contest. Two months after submitting her entry, Alexander was called to compete as a finalist for the cash prizes that Access was awarding at the Office of Supplier Diversity Matchmaker Conference in Orlando. Standing before a judging panel of legislators and business leaders last November, Selena Alexander delivered her presentation and earned the $2,500 first prize.
In 2010, Selena decided to approach Access Florida Finance again— this time, she wanted help in executing her winning business plan and realizing her dreams of both a larger salon space and a braiding school. Experiences with other lenders had not been profitable, according to Alexander, who said that banks were looking for more collateral than she had to offer at the time. Access Florida reviewed her application and determined that her character, credit, collateral, and cash flow worked. Selena had done all the legwork to figure out what it would cost to relocate and expand operations. She applied for an amount that was sufficient to grow the business. Going through the application and approval process with Access Florida Finance Corporation was more personal and direct, according to Alexander, who says that they answered all her questions and returned all her calls.
Today, through financing provided by Access Florida Finance Corporation, Selena Alexander is growing more than just healthy natural locks of hair. Her clients and students are enjoying Naturally U’s new 2,700 square-foot combined salon and school space—located on South Monroe Street— just walking distance from state government offices in downtown Tallahassee; on public transportation routes and in close proximity to Florida A&M University, Florida State University, and Tallahassee Community College. Her growing staff now includes a receptionist and six stylists, and Selena is always looking for new team members, since her repeat and transient client list has blossomed over the past ten years from about 30 to more than 1,000 men, women and children. Alexander is also enjoying a growing profit margin due to her experience and preparation, along with the combined timing of her relocation through AFFC financing, and the burgeoning $2 billion per year black hair care industry.
Students of the newly opened Naturally U Art & Braid School are growing, too. Students learn hair braiding and wrapping techniques, natural hair care and the affects of diet and nutrition on hair growth. Since its opening in January, 12 students have graduated from the Naturally U Braid & Art School, which offers a professional licensing program for the State of Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
Alexander is excited about her next crop of students, who begin their training in August 2010. Her new students— all unemployed and underemployed mothers who are enrolling at the Naturally U Braid & Art School as part of an ongoing partnership agreement that she recently secured with the Capital Community Action Agency’s self sufficiency program— will soon have a professional skill set that they can market to earn a living. In just over a month, Alexander and her team of educators will provide them with the training they need to re-enter the workforce. Helping others blossom and benefit from the growth of her hair care business venture is only natural for Selena Alexander.