Wanna have a tantrum and smash something? Be her guest

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It’s a tough time to be in Houston right now. Ninety-degree weather, bumper-to-bumper traffic, and the oil and gas sector has been stagnating for the last 18 months. Eighty thousand people have gotten laid off, including Shawn Baker.

“I didn’t see it coming at all, not one bit, and I was very devastated, and I’m still very bitter about it, very bitter,” Baker said.

She took that frustration and decided after 25 years in the oil industry to finally become her own boss. She started a company called Tantrums LLC.

She bought a warehouse and converted it into five small rooms she fills with defunct electronics, glass bottles and anything that will break. For close to $3 a minute, she’ll help you pick out a tool, like a sledgehammer, a baseball bat or a lead pipe, and let you destroy everything in the room.

Television sets are available for trashing.

Television sets are available for trashing.

“Everybody’s had enough at some point of their day or their life or whatever, and so when you come in here, you can be as aggressive as you want in the privacy of your own room. You can let it out or whatever it is you’re in here for, and you don’t have to clean up,” Baker said.

Baker got the idea for the business a few years ago when she saw a few guys beating up some furniture behind a bar.

“I just thought it was genius,” Baker said. “I could see me doing it.”

There’s not much Baker can do about the downturn in oil and gas, but she feels she can help people cope.

“There’s a lot of stress in this city because we’re the energy capital, and there are lot of layoffs happening,” Baker said.

One of her customers, Lance Nolan, is a mid-level manager at a drilling chemical company outside of Houston. Work’s been tough lately.

“We actually had a fracking division and we had to shut it down, had to lay off 35 people the other day,” Nolan said.

That’s why Nolan’s wife, Holly McClellan, decided to bring him to Tantrums LLC as a surprise. They both work in oil and gas, and they care for Porter, their 10-month-old daughter.

Before Nolan starts smashing his room, Baker leads him to the safety equipment.

“The face masks are optional, but you have to wear safety glasses and you have to protect your hands, and [wear] closed-toe shoes and long pants,” Baker said.

Lance Nolan smashes into a TV. When he’s not pulverizing electronics with a sledgehammer, Lance Nolan is a mid-level manager at a drilling chemical company.

Lance Nolan smashes into a TV. When he’s not pulverizing electronics with a sledgehammer, Lance Nolan is a mid-level manager at a drilling chemical company.

Pulverizing electronics and glass objects is relatively safe, Baker said. Every so often customers walk out with cuts and scrapes, which they wear as badges of honor.

Entire offices, as well as couples and friends, come in here for team-bonding activities. If you give her some advance notice, Baker will even set up a themed room for you. A few weeks ago she had a teacher who wanted a replica of his classroom. When he walked out, Baker was surprised to find the room intact.

It turns out the teacher just wanted to scream.

Sledgehammer in hand, Lance Nolan has 15 minutes to smash a room full of glass bottles, an orange schoolroom chair, a bunch of porcelain knick-knacks and a giant TV.

When his session is over,  Nolan comes out drenched in sweat, with a big smile on his face.  He’s out of breath, but he feels good.

His wife tells him next time, it’s his turn to watch the baby. She wants a turn with the sledgehammer.

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Harnessing The Power Of The Most Entrepreneurial Generation

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The Bentley College study showed 67 percent of millennials want to start their own business.

Fred Truffle, the director of Bentley’s entrepreneurial studies program, says part of that is having lived through the Great Recession.

“They’ve seen their parents get fired or laid off during the downturn, that affected many of their lives, they don’t want to be part of that, Truffle says.

“If I’m going to take a risk, why not start my own company?” Truffle says, “It’s a better alternative.”

Josh Bauer describes himself as a millennial who helps other millennials quit their jobs.

Bauer’s with Capital Factory – an Austin incubator for start-ups. He says starting a company is cheaper than it’s ever been, especially when it comes to a tech company.

“Number one factor to start is that the cost has dropped, democratized it, opened it up to a lot more people,” Bauer says.

Bauer says that makes it seem like it’s possible to be the next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerburg. Twenty-nine year-old Melanie Weinberger certainly sees herself that way.

“I always knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur,” Weinberger says.

Her startup is a consulting company called Fitsteady. She chose to headquarter in Texas for a reason.

“I moved to Austin sight unseen because of its low cost of living, that’s important when you’re an entrepreneur and high quality of life, I don’t know how often those two are correlated,” Weinberger says.

“It’s super liberal, it’s weird, you can try out wacko things, it’s not a major metro, you won’t get your ass kicked as quickly, you won’t get trampled on as quickly.”

But 90 percent of startups never make it past the seed stage, even though Texas has one of the highest millennial population growth rates in the country and a business friendly climate, entrepreneurs in Texas face unique challenges. Cam Hauser directs 3-Day Startup, an entrepreneurial workshop for college students.

“Silicon valley, the investors in that community are much more likely to invest in a really cool idea that shows no promise of making money,” Hauser says.

“The investors here in the Texas community are a very business-model driven, they’re interested in business models that are proven to make money.”

In Texas, 13.5 percent of the millennial generation is unemployed or underemployed. A report by the Business and Professional Women’s Foundation projects that millennials will make up 75 percent of the American workforce by 2025.

As state legislators consider how to keep the Texas job machine turning, Bauer says there’s one thing they can do attract young entrepreneurs from out-of-state.

“There’s not a lot that they can do,” says Bauer. “They need to stay out of the way, they need to not do things that make it an unattractive place.”

“Incentives that make people want to live here, nothing specific about startups, keep making this a place where people want to be,” Bauer says. 

Bauer says he believes Texas should keep taxes low and do something about increasing housing prices in Houston and Austin – all things to keep Texas an affordable place to start a business.

Job Growth Spurs Temporary Housing Market In Houston

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Imagine waking up in your luxury apartment. There’s a knock at the door – in wheels some scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, a gourmet breakfast delivered. Every morning.

And your company’s paying for all of it.

That could be the reality for some Houston transplants — as early as June. If David Redfern has his way. He’s the president of Waterwalk.

“Waterwalk specifically is one part apartment, one part corporate housing and one part upscale extended stay hotel,” Redfern says.

While anyone who can afford the base rent of $2,ooo a month is welcome, Redfern has one specific customer in mind.

“Our customer is the people that are traveling for those types of business trips and so that tends to be companies that have relocations, trainings and projects,” Redfern says.

Houston added more than 100,000 jobs in the last 12 months and hosted more than 4 million business travelers. Forty-one percent of those jobs were in the energy and healthcare fields.

Relocation specialist and writer Michelle Sandlin says all those business travelers need a place to stay.

“Houston has a lot of temporary housing providers offering various products and there’s always been, for the last few years, an inventory shortage in that regard,” Sandlin says.

“So, I would imagine anybody coming into that market offering this type of product and service would certainly be welcome in the community.”

More than 5,000 energy-related firms in Houston compete for some of the best talent in the country. And when you’re trying to woo someone to your team, every little luxury counts.

“We deliver breakfast to each room, each apartment, we provide obviously housekeeping, we have a car service that will take people wherever they need to go,” Redfern says.

“It’s kind of a level of pampering you don’t get these days.”

Once the Houston property is up and running, Waterwalk plans on expanding to Austin, San Antonio and Dallas/Fort Worth.

“Well, Houston has had and Texas has had a steady influx of people moving here for several years, we’ve got population growth that continues to surge,” Sandlin says.

The state demographer says the Texan population will double by 2050. Part of that is projected birth rates, and part is people from all over the world moving here to work. Companies who can ease that transition for new Texas residents look at the statistics and see dollar signs.
 

Texas Is A Leader In The Video Game Industry

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The Texas video game industry directly employs about 5,000 people. It also creates hundreds more jobs that depend on transporting and selling the technology.

Dallas, San Antonio and Austin are the hubs of innovation. Big games like “Call of Duty” and “World of Warcraft” came from Texas game studios: Aspyr and Blizzard.

But gaming isn’t just about gaming anymore.

Jennifer Bullard directs the two year-old Captivate Conference for professionals in the gaming industry. “The game industry is pretty wide and diversified – there’s console developers, there’s mobile developers, there’s education game development here, there’s people who work in what we call real-world games, training simulations,” she says.

Bullard has been designing games like “Heroes of Might & Magic” and “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” for 17 years. She says the country’s second biggest gaming industry is always hunting for new recruits.

“There’s more education institutions for game development,” Bullard says. “When I first got started people didn’t even have bachelor’s degrees and frankly didn’t care about it. Now, of course, if you want to get into the game industry you need a bachelor’s degree.”

 Texas universities are stepping up to keep the industry supplied. Campuses from Abilene to Victoria have established gaming departments. At UT-Dallas there’s the Center for Modeling and Simulation. Marge Zielke is the director.

Director Marge Zielke says the program “emphasizes 21st century media as an extension of its degree plan.” The curriculum is based on critical thinking, research projects, and learning how to appeal to a wide audience.

“One of the things that we try to teach students in all of our classes is that it’s one thing to be able to use the technology that we have available to us today,” Zielke says, “but students of media really have to think about how to conceptualize and develop media that doesn’t exist yet.”

Some of that conceptualizing is likely to take place at next month’s SXSW. Developers, manufacturers and fans from all over the country will show off their stuff at the SXSW Gaming expo next week. No matter what happens, you can be sure the next big thing in gaming will be revealed in Texas.

Why Millennials Are Being Left Behind

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If you ask millennials to name some of workplace skills they should have learned in colleges, these are the answers that you’ll get:

“Email organization or running a calendar, things like that,” William Stamps says.

“Writing office memos, sending out appropriate emails,” Sophia Mackris says.

“Team management. Getting to work and understanding how to manage other people.
Mike Curry says.

“How to properly allocate your salary based on savings and long term goals,” Danny Cruz says.

Testing giant ETS is the company behind the new report. Researcher Anita Sands says millennials are behind left behind because colleges aren’t giving students the skills they need. She analyzed literacy and arithmetic skills of workers ages 16 through 65.

“Nearly two thirds of the millennials in numeracy score below what is regarded as a minimum standard,” Sands says. “And that’s a large percentage of the population to lack the skills necessary to participate in the 21st century in both the workplace and the family and the society overall.”

She’s not talking Outlook calendars – she’s worried about millennials’ information processing skills. Like being able to read something quickly and summarize it, or making a decision on their feet.

Michael Harris says the challenge for this generation is an education system that favors workplace readiness over a robust education. He is the director of the Center of Teaching Excellence at Southern Methodist University.

“Every test we have of CEOs will tell us that they want someone who is a critical thinker, someone that can write effectively, someone that can speak coherently and these are the most valuable skills,” Harris says.

Harris says the role of college isn’t to teach you how to write office memos – you’re supposed to learn that stuff on the job.

“You can learn how to work the fax machine, you can learn how to use the fancy new technology, but that will be out of date about as fast as you learn it,” Harris says. “However, if you know how to process information, how to critically analyze new information, that’s what’s going to prepare you in the long term.”

What you’re supposed to learn to college, is how to learn, he says.

But that doesn’t help frustrated law student Sophia Mackris.

“There’s just things I don’t think we’re being taught in an academic setting, just real world life skills that we’re not being taught,” Mackris says.

It seems like everybody disagrees on how to prepare young people for careers. Educators like Michael Harris think it’s the focus on career readiness and testing that does students a disservice, while the young people in this story think it’s that lack of entry-level skills.

One thing everyone agrees on – the research. This cohort of millennials is more unprepared to enter the workforce than any other in history.

Looking for the Next Trendy Treat as Cupcakes Go Stale

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When Carrie and Miranda visited Magnolia Bakery on “Sex and the City” in 2004, they put gourmet cupcakes on the map.

It wasn’t long before cupcakes started taking over other TV channels, on shows like “DC Cupcakes” and “Cupcake Wars.”

But 10 years later, after countless TV bake-offs, and cupcake store openings on seemingly every street corner, the treats aren’t quite as sweet.

Cupcake giant Crumbs bakery declared bankruptcy.

In 2004, there were nearly 3,000 articles on cupcakes. Last year? 998. And most of them weren’t even about cupcakes. They wanted to know one thing: what’s the next cupcake?

Sweet Wannabees

There’ve been plenty of pretenders. Macaroons in 2011, the cronut in 2013, and last year, the cake pop. All of them began gourmet and became as common as a drive-thru.

And now? Ryan Palmer thinks he’s onto something. He owns Gourdough’s in Austin.

“Basically we found out that we could do anything we want to do with a donut,” Palmer says.

The $6 donuts can be sweet or savory – everything from chicken fried steak to peanut butter and jelly. Palmer says business is just fine.

“Everybody likes fried food,” he says. “Donut’s fried, cupcakes aren’t, makes them extra better.”

But fads can fry out so fast. For every singe success story, there’s been two satisfries. Right?

All About Branding

Brian Herbstreit says the right branding keeps a pastry fresher longer. That’s why he bought into a franchise instead of starting from scratch. “Nothing Bundt Cakes” spent a lot of time up front finding out what customers want.

“Bundtinis are the smallest size, we sell those by the dozen. We have bundlets – bundtlets are about the size of your fist, that’s our version of a cupcake,” Herbstreit says.

Herbstreit thinks the small size, coupled with the combination of nostalgia and trendiness, is an irresistible draw for old and young alike. So where can you catch some of that lightning in a bottle? University of Houston marketing professor Betsy Gelb says the secret to baked success is social – as in Pinterest, Twitter and Tumblr.

“It’s a conversation piece; now you have something to maybe talk about on social media,” Gelb says. “All of that tremendously helps what I call the upstart baker.”

So whatever you buy for your sweetie this Valentine’s Day – make sure to take lots of pictures.

The Big Fight in Galveston Bay Over Oysters

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A local  district gave a private company exclusive rights to harvest oysters over 23,000 acres. Opponents say that deal wasn’t legal – and they have Texas Parks & Wildlife backing them up.

There’s one thing you need to know about oysters: they’re crucial to the ecosystem in Galveston Bay.

Tom Harvey, a spokesman for Texas Parks and Wildlife, says the agency has a vested interest in restoring the oyster beds that were damaged during Hurricane Ike.

“They’re filter feeders which means they naturally clean contaminants over the water,” Harvey says.

Clean water is good for business. Oysters are a $3 billion industry in Texas. Add in recreation, tourism and other businesses that rely on clear gulf water, and it’s closer to $20 billion.

Who’s in Charge?

Texas Parks and Wildlife regulates bay bottoms, where oysters grow. It grants permits to oystermen, who then follow its recommendations on how many oysters to harvest, when and how.

50 years ago the Chambers Liberty Council Navigation District bought a 23,000 acre strip on the Galveston Bay.

A couple of months ago, Tracy Woody had an idea: what if he leased the bay for his oyster business?

His lawyers talked to their lawyers, and they worked out a deal. Woody paid $1.50 per acre for the exclusive rights to harvest oysters in the area for 30 years.

Mary Beth Stengler is the navigation district’s general manager. She says the district has made all sorts of leases before, primarily for pipelines and restoration projects, “so [they’re] under good faith that [they] can do this lease with no problem.”

Woody says he’ll let other oyster companies use the bay, if he gets a cut of their profits – he is a businessman, after all.

What’s the problem?

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department says this whole deal was illegal – the navigation district doesn’t have the legal authority to lease the bay for commercial activity.

“The navigation district lacked the legal authority to enter into a lease that would exclude current oyster leaseholders,” Harvey says. “Meaning those people that our agency had issued certificates of location, or the public who wanted to go fishing in that area.”

A Texas Showdown

Woody says he’s ready to make his case in court.

“If the agency doesn’t want to recognize the law and we still firmly believe that we have a right to do this and nobody has proven otherwise then we’re going to go to court,” Woody says. “That’s what courts are for.”

Texas Parks and Wildlife isn’t backing down either.

“We remain open to any type of reasonable discussion,” Harvey says. “We certainly prefer to have an amicable resolution to this matter where every party as much as possible can get what they want.”

Other Gulf oyster companies are also weighing in. Lisa Halili owns Prestige Oysters.

“It’s a money grab, it’s self-centered, it’s for profit, it’s not for the good of the people,” Halili says.

She and other oyster company owners don’t have faith that this fight will be settled anytime soon. So they’re taking the matter up with lawmakers. They want it to be crystal clear that navigation districts can’t lease public resources for commercial activity.

“It’s very simple. The bay, the state water bottom, the beautiful bay that your parents take you boating on, that is a public resource, that means it belongs to all of us to share,” Halili says.

So far, no lawmaker has taken the bait. At least not publicly.

Walgreens Cashes In On Department Stores’ Pain

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At the turn of the 20th century, drugstores were little more than a pharmacist and a soda fountain. If you wanted to go shopping, you went to a department store.

Now, that trend is reversing. Department stores are suffering and drugstores are booming.

So much so that Walgreens — one of the industry’s leaders — is experimenting with expanding its goods and services.

Publicity Move Or Something More?

The three-story Walgreens in Washington, D.C.’s Chinatown district is one of 10 “flagship” locations. The 20,000-square-foot store has a health clinic with exam rooms staffed with a nurse practitioner, an extensive beauty boutique complete with a nail salon, and a cafe stocked with fresh food.

The store is impressive, but it is not the future of retail — at least not in its entirety. Walgreens Divisional Vice President Beth Stiller says the retail chain places its flagship stores in heavily trafficked areas to test new features individually.

“Flagship stores are really our playground,” she says. “It’s where the merchants in our business get to test new trends and innovations and new ideas and new product offerings. So it allows us to get to market quicker in more stores with new product lines.”

Stiller says Walgreens tests everything from new fixtures and products to entire departments in its flagship stores. Their strategic placement in populous neighborhoods helps generate sales data more quickly. This allows the company to roll out the ideas that work to the traditional stores more efficiently.

From Drugstore To Lifestyle Center

But to get consumers to try the new products and services, Walgreens has to persuade them to spend time exploring the store.

It is the same strategy department stores used to rely on: The more time you spend in a store, the more likely you’ll pick up a few things that were not on your shopping list.

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“Now it’s really about trying to figure out how do we make it one-stop multiple shop,” says Marshal Cohen, a chief retail analyst at NPD Group, an industry research group. “In other words, offer the consumer all kinds of reasons to come into the store and ultimately stay in the store longer; the longer consumers stay in the store, the more apt they are to spend more money.”

Stiller says Walgreens has thought a lot about how to keep customers in the store longer. Every aspect of the D.C. store — from the in-store services to the lighting — serves this goal.

Walgreens starts creating what Cohen calls “a lifestyle center” by making sure the content of the store fits the surrounding community.

In the case of the D.C. store, the midday population of Chinatown is a mix of business professionals and tourists — two groups who want quick access to food. Stiller says Walgreens responded to this by putting a cafe stocked with fresh food options as close to the door as possible.

In the entire floor devoted to beauty there is a big emphasis on natural light. The soft, pink glow of the floor helps makeup look more flattering — and there is a team of smartly dressed beauty attendants to help you find your shade.

The big windows are completely unobstructed to make the most out of the natural light. Stiller says the store also uses undershelf lighting in the cosmetic and over-the-counter medication aisles to help customers read the packaging more easily.

Stiller says all of these little changes make the shopping experience more comfortable, and this creates an environment that people want to spend time in and return to, leading to bigger sales.

The New Department Store

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The Walgreens flagship store looks and acts like a department store. The early allure of department stores was their wide product selection and pleasant atmosphere. Shopping was a form of entertainment.

In the 2000s, department stores started losing customers to big discounters like Wal-Mart and Target. Walgreens sees the trend as an opportunity to take a bite out of that market.

Its strategy is to replicate the convenience and affordability of big-box stores while mimicking the pleasant shopping experience of a department store.

Cohen, the analyst, says this plan is consistent with the shake-ups in the retail industry. The recession and the popularity of online shopping have meant that to get customers in the door, brick-and-mortar stores have to sell a memorable experience.

Cohen says big retailers “are exploring how to do it smaller and the smaller ones are trying to figure out how to do it bigger. So this is really about everybody trying to find growth and give convenience and services to the consumer to get them to come in, stay in and spend money,” Cohen says.

Hearing Aids: A Luxury Good For Many Seniors

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More than 30 million Americans experience significant hearing loss, but only a third of them get hearing aids.

There are a lot of reasons why someone who needs a hearing aid won’t get one: Some think their hearing loss is not that bad, others are too embarrassed to use them, and many people say they are just not worth the price.

Hearing aids cost an average of $1,500 per ear for a basic model, and unlike most technology, their price has not dropped over time.

What is worse: Most insurance companies do not pay for the devices. Even Medicare does not cover hearing aids — and the Affordable Care Act will not change that.

Some businesses see the hearing aid market as an opportunity. Costco has opened hearing aid centers in discount warehouses all over the country. Other companies have started selling their own brands of the devices directly online.

Ross Porter, the founder of online retailer Embrace Hearing, says hearing aids are only expensive because audiologists and distributors charge steep markups on them.

But Virginia Ramachandran, an audiologist with the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, says it is unwise to buy a hearing aid for the first time online. She says the device might be fine, but you will not know how to use it correctly.

“If someone gave you a laptop computer, and you have never used one before, you would not know how to turn it on, you would not know what programs or how to use them,” she says.

Ramachandran says the only way to make hearing aids cheaper is to have more consumers enter the market. That way, she says, some of the research and development costs incurred by the industry leaders could be divided among a larger group. (According to the National Institutes of Health, “Only 1 out of 5 people who could benefit from a hearing aid actually wears one.”)

Besides, Ramachandran says, what really keeps people from purchasing hearing aids isn’t the cost — it’s the stigma.

She led a study in 2011 where she divided patients into three groups. The first group could receive their hearing aids for free through their insurance, the second group was partially covered, and the third group had to pay for them out of pocket. Researchers then noted how long it took a patient to get a hearing aid.

They found little difference between the groups with partial or no coverage — but there was a “significant decrease in both the age and degree of hearing loss” for those whose hearing aids were fully covered by insurance.

Dropping the cost of hearing aids can nudge a senior in the right direction, but there are always going to be people who would rather go without.

Ramachandran says that in European countries where hearing aids are covered by insurance, rates of adoption are not significantly higher than in the U.S. She says cost might be a way to stall.

“People genuinely perceive hearing loss as being associated with older age, so any excuse not to get them is a good one if it is something that you do not really want,” she says.

If seniors saw the devices as something as normal as eyeglasses, she says, they would be more likely to get them. This would expand the market and could eventually bring the price down.

The industry is already on it: Companies are in the market for aging celebrity spokesmodelsto make the pitch.

Beauty Pageant Economics: The Sash Isn’t Cheap

Coburn Dukeheart/NPR

Jessica Bermudez, 24, models a dress at Deja Vu in Alexandria, Va. Bermudez is competing for the title of Miss District of Columbia USA, and says she regularly enters beauty pageants.
Coburn Dukehart/NPR

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Miss America’s walk might look effortless, but her road to success probably cost more than you think.

Ten-thousand women will compete in a Miss USA-sponsored pageant this year. That organization is just one of more than 15 small circuits, each with its own local, state and national competitions. It’s a big industry. From the organizers, designers and coaches, lots of people make money — except the contestants.

Twenty-four women are in the running to become the latest Miss District of Columbia USA.

When competitor and graduate student Jessica Bermudez went to Deja Vu, an Alexandria, Va. boutique specializing in pageant gowns, the price tags were as dazzling as the dresses.

Store manager Derek Ferino pulled out a gown for Bermudez to try on — a floor-length royal blue number with rhinestones on the front. The price tag: $3,000.

Bermudez, 24, won’t say how much she paid for the dress she eventually chose, but Deja Vu’s evening gowns start at $700. Some cost as much as $4,000.

If you thought Bermudez’s parents are signing the check, you’d be wrong. She uses the money she earns working part-time at as a technical project manager at the National Institutes of Health to pay her way through the pageantry world.

Bermudez also gets sponsored by local businesses in exchange for promoting their products, and she spends a lot of time fundraising.

Coburn Dukeheart/NPR

Beauty pageant contestants often need multiple pairs of shoes, like these seen at Deja Vu, per pageant to accompany different outfits. That alone can get pricey.
Coburn Dukeheart/NPR

A Costly Crown

Carl Dunn, CEO of Pageantry magazine, says pageants are big business.

“First of all, you have the event itself, that’s what you’re looking at,” Dunn says. “Then behind that, you do have the designers, makeup artists, trainers, facilitators, possible sponsors.”

Victory Mohamed, the current Miss Baltimore and third runner up in this year’s Miss Maryland America competition, works as a pageant coach. She says if you want to compete seriously, you need to be prepared. And that means money.

“If you’re doing it right, you would have to spend at least $500 to $2,000 on a gown for a U.S.A. Pageant, $200 for an interview outfit, including accessories, shoes that whole thing, and $50 to $300 on a great swimsuit,” Mohamed says.

That’s just the clothes – not even the makeup. And then there’s coaching, which can range from $40 to $300 per hour. Mohamed charges $50.

“But I think, doing it right, I would definitely invest in the coaching, in the fitness trainer, in the makeup, in the outfit,” she says. “You can’t get to Miss America or Miss Universe without doing it right, doing it all the way.”

It can pay off though. Mohamed says she won a scholarship that helps her pay for graduate school. Pageants also helped launch her professional pageant and image consulting company that she runs out of her basement studio.

‘Well Worth It’

If Bermudez can persuade the Miss D.C. judges to give her the crown, she’ll win a cash price of about $1,000 and the opportunity to compete for the title of Miss USA next summer. But even if she doesn’t win, she says competing in Miss D.C. USA is a great investment.

“You get experience with public relations and getting your message out there,” Bermudez says. “My personal message is to promote STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics — so I think it’s very well worth it.”

Bermudez says she feels confident about her chances.

“You always go in with high hopes,” she says. “You go in as prepared as you can, but you never go in expecting anything.”

It seems like the only thing all the contestants can expect is a hefty price tag.