Terri Kouba has owned a salon in Milbank for over 25 years. It hasn’t always been called The Cutting Room, but that’s almost like (excuse the pun) splitting hairs. She started in Milbank in the 1980s working at Carolea’s on Main Street, and, at one time, she also teamed up with Sandy Wood in the salon in Sandy’s house. “I loved working with Sandy, but she had little kids and it wasn’t the most relaxing atmosphere. I think a calm space is super important while you are getting your hair done.”
Terri purchased Carolea’s and turned it into Spa Jo’s in the late 90s. Spa Jo’s eventually became The Cutting Room on Highway 12. “Some of my clients have been with me over 20 years. “That’s right,” she says, looking a little surprised at her own statement. “A lot of them as a matter of fact. I have clients who are grown up now and have their own families and bring in their little ones. That’s pretty cool.”
It’s cool, but it also makes saying goodbye even more difficult. Terri has sold the salon to Madi (Schulte) Bowsher, and Thursday, September 8, is her last day in the shop. She and her husband, Kevin, are moving from the house they have called home for nearly three decades. “I’ve been packing boxes.” She laughs. “For a while.” Then she explains, “We lived in our house for almost 29 years. That’s a long time to start sorting through things.”
“For me, this has been really, really bittersweet because my clients are more than my business. We’ve become close. You learn about each other. You become friends. You both develop a level of trust. There have been a lot of tears since I made this decision. It’s just hard to say goodbye.”
The moving van will depart Milbank on September 11, and it will be packed with lamps and tables, clothes and shoes. Wedged between all those household goods, will be a lot of memories. Many of those memories date back to Parshall, North Dakota, where Terri grew up. “When I was young, I always loved doing my friends’ hair. But, I actually first attended school in Minot, which is near Parshall, to earn my teaching degree. When I graduated, the teaching position I wanted went to somebody else. I was engaged to Kevin, and he had a semester of school left. My other offer was in Montana, and I didn’t want to go that far. I always loved doing hair. So I went to beauty school instead, and it worked out well.”
She graduated from Josef’s School of Hair Design, which was also in Minot. “My first job as a hairstylist was in Rugby, North Dakota, and we lived there for about two years. I loved that job. I worked with a couple of wonderful ladies. That was when I was young,” and wore heels,” she says with a laugh. “I learned after a few years not to wear heels.”
“Back when I started, if you didn’t own the salon, you worked for commission.
Now, pretty much everybody rents a booth. They have their own business within a business. I think it’s better because they are in charge of their own destiny. And they put out quality work because it’s their name. It’s not a job; it’s a career. I think that’s shaped the biggest change in the salon industry since I started.”
She believes nowadays clients go to a salon, not just for a great haircut, but for a bit of pampering. “They want those extra touches like a relaxing head massage. Today, if a stylist sees a stray hair on a client’s face, they tweeze it. If they see a crazy eyebrow, they tidy it up. I know I do those things just because I want people to look their best. As a matter of fact, I had a gal in my chair today who said nobody else ever does that. I appreciated hearing that. Customer service is what brings clients to you and keeps them coming back.”
In what seems to be a twist on the past, she says almost all her younger clients want to color their hair. The trend of bright or unusual hair colors is still “a thing” she says, but a lot of them do it at home because it’s not a professional service that lasts a long time. “It fades out fast. I steer my customers away from it and instead recommend a splash of it and not the whole head. I’m frugal. I wouldn’t spend that much money to have it touched up every few weeks.”
Looking back, she recalls the 80s fashions as inspiring the most fun hairstyles. “They were crazy!” As far as celebrities go, she thinks Jennifer Aniston always looked awesome, and she loved how Jamie Lee Curtis chose short hair for her signature cut.
Her own sense of style came easy for her. “It’s just the way we grew up. Everybody liked to dress nicely and have their hair fixed. Mom was a shopper. My sisters and I caught on quickly!”
If she can help others to look their best, then she is happy. I’ve always loved my job, and it doesn’t feel like work except for when I get home and my feet hurt. Then, it’s, ‘Oh, I really need to put my feet up!’ When you’re a hairdresser, you put in some odd hours because your clients work nine to five. Longer appointments needed to be booked after five o’clock. Still, I’ve always loved it. It’s such a great opportunity to meet and get to know people.”
“I love gardening, too, and I have a ton of flowers and perennials. I honestly used to do a lot of artsy stuff, but I worked too many hours. When I retire, I’ll go back to doing that because I love it.
Sometimes learning what you don’t like makes what you do like more apparent. Terri says, “I worked at Royal Insurance for one year, and that was not my cup of tea. I did enjoy teaching, though. When we moved back here, I started subbing, and then I got a teaching job. I taught PE for kindergarten and up. At the old middle school, I had all of the St. Lawrence’s kids, too. I taught for seven years, and I was also helping coach gymnastics. The only problem was I was missing my own kids’ events because they were in other sports. I asked to be released from my gymnastics duties, but that was denied. So I said, ‘Then you’ll have to find someone else to do both because I’m not missing my own kids’ stuff.”’
Now, it’s her grandkids’ activities she hopes to watch. “Kevin still has two and a half to three years left until he reaches retirement age at Otter Tail Power. We just happened to find our perfect retirement home a bit too early.” She laughs. “It’s on Buchanan Lake and it’s closer to our kids. We can realistically go to their events and be home the same night.”
The Koubas have three children and three grandchildren, including a set of twins. Their son Loock lives in Fargo. Kellen lives in Sabin, which is southeast of Fargo-Moorhead. Their daughter, Leah, however, lives in California. She apparently got the creative gene from her mother and owns a company that stages high-end homes for sale in the LA market.
Terri says, “Kevin can relocate because he has a home office and travels. He stays busy in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota.” The tiny town of Ottertail sits near Buchanan Lake, and Ottertail is about 40 minutes from Fergus Falls where Otter Tail Power is headquartered.
“I plan to submit my name for subbing at school once I get settled,” Terri says, “because I don’t want to start all over again from scratch in the salon business at my age. And my hands are giving up, too. Every school needs subs these days, so if I put my name in and it works out, I go to work that day. If it doesn’t fit my schedule, I just say ‘I can’t do it today’. If my grandkids have a band concert, you can bet I’m going to the band concert.”
As they say, when one door closes, another one opens, but in this case, Terri is leaving her door wide open for Bowsher, a 2017 graduate of MHS. Terri says,” If only I had had this chance when I started out! About 95 percent of my clients say they’re going to give Madi a try. All she has to do is make them happy, and they’ll stick with her.”
The business is turnkey, too. “She’s set up with towels and color and all the back bar stuff (inventory). Plus, Madi has access to all of my color records. And I have tons.” That means it will be pretty seamless for her client’s too. “No need to figure out a new color formula. It’s quite an opportunity for a young gal. And she grew up in Milbank, so she has family here and friends.”
“Madi plans to keep the name of the salon the same and keep the same phone number,” Terri says. “The only thing I’m taking with me is my personal stuff, like my shears.” Just shears…and a lifetime of memories, friendships, and thousands of warm wishes from Milbank.