Beauty Business is in their Blood

Sandy Schafer joins forces with her daughters to fulfill a dream

When Aveda Institute Montana opened its doors and welcomed its first students in January, 2024, it was a dream come true for owner Sandy Schafer. The beautifully appointed cosmetology school looks and feels like a spacious salon, and that’s just the way Sandy envisioned it.

“We’re preparing them to work in a salon. I wanted it to look like a salon and not a school,” Sandy says. “It has a salon atmosphere.”

As you walk through the space, you might notice several students practicing on mannequin heads in the mirrored mezzanine between classes. Others might join their instructors in classrooms on the lower level. It’s here you can learn the ropes in cosmetology, esthetics, barbering and nails. Some finish the courses to become instructors. Depending on the certification, students will spend anywhere from 400 to 1,500 hours here learning and practicing before testing to earn their license.  

Sandy’s vison was a long time coming. She also owns Rituals Day Spa and Salon, which she established 20 years ago. For years, she noticed that new hires often lacked essential skills, especially in the business side of the profession. She established a training program in her salon to bring them up to speed, but she always had her sights set on a stand-alone cosmetology school.

“It’s one thing to get a license and pass the test, but to have that business skillset is rare,” Sandy says.

She bought a 34-year-old beauty school in 2019 — the former Blanco Blanco Cosmetology School — and proceeded to renovate nearly every square inch, starting with the interior and ending with the exterior.

“Every weekend we were doing something for about two years,” Sandy says.

Aveda Institute Montana is one of 64 Aveda Institutes in the United States and the only one in Montana. The franchise comes with the backing of the exclusive Aveda brand, known for being all-natural and sustainably sourced. 

Opening Aveda Institute Montana taken commitment and a lot of work, but Sandy hasn’t done it alone. Her two daughters, Kennedy Payne, 24, and Kristina Schafer, 23, have been at her side the whole way.

Sandy, Kennedy and Kristina are all certified instructors and teach at the institute. Kennedy is the campus director and helped develop the curriculum and programs. She handles enrollment as well.

“Whatever you think goes on behind the scenes, that’s what Kennedy does,” Kristina says.

Kennedy started working at the front desk at Rituals when she was in high school, then she trained at Aveda Institute Portland before returning to work as a stylist in Billings.

“I knew from the jump that that’s what I wanted to do,” she says.

Kristina also worked reception at Rituals when she was in high school, and like her sister, knew she wanted to be a stylist from an early age. She followed in her mother’s and sister’s footsteps and attended a local cosmetology school.

Sandy, Kennedy and Kristina all work six days a week between Rituals and the Institute. Sandy is the primary decisionmaker, but they all share in the workload running both locations. Sandy’s youngest, Kassidy, 14, helps out at the Rituals front desk and has also shown interest in the family business.

“When they were little, I tried to set an example, and as they grew, I tried to continue to set an example and it’s made them very strong, confident women,” Sandy says.

Sandy will tell you it’s been fantastic working with her daughters every day. She trusts them with everything.

“They see the future so much clearer,” Sandy says. “I just have to let go of things and let them do what they need to do.”

It can be challenging to identify strengths and navigate three strong personalities, but when difficulties arise, Sandy, Kennedy, and Kristina come together as a team. They all agree that they want what is best for the business.

“The blessing is there’s three of us, and the challenge is that there’s three opinions given at once,” Sandy says. “Usually there’s a better solution with three different opinions.”

Right now, their goal is to provide the best possible experience for Aveda Institute Montana students. A benefit to being an Aveda institute is that they can reach out to other Aveda Institutes for support, and prior to opening, Sandy, Kennedy, and Kristina spent time learning the ropes at the Aveda Institute Denver. They came back on fire with ideas for their own business.

“We are really fortunate to be able to bring that level of advanced education to Billings,” Kennedy says. “We’re excited to raise the level of talent for cosmetology in Billings.”

AVEDA INSTITUTE MONTANA is located at 901 24th St. W. in Billings or online at


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