Continental Academie of Hair Design Celebrates 40 Years in Business

November 8, 2013

by Laurie Jasper

Continental Academie of Hair Design in Hudson is celebrating its 40th anniversary.  Named Best of Hudson Salons the last five years in a row, Continental Academie has been family owned and operated since opening in 1973.  Owners Rhona Charbonneau and Alida Weergang built several successful hair salons in the area prior to 1973.  Their first salon, Continental Crimping, opened in 1964 at Lowell Road and Central Street, which would later be the location of Hetzer’s Bike Shop.  While traveling through Europe, Rhona and Alida were inspired by the foreign salons and wished to offer their customers a more “continental” beauty experience than most of the shops of the day, and their salon’s décor represented the style and service they wished to provide.  In 1966, with the success of their first salon, they were able to open a second location on Main Street in Nashua.

When they were ready to expand the business once again, Rhona and Alida tried an innovative move by separating the treatment and service rooms, allowing for a more intimate experience.  While this is now a current trend, it was a new approach in the 1960s.  Their third expansion in 5 years was located in Simoneau Plaza in Nashua and named Continental Hair, Fashion and Wig Design.

Always staying current with trends while offering excellent customer service, they incorporated special bridal areas and a men’s section, and even had a special children’s section complete with a mini motorcycle for the young clients to “ride” while having haircuts!

In 1974, their Royal Ridge Mall location in Nashua opened, with a black and white, Art Deco, Great Gatsby motif.  This was one of the first salons in the area to offer separate skin care facilities and European facials.

As busy salon owners, Rhona and Alida faced the challenge of finding qualified employees who met their high standards.  Thus, in 1973, they opened Continental Academie of Hair Design in Hudson, not 500 feet from its current location.  They moved into their current spot, 102 Derry Street, in 1981, which more than doubled their space.  Also in 1981, they purchased Houles Beauty School in Manchester, which became Continental Academie’s second location.

Continental Academie’s success can certainly be attributed to Rhona and Alida’s shared commitment to being leaders in cosmetology education.  Rhona’s strong business background, combined with Alida’s talent in the hair styling field, offered their students the most current curriculum while also focusing on the important basics of styling and customer care.

Alida Weergang is originally from the Netherlands and is an accomplished hair stylist.  She studied extensively in England, France, Spain and Germany and has received many awards and accolades.  She was on the United States Hairstyling Team, which placed first for the world championships in Germany.  Alida also won the Rose D’Or de Paris, France’s highest award for hairstyling.

Rhona Charbonneau and her late husband, Claude, raised their family in Hudson.  In the 1980s and 1990s, Rhona was active in politics and was elected to the State Senate.  Rhona is also a former long-time Hudson Selectman.

While Rhona Charbonneau and Alida Weergang remain involved with the business, the next generation administers the daily operations of the salon.  Rhona Charbonneau’s daughters, Rhona Wollenhaupt and Alida Charbonneau, grew up sweeping the floors and folding towels.  Each graduated from the Continental Program.  In addition, Rhona Wollenhaupt’s daughter, Ashley (Wollenhaupt) Coleman, began working at Continental in 2009, the third generation to be involved in the business.  Like her mother and aunt, Ashley has also been a part of the school her whole life.  She is the Director of Financial Aid for Continental.

“We teach the most current and latest trends, but also the basics.  We want our students to succeed.  They love what they’re doing.  They receive a strong foundation, and from that foundation you build,” said Rhona W.  Her sister, Alida C., said, “We’ve learned to go with the ebb and flow of the latest needs of the industry, yet always stress ‘clean, neat, safe, organized.’  We set our standards higher than the State Board standards, because we know our students can do it.”  The course of study not only qualifies students for the state cosmetology licensing exam but also allows them to enter the job market with the most current knowledge and skills.  Students learn all aspects of the business, from scheduling, extensive retail training, presentation and customer service.  “Forty-eight percent of cosmetologists are either self-employed or own their own business,” said Rhona W.

Continental was completely renovated in 2010, with updates to the students’ salon clinic area, reception area, manicure and pedicure and spa rooms.  At one time the school offered housing, but that area is now used for offices.  The Hudson business is now the only location.

A motto at Continental is, “Family is what we are.  Family is what you become,” and the owners are proud to now be teaching children of former students.  Many graduates stay in touch and often stop in to visit or be a guest presenter.

“Our mother always taught us the importance of giving back to the community and our industry, and we are proud that we have contributed over $10,000 in charity work the last few years,” said Rhona W.  In addition, Continental gets involved in various fundraisers, such as the recent “Making Strides for Breast Cancer” walk.

Rhona Charbonneau and Alida Weergang now split their time between Hudson and Florida and are doing well.  One of Rhona’s favorite things to do is to Skype with Ashley’s son, Evan (6), who just may one day be the fourth generation at the salon.  “My grandmother loves to be called ‘Great Grammy Rhona, they have a lot of fun talking,’” shared Ashley.

In addition to being a complete cosmetology school, Continental Academie also offers a full service salon menu with very reasonable prices.  All services are performed by students under instructor supervision.  “Our clients are precious to us. “  Our clinic is open Tuesday through Saturday, and it is best to make an appointment,” said Alida C.

For information about Continental Academie of Hair Design, visit them at ContinentalAcademie.com.  A newly designed website will soon be available in honor of their 40th anniversary.