After 40 years of running a successful business, not only does Linda Porter keep finding new ways to serve her clients, she is passionate about helping those just starting their careers.

“Learning is the key,” said Porter, a veteran hair stylist, celebrating the 40th anniversary of Shear Genius Salon, now located in Nags Head. “I am always interested in learning. If you have that education, that is something no one can take away from you.”

Porter set up an endowment five years ago for students wanting to pursue a career in cosmetology or the arts. She remembers the time she was a single, teen-aged mom, seeking training that would someday help her become a successful business owner.

Every step of the way, Porter’s willingness to embrace “the next thing” brought her closer to her goals.

One of her first jobs was setting up a hair salon in a new shopping center. That taught her the fundamentals of construction, use of space, and traffic flow. Next, she went down the road to cut hair in an established salon, picking up styling and business tips from a leading salon owner. After a year, Porter was ready to step out on her own.

“I felt I could do better if I had my own place,” she said. “I had a vision of how I wanted to set up my space, and how I wanted it to be operated.”

She saved up two years’ worth of tax refunds and opened the first location of Shear Genius Salon in Elizabeth City. It was an instant success, thanks to long hours and innovative services.

“Before the 1970s, men went to the barbershop, and women went to spas,” she recalled. “Then Vidal Sassoon came out with the ‘Dorothy Hamill’ haircut. That was a time of real change in the industry. A lot of men started growing their hair out, and needed it styled. But barbers weren’t trained to do it, so men ended up going to salons.”

But, Porter noticed, salons were not focused on styling for men, either. She saw an opportunity, and opened the first salon in the area that specialized in precision haircutting.

She didn’t just cut hair. She helped clients understand how to take care of their new hairstyles. Porter held classes in the evenings to teach people how to style their own hair in between visits to the salon. According to the entrepreneur, other stylists weren’t thrilled.

“A lot of salons at the time didn’t welcome this,” she said. “They filled their books with weekly shampoos and sets, and I was seen as taking that from them by the new concept of showing people how to do their own hair. So they would come in every four to six weeks rather than every week for a cut and trim.”

In 1983, Porter achieved her dream of opening a salon on the beach. She loaded up everything she owned in one truckload and moved Shear Genius to the Sea Ranch Condominiums in Kill Devil Hills.

It was here Porter was able to incorporate her vision of adding pampering services to become the first Day Spa on the Outer Banks. A new concept in salons at the time, she began offering facials, make up, massages, waxing, manicures, and pedicures.

In 2003, Hurricane Isabel wiped her out. Porter’s attempt to rebuild fell through, so she decided to change scenery and pursue one of her other passions — fine art photography. She traveled, hiked in Wales, and moved to Montana to study digital media. But after a year and a half, Porter realized she missed doing hair.

She returned to the Outer Banks, this time to Nags Head, where she rented a large space as a combined art gallery and a reincarnation of her salon.

In 2009, Shear Genius moved to its current location, 2515 S Croatan Hwy., Nags Head

Porter has added nutritional counseling, supplements, and began encouraging meditation, exercise, and yoga.

It’s right where she needs to be.

“I’m very blessed, with a really good clientele,” she said. “They are like family. Several have been customers for over 40 years!”

One of those is Terry Saunders, who walked into Porter’s shop the day she opened and never stopped coming back.

“I stuck with her because Linda Porter is a true artist in everything she does,” said Saunders, who has practiced real estate in Elizabeth City for almost as long. “She is an expert with color and cut, and she has an eye for what looks good on you, from makeup to hair. She truly sees the individual person.”

The business has evolved in that time, and Porter has led the way. In addition to adding spa services and health and wellness offerings, Porter realized her business is really “all about the whole body, health, mind, and beauty.”

“Part of looking good is feeling good, so I try to offer an atmosphere for people to come and relax,” Porter said. “I talk to clients about meditative breathing and doing relaxation exercises. I talk about problems they might be having. Sometimes I console them. A lot of the time I feel like a psychologist.”

Porter’s approach continues to draw in clients like Saunders.

“You don’t find people like Linda these days. If you haven’t tried her, you need to before she retires!”

With Linda Porter’s passion for learning, that day seems a long way off.

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