Beauty Supply, Restaurant Supply Stores--Not open to The Public--Is this Legal?

Stores like this piss me off. They’ve got all the professional toys in their windows to tempt me in, but I see that obnoxious sign “Only Licensed Professionals Allowed to Purchase”. Is this legal? What if I bought a hairdresser’s license from one of those bogus universities that advertise in the back of the National Enquirer? Would the beauty supply store be able to sue me or have me thrown in jail? What if I ordered checks through the mail and had my name changed to Chez Marie with all of the correct routing numbers and account numbers unchanged? Could I then shop at the restaurant supply store without fear of being arrested for shopping under false pretenses? Please answer this post with your suggestions and stories of pressing your nose against the door and being turned away by some smug, snot-nosed punk with delusions of grandeur. This is not a troll post; it really irritates me. I want answers, dammit!!

I work for a paper/chemical wholesale company. We also happen to have a retail sales license, thereby allowing us to sell to anyone. Perhaps the stores you’d like to buy from DON’T have a retail license. If you have a “professional” license, you could probably buy from them.

The key element is probably sales tax. A commercial user who buys from one of these stores either doesn’t pay sales tax or has a special sales tax number that means taxes paid are later deductable or reimbursable. The commercial user may end up reselling the product to a retail customer, and at that stage, sales tax WILL be charged and go straight to government.

It might depend on the state as well. In Colorado these stores do sell to the public, but you can’t buy certain items without a license.

I can’t go into a beauty supply store and buy some hair color remover because I don’t have a license. But I can go to the drugstore and buy the same thing without a license and pay 5X more for it. It’s just packaged differently. I also tried to buy a curling iron from a beauty supply store and was told only professionals could perchase it. It’s a curling iron, no different from one I would buy at Walmart only cheaper. I can’t figure out those rules. In Alaska I could buy anything without a license.

Restaurant supply stores don’t seem to use the same laws as beauty supply stores. I haven’t seen anything that only a professional can buy. They offer discounts to professionals. But a lay person can buy anything they want.

It’s purely practical. Many beauty salons are small, single operator businesses and usually need to make a good profit on the various styling products they sell to their customers. These stores exist to serve the wholesale beauty trade. If they sold to you they would alienate and lose their main customer base who wants and needs to re-sell these products to you in order to survive financially. The gain they would have dealing with the public would not balance what they would lose.

Sally’s Beauty Supply stores are all around here. I buy hair dye, acrylic nails supplies and styling products there all the time for about half the price. The only items I need a license to buy are perming chemicals.

The catch is that you don’t get many instructions other than the basic info on the bottle and that could be a big problem in the wrong hands. I ask my mom. a retired beautician for advice in that area.

Mr. Blue Sky and Bryan Ekers both hit it.
Those places are wholesalers. When they sell to their customers they don’t collect sales tax, because the tax will be collected later when their customers re-sell the products. That way there isn’t double taxation.

To become a customer there you go in and fill out a membership card and show the owner/manager that you have a business/professional license. YOU then become responsible for paying the sales tax on those products to the state; usually after reselling them.

Thanks for all of your posts. I did realize that the perming and coloring products require some expertise to use, so I didn’t even care about that. I just wanted to buy (at a reasonable cost) the new shampoos, conditioners and styling equipment that the fashion magazines are raving about. As for the restaurant supply stores, I really happen to like the heavy, plain, white china that most restaurants use because they’re indestructible and go with any decorating scheme. I also am a sucker for well-made kitchen gadgets ever since my cable system hooked me with the Food Network.

The Restaurant Depot is the name of the restaurant supply store and I drool every time I drive past it. It’s just not fair!

Go wild.

The restaurant supply store here in Seattle used to be down the road from my apartment, it moved north and I miss it. It had a big “OPEN TO THE PUBLIC” sign on the side… the only catch was that they didn’t sell Qty. 1 of anything… you had to buy by the case.

That’s why I have a dozen shot glasses. Honest, that’s why.

I recall once going into an open-to-the-public beauty supply store and being told that if I didn’t have a hairdresser’s licence, the haircutting scissors would be something like $75.

$75. For a pair of scissors.

I think astro got it right.

Actually, $75 is not an uncommon price for even a hairdresser to pay for a good quality pair of sheers. I was assistant manager for a beauty supply store back in the late 80’s and also worked at Sallys for a bit. As THe Mermaid mentioned, Perms cannot be sold to the public because they are stronger than the versions you buy in the drugstores and serious damage could be done to ones hair if these perms end up in the wrong hands. As far as the other stores that sell exclusively to licensed professionals, the shampoos, conditioners etc that are sold are mandated by the actual manufacturers of the products not to be sold to anyone who is not a professional. If these products are sold in a drugstore, supermarket whatever these companies call this “diversion” and it was supposedly illegal. Thats why I dont understand how CVS, Meijers, Rite Aid and places like these get away with selling Redken, Paul Mitchell, Sebastion and brands like these.

Medstar, what products were you looking for? You can find tons of things online and at reasonable prices. Many companies release stuff like shampoo to only a few vendors to make it seem more exclusive than it really is. The resulting hype creates fantastic free advertising for them. Loreal does this with Keratase in the US.

The limited stores I go to are electronic supplies. Some have a min. limit ($20 or such), some have a min. but ignore it (!), and certain products can’t be bought without some sorta magic proof that you’re “in the business”. This includes some of the more interesting sprays and chemicals.

So when I go to a new place, I check the signage, ask about retail sales, etc.

Some of the equipment sold in restaurant-supply houses is also dangerous if the user isn’t trained in how to use it and clean it properly. Commercial-grade meat slicers, food processors and some of the industrial cleaning chemicals come to mind.


All of the restaurant supply stores I’ve come across in California are open to anyone who walks in. You can get some very nice stuff there at pretty good prices.

But I stick to safe stuff like cookie sheets and ice cream scoopers.

<B>The urban planner speaks!</B>

In most US, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and South African municipalities, trade-only “retail” businesses would violate local zoning regulations if they were located in a general commercial/retail district. Not a retail business = wholesaling = industrial, in most cases. Zoning is the major reason why Sam’s Clubs, Costco, and so on now offer memberships to anyone willing to pay; proposed store locations were challenged by too many sharp urban planners who properly interpreted their zoning regulations, and said “no.”

The presence of “trade only” businesses? Illegal in most cases, but since their impact is not the equivalent of a traditional “wholesale” use, it’s usually overlooked until someone else says “hmmmmmm.”

Thanks, Dagny, but I already buy a lot of cosmetics on the net. It’s just the idea of the forbidden fruit staring at me through the shop window and I am not allowed to shop in the store.

Telemark, thanks for the website. I’ll check it out when I get some more time.

MsRobyn, thanks for the heads-up, but I’m interested in quality hand tools that are made better and are safer than infomercial type goods. For example, I’m sure everyone has heard of a v-slicer. It’s a plastic slicing machine that makes uniform slices of potatoes, tomatoes and other types of food. I’m interested in mandolines–these are of all stainless steel construction, and just perform better.

Sorry for the whining, everyone. I just hate it when I’m not invited to the party.

Back to the OP, certainly it’s legal (try reporting them to the police and see where it gets you).

A business can choose who it has as customers. As long as it doesn’t discriminate by race, sex, origin, etc., it’s well within the law. If the rules were set up to keep a particular ethnic group out, then there’d be potential for a lawsuit, but if you say you’re only open to a particular profession, that’s your business and not the courts.

I manage a wholesale supply store. We have some locations that have minimums (and some are wholesale only) and I’ll tell you why IMHO.

Retail is a pain in the ass. You have Joe Schmuck coming in and wanting to buy 1 bearing for his go cart, roller skates, truck etc… (or some fucking thing) and he has no idea what it is. So we, the “pros” have to identify it. This takes time. All for usually a sub $10 sale. Meanwhile, we could and often do have a customer on the phone/standing next to him that spends $100K a year with us… and will take less time to serve/fix up. So, very often we will take care of our bread and butter and Mr “cash sale” can wait. They usually don’t like this as they think their $5-$35 is what is keeping us in business. Not so. Not even close. Onesy-twosy things and the general walk-in public are a pain in the ass. Hence, that is why we are wholesalers. It eliminates 90% of the bullshit customers and small potatoes.

I actually did a tally of my time for 1 work week a couple of years back. I forget the exact numbers, but cash sales which account for about 2-3% of our sales took upwards of 40% of our time. I am serious. Not very economical or productive time.

As for the tax issue, it is a possibilty. However, most places that I deal with it is a minor issue to make an invoice taxable/non-taxable. I am not saying that isn’t it, but in my experience its a non-issue.