30 Years as a Barber, Hairstylist, Woman Business Owner

Barber/Hairstylist 

This mentor has over thirty years experience in her profession. She is now in her seventies and still has a loyal customer base and works three days a week. She has also run her own six-chair shop for most of that time and has a number of good thoughts about what it takes to be a successful businessperson in this trade.

My Personal Experience as a Barber

I always had an interest in cutting hair. But I did not go to Barber College until my daughter was older and in school. Barber College lasted nine months and then I took the test to obtain a license.

When I got my license, I found a three-chair shop with one chair open. The two chairs already had their businesses built up so I got most of the walk-ins, which helped me build my own list of customers who would make appointments. It takes a lot of will power and patience to stay in the shop all day when you are new and wait for a walk-in. Some days you might get none or only one or two. But if you are patient, you can usually build a good business in two or three years. It takes time because some customers who walk into the shop are just looking for a cheap haircut, others are just passing through the neighborhood and some are just in a hurry. But about half are looking for someone who will give them a good haircut and will come back if you do a good job.

There are a few things you need to do as a barber to be successful. A good barber needs to take their time and listen to what the customer wants. You can offer suggestions if they are not sure. But most people have a good idea of what they think is a good haircut. Do your best to give them what they want. You also need to look nice and dress as well as you can. But most importantly be cheerful and talk to your customers. Your long time customers will eventually become long time friends.

I worked in this first shop for five years and developed a really good business that the other barbers in the shop noticed. One of them decided to go to another location and start his own shop and asked me to be a partner. I said YES! We had a six-chair shop. But it took us about six months before we felt comfortable hiring someone. Although we both had good businesses where we were, you need to know that you always lose some customers when you relocate and that you have to rebuild part of your customer base. But we had a good reputation and in a few years all six chairs were filled and it was Happy Days for us all.

My daughter decided to cut hair, went to school and got her license. She first went to work at another shop. But about a year later she came and worked with me. About a year after that, my partner left to start another shop in a different part of town and my daughter became my partner. But shortly after she joined me, the city began work lowering the hill on the road above the intersection where we were located. The intersection closed, which made it hard for customers to get into our parking lot. This caused our walk-in business to drop. We were lucky we had our own customers who continued to come to our shop. We lost one hair cutter. But in a year, the intersection was completed and we were back to business as usual. After about twenty years, the landlord wanted our space and we were forced to move. This time I decided to go to another shop and work for someone else and have better hours. I work part time now but have been cutting hair for over thirty years and have some customers who were there when I started. It has been a good trade for me, one where you get a chance to meet some really good people.

My Overview of the Barber/Stylist Trade

It is more difficult now than when I started. There were not as many barber shops then because now there are barber shop franchises. There seems to be one in every shopping center and a lot of franchises are open seven days a week.

One of the advantages of being a barber is the hours can be flexible. I used to work on Saturdays, as do most barbers. Many get a two-day weekend by taking off Mondays. But you need to be prepared to work longer hours when you are first starting out and trying to build your business. Right now I am working part time and have very flexible hours because of my long-standing book of customers who still make appointments with me and allow me to schedule my time.

In my state, you must complete 1,500 hours of training in no less than nine months. Then you must apprentice under a licensed barber for 3,000 hours. You have to complete your apprenticeship in eighteen months or less. The apprenticeship license lasts for two years and then you must renew it or test for your Practitioner’s license. The Barber Colleges are all listed on line. There are also some programs taught at community colleges. Cost for these schools vary a lot. Shop around.

A lot of people ask about the difference between Barbering and Cosmetology. The difference is that barbers are trained to do facial shaving and styling shorter hair. We usually work with men while cosmetologists are trained in things like nails and makeup as well as styling longer hair and usually work on women.

Most older men know how they like their hair cut and get it cut the same way every time. But younger men and boys follow the trends. You need to keep up so that you know how to cut and style their hair when they come in and ask for one of the new hairstyles.

Things to Know about Owning Your Own Shop and Hiring other Barbers

You should be able to make at least twice as much or more being a shop owner rather than just being a barber depending on the number of chairs you can keep filed in your shop. Some owners charge a percentage of the other barbers’ earnings. Most shops I know ran the business like I did and rented the chair and sinks for a flat rate each month.

When you start a shop you first have to lease space. Your location should have easy access and plenty of parking space. There will be a few weeks of construction to build out the space and put in the plumbing for the sinks. That is usually the most expensive part of the build out. The landlord will normally pay for the build out but will ask for a longer term lease, mine were five years, to make sure they get a good return on their investment. You then have to purchase your barber chairs, decorate the shop and choose a name. The name should be short and easy to remember. When you go to buy your building signs, the shorter the name the less expensive the signage will be.

It is possible to recruit a few experienced barbers. But a lot of people looking to rent your space will be people just out of school that also need to apprentice and build a business. It is easier to attract these kinds of people if you are in a location where you get walk-in business. You should know that some people who graduate from barber school leave the business because they get discouraged about the time it takes to build their own book of customers. When you interview new people, talk to them and try to judge if they have the personality to be able to attract customers and the attitude that is needed to preserver for two or three years until they can become well established. The franchise shops in our area will pay by the hour. That is where these people will likely go if they get discouraged easily about the time it takes to build up their business. But people who want their own book of customers and are willing to be patient and build that book will want to be in your shop.  You can retain these same people if you maintain the decor and cleanliness of your shop.

Federal Labor Department Statistics on Barber Wages

Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2013 show barber wages ranging nationally from a low of $17, 370 for the lower 10% to a high of $44,190 for the top 10%. The national average wage is $25,010. Wages vary considerably by state with the average wage the highest in Illinois at $44,480, then Minnesota, Alaska, Colorado and Louisiana all having much higher wages than average mainly because these states have fewer barbers as a percent of the population. New York has more barber as a percent of the population than average and consequently the average barber salary is $22,270 or about ten percent below the national average. Regional differences in earnings are important to consider before you chose this trade.

Highest Paying States for Barbers

Illinois                         $44,480

Minnesota                   $41,050

Colorado                     $40,730

Alaska                          $37,180

Louisiana                    $35,460

Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

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