When you think of barbershops it is very clean cut. Go in. Get a cut. Get out. Boom! Plain and simple. But there’s more to it, shaved bare you’ll find that there are layers and complexity. When you are the one owning the business, there is a lot more one has to think about. There are so many barbershops these days, as a consumer, why should I pick you (if you are like me and are very particular) to style my hair?
I asked this question to 28-year-old Demitrius Sutton, an entrepreneur at Jimmy’s Barber Shop in Fort Washington, Maryland. In this one area alone, there are four other barbershops Fort Washingtonians can go to, so why you? “I try to pride myself off of my costumer service,” Sutton replies. “When people call or text me I try to respond quickly,” as he works on a strictly appointment basis. He also tries to work quickly and efficiently so his customers aren’t sitting in the barbershop all day. Sutton, along with the other three gentlemen who rent booths inside of Jimmy’s, make the environment of the establishment fun, conversational and family friendly (as can be seen immediately once you walk through the door with the giant ‘NO PROFANITY’ sign in the middle of the shop). All these elements help make it feel like you’re not actually in a barbershop, but rather at your Uncle’s house laughing and watching/talking about the greatest wide receiver to grace the NFL or how politically incorrect is Donald Trump.
One step is to create the atmosphere. But what about the struggles as a black business owner? Sutton is not the owner of Jimmy’s but he is his own business; he is his own advertisement. What challenges does an African American face keeping up a business in this area? “Getting clientele and keeping clientele because the barbershop business is very saturated especially in this area,” Sutton, who dons a apron with his nickname Meat, tells me. As a consumer, you’re going to look for the cheapest and the best, and that in-turn that creates a difficulty for the marketer. “You have to appeal to different demographics, different types of clients, you have to run specials and things like that just to keep and generate business.” Jimmy’s just held a ‘Customer Appreciation Day’ on June 27 where children received free haircuts and adults were able to get cuts for a very low price.
After clipping out the competition and sweeping up a good number of clientele, what is the end game? “I want to eventually own my own barbershop, because standing up 12 to 14 hours a day cutting hair is not where it’s at.” Demitrius says he loves what he does and thinks he’s good at what he does (and my hair is a testament to his fine work) but a word of advice is, “Cutting hair isn’t for everyone.” One must be willing to persevere and be ready to deal with the hardship that comes with the market; one barber may charge $15 for a regular cut and you have to compete while still trying to make a profit. Sutton confesses he wish he would have picked up a trade that would have been more lucrative, but cutting hair is a passion of his that is not fading away.