It’s been since a Christmas or two ago since I’ve gone in and photographed the shop, so we combined the best of both worlds and did shop photos and Record Store Day 2k19 with our neighbors, the near and dear, Vertigo Music.Read More
With life moving so fast lately, I hadn’t really had time to process the shop turning a year old this month. Between endless amounts of diapers, a very inconsistent sleep schedule (mostly with Ana, not Eleni,) and our daily grind, the shop chugs along smoothly in the back of my radar usually. So when Chris reminded me that it will officially have been open a year in a couple days, I had that “Oh yeah, it will be,” moment.
I’ve already written about how the shop came to be here, so I’m just going to tell you about this past year of being in business for ourselves; the upsides, the downsides, and the things that have surprised me. I’m a list maker by nature (you can ask Chris about my plethora of half filled notebooks that I buy specifically for making new lists and then never use again) so I’m going to do this list style.
Obviously, the success. I'm not going to say "we're one of the lucky start-ups who didn't fail," because business and luck don't really go together. God provided us an opportunity and we took an enormous leap of faith and took the opportunity. We did an absurd amount of market research, searched locations non-stop, put our 150% towards every inch of it, and didn't half-ass anything, which is my biggest pet peeve. The result? The shop grew faster than either Chris or I could have ever dreamed.
All the people we've met along the way. I'm not a face-to-face people person. If I ever wrote a novel, it would be under a pseudonym with no author photo, that's how little of a people-person I am. But Chris is, which is why our business arrangement works, and he brings home stories about clients and we secretly celebrate moments in their lives along with them. Repeat customer left his job that he was unhappy at to pursue his dream job? We talk about how cool it is and how he'll be so much happier. Another client has a third baby? That's cool, does this one sleep better than the last?
It fits us. The business has molded our schedule and allowed us to be together the way that suits us. Because the shop opens at 11am, Chris is able to help take Eleni to her doctors appointments, Ana to tumble time, and we can get breakfast at Mr. Burger as a family. It also means that our family of night owls gets to sleep in. Ana has never been a great sleeper and I tend to run more efficiently late at night, so making dinner while Chris is at work is super easy for me. Our dinner time is anywhere from 8pm-9:00pm. Yeah, it sounds late, but our schedule starts way later, so we've shifted it. And it works!
*You all know that I'm not one to hide the bad. So yeah, there are downsides to owning a business. I've finally come to the realization in life that admitting things can be hard or not ideal doesn't mean you're not grateful for everything, it's just being honest.
Wearing ALL the hats. I got a taste for how much work it was to single handedly run a business with our photo business. You are everything. You're the creator, the decorator, the finance person, the marketing department, the human resources, etc. The list goes on. And the hard part is, you can't leave your work at work. When Chris get's home, he sorts through voicemails and responds to emails. During the day we have to take time to post to Instagram, Chris cuts the hair, we place orders, contact people about artwork, etc. In the morning we talk over new ideas, collaborate on what step to take next, build things for the shop, etc. It's all day, every day. Sometimes that's fine, but if we're under pressure for a while, it can be a heavy weight to carry.
Balancing small-business sized services to a chain-dependent society. A certain time ago, more jobs were considered 'crafts'. Barbering, butchering, painting, you name it. It was a small business that made up for their smaller operation with quality. With photos it was the same deal. As a society, we've gotten used to being able to get things quickly and relatively cheaply, but we sacrifice quality. As any small business owner will tell you, you get your fair share of people who expect that service from small businesses, but it just doesn't work that way. With both the photo business and the barber business, we care too much about our craft and clients to give them shoddy service just because it's quicker and cheaper, which can be hard to explain to people.
The limitations. We are SO ready to buy a house, but the banks like to see you've been in business for longer than a year with self-employment to lend to you. Do I find it unfair? Absolutely, since at any other place of work, you can lose your job. We've had friends with this same dilemma. Want to do anything that requires proof of income? Good luck and godspeed. Some will deny you right off the bat, others will make you jump through an unbelievable amount of hoops. Systems are not set up or in favor of small business owners, which is total shit.
It's been one big team building exercise. Down to the color of tape we used to repair a ripped seat, (clear packing or red duct tape?) everything has been a combined effort. At first it was really hard and it did strain our relationship a bit. Then we started finding our groove and finally hit our stride. I feel like the rough patch was 110% worth it. Chris and I function better as a team now than we did before this crazy shop started. I have serious respect for all the work he puts in on his end and vice versa.
A little less mushy, it made me realize I do NOT want to barber with him. I love my husband more than anything and he is my perfect team mate, but there is such a thing as too many cooks in the kitchen. We have a perfect ying-yang thing. I'm very type-A, more detail oriented, with anti-social tendencies. Chris is the opposite and putting us in identical roles would be disastrous.
I've learned a lot about myself. Going through a lot of my teenage years and early adulthood, I am ashamed to admit I had a, "it's not me, it's you," complex. Especially if it came to projects. Ongoing work with the shop though was a miserable slap in the face sometimes when I was reminded it often was, in fact, me and not you. My obsession with perfect was sometimes useful, but when it wasn't reined in, was destructive to progress. My temper when things didn't go as planned hurt not only the shop progress, but Chris and Ana suffered from my shit attitude too.
So now you've had a glimpse into small business ownership a year into our journey. I'm stoked to look back this time every year and see how things change.
Every once in a while, before the shop opens, I like to sit in our old theatre chairs and look around the shop and inventory what needs to be done, what we still need to get, and imagine how well Chris is going to do that day. Whenever it seems like an overwhelming mount of things need to get done, I remember where we came from and am instantly humbled by our road to where we are now.
Every once in a while, someone will sit in the chair to get a haircut and Chris will ask them what they do and sometimes they say they're a fabricator/welder/machinist. Chris won't come out and say it, but he used to be a fabricator too. When we were first married, Chris built overhead cranes to support our family. At first it was an alright way to work. It paid the bills, it kept us fed, and Chris enjoyed it. It gave him an enormous sense of pride. But as life goes, things started changing and it started to become less enjoyable. He was getting sick more and more, he started becoming unhappy, both our families were always concerned about him, and it bled into our home life. In the Spring of 2015 we finally decided we needed to make a change.
I'm a staunch believer in 'you only have this one life and if you're not making the most of it, your wasting it'. I was not going to let my family live this life unhappy and sick and I damn sure wasn't going to spend half of my life without my husband from an accident or sickness, when he promised me at least 60 years together. So he quit. We drove out to the barber school in Lansing, and with some serious convincing that we would make it work and we needed to have faith that this was our road, and financial help from family, Chris enrolled.
To make a long story short enough that you don't get bored, it was a stressful, but thankful time for us when Chris went to school. We still had bills that needed paying so we opened a wedding photography business that paid some of them and our families graciously helped us with what we couldn't afford. We are still so thankful to all of our photo clients and families for their support that it makes me want to cry.
After barber school, we didn't really know what our next step should be, so Chris took a job at a shop near Lansing that looked like a safe bet. Unfortunately, it wasn't. It started slipping and we started realizing that we would have to do something else. So we both left our jobs and abruptly moved back to Grand Rapids. Chris took a part time barber job and I started scouring the city for the perfect place for a shop to open.
I accidentally found this place when I called about a property that was $1.4 million. After the agent and I got a good laugh about how that was NEVER going to be in our budget, he asked what we were looking for. When I told him we needed something 900 sqft or less for a barber shop, he got super excited about this place that wasn't available yet, but he thought it would be perfect for what we were looking for. Well Todd (that's the agent), you were right. We snagged this place after meeting with Dan (the landlord, who happens to be the greatest landlord we could have asked for) and it was go time.
We ended up at so many salvage places, random estates, thrift stores, and lumberyards that I lost track of where all we went. All I know is that we found our perfect backbar at Pitsch Salvage and we took this 16 ft hunk of beauty and stuck it in a 10 foot truck bed and strapped it to hell and back and just prayed it would stay in because, you know, broke people struggles. We hauled a set of theatre chairs down a rickety fire escape and just Chris and I moved everything in by ourselves. The two of us moved in two (INCREDIBLY HEAVY AND AWKWARD) barber chairs, the backbar (the homeless neighbors we have watched us with their coffee and laughed at us as we moved this sucker in) and the movie theatre chairs. And it was fun, and tiring, and exciting, and terrifying.
I took every bit of marketing knowledge I had picked up from GRCC, books, and trial and error for the photo business, and put everything I had into setting up a web presence, social media, and contacting every news and lifestyle outlet I could think of. I'm pretty sure I ran on coffee, delusion, and 'fake-it-till-you-make-it' to make it out alive. I did more painting, building, and creating than I had ever done. Ever.
And then, just like that, it was in running order. On September 6th, 2017, we opened the shop for the first time and prayed to God it wouldn't sink us. We're confident people, but even the bravest would have even a little fear. I prayed the work I did would be enough to launch the shop. I prayed that I wouldn't let Chris down with the marketing work. I just prayed. It was slow going at first. It wasn't this massive boom. But every day, we looked at what was working and what wasn't and stayed on top of it, constantly shifting and changing things and that's what made the pieces fall together. I know it's hard to hear "You just have to keep working at it," but it's the biggest truth of business. If you don't keep working for that next goal, you'll fall behind.
On January 6th, we've officially been open 4 months. We've beaten everyones expectations of where we'd be by now, even our own. We're doing double the amount of work we thought we'd be doing, and we've made some amazing friends along the way. Our support network of family and friends helped us grow and each and every day we say "Look at how far we've come," and then the three of us vacuum and mop the shop. We're grateful. We're humbled. We're strong. And we'll never forget where we came from. This is just our beginning.
I was honestly so tired, I didn't take 'real' photos of the process. So you get instagram photos. You can also see the shop here.