Ch ch ch ch ch changes...
Updated: Dec 3, 2020
2020 will certainly go down in history as a year of unprecedented change. Reformed Barber was in stride with many businesses; we were growing and building. When COVID-19 had us shutting the shop down in April, we found ourselves reflecting and taking inventory of our trajectory. I'd like to share some of our story with you, my valued customers and friends, as you have included us in your journey, for which I am extremely honored.
I started barbering in March of 2015; through fortunate experiences and friendships, I was able to start at an extremely busy shop alongside some amazing, experienced barbers who taught me a plethora of skills; both technical and relational. This time frame was one of vast transition: from school to career, from Portland, OR. to Bozeman, MT.; from a family of two (three if your a dog counter...) to expecting a third - human. Through this tidal wave of change, my wife and I were more than thrilled to fall into a very steady stream of income in our home state. However, as the year flew by - then another, we started having more and more conversations about the growing tension of being in a place of stalemate. As the pragmatic factors started to mount of needing a bigger, more affordable place for our growing family, coupled with the restlessness of where we were relationally, occupationally, and the proximity to family, we decided to move westward, back to Helena, MT. It was a transition that came swift and with a lot of favor. We found a huge victorian house on a couple acres that cost less than our quaint two bedroom apartment in Bozeman. I also found a chair to rent at the very first barbershop that I had ever got my haircut at, right in the heart of downtown Helena. It felt like a full-circle event.
Though I had to build my clientele from the ground up, I fell in love with the process of building an online presence to get discovered. As anyone who runs a business or organization probably knows, getting discovered is very nuanced; what worked for my acquisition efforts can't necessarily be copied and pasted for any business - even within the same industry. On the other hand, there are certainly overlaps in techniques that are part of almost any presence-building platform, things like creating a Facebook page, a Google profile, website, etc. This niche research was what lit me up! Within a three month period, I was able to ascend from taking the random walk-in (or the extremely skeptical 90 year-old who certainly wasn't thrilled about sitting in my chair but didn't apparently have time to wait for the owners chair to open up), to regularly being fully booked days out. Again, I want to reiterate that this is an extremely nuanced operation, my success was due to a multiplicity of factors; some that resulted from hard work on my part of online discovery, some on fantastic word of mouth from friends, family, and clients, and some that resulted simply from the market demand for a good haircut. But again, what lit me up was the trackable effects some of these online efforts made. It's one of the things that propelled me the most in the decision to start my own shop, amidst a myriad of others.
So we started Reformed Barber Co. in September of 2018. It was the biggest career leap so far because I was relying almost exclusively on one form of communication to inform my clients that I was moving: Email. Why? In short, it was my attempt to be as ethical as possible within the situation. The situation is as follows: the barbershop that I was renting a chair at before I moved into my own was small enough that everyone was within earshot of any conversation happening, and though the owner knew that I was going to start my own shop, there was a tension that developed because of our differences in personality and expectations. My only purpose in highlighting this is to further draw out the nuances that these decisions make, and to clarify why email really was the only viable option; I didn't have confidence that my clients would be able to find me through that shop. So, I made it my intention to not speak to even my own clients about my move, so as to alleviate the risk of the owners clients hearing and following me when I left. It was my self implemented non-disclosure agreement, if you will. There were rare exceptions; Saturdays I was the only one working, so if one of my dedicated clients sat in my chair, I would of course tell them. Other than exceptions like this, email was the thread that connected me to my future address; from the chair I rented to the chair down the road that I owned.
Thankfully I had accrued a healthy amount of email addresses from clients through online booking that I implemented soon after moving to Helena; one of the areas that I found a lack of in other shops, and that I received massive amounts of positive feedback for once I implemented. I was able to send out a couple of mass emails to my clients to let them know about my move, being ever careful not to saturate inboxes- nobody likes that. Thankfully the transition went quite smooth. Again, I found myself most fascinated by the process of navigating and troubleshooting the specific challenges present in communicating to my clients in a way that was respectful, and yet somehow confidential, that many of the other dynamics of moving took a back seat in priority. I knew that first and foremost I had to inform my clients.
which leads to our latest transition, and back to beginning of this post.
As we shut the shop down in April for the virus, my wife and I once again found ourselves in dialogue and reflection (more about that here).I didn't lack confidence that the shop would rebound. To the contrary, it might have even benefited from the shutdown. As people turned to google for answers of when businesses would open up, we saw a 1200% increase in our website traffic, which by itself wouldn't have been remarkable given the circumstances; but what really excited me was that 64% of that traffic came from new visitors. I could really geek out and break this down further, but to summarize, it revealed to me that the long hours of research and implementation of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tactics was working: we rank number one on google for multiple applicable keywords and phrases, and people were finding us and getting the information that they needed. I continued to update and scheme; I created a hat campaign (if you supported, thank you!) that helped pay the bills for the shop while while sending some of proceeds to local non-profits. Overall, it was (and is) a challenging time for most small businesses, and I was enthralled by the creative ways that my Montana neighbors and organizations navigated this; it reignited a passion for me that superseded barbering. I'll return to this at the conclusion.
Simultaneous to this, because I was at home and able to take our kids more, my wife was able to spend some overdue hours researching passions that she previously wasn't able to fully dig into, as any full-time parent can understand! Her capacity to accomplish what she sets out to do continually astonishes me. Within the short window provided, she was able to research schooling, find grants and scholarships that cover her entire schooling, plan a move, study for and excel in two big tests, while still being a fantastic mother and wife; I'm sure that the list could go on. These elements, bathed in conversation and prayer, working in conjunction, led us to the decision to make a bold, but in our conviction, necessary transition. The timing and events surrounding this decision were incredible, and I was able to share with many clients some of the details. In the end, we're confident that we made the very best choice; especially as I was able to work with Emily and transition the shop into very capable hands. Indeed, this was a hinging point, I desperately wanted to see a barber take over the location and continue to strengthen the pulse of the neighborhood. Which leads to the conclusion:
My mission was and is to promote excellence in the trade, both in regard to the technical services provided and to the inclusiveness and community supporting features that I believe should be an integral part of any shop. I believe that we achieved that with the barbershop, and I believe that Emily will carry on this DNA with Blue Collar Barbershop. I love barbering. All of the hours spent with clippers in hand learning to fade properly, all of the uncomfortable situations where I didn't know what I was doing, all of the incredible conversations, all of the friendships formed, the hard lessons learned on communication and relating; the trade taught me so much more than how to cut hair. Barbering educated me on, and restored in me a passion to tell a bigger story, a more collective story. I learned in five years of standing behind a chair that I needed to help others foster community, however they were called to; wherever in our huge, beautiful State they live. So that is the future of Reformed Barber Co.
The ambition is big, but aimed: help fellow tradespeople, organizations and non-profits develop their mission and tell their story.
If you are wanting to tell your story and expand your community, I'm here to help. Drop me a line and let me know what you're passionate about and where you want to go!