Wednesday, May 02, 2007

"A little off the top and sides, and stab me in the back"

I have some advice for those small businesses who may be suffering from the current tax climate. It's something far simpler and cheaper than lobbying Congress and state legislatures, and it yields more immediate results than advertising. Here it is: actually serve customers who walk into your place of business.

Yes, the old "ignore Ian" revenue plan happened again. This time at a barbershop. And unlike the previous incident, which at least had some semblance of a possible explanation, this one had zero excuse. Because I was the only person in the establishment, and the barber was three feet away.

First, a bit of backstory: Springfield has what appear to be entire shopping centers devoted exclusively to hair care. My coif, such as it is, is so pedestrian that I simply did it myself for years. Still, after having my hair last done at Supercuts (and having a hairdresser I met nearly spit-take on me when I told him that), I wanted to try one of these other places for my latest chop. While driving through town, I ran upon an old-fashioned place with a barber pole and everything. Its name was so quaintly generic that I wish I could tell you what it was, but I won't because that would shine undue attention upon them. My penchant for supporting small businesses sufficiently kicked in, I pulled into the parking lot. While turning in, I nearly clipped a yuppie in an errant roadster. An omen, as I would find out.

"Just walk on in!" the window screamed. So I did. The place looked like every barber shop you've ever seen in any movie. It felt like one, too. Busy walls? Check. Three chairs, two of them empty? Check. Old man with bushy mustache cutting equally old man's hair? Check. Person in chair who isn't actually waiting but likes the conversation? Check. American flags? Check. Obnoxious country music? Check. I didn't see what was in the back, but I suspect Norman Rockwell's corpse was posed there with a perpetual thumbs-up. All that was missing was the game of checkers and perhaps a baritone to round out the quartet. Total Americana.

And that's when I began to worry.

First there was the reservation that this guy might not cut my hair the way I want. I like to trim the back and sides, and trim the top with just enough to spike up front. It looks great on my driver's license, which I planned to flash for reference. Unfortunately, it's also the type of "mod" hairdo that old-fashioned barbers often won't touch with 10-foot clippers, as if they only know how to make you look like Ronald Reagan. Then there was the payment concern. I saw absolutely no evidence that this guy took plastic (or even knew what it was). Quaint, indeed, but no help for my cash-strapped self.

Despite these concerns, however, I pressed forward and sat down. This made me what is known in the biz as "next." As I sat down, I made eye contact with the barber and smiled. He gave me a look as if to say, "What the hell do you want, hippie?" Which was especially weird because I was dressed in a pullover and jeans that fit, my overgrown hair looking even a little like Reagan's. As I waited, the trio continued to banter. I've since forgotten the subject, but it sounded like it would have made a great nursery rhyme on "Blue Collar TV." Soon after, the client walked out and the barber walked away for a moment. Throughout all this, I'm reading an old issue of ESPN the Magazine, waiting patiently. Soon enough, the barber walks back to his chair. I begin to stand up, only to have another man walk through the door and beeline for the barber! Even better, the two begin an intense conversation on whatever the new guy had in his cigar box. In a way, I admire these men, for they have certainly not let their livelihoods override their social lives.

As the barber began shooting occasional annoyed glances at me, I realized that the magazine was shaking in my hands; I was visibly trembling from the discomfort I felt in this place! By the time three more of his friends walked in, my instincts were literally grabbing my calf muscles and shoving me out the door. Have you ever been trapped somewhere and jumped for joy when you escaped? That's exactly how I felt leaving this joint, never to return. And no, no one attempted to stop me.

And thus, the lesson: whether the venue is the White House or the corner barbershop, the Boys' Club mentality will cost you substantially in business and in respect.

Postscript: a few minutes later, I found a training barbershop where an advanced-level student with a dyed-red soul patch took care of me. He nailed the look. And thus another lesson: people with artificially red soul patches do great work.


Cajun Tiger said...

Maybe they are reading your blog =)

Leigh C. said...

It wasn't a certain St Louis Cardinal player that did your hair, huh?

yournamehere said...

Such rude behavior in the Show Me state.