should I twist or stick? never an easy question to answer. if I twist, there is always the chance that i'll go bust. but if i stick, how can i improve my hand? then again, my life is not a game of poker and surely the only thing that I am now trying to 'win' is a slightly elusive sense of happiness. so what next? thats the $60K question for which I've been seeking an answer. rather than looking for pie in the sky solutions, i feel there is a better chance of finding a sense of happiness by making more of what i already have.
today I sent in my letter of resignation to Joe Grooming. i am extremely proud of having created some of what i consider to be, Joe Grooming's greatest products. being responsible for building out the brand was, at times, a delightfully ambitious project that helped me grow as a maker. holding the title of Creative Director meant a great deal to me when things were messy in other parts of my life, but now... i realize that my desire to focus on important matters falls strictly within the walls of our house at 117 S 13th Street. the duross & langel brands (store - salon - grooming lounge) deserve no less than my full attention. what I value most fills the world sarah and i have created. having my family's support has always been an element in my life. sharing my day with the people in the house, and staying on track, is an amazing perk of the job.
my UK trip is now only hours away. as I slowly adjust my inner clock to GMT, i am pretty much useless to those around me. thankfully, there is enough love, understanding or respect to allow me to unspool as I set off into my holiday adventure. i intend to meet as many people who do what we do on a daily basis, be it salon, barber shop or small business. though there is no hope to achieve all i desire, i still hope to connect with like-minded people who are doing amazing things, and i hope to share that here in this blog and on social media.
some days i forget that life is a banquet, and that i enjoy the feast. some days it helps to remind myself that with most things, i'm on schedule. i don't know that i will ever not strive for something more. something different. the act of striving helps me grow as a person. become a little wiser, more understanding, kinder, or just plain to-the-point. whatever the reason, doesn't matter. so long as it takes me where i need to go.
one day, when they write the history of today, should there ever be a history of today, i do not think we as a people will be judged well. our collective choice to be inactive about the salient issues of the day is rather sad. though huge cultural issues like abuse and harassment are gaining recognition, short term gains will quite often be stifled. on TV, the internet, we see actual lives being snuffed out. mostly black lives. and I no longer know how to cope with my feelings. i am not a liberal person, so I do not believe it is my internalized white guilt. ball players who openly take a knee during the national anthem to protest what amounts to modern day lynching, and now the conversation is about disrespecting a song? Sadly, i've come to believe that money equals power, and that in the world of politics, money will always decide the ultimate fate for the rest of us. when did the wealthy get to decide it is time to break our backs? and why do we collectively allow this?
lately i've begun spending a bit more money to have a bike messenger deliver me healthy (well, sometimes healthy) food so that I will stop ordering groceries that only get thrown away when I don't cook. the temperature i set the AC, the type of lighting i choose, bringing a shopping bag. what i choose to recycle or to throw away. every day i have to remind myself to take only as much as i need and leave the rest. wasting food. wasting resources. we are collectively wasting our future based on the idea that we might be missing out if we choose to sacrifice. the worry that someone who needs are greater than ours might be taking something away from us that we might want. privilege and greed are equal in mendacity to political correctness and marketing good works as a way to sell a brand. all the bullshit we say and do to feel superior to one another. whatever side one falls within the political argument, can we not all agree that we are, in some measure, fucking up everything for the future? green is a journey, right?
we can choose to create the world we desire, and it often begins with the little things. moments that change the course of the day. every morning after sarah and I have caught up, the stylists begin arriving. i'm not a morning person but i love it when they stop at the top of the staircase and call down "good morning", even on the really shitty days. in these moments, these little considerate kindnesses, the day arrives for me. no matter what comes next, it is that first connection that carries the day. it may seem small or insignificant to them, but to me it is everything. often i have been accused me of being rigid (which means it is most likely true), structure allows for spontaneity. in the smallest kindnesses of our daily lives, we can begin to grow together. or we can choose not to care. everything we need from our society can only occur if we choose to connect. the beginning of each day is as good a place as any.
a great deal has been said and written on the subject of hustling. usually with a #entrepreneur and some faux wisdom like "have a backup plan". much of life is the shit we learned in kindergarten but chose to ignore as we got older.
i think most people would describe themselves as hustlers. enterprising? dunno. go-getter? sure, as long as you can have the weekends off and don't have to be responsible when it all goes to hell. sort of like taking the title of entrepreneur when you've got nothing really riding on the line. in many ways, we are all similar, however i like that in the dictionary, just below the enterprising definition, the word prostitute appears. it's is actually a better definition for what happens. doing whatever it takes to get the job done. i do my job because it needs to be done. not for glamour, or hype, or pride. to sustain often means staying alive to dream another day. we do what we must. this is what it takes to run a business. completely unvarnished.
we set goals. we all set goals. the bank won't give us a loan unless we cobble together some bullshit business plan that often bears no resemblance to the reality we face. we talk about our goals, trying to convince either ourselves or the listener (probably both) of what lies ahead. little of life ever works out as planned. but that's what makes it so wonderful. all the joys we have yet to conceive. if i had a nickel for every time someone told me what they would do "if". how many people actually do what they dream, and if they do, how many still want it soon after? i recently asked a friend who is considering starting a business, if at the end of the day, all you ever achieve is the day to day of your little business, can that be enough? the question no one ever wants to answer.defeatist propaganda. you have to believe in your goals 100%!!! boy, isn't that a load of horse shit. you have to actively live within your dream every day and love what you are already doing. otherwise it's a lifetime of buying lottery tickets you'll never win.
80% of small business survive their first year. 66% the second year. 50% the third year. only 30% of all new businesses survive ten years. so the question i would ask: is it worth it? if you're not going to get everything you dream of, is it worth it? for me the answer has been yes.
this october marks the 13th year duross & langel has been in operation. an ever evolving scheme that lets me play out the fantasies within my mind's eye. don't misunderstand. it is hard work. long hours. weeks, months, years. take your eye off the ball for even a short time and you find yourself scrambling to stay in the game. i chose the right profession. i have a good nose for aroma. i can also smell a turd from a mile off. sometimes i foolishly make the mistake of sharing this observation. people usually love my brutal honesty. ever notice that people just love brutal honesty except when it is directed toward them?still, it serves us well. and we can usually catch ourselves when we need a fresh perspective. the part i find most wearing is staff. staff can be a source of joy and pain. they can also profoundly effect the outcome of any day based on their give (or take) of precious energy. keeping all parties enthused by what we do is my hardest job. focusing on what's in front of me from the moment i walk in to the moment i lock the door. then on to the book-keeping or blogging or whatever. is it still worth it? yes, it is.
i spend a good portion of my life dreaming. i dream i can grow the business to where it can become a mighty brand. i dream of the salon taking on a life of it's own, paying it's own way and finding a wonderful person who can run it for us. i dream of my staff finding success. of joe grooming's success as a brand, and what might be achieved with future lines based on today's work. i dream of falling in love, traveling the world and reveling in what life has to offer. but if i wasn't already doing all of these things on a cellular level, nothing would ever be possible. i live into my dreams and goals now, in every moment on a micro level. success, in the financial (or traditional) sense, is elusive. most people trade in their dreams for someone else's. when the going get's tough. the tough don't get going. they flee, or whine, or both. for example, take love.
how many people reading this have love goals? who want to be married or have babies or just don't want to go through life alone? whatever your goal for love, you can achieve it but it won't be sustainable without that undefinable something we know as chemistry. what makes anyone think that the rest of life doesn't work the same way? chemistry is why some brands make it while so very many fail. chemistry is what happens when product blends perfectly with marketing in a marketplace ripe for that product. chemistry is what holds people together. what binds the universe. it is the law of nature. however business majors have yet to experience this, MBAs hope to find it when not falling into somnambulant corporate culture, and self-styled entrepreneurs have yet to learn that rolling up their sleeves and doing the work will most likely connect them to this phenomenon. chemistry is everything. look at the 50% marriage failure rate, (which does not account for the people who are too scared or lazy to move on with their lives). along the way, every day, we must fight to sustain the dreamer who drives us toward our goals. in all the compartmentalized areas of our lives. personally, socially, politically. by it's very definition, chemistry is about identifying how various matter interacts, combines and changes. it's synonyms are: affinity, attraction, rapport and spark. our physical, mental, emotional and (i believe) spiritual approach to our life and our work defines any attempt at success. anything less is pure dumb luck.
not long ago, a colleague approached me about my life. the jist was something akin to 'don't you think your life is kind of sad and lonely?' the actual delivery was devoid of the brutal honesty i have just distilled. but my answer is no. i am not sad. i am not lonely. though i do experience moments of sadness and loneliness, it is not is binary state within which i live. having the guts to lay everything on the line for one's dream is a purely selfish act. jane austin wrote in mansfield park that "selfishness must always be forgiven you know, because there is no hope of a cure". selfishly, i think it profound. why else would i have chosen to work on so many projects at the neglect of so many things others find important? if only with one's self, chemistry is a powerful thing to have set as your goal. the possibilities for outcomes are endless.
so i work and i travel and write and play and yes, sometimes i fall in love. with an idea or a concept, an ingredient, or a vision or a plan. and when i am not very careful, i fall in love with the worst possible men. yet still i learn. and i grow. and i dream of the things i'll be doing tomorrow.
It is easy for any one of us to stand before a mirror, all alone, and find fault. For the vast majority of us, it is a part of the human condition. Given the opportunity to change something, what would it be? We each have a varied list. Finding the things we love, the things we readily accept, well... that is a bit more difficult.
A visit to any salon brings hope that we will find our best selves reflected back in the mirror. The desire to improve upon what already exists. It's a tall order for any stylist, but so many do it daily with grace and style. In Philadelphia alone there are any number of good salons with amazingly talented stylists. As a boy, I loathed going to the barbershop almost as much as I did the dentist. My experiences with the unisex salons of the 70's were just as disappointing. I never found my best self reflected back. Often the person who emerged from the salon was still a skinny awkward lad with a haircut that was kind of sad. That my ears stuck out too far or my nose was too big didn't help. No matter where I went or what I did... mousse, blowdryer, gel, spray, I was never going to look like the hero of Saturday Night Fever, and my low self image was not going to be changed by a haircut. Though I have come to believe that perhaps a great haircut is where it all begins.
Once I found a great barber/stylist who did amazing work, I began to see a better self reflected. As I matured, I found clothes that fit, made peace with my ears, grew into my nose and took some exercise. I still have low self image days but I recognize the transformative power of the cut. I've bet my entire future on it. Why? Because the line between good and amazing is razor thin. Learning how to replicate a haircut versus learning the principles of proper hair cutting design approach is the difference between plucking out heart and soul on a piano and playing Free Jazz and the Avant-Garde. The great jazz musician Charlie Parker once said it this way "You've got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail."
As a teacher and manager, I know can be a difficult task master. I test the limits of what you know, what you think you know and what you strive to become. I've created an experience to give clients that is not always your favorite way to operate. So let me break it down as I see it: When you first came to me, I warned you that it was going to be a bumpy ride. I instructed you to learn all of your tools, study theory design specific approach, understand the fundamentals of why you are doing all the things you will do. I stress to every student that simply learning how to do the latest "cut or style" isn't going to get you any further than the length of that trend. Once any talented stylist can master the fundamentals of design approach, anything is possible (for the record.. you are all very talented). Natasha would quip that this is the first lesson you learn in beauty school, and she would be right. But I know that once behind the chair, paying the rent, paying student loans, trying to carve out a life, have relationships, the fundamentals can be easily muscled out. And everyone knows my feeling about finishing with a good blow-dry not being a worthy endeavor unless the same results will be achieved easily by the client at home (with the exception of an actual scheduled and charged blow out).
Another salon owner once told me he thought our place was a mix of salon "X" and salon "Y". It was meant as a compliment but I thought to myself "f%#k that!" The vision was never to make us any one thing. Individualism, technical ability and artistry is the vision. Over all. That being said, someone still has to worry about keeping a roof over our heads. That is where my crazy takes over. Nothing is possible if we don't respect the bottom line. I wish I were a more patient man. Someone once suggested I pray for patience but I found the universe just created more opportunities for me to practice patience so.. I've come to realize that I will not be the most beloved man in town, and though I am no Scrooge, I am no Fezziwig either. Knowing myself enough to know that some things are innate often helps to soften the cudgel with which I punish myself. Less rigidity equals less strife. I work each day to be less rigid. Not everyone is going to get me. Not everyone is going to want to stay in our house. The goal we share is to strengthen the individual in order to strengthen the entire team. Whatever happens from there is really none of our business. As long as you are trained and continue to do amazing work, most of my job has been accomplished.
A haircut won't change who we are, whether we are getting, giving or teaching, but I do believe it is a place where we can all begin. And in no small measure, because of you and this place, I continue to learn how to love myself.
This year's business-building, networking and learning conference took place at the Ritz Carlton, Grande Lakes Orlando. The theme revolved around Building The Ultimate Experience" for our clients, the third pillar to building a successful multi-unit salon and spa company, (the first two foundational steps —Humanology and The Multi-Generational Workplace—were established over the past two conferences). The content dove deeply into the “how” behind creating the experiences that will link salon and spa guests, team members and the community—both locally and the broader salon industry community—with strong and long-lasting bonds.
The keynotes were informative, the panels thought-provoking, and the breakouts were eye opening. The parts I initially thought would be droll, the networking sessions and social events, were nothing short of amazing. The people with whom I met, chatted and traded ideas were inspiring. I had a blast and gained a multitude of perspectives. For the first time in quite a while, I was able to lean into my role as Creative Director and in doing so, a world of possibilities began to open. Salon and spa owners, chain salons, product manufacturers, vendors... the conversations were incredible. Hearing their stories offered me new perspectives and insights, to learn what I did not yet know I was missing. I formed new friendships and connected to opportunities not as yet imagined.
Those who know me know I'm not much for a happy hour. This group certainly knew how to make the most of a creative cocktail party. During the first night's scavenger hunt, I meandered with my crew through several properties before finding my way back to the main meet up, and along the way I enjoyed the company of amazingly accomplished individuals. Hearing others tell their stories of struggle and success has helped me to find perspective on what I am attempting to acheive. Multi-unit (and multi-generational) salon owners schooled me in the finer points of trusting and letting go, of embracing all aspects of these last two years getting my newest ventures up and running. On the very first day I found myself paddling down a lazy river past alligators and snakes in peels of laughter with my canoe mate. The uncanny ability I possess for running aground and hitting other enthusiasts must have been unsettling, and though I was looking to land a more dignified impression, I soon caught on to the realness of these folks. Sure, every group has their qualifiers, the people who list their accomplishments and their sales numbers. But the people who impressed me the most, who had the most to teach, who were the most generous with their time and talent didn't give a flip about that stuff. They gave me something greater to shoot for as an entrepreneur. As my role as Creative Director for Joe Grooming continues to take shape, I am keenly aware that all of life is a series of relationships. The ability to meet one another where we are at any given moment. The opportunities that arrive when we least expect them. And at he heart of the matter there is only so much we can do. Suit up, show up, and simply be yourself.
vision is subjective. it varies depending upon where you stand. i do not believe that one vision is better than another. however i do like to think vision is about fit. what wears best. what you are willing to try on and, depending upon your level of comfort, either own or try on something else. our salon is no different. for two years i have been sitting upon a pre-signed lease that until recently i could not execute. that is how long i have been planning this day. as an impatient and brash younger man, i never could have done this. funny how life leads us where it may. for those who care to read on, i’d like to share a bit of my adventure and how we ended up at this point in our story.
when i was young, very young, i liked to create hair styles with my friends (girls) dolls. i did not want to dress them or play act, just groom, cut and style. i did once try to use color but friends don’t look kindly to shoe polished barbie brunettes. i put away these childish things but never lost touch with my inner hairdresser. fast forward through a very long and turbulent post adolescence. if i were allowed a do-over, i would drop out of high school circa 1978, run away to london and become a part of the amazing movement in hair that took place in that era. in short, i would have begun this path earlier. though some people dream of a different life, i dream more of the same. i began my barber/stylist career in a bathroom with a pair of clippers and a six pack of Molson Ale. the results were horrendous but the dye was cast. a few days later i enrolled in cosmetology school. my professional career had begun. i was hired for my first job at the once prestigious John Wanamaker Salon (shabby and fraying at the edges). at that phase of the salon’s lifecycle, it afforded me ample opportunity to practice my craft and pull my personal shit together. then a year at Strawbridge and Clothier (amazing dental benefits..) then down 13th street to a new salon called CUT where i pulled in as many new clients as possible. then a very brief and surreal stint at Invincible. this is when i realized i was responsible for creating my own happiness. ergo, The Atlas Hair Co. my first solo venture. it would be prudent to note at this point that i had been chosen by a new product manufacturer, American Crew, as a local educator. and soon after, a national all-star. my clients never quite understood what i did after closing the salon on Saturday afternoon until opening again Wednesday morning but in laymen’s terms, my teammates and i were making history. American Crew had five products when i began working with the company. i was trained by some of the finest barber/stylist the world has ever known. American Crew broke the boundaries of all previous educational experiences and re-created the market segment for the male client. today, an entire generation of stylist’s work is influenced by the groundbreaking work of American Crew. though i was more of a method workhorse educator, my teammates were brilliant editorialists who could create styles that are still interpreted, reinterpreted, shorn and worn today.
in 1999 i tried to do something really stupid. i envisioned the expansion of Atlas while creating the Philadelphia Soap Company. my idea failed for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which was my inability to look at the whole picture. i learned a great deal about success through the process of failure. for the record, i define failure as the collapse of an idea or venture. once i could master this, duross & langel was possible. we closed the salon in 2007 so that we could move the store and expand operations. though i knew my days as a stylist were over, my mentor/educator life just needed an extended vacation. i still teach for Joe Grooming when not developing new product ideas for the line, but it has become crystal clear where my passions have reignited. welcome to today.
in my opinion, nothing worth having is easy. the trick is not getting what you want. it’s still wanting it after you get it. things worth building come with challenges. coming up with money is the easy part. finding someone who can interpret and build your vision, though a bit tougher, is made true by other craftsmen who show up and excel (thank you Matt Bruno). populating the place with like-minded individuals is tougher still. this is where ample patience is needed. patience is a struggle for me (at the moment though, i am breathing through it). what i am attempting to do within this space is very different from what many salons do. i imagine many will think my methods a bit mad. everyone likes to think they know it all. know it best. most days i am no exception. creating a tiered yet democratic salon is tricky. like me, many stylists fresh out of school can’t afford to spend months on end being an assistant. many people like me have to cut. and cut. and cut. and cut. that is how we master. so? make one room a workshop where even the most novice of stylists can hone their craft while making some coin. the price is sweet for the client and the results are still better than the most chainy of the chain salons. for the record, just because a salon is well appointed and the prices keep out riff raff like me does not mean you are getting what you paid for. but i digress. in the salon, stylists will have to set their own prices based on the level of talent and experience they bring to the space. you just want a wash and cut? this much. you want a cut and blow out? this much. color too? you get the idea. it’s not a new one. just an idea that need to be reclaimed and repurposed. i’ve been told it’s not going to work. but i was told no one would come to my store to purchase hand made natural bath and skin care either. this is happening. you can find me filed somewhere between anxious and elated.
Thoreau once wrote "to one whose elastic and vigorous thoughts keep pace with the sun, the day is a perpetual morning. It matters not the labors and attitudes of men, morning is when I am awake and there is dawn in me."
there is dawn in us all. come join us in the adventure.