It's the ‘experience' that separates barber shops - WBOY.com: Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

It's the ‘experience' that separates barber shops

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Paul Bryant of Drive-In Barber Shop in Kanawha City gives one of his regular customers, David Howell of Winifrede, a hot lather neck shave to complete his haircut. Paul Bryant of Drive-In Barber Shop in Kanawha City gives one of his regular customers, David Howell of Winifrede, a hot lather neck shave to complete his haircut.
Franchise owners Ryan and Amanda Donovan have brought the sports-themed barber experience of Sport Clips to West Virginia, opening their first store Oct. 4 in South Charleston. Franchise owners Ryan and Amanda Donovan have brought the sports-themed barber experience of Sport Clips to West Virginia, opening their first store Oct. 4 in South Charleston.
Owner Scott Spencer, left, and fellow barber Brandon “Oz” Osborne, take care of the customers at Tops Off Barber Shop in downtown Charleston. Owner Scott Spencer, left, and fellow barber Brandon “Oz” Osborne, take care of the customers at Tops Off Barber Shop in downtown Charleston.
NATALIE BELVILLE / The State Journal Frank Fuscardo has served the Huntington area for 50 years at Frank Fuscardo’s Campus Barber Shop on 4th Avenue, near the campus of Marshall University. NATALIE BELVILLE / The State Journal Frank Fuscardo has served the Huntington area for 50 years at Frank Fuscardo’s Campus Barber Shop on 4th Avenue, near the campus of Marshall University.
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When a customer walks in to get a haircut, he expects to come out looking his best.

There is a level of trust a placed in a barber, and a level of comfort that has to be earned.

Having an inviting, and sometimes fun, atmosphere in the shop adds significantly to the experience, cementing the relationship between barber and client.

Paul Bryant, a veteran barber at The Drive-In Barber Shop in Kanawha City, always has the customer first in mind.

"It's about the expertise and communication," he said of his clientele. "They like what they get. When they get what they want, they come back. 

"And it's all about communication," he continued. "Personality plays a big role in the clients. If they pick up a newspaper when they get in the chair — they don't want to talk. They want a haircut. If they come in and talk, they'll talk while they get a haircut. You have to know your clients."

The barber shops of days gone by seem to be making a comeback — but for some, they never went out of style. Men are flocking back to the classic barber chairs in droves.

Drive-In is definitely a throwback to a simpler time — combs in blue sanitizing fluids, the buzz of electric trimmers, a poster with artists' renderings of hairstyles and an antique cash register — still in use today. 

For David Powell, a Drive-In Barber Shop regular customer from Winifrede, it's simply a matter of who he likes cutting his hair.

"I like my barber, Paul," Powell said. "He does a really good job on my hair. It's really hard to find someone that consistently gives you a good haircut. I've been to some other butchers … I mean barbers before," he added with a chuckle. "He's the best I've found."

The business of barbering is one that requires self-motivation and pride in a job well done.

"We're self employed," explained Brandon Harold of Drive-In Barber Shop. "This little corner is my office. These are my tools. We take a lot of pride in it."

"In barbering, it's not what I want to do or how I want to do it," added Bryant. "That's the difference between coming here or going to the mall for a haircut. With short hair, you can't make a mistake. There's no room for it. Generally, most cosmetologists aren't trained to do barber work. They're trained to do perms, colors, foils and whatever. We're taught to do women's and men's hair. I taught barber school for many years." 

Shave and a haircut

Licensed barbers are able to offer straight razor shaves.

"Customers like straight razor shaves, hot lather," said Bryant. "Cosmetologists aren't licensed for that." You have to be a licensed barber to use a straight razor for a neck shave. 

The Drive-In barbers estimate that ‘about 99 percent' of their customers get a straight razor neck shave.

"It cleans it up and makes it look good," Bryant said. "It feels good. It's a personal preference." 

"The neck shave makes a haircut last longer," said fellow Drive-In barber Mark Fugett. "Just the hot lather alone, there's guys that come in here that — because they're on blood thinners — don't want the straight razor but they want the hot lather put on and then wiped off because it feels so good." 

No need for an appointment at Drive-In. It's strictly walk-ins.

But it does get busy there.

"Three Saturdays ago, I alone did 45 (haircuts)," Bryant said. "My record is 62." 

About 20 haircuts in a day is common, the collective barbers estimated.

"My customers know my schedule," Fugett added. "But I tell them times when I'm slow. They know when I'm more likely to be available. Some drive by and look in to see first." 

Sport clips in West Virginia

Stepping up the game significantly is the franchise Sport Clips. 

Ryan and Amanda Donovan have brought the national brand to West Virginia, opening their first Sport Clips Oct. 4 in South Charleston.

It is also the first franchise for Sport Clips in West Virginia. There are more than 1,100 locations in more than 40 states. 

It's a well-known brand nationally, as a place to get a haircut in a fun, sports-themed atmosphere with numerous big screen TVs to watch while in the chair.

"Our mission statement is to ‘Create a championship haircut experience in an exciting, sports-themed environment for men and boys,'" said Amanda Donovan. "What's better than being surrounding by five flat-screen TVs and watching sports?"

The Donovans' territory for Sport Clips goes from Charleston to Huntington — and they plan to move westward along I-64.

"This one is the first of several that will be coming to West Virginia," Donovan said. "We're going to work our way toward Huntington. We'll open at least two more stores."

Sport Clips, which started in 1993, has been acknowledged by Entrepreneur Magazine as one of the fastest-growing franchises. It also is among the top 10 percent of the top 500 franchises in America, according to the Donovans.

"They didn't rush to open a lot of Sport Clips. they worked to establish a successful model and spent years perfecting it," Donovan explained. "We thought it would be a great opportunity to bring Sport Clips to West Virginia. We're excited about it."

The Donovans have lived in the Mountain State about two-and-a-half years, but it didn't take long to figure out that West Virginians are crazy about their sports.

"It took about 10 seconds," said Donovan, with a laugh. "We learned that quickly. Being from Tennessee originally — and a Volunteer fan, I'm into my sports as well."

Modern, with a classic touch

"We like to say that Sport Clips is a modern-day barber shop with the luxuries you would find in a salon," Donovan said. "We're the home of the MVP — you get a precision haircut, steamed towel, an invigorating, massaging shampoo — we use our tea tree line, and a neck and shoulder massage."

Rather than open a barber shop, putting up a few TVs and calling it ‘Donovans', they believed having a national brand to stand on would be a key to success.

"It was important to plug into Sport Clips the brand, because we stand by the mission statement in everything we say and do," Donovan said. "We also have values that are set in place — in dealing with customers and employees. 

"We always relate back to our value system — to ‘Have the heart of a champion, to do your best, to do what's right and to treat others the way you want to be treated.' We follow that every day." 

Known primarily as a place for men, Sport Clips has seen a number of female clients as well.

"We don't exclude women," Ryan Donovan said. "We just don't have chemicals. We've had quite a few women come in for haircuts."

Sport Clips is for walk-ins clients only and also provides free neck trims in-between visits. 

Giving back to the community through charitable causes is important for Sport Clips, with a focus on veterans' causes.

"We're giving free haircuts to veterans on Nov. 11 when they bring their military ID," Amanda Donovan said. "Ryan's father is a veteran of Vietnam War. He has a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. We always give a discount to veterans and servicemen and women; with an All-star card they get $2 off each haircut. 

"We have a new campaign called Be a Hero — Help a Hero. the proceeds will be donated to the ‘VFW's Sport Clips Help a Hero Scholarship Program.' We're very proud of that." 

Just a little ‘off the top'

Tops Off Barber Shop takes the experience of getting a haircut to a whole new level.

Located in downtown Charleston on Hale Street, the shop has a retro feel and a cool vibe.

"It's not just a haircut; it's an experience," said Scott Spencer, owner and barber at Tops Off. "We want the client to feel the cool factor. 

"I had a client tell me, ‘As soon as I came in the door, I felt a lot cooler,'" he added. "Years ago, it was a whole experience for men that went to a barber shop. But I think when long hair was in, barber shops went out. But it's coming back."

With a lounge area and a billiards room, Tops Off definitely has a masculine feel to it. It also offers complimentary beverages to its clients.

"They can come in and play some pool in our billiards room," Spencer said. "Or they can come in and watch a football game in our lounge area."

But in its four years of operation, Spencer has seen more and more women come in for cuts and styling. When a male customer enters Tops Off, they're given the choice between a barber or stylist.

"Our clientele is 50-50 (men and women) now," Spencer said. "Things have changed for us over the past four years — women started coming in."

The shop staff now consists of two barbers, four stylists, two massage therapists and a nail technician.

"We have a huge walk-in business," Spencer said. "Clients may wait five, 10 minutes, but no more."

Spencer added Tops Off offers men's or women's cuts and colors, straight razor shaves, pedicures, manicures and massages — either chair or table.

"We're a one-stop shop," Spencer added.

Rumors, innuendo, mystique

Tops Off has suffered from a couple of misconceptions, according to its owner.

"First, that we're a barber shop just for men," Spencer explained. "But second, that we're a topless barbershop — we're not!

"When we were about to open, we were told that city hall got 465 complaint calls from people thinking that was what we were doing. It caused quite a stir, but it got us a lot of free publicity too."

Because of the uproar, Details magazine came to Charleston to do a story for its August 2010 edition. 

The décor in Tops Off is unique, especially for West Virginia.

"Some say it's intimidating — probably because they're not used to something so swanky in downtown Charleston," Spencer said. "But our price points are about the average, with the amenities.

"I always wanted my own business, so I was all in with this. It was either going to be a hit or it was going to be a miss."

Heading into his fifth year, Spencer said he is looking forward to the mark.

"We've climbed the hill," he said. "It's been a great four years."

Big man near campus

Frank Fuscardo's Campus Barber Shop has been in business 50 years, 45 of those in its current location. The shop has a convenient location on Fourth Avenue, near Marshall University's campus in Huntington.

It definitely falls into the ‘old school' category — which is fine with the hundreds of clients who trust their tresses to Frank.

In the early 1980s, the Huntington Mall opened in nearby Barboursville, taking a lot of potential downtown shoppers eastward as well.

"The mall has beauty shops," Fuscardo pointed out. "I don't think it affected me here at all."

Despite the changing times, his business has thrived.

"We're right next door to Marshall (University), so that helps us," he said. "We have a lot of regulars and some walk-ins. It's been good.

"Hairstyles have changed through the years, obviously."

What's Fuscardo's secret to staying in business for over half a century?

"Good service," he replied without hesitation.