VOL. 122 | NO. 117 | Monday, June 25, 2007
Memphis Small Business Spotlight
Gary Follows Life-Changing Dream With Cordova Barbershop
By Rosalind Guy
A QUICK TRIM: Mario Gary, barber/owner of A Better Image Beauty & Barbershop in Cordova, gives employee Tyrone Johnson a trim. The shop has been open a year and a half. -- Photo By Rosalind Guy
"It's been a year and a half and it's been unreal. I didn't expect it to take off this fast. It's gone beyond my expectations. It's changed my whole life."
- Mario Gary, Owner, A Better Image Beauty & Barbershop
A Better Image Beauty & Barbershop
8225 Dexter Road, Suite 108
Owner: Mario Gary
Founded: January 2006
There are many reasons why small-business owners decide to venture out on their own, but chief among those reasons seems to be the desire to want to improve their lives while doing something they enjoy.
It was no different for Mario Gary, owner of A Better Image Beauty & Barbershop in Cordova.
Gary opened the shop in January 2006 at 8225 Dexter Road, Suite 108, and he said since opening the shop, his life has greatly improved.
"Having this shop has honestly and truly changed my life for good," he said.
The major change has been doing something that truly makes him happy, but there have been other benefits as well, such as being able to make more money and have a flexible schedule that allows him to take vacations whenever he wants.
A new wave
The road to opening the shop began in 1999 when Gary and his cousin, Tyrone Johnson, were working for BFI Waste Systems of North America Inc. as trash collectors. Though they had good, steady jobs, they couldn't deny a yearning for something more.
So one day while driving down Highland Street, they saw the New Wave Hair Academy and decided to stop in to see what the school offered.
After talking with school officials, they quickly decided it was their ticket to something better.
Gary was so confident of his success that he completed the coursework in one year, and toward the end of that year, he had quit his job at BFI.
"Back then, they mailed the results to you," he said. "But I drove to Nashville and picked up my test results so I could be working in a shop that next week."
And the next week, he was working as a barber at Moffitt's Beauty & Barber Shop on East Shelby Drive.
Figuring it out
Gary spent six years working at Moffitt's, a period when he was learning the craft and how he'd like to have things when he decided to venture out on his own.
One aspect about Moffitt's Gary decided to carry over into his own business was the combination beauty/barbershop.
"I wanted to keep the beauty and barbershop together, because I didn't want it to just be a barbershop," Gary said. "At the same time, I wanted to have it run right. I wanted to have a courteous and professional environment where the women would feel comfortable visiting, because they've got to come through the men to get to the beauty shop."
Gary said that unlike other people he talked to, he wanted to open his shop out east in Cordova or Bartlett.
"I said if I got a shop, I'd want it to be out this way, because a lot of people were scared to come out this way (Cordova area), fearing there wouldn't be enough customers to support the business."
Gary said the fear generally was rooted in the fact that these were black-owned businesses. But, black-owned doesn't equal unprofessionalism, nor does it determine how the shop will look inside, he said.
Following the trends
Will Williams, director of marketing and education for Marietta, Ga.-based M&M Products Co., said there's a trend in the black community of combining beauty and barbershop services in upscale neighborhoods such as Cordova.
"We have seen a tremendous increase in upscale barbershops that offer big-screen TVs and interactive games as a normal part of the haircut experience," Williams said. "Most hair salons have multi-screen TVs for customer viewing. The day spa also is gaining acceptance (in the black community) because we have the money and understand that taking care of body is taking care of the mind."
Williams said the trend is being driven by the community's need to feel pampered.
"Savvy cosmetologists are beginning to give the hair salon a facelift," Williams said, adding that they're realizing black people are no different from general market consumers when it comes to the trend of wanting to feel pampered.
At A Better Image, there's soft music filtering through the speakers placed throughout the shop and the environment is unlike yesterday's stereotypical image of barbershops.
There is no loud talking, cursing and horsing around. And for those customers who don't want to sit and wait, the salon offers a VIP haircut for $35. The VIP offering allows the client to receive immediate attention.
The layout of the shop has the barber chairs in the immediate front of the store and in the center is a waiting area that has two televisions hanging from the ceiling. Hanging on the walls are signs encouraging the patrons to refrain from cursing and to control their children.
And despite what the naysayers might believe, Gary said he's experienced a brisk business since opening the shop.
"It's been a year and a half and it's been unreal. I didn't expect it to take off this fast," he said. "It's gone beyond my expectations. It's changed my whole life."
So far in one year, Gary said he's seen profits like what he made over a six-year period when he was just renting a station at Moffitt's.
In the beginning, Gary said, he and one other person worked in the shop. He now has a total of 10 people working in the shop, including himself and his cousin.
Already, Gary has begun to think about growth. But it's still in the planning phases.
With the response he has received since opening the doors of his business, he at first considered leasing the space next to his current shop to expand. But now he said he's going to wait and some time down the line open another shop in another part of town.