When Jermaine Johnson opened his No Grease barbershop in Charlotte, North Carolina, he found many potential coiffeurs who wanted to cut hair in styles they found attractive--but didn't know how to listen to what the customer wanted. He made it a point to teach them this valuable skill.
As his business expanded, Johnson learned that educating his employees was an ongoing process. And along the way, he found that his own continuing education in a rapidly changing industry was just as important.
These were some of the challenges he relayed at "Power to the Small," a panel discussion in Charlotte, sponsored by Windstream, a provider of advanced network communications and technology solutions.
The first thing Johnson learned about himself was that he is what he calls an 'intrapreneur'. He wanted to innovate but was more comfortable doing it on someone else's payroll, where he had minimal risk and responsibility. The inherent risk-taking trait found in so many entrepreneurs was more prevalent in his identical twin brother, Damian.
When they formed the partnership to launch No Grease, Johnson found he had to change. It was time for a new perspective and skill set.
Grooming new talent
Johnson was surprised to discover the need to educate his workers about meeting customer needs.
"You have a lot of people who can do something to your hair, but not necessarily what you want them to do to your hair," he said. "There isn't a lot of talent out there when it comes to that crucial aspect of barbering."
As a result, Johnson started his own barber college, called No Grease School of Tonsorial Arts. The students, who call him "J", undergo a rigorous curriculum, far exceeding the standards for the North Carolina Board of Barber Examiners.
Along with techniques for shaving and buzz cuts, the students are taught economics and social skills. The college is also a place where Johnson can find and - literally - groom talent for his own shops while making an economic contribution to the community.
"We have to make everybody a little bit more conscious of being a salesperson with extensive product knowledge," he said, noting the ever-growing market for men's grooming services and products.
Johnson has also begun offering marketing classes to his barbers, teaching them how to boost their social media presence and use hashtags. No Grease uses Facebook and Instagram extensively, where they often post photos of the stylists' work.
"The barbershop really was the first social medium," Johnson said. "We've always been where everything social happens in a community."
Today, No Grease has expanded to five locations in North Carolina. The tagline that No Grease uses --"Changing the face of business"--speaks to the necessity of constant innovation. The company has also developed a website that includes functionality such as online appointment booking.
Seeing the barbershop culture evolve continually leads to other new ideasJohnson and his team work 80 or 90 hours per week, all of which are crucial to doing their work and adapting to constant change.