W ILLIAM BROWN, 34, of Laverock, Montgomery County, owns the Duke Barber Co. He opened the first shop in 2009 in the Piazza at Schmidt's, in Northern Liberties, and opened a second location Aug. 8 at Germantown and Willow Grove avenues, in Chestnut Hill. Brown's grandfather and father both owned barbershops in the city, and he started working in a shop when he was 12, sweeping floors.
Q: How'd you come up with the idea?
A: I got my barber's license about 10 years ago and started working in shops around the city. Then I was recruited by the Art of Shaving and I became a national master barber for them before going out on my own.
Q: The startup money?
A: I banked tips and took out a small-business loan for $20,000.
Q: Why NoLibs?
A: At the time, there was really no barbershop there. My former business partner decided it would be a good spot because we had a captive audience who lived at the Piazza. We quickly grew and I added more chairs, watch- and shoe-repair services, custom tailoring and a cigar lounge. My vision was to create a cave for gentlemen, give them an experience where they could come in and leave all their troubles outside.
Q: You just opened a second barbershop.
A: I'm very familiar with Chestnut Hill. My grandfather was an associate of Frank Salemno, who died in 2014. (Salemno opened a barbershop in 1942 in Chestnut Hill and retired in April 2013.)
We're gonna become a fixture here just like Frank.
Q: What separates Duke from other shops?
A: We're multicultural and tap the pulse of anybody who walks in. We don't turn anyone away and have classic traditions of a barbershop in a modern setting. If they want old-school haircuts, we do that. If they want a straight-razor shave with hot towel and lather on the face, we do that. We want you to feel like you are with an old friend when you are here. We do Whiskey Fridays, so you can come in, get a nip, sit back and relax. We also have a watch drop-off and pick-up service and we're open every day.
Q: Your customers?
A: In NoLibs, we get sportsmen from all backgrounds, businessmen and working people. The age ranges from 5 to 65, about 80 percent men. Our first week we got a lot of fathers with sons. The most popular services are full-service classic haircut for $30 and classic straight-razor shave, also $30.
Q: Biggest challenge?
A: Training and keeping good barbers. Barbers are tradesmen and feel they can run their own show and they're full of pomp. I like to build from within and trained a manager for NoLibs, which freed me to open a second location.
Q: How big a biz?
A: We have 21 employees, and 16 are barbers. Last year we did $398,000 in gross revenue, and we're already at $335,000 this year.
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