Thad Forrester and Paul Catlett knew they were onto something when they opened their first Hudson Hawk Barber & Shop in 2013.
It was in downtown Springfield, and the duo was quickly able to open a second shop before their first year in business.
Almost seven years later, the paint is still drying at their latest addition to the Hudson Hawk family. Their 10th store opened in December in Leawood, Kansas.
“Before our first year of business, we knew we had something special,” Forrester says. “Something evident was that we were building a nice culture and an experience people latched on to.”
The barber shop offers classic and zero-fade haircuts, hot-towel shaves and waxing in four markets: Springfield, Columbia, Kansas City and Bentonville, Arkansas.
But it was one of the first in Springfield to revive the old-school barber shop with a modern twist. Rogue Barber Co. LLC began operating in January 2013, and businesses that followed include Dapper, Straight Edge Barber & Salon and Outlaw Gentlemen, according to Springfield Business Journal research.
The activity in Springfield is representative of an industry comeback.
In the 20 years prior to Hudson Hawk opening, the number of U.S. barber shops decreased 23%, according to a Forbes report citing census data. The national employment of barbers is now expected to grow 8% by 2028, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Forrester and Catlett are riding the wave they helped to start. The Hudson Hawk owners are looking to enter another new market this year – St. Louis and Tulsa, Oklahoma, are on the radar.
“Part of our expansion has been to provide a great company and a great culture for barbers,” Forrester says.
Hudson Hawk’s branding, from its logo to interior designs, is consistent throughout. Each barber shop has a coolness to it with a refined aesthetic fusing industrial and midcentury designs.
“It’s important that we’re years ahead of everyone else in the design field,” says Catlett, whose main focus is the company’s branding and expansion. “In all of our new stores ... we really transitioned into more of a timeless design with midcentury modern, with pallets, walnut, black leather – things that are not going to go out of style.”
That translates into the products. Available at every store are Hudson Hawk branded T-shirts and hats, which Forrester says range from $20-$25.
Hudson Hawk also sells grooming products, such as beard oil, pomade and soap, for an average $20 apiece. Product brands include Firsthand Supply, Proraso and O’Douds.
Catlett says Hudson Hawk has attracted clients as young as 4 years old to those who’ve sat in a barber’s chair for decades.
“We’re very generational,” he says. “We’re not a trend. We get better every year due to our consistency and our laser focus on brand quality.”
In 2018, the company rolled out a smartphone app to book appointments.
Damon Dorsey, president of the American Barber Association, says Hudson Hawk is hot on the heels of the U.S. barber shop trends. Formed in 2014, the ABA has roughly 5,700 members national.
“Technology might be driving a lot of the growth we’re seeing right now because it’s easier to tap into markets,” Dorsey says. “What barbers need a lot is the ability to keep up with technology, business trends and the ability to compete. With social media now and apps – that’s a whole marketing mechanism.”
Not all barbers walk into Hudson Hawk with as much experience in the industry as Catlett, who’s been in the hair business for over 25 years. He also owns Studio 417 Salon with his wife, Hannah.
The shop brings on fully licensed barbers and cosmetologists and requires them to go through training with a senior barber.
Each of the 10 shops are managed by a barber raised up within the company.
“We have barbers who started out cutting hair just a few years ago, who have shown responsibility, invested in their teams, and those are the people we have set up as the lead barbers in those shops,” Forrester says. “We don’t want them managing people; we want them leading people.”
The 115-employee company also began offering health benefits a few years ago, he says, such as health, dental, vision, long-term and short-term disability insurance coverages. Dorsey says this is not a common practice in the barber industry, noting most barbers earn a wage per haircut. According to the BLS, the mean annual wage for a barber in 2017 was $30,500.
“We don’t treat our employees like a franchise – we focus on those relationships and continued development,” Catlett says.
For Forrester, it comes down to culture. “It’s a culture that everybody’s pulling in the same direction for,” he says. “I’m investing in the leadership and operations team, they’re investing in the people and the shops, and the shops are investing in the clients.”
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