Stanford grads open unique barbershop

June 26, 2008 8:17:41 AM PDT
When you think of barbershops, do you picture small neighborhood places for your basic shave and cut? That's not the vision of a pair of Stanford Business School grads. They're turning heads with a unique barbershop in San Francisco - mixing old-fashioned pampering and digital-age networking.

With a fashionable happy hour crowd, a giant flat-screen TV - it looks like a hip San Francisco club, but looks can be deceiving.

"We want to be the "W" hotel of the barbershop industry," said Kumi Walker, Mr. co-owner.

This is Mr. - what you get when two buddies, with Wall Street and Stanford credentials, open up a barbershop that dreams of becoming something much bigger. There are plush leather couches, a TV for sports and financial news above every station and a bar counter that displays luxury items for sale. You can sip cappuccino or wine, enjoy a head massage or get your shoe-shined - all part of the Mr. experience.

It appeals to high-powered executives like Sam Manning.

"It's important for me, being a business person, being in front of clients on a regular basis - you want to make sure your appearance is correct," said Sam Manning, Mr. member.

The young co-owners, Kumi Walker and Sean Heywood, know something about that. After graduating from Brown University, both had Wall Street jobs; it was lucrative, but uninspiring. They kicked a bunch of ideas around before deciding on this upscale barbershop/social club concept. Then the two went to Stanford business school together to learn how to make it happen.

"Our vision when we created the store was to make it cooler than most guys' apartments. This would be a place that transcends functional and make them feel better about themselves," said Heywood.

Dwight Keyser is sold, he forks out $110 a month for a mid-level membership.

"I grew up in a small town and traditionally went to small barbershops. So for me to go to a place like this with plasma TV's everywhere, it's a new experience, a fun experience," said Keyser.

The venue already hosts private parties, book signings and wine tastings. And new features are coming - Mr. will store 360-degree images of clients' haircuts - so they can get the same exact cut every time. And by next month, clients will be able to see each other's profiles on Mr.'s website and connect and get alerts when friends have upcoming appointments. Sean and Kumi hope what's happening in their barbershop will be the building blocks of a social networking empire.

"We see professionals meeting other professionals and doing business transactions in the middle of Dubai," said Walker.

Mr. Barbershop is membership based. You pay a $200 dollar initiation. Then you pick a package ranging from $60 to $250 - not cheap, especially in this economy. But the owners say they're doing well, and hope to open up another location in the next year.

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