Vida Humphries started cutting hair when he was just 11 years old, practicing on his little brother and friends in the Chicago neighborhood where he grew up. He had been fascinated by the barbershop experience since having his hair cut at his cousin’s barbershop as a child. By the time he was 13, Humphries had no doubt where his career path was headed.
“I did OK, but messed up a lot of haircuts back in those early days; I would start with the back of the head so if I made mistakes, they wouldn’t be able to see it right away,” he muses. “I learned how to make those mistakes right, though, and when I was 13, I had an epiphany. Maybe I didn’t always get it right the first time, but I could always fix those haircuts. That could mean only one thing: I was meant to be a barber.”
Humphries’ next epiphany came at 18, when he saw a crowd of people waiting in line to get haircuts at a barbershop in his local mall. He recognized a formula for success. Today, Humphries’ A Shaving Grace Barber Shops serve 20,000 customers a month in nine mall locations in Greater Houston, Texas, and Madison, Wisconsin, with more expansion plans in the works.
Who are your customers?
Our shops are located in shopping malls, so we have customers of all ages, mostly 50 and under, and about 90% men and boys — people who are usually looking for the kind of detailed look you can only get from a true, licensed barber. We live in a picture-taking, selfie-taking, image-upholding world, so we do a lot of detail work for our customers.
What differentiates A Shaving Grace from other barbershops and salons?
Many things: We are walk-in only. We are in shopping malls. We are open seven days a week. And we are a Christian-based, family-friendly company. You won’t hear foul language from our barbers and stylists, and for about three hours every morning, we play Christian-based music to set a positive tone for the day.
Will you talk about your company’s growth? What are your expansion plans going forward?
I started in Greenpoint Mall in Houston in 2015 and opened my second location a year-and-a-half later. Since then, I’ve opened a new shop about every six months. Once I get a new barbershop established, with a manager I know I can trust to lead it to success, I open the next location. It used to be I had to scout for locations, but now the mall management companies know me and reach out when an appropriate space opens up.
This year, my son joined the business — he manages our Madison location — and so I’m going to leave mall expansions up to him while I focus on moving our brand into airports. Ultimately, I’d like to see A Shaving Grace in almost every mall and major airport across the country.
Why shopping malls and airports?
In the hair business, the company with the largest volume wins. Shopping malls have an abundance of foot traffic and people are there to spend money, usually to enhance their looks through clothing, jewelry and shoes. Why not finish off that look with a good, detailed haircut?
Airports have heavy foot traffic as well, plus people often find themselves waiting for their flight. We plan to offer not only walk-in service at airports but also appointments so that customers can be assured of staying on schedule with their flights. We are in the process of having two apps built — one for airports and one for malls — for people who prefer to make appointments versus just walking in.
Will you talk about your vision for bringing barber schools to prisons?
A Shaving Grace offers second-chance job opportunities to formerly incarcerated individuals who have completed barber school. My idea is to put accredited barber schools right into prisons across the country. Those who graduate will have a guaranteed job as an independent contractor with A Shaving Grace waiting for them when they’ve finished serving their time. I’m forming a nonprofit to help fund this initiative so we can get it up and running soon.
What advice would you offer aspiring entrepreneurs about starting a business?
Don't be afraid to fail. Be disciplined and consistent.
What do you find most gratifying about being an entrepreneur?
It has been gratifying to be able to see my ideas through to fruition. Even more important is that I know my business is changing people’s lives by helping them make a good living. We do heavy volume in our barbershops. Since barbers work on commission, those who work in our shops can make more money than an average booth-rental barber. That can make a real difference in their lives.