Don’t call The Gents Place a barbershop. Don’t call it a men’s salon. Owner Ben Davis refers to his four locations, in Texas and Kansas, as “clubs,” and for good reason. “We’re not in the haircut business; we’re in the business of selling a feeling,” he explains.
That feeling is a sense of community that comes from the atmosphere Davis has created, an atmosphere that borrows more from a country club or high-end gym than it does a barbershop. The Gents Place offers luxury amenities—like a full bar, shoe shines and spa packages—but more than that, it’s a place where members are known by name and treated like valued guests. There is a membership option where clients can buy different service packages at various intervals—weekly up to every four weeks—that fosters that clubby feeling.
Davis had no experience in running any type of similar business prior to opening the first Gents Place in 2008. Finishing a job at an internet start-up, he says he was casting around for what was next and asked himself: “What do I want to fix?” Davis says he had always hated getting his hair cut, to the point that he would get it cut twice as short as he wanted it to avoid going back. “I feel bad for guys going to XYZ Clip Joint or their wives’ salons because they have no other options,” he says.
Davis researched by visiting other men’s salons in the Dallas area. “I went in as a consumer,” he says. He found the independent salons to be cleaner and more polished than the budget men’s chains he was used to, but he still wasn’t impressed. “The idea was there, but the execution was off,” he says. “It was the same experience in the chair.”
Davis says he built his business plan around doing what the local men's salons weren’t. A lot of that centered around building, training and retaining a staff that would perform up to the high standards Davis had in mind. “There’s a complete and utter disregard for this being a real career,” he says, referring to hairdressers who face discouragement and negativity from friends and loved ones about their chosen path. “I wanted to change that.” The Gents Place offers employees health insurance, matching contributions to 401K plans, free gym membership (as long as they visit regularly) and paid time off for doing community service. There is a position called Master Groomer at each location, someone who’s responsible for setting the educational agenda for the existing team and for incoming staff. Educational offerings are far-ranging, including a recent visit by James Thomas, inspirational speaker and author of Steve Harvey’s Barber Says It All.
The formula is working. Despite having started at the height of the worst economic crisis in decades, The Gents Place opened its fourth location earlier this year. And last month, it began offering franchises. “It took us time to get it right,” says Davis. “Now we’re in a place where we can take this concept to the next level.”