A Cutting-Edge Comeback for a Small-Town Barbershop

Miguel Velez in his new space.

In the heart of historic Bristol Borough, Pennsylvania—a town that sits comfortably beside the Delaware river—is Miguel's Riverside Barbershop. The five-chair barbershop is a "unique experience," says the shop's namesake Miguel Velez. It wasn't always what it is today, though.

Like so many barber shops across America, Velez and his staff deal with a host of challenges, like deciding when to grow their business. "I shifted shops a lot throughout the years and I lost some barbers along the way," Velez says. "At one point it was only two of us [barbers] and I was truly scared wondering how we were going to make ends meet."

"I'd hit a bump in the road, and that just so happened to be right when Small Business Revolution came around," Velez says. The Small Business Revolution is a multi-year movement that shines a spotlight on the importance of small businesses.

"At Deluxe, a company devoted to bettering small businesses, we started by telling the stories of 100 inspiring small businesses across America, and along the way, we realized that small businesses are particularly critical to the future of our 'Main Streets," says Amanda Brinkman, Chief Brand and Communications officer at Deluxe Corporation. "We decided to create 'Small Business Revolution—Main Street,' and each season, we provide a $500,000 transformation to one lucky town and its small businesses, capturing the entire process in an online series."

At a time when Velez needed it the most, Bristol Borough won the Small Business Revolution Main Street Contest, and Miguel's Riverside Barbershop was one of six businesses chosen to get that little push they needed. "This revitalization has helped my business in so many ways already," Velez says. With the money from Small Business Revolution, Velez was able to upgrade his space and hire two new barbers—shifting from a small team of two, to a well-experienced group of four. "We all have the space we need to grow and learn from each other," he says. 

You don’t have to spend long in Bristol before hearing about Miguel and his barber shop. "Before even visiting Bristol, we found that barber shops and salons are central to the fabric of small-business communities—it’s a perfect place for people to meet, chat and keep the spirit of their communities strong," Brinkman says. "One of the things that really stood out about Miguel is how he perfectly embodies the exceptional customer service that is so critical for small businesses to set themselves apart." And it’s clearly working. Brinkman says the shop is booked most days and his business is rapidly growing.

As mentioned, Miguel had his customer service skills down pat. But after looking at his numbers, Brinkman and her team knew that he needed to increase revenue in order to make the business sustainable. "We encouraged him to never lose sight of customer service, but to also evaluate pricing and time management," she says. And, even though Velez had many loyal customers, it was nearly impossible for new customers to find him because he didn’t have a website. "Our team of marketing experts at Deluxe helped him create an all-new brand from the ground up—new logo, mobile-friendly website, branded apparel and more—which will help fuel continued growth," Brinkman says. 

"I started cutting hair when I was 15 years old," Velez reflects. "Being a barber was a huge dream of mine, but owning a barber shop of my own one day was an even bigger dream." Even though his path to success wasn't so evenly paved, Velez considers himself fortunate. "The people in Bristol Borough put their heart into this town. It's small towns like this that uplift my small business." And with the help of Small Business Revolution—Main Street, Velez has that lifelong dream in the palm of his hands.

It's not all sunshine and roses, though. "Owning a business isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. There’s a lot of time and effort put into it that not everyone sees," Velez says. "It’s a lot of time away from loved ones, a lot of missed events and gatherings. I’ve lost a lot, but I've gained so much more." His advice to other small-town barbers looking for the same? "It's not a competition. We all have that passion for doing what we love in common," he says. "There will be times you want to give up, but don’t. Just trust the process."