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Published:August 1st, 2006 05:08 EST
The Things I've Learned in a Barbershop

The Things I've Learned in a Barbershop

By Terry Sumerlin (Mentor/Columnist)


Have you ever accepted something as true that you later discovered was not? Conversely, have you ever heard something that you thought was pretty good advice that years later you discovered to be very good advice? I recently experienced the latter.

On July 25, 1956 my uncle J.B. opened his barbershop in Alamo Heights, a suburb of San Antonio. I began working there in 1989 and in 1993 purchased the shop from him. Last week we celebrated 50 years of continuous operation. With lots of cake and punch, commemorative pens, hearty gripping and grinning, numerous friends and customers and, even, coverage (twice) by the San Antonio Express-News; we had a grand celebration.

In the midst of preparation for the event, I began to think back over my experiences and what I learned in my 17 of the shop`s 50 years. Even though because of speaking activities I spend less and less time in the shop, barbering has confirmed and reinforced many common sense truths. They are principles learned through the years, from various mentors, and that I try to impart to others when I speak. Following are just a few:

The job does not give you the dignity. You take the dignity to the job. " Zig Ziglar

When I first bought the shop, I was proud of the fact that I owned my own successful business. Yet, when someone would ask what I did for a living, I would avoid telling them what kind of business I owned. Just that I owned a small business. Similarly, when those who heard me speak would ask if I had another occupation I`d usually give them the same sort of dodge. I couldn`t bring myself to tell them I was a barber. Professional speaking was far more dignified.

Then I began to realize the impossibility of being a happy hypocrite. It also dawned on me that, though there have been countless barbers in the history of the profession, there is only one ME. Likewise, there have been countless professional speakers. However, like all professions, these are just what they are " professions. It takes people to give professions dignity and uniqueness. Thus, barber-osophy was born.

People never forget what you do for their kids. " " Marshall Davis, old-time preacher

Many of those who attended our anniversary party had one thing in common: They got their first haircut at J.B`s. Some of them are now grandfathers. In some cases this loyalty spans several generations.

Though many factors enter into this relationship, gentleness, kindness and patience with first haircuts " definitely contribute to this lasting bond. Many times, young couples come in with a little fellow in arms. J.B. gave me my first haircut, " the dad will say. We want to keep up the tradition. "

Remember that a man`s name is to him the sweetest and most important sound in any language. " " Dale Carnegie

Almost before I got my tools set up that first day of work in "89, J.B. showed me his name book. " On yellowed pages in a clip board were names of customers and their identifying characteristics. As a former Dale Carnegie instructor, I learned and taught name memory. J.B.`s 50-year friendship with customers retaught me the importance of calling people by name. With names customers often become lifelong friends.

People don`t care how much you know until they know how much you care. " " Anonymous

If you were to ask some of our 40 or 50 year customers, Honestly, have you ever gotten a bad haircut from J.B.?, " I`d be real surprised if no one said yes. This is not a reflection on J.B. It`s just to say barbering is not an exact science, and people are not always at their best at anything. If, in fact, J.B. gave someone a bad haircut, why do you suppose the same fellow would keep coming back for so many years? Could it be because J.B. cares? Could it be because he calls his customers by name, asks about their kids and tells them, with dignity, I enjoy barbering today as much as I ever did "?

BARBER-OSOPHY: If you want to build a good business, practice what`s good for people.

Copyright 2006, Terry L. Sumerlin.

Terry L. Sumerlin, known as the Barber-osopher, is the author of "A HUMAN BECOMING - A Life Changing Voyage," and is a columnist for the San Antonio Business Journal. He speaks nationally as a humorist/motivational speaker. Visit his website at