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Focusing on Customers Relationships with Mark Avery

Focusing on Customers Relationships with Mark Avery

Podcast published: September 4, 2020

As salons and barbershops across Pennsylvania try to keep up with changing safety guidelines, we sat down with a local shop owner to chat through his experience. A Kennett Square native, Mark Avery, aka Juice the Barber, opened his own shop in November 2019. Mark’s shop is the KSQ Barber Lounge and offers everything from haircuts to hot lather shaves. In our conversation, Mark shared great insight around the value of building relationships with customers.

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Notes

What was it like opening a few months before the pandemic?

  • When he launched his own barbershop, Mark was excited when both existing customers (from his previous job) and new customers began to fill his book of business.
  • The shop was doing well, with 5–10 new customers coming in every week.
  • Mark was serving 40-60 customers per week before the COVID-19 shutdown hit.
  • The KSQ Barber Lounge offers a new experience with the one-on-one barbershop.

What happened during the COVID-19 lockdowns?

  • When COVID-19 lockdowns hit, Mark couldn’t do anything. He had to close.
  • Yet, the first year of a business is so vital to its success, to have it all to a complete halt was tough. Mark needed to turn to family for help.
  • Getting economic relief from the government was tough because he opened in November 2019. He only had five weeks of a tax return to use as evidence of earning.
  • Eventually, Mark was able to secure a grant for his business.

How do you manage having folks in the barbershop?

  • The safety measures require additional tasks to keep the barber lounge clean, and both himself and customers safe.
  • Mark has stretched all of his appointments to 45 minutes, even if the service provided takes less time.
  • Between each appointment, Mark cleans the shop and his tools, and the extra time between appointments gives him the time to be thorough.
  • For his business, it’s not as bad since he already focuses 1-on-1. Stretched his time slots a bit to give him a chance to wipe down everything – any surface that gets touched by the client gets wiped down. 

How’s business since brick-n-mortar shops were allowed to reopen?

  • As of late August, it’s hit or miss.
  • It’s a mix; a lot of people have seen a drop-off because customers don’t feel comfortable; especially at bigger shops.
  • Mark limits the amount of people in the shop – i.e., who can be in the shop in addition to the customer in the barber chair – so customers feel comfortable. 

How are you communicating to your base? 

  • Mark admitted that he has slacked on reaching a wider audience.
  • For current customers, Mark regularly sends email and texts – especially after he reopened.
  • Mark made it clear that he needs to do more on social media.
    • He wants to create a video documenting his cleaning procedures and practices.
    • But he needs to take more pictures and post more regularly. 
  • Mark tells everyone who owns a business that social media is free marketing. He knows he needs to up his work there.
  • For booking appointments and full business details, the barber lounge uses a site called Vagaro: https://www.vagaro.com/ksqbarberlounge
  • Mark uses social media to build relationships with customers.

What are you hearing in the “barbershop talk”?

  • When it comes to talking about the economy, Mark is hearing every end of the spectrum.
  • Clients and friends are worried about jobs and businesses.
  • Restaurant owners might not be able to open safely, especially outside the summer season.
  • There are also people who are taking the opportunity to try something new or open a new business.
  • Mark closed out the show with an eloquent monologue on how if we focus more on the relationships, the money will come. He explained that everyone comes from different experiences and we can learn from all of those experiences.

Intro: Hey everybody, and welcome to another episode of Start Local, the podcast focused on helping small businesses in Chester County, PA, and the greater Philly area as we try to navigate through the Covid-19 economy.

Joe Casabona: Now, before I bring in Liam and our guest today, I do want to tell you about our new monthly newsletter where we will send you some great takeaways from the months worth of episodes as well as news happening around the county. If that sounds good to you, you can sign up for this totally free, totally monthly newsletter over at [startlocal.co/news]. That’s [startlocal.co/news]. 

Okay. So, I’m Joe Casabona. I’m here with my fellow co-host, Liam Dempsey. Liam, how are you today? 

Liam Dempsey: Joe, great. Thanks for flagging up that newsletter. I’m really excited to get that up and going, and a number of folks have been asking us if we have anything like that. So, I’m really excited to share that. 

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. I am excited to put out more information, but also to connect with the listeners, which is one of our main reasons for doing it as well. So, yeah. Definitely excited to start that. And I’m also excited about today’s guest. His name is Mark Avery, a k a Juice the barber. He is the owner of KSQ Barber Lounge in Kennet Square. Mark, how are you today? 

Mark Avery: Doing wonderful. How are you guys doing today? 

Joe Casabona: Doing very well. Thank you. Thanks for joining us. We are going to be talking to you about what it’s like running a barber shop, a barber lounge, here in a covid-19 world. But before we get into all of that, why don’t you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do. 

Mark Avery: So my name is Mark Avery, a k a Juice the Barber. I’m a Kennet Square native. I was born and raised here. Graduated high school class of 2006, and I now own the Kennet’s new Barber lounge. As previously stated, it’s in the heart of Kennet Square, located in the same building as the Kennet flash for all of our old Kennet and longtime Kennet folks, that would be the same building as the old Newbury. That’s what we know it as. And I would say, that just opened, I opened this up back in November of 2019. It’s a small studio setup, so just a one-on-one with me and my client, more attention to detail. Just a more relaxed environment, relaxed atmosphere where anyone, [Inaudible 2:31.41] walk of life for any style, any texture of hair can come and receive the type of haircut and male groom services from anything from just longer cuts that are just all shears, and providing volume to your skin fades to hot lather shaves. I do everything in between. There’s a place where anyone can come in, feel welcome and receive the service that they want.

Joe Casabona: Awesome. As a benefactor of many hot lather shaves, that is, if you gentlemen listening,  have never had one before, I would strongly recommend it. 

Mark Avery:  It’s my best service. is my favorite service to provide. I highly recommend.

Joe Casabona: Awesome.

Liam Dempsey: Well, we’re certainly gonna talk about how you are serving customers in your shop down there, in your lounge, down there in Kenneth Square and down there ’cause I’m based up in Northern Chester County. So,  greetings from the far end. 

Mark, you shared with us that you opened up this shop on your own in November of 2019, and that gave you about five or six months before Covid-19 hit. And then a lot has changed since then. Can you kind of walk us through what getting your own business off the ground looked like and how that went for the first few months? And then talk a little bit about what that change in lockdown orders has meant for you and for your business.

Mark Avery: Yeah. Soo, it was great, you know, had a lot of support when I initially opened up back in November. And I saw a lot of clients that I’ve been cutting for years, even going back to my time at Cruising Style Barbershop over in Westchester from the time we started as apprentice, and apprentice and getting my license that went through that whole bees and so to kind of build up until November 2019. And it was an amazing feeling, you know, getting everything off the ground, having the clients come in, that, especially for those that had never experienced a one-on-one environment like this or had even known that this would, was an option, it seemed to be something everybody liked.

And I was seeing a lot of new faces and new people making a lot of  connections to networking, and just building the client. But over time and then covid hits and it’s just a complete shutdown for the, I guess to say the trend for me from November until pretty much March 14th when we had to shut down. I saw between like five to 10 brand new people every week and it just kept building and kept building the momentum. That’s to the point where I was servicing, you know, pretty much between like the high forties to high fifties, almost 60 people each week, and that’s great. That’s exactly where I’m trying to be, you know, making money. 

And then covid hit. Everything stopped, you know, I couldn’t cut, I didn’t, couldn’t do anything. You know, I just kind of sitting here, you know, with my hands crossed and anyone understands starting out a business, you know, that first year is so light that you really sets the table for how the business will go from there on forward. And for the first year of the business I would be total,  I would be close for four months. I wasn’t able, you know, had to be shut down that entire time. And it was heartbreaking. 

To be honest with you, there was days I didn’t know I was still gonna have the shop, the days when I didn’t know how I was gonna work client-wise, where people feel comfortable coming back into the shop after  covid. Even if I have the CDC guidelines, recommendations everything like that, there’s so many factors and just that have you come to a complete halt.

And I think as a business owner as well as just as being a man, you know, trying to provide for your family and stuff like that to see, there’s literally nothing you can do about it. You just have to follow it and follow all the covid guidelines and everything coming down.

It was hard. It was very hard to just be complete transparent. But thankfully we were able to get through it and get back to opening things and just trying almost, I just recovered to get back to that same trend that I was hitting before covid.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. And  you know, this is something that I’m curious in because Liam and I run Digital businesses, you know, I’ve never had experience with a brick and mortar store. But we’ve had representatives from the local state and federal level talking about kind of some economic relief for small businesses and stuff like that. Were you able to take advantage of any of that? Did it help or were you able to kind of coast until you were able to reopen?  Because you’re a one-on-one shop?

Mark Avery: So I had it two-part thing I guess you could say. The issue I had with a lot of the economic growth being out since I didn’t open until November of 2019, I literally had five weeks of a tax return to be able to give to sump for a lot of the relief. So a lot of people were denying it, denying me the relief because there wasn’t enough of a paper trail as of yet. So, thankfully the online I was able to get a grant that provided some relief. And then from there, just really, I had to do the work and just try to build back up, you know, borrowing from against my savings, anything I had saved up, even help, some help from family, just to be able to get through until we can get reopened. And since that time, we’ve just been recovering, trying to make the money I need to make to pay them back as well, and stay afloat. But it’s getting better with time. But that was another hard piece. That’s another hard thing that I felt helpless in certain aspects, honestly. 

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. Thank you Mark for sharing with us. And as Joe mentioned with our digital businesses, we didn’t experience the same kind of shutdown that you would’ve. And I can only imagine what that must have been like. Where, you know, you’re owning your own business. You’re growing, you’re seeing new customers, new faces coming in. You’re loving it. This is working. Oh my gosh, how fantastic. And then just to have the door slammed so hard in your face, nothing personal, just, Wow! Bam! That must, thank you for taking the time to share with us. That’s really powerful. 

Lockdown orders have been relaxed, certainly across Southeastern PA. A lot of businesses are opening up and have been open for a period of time. There’s still some regulations and health practices, social distancing, use of masks and the like. Talk to us about running a lounge, running a barber shop, and what that means for you where there are these health and safety guidelines. What does that look like for you day to day, and what does that mean for your business? 

Mark Avery: So day to day, it just add, it does add some additional tasks that I wouldn’t have had to do beforehand. 

For my business, although it does add something additional, honestly, in the end, I don’t think it’s as bad because I’m already providing and focusing on one-on-one attention more than anything else. So what I did, I just change my appointment slot times. sS I used to do, if it was just a haircut, it would be a half hour appointment for that time slot, you Know, (I’m getting people in and out, but now I stretch everything) no matter what the service even it’s a case that takes me 15 minutes, I stretch to 45. And the reason I do that is so I can wipe down the surfaces in between. I can spray Lysol. I can do whatever I need to do between every single client. And I’d rather just take that safety precaution it’s like yes number one is for the clients but just as much as it is for them it’s for me as well.

And I start with family. I gotta keep safe. I still have people I know. My grandparents and any anyone else you know could be affected due to COVID. We all know and we could all mean, you know, people could have it and not know, you know, all the asymptomatic stuff you’ve seen around the way, around the internet and social media. So you just would rather be safe rather than sorry. So even between every single client to any surface that gets touched by the client, mainly obviously the chair, tapes, stuff like that. Even my credit card processor, everything gets wiped down between everyone. And I try to leave enough time, so even after the way it’s done, I still have some time to sit before the next person comes in. So it delays or because of adding that additional time, yes. I’m getting less people in per day or even have the opportunity to get less people in per day than I would’ve pre covid.

But at the end of the day, if that’s what I need to do to make sure I feel safe and everyone else will save them, that’s just what I have to do.

Joe Casabona: Yeah. Oh, sorry. Yeah. sorry, Liam. I was just gonna say, I think that’s really important, and probably really comforting, right? Because, you know, as I kind of alluded to at the beginning of the show, I love getting my haircut, getting the hot lather shave. I did cut my hair once over this pandemic. My friends tell me because I’m Italian, I’d be good at it. But, I’ve been hesitant to maybe wanna go back to the local barbershop because of the closed quarters. And the things that you just described there make me feel a lot better about scheduling a haircut, which my wife has been encouraging me to do for a little while. 

Mark Avery: Well, hopefully I’ll see you at the lounge. 

Joe Casabona: Yeah, for sure. 

Liam Dempsey: Mark. Thank you for that. Will you, are you seeing a return to your customer base? Are folks coming back? You said that you can see fewer in a day because if you’re blocking longer time, but are, is your day filling up?

Mark Avery: At the moment to be completely transparent with you, it’s hit or miss. I have some days, I know, like when I first sent out that blast that I was reopening, I had some days that were, I would book up. It was 45 minutes. Every 45 straight through. Then you get some days where it’s, it may be you’re getting a little less. But i’ve seen, you’re just getting a good amount like my base clients, the guys that are always below to me, of course they’ve come back. But, it’s just, there’s a mix because I’ve talked to other shop owners, I have mentors that are in this business, even guys that are influencers in the industry that teach for the clipper companies, everything like that. And they also own barbershops. 

It’s a mix. A lot of people have seen a drop-off and I think the biggest thing is people don’t feel comfortable. I think people feel, obviously if you’re going into a big shop, the shop I used to work at, at one point there were eight barbers in there. So, you know, you have people coming and going, people sitting like, Hey, going into an environment like that, people probably aren’t gonna feel comfortable.

Coming into an environment like mine, it’s literally just me and you. Whoever you bring at the time, I did limited the appointment of the people that can come in. If it’s all people, the only way I allowed is if it’s like two brothers coming together or two fathers and sons or even if it’s a mother bring her child back. And really the amount of people that are in your purpose just so everyone feels comfortable just so I from cultural as well. I don’t know, just so I feel comfortable as well. I don’t know. The biggest thing is, you know, we pray and we hope people are being clean and wearing a mask, and  doing what they’re supposed to. But in reality we don’t know what happens when people leave our site. So just to be on the safe side, all of those guidelines in place, even on top of whatever, you know, the CDC recommended, just to make sure everyone feels comfortable.

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. Those safety guidelines are inevitably gonna make your existing customer base, your loyal customer base happy and feel more comfortable. How are you communicating these safety practices, these extra steps that you’re going? How are you communicating that to your existing client base and then also maybe to a wider distribution list or a wider community? How are you sharing that information? 

Mark Avery: So, to be completely transparent with you, that’s one thing I have slacked on.  Getting it to a wider base. When I opened up and sent out a text blast, email blast to all my clients, I gave them, it was almost a breakdown of the differences on how I operated before to how we’re gonna operate now. So, they were all made aware and they could decide, you know, if they’re, if you feel comfortable coming in and you wanna make an appointment, I’m here but this is how it’s going to work. 

For those that are looking for somewhere to go, to be honest with you, I haven’t done that. That’s something everyone keeps telling me, take pictures. And I found, and not one of the biggest things I do probably, I hate God 99% alcohol off. I’m going to spray around the entire side with the Lysol all that stuff so even just seeing me wipe down, spray down, wipe the chair like I thought about putting up the video just of what I do in between every single client so everyone can see that. And that’s probably done within the next day or so but I need to be better from that perspective. So…

Joe Casabona: Yeah. I think that’s really important, especially now, you know, we live in like the Instagram, TikTok, social Media Society. What properties, I guess, are you on? What social media, do you have your own website? Where do you live on the internet? 

Mark Avery: So social media is my big, is the big key. I tell everyone in any kind of service providing business or any business really, the social media is a free market. Like it makes perfect sense. You can put yourself out there, people can see it. It’s easy. So that’s really the biggest thing. If you follow me on Instagram,  my two big Instagram accounts, I have @kscbarberlounge and @juicethebarber.

I also do have the Facebook page’s, facebook.com/juicethebarber610, and I use that. And then my, even my Google page as well as my booking site, I book using a company called Vagaro. www.vagaro.com/ksqbarberlounge, and that’s the link directly to the site that provides you all the information on like my pricing, you can see just some photos out there of the work, information about how to open appointment, my cancellation policy. Everything was listed there. And all those are rushed to the all list like as far as Instagram and Facebook. I just make sure I upload, constantly upload pictures more often than I will see from me. I try to post something at least once a day sometimes it’s 2-3 times a day depending on family when I remember to take pictures of. But I try to really use that being as much as possible. And it’s worth a lot. There’s so many people even from all the shops I’ve worked at because I’ve been always been aggressive about building my brand and building in my dad’s following. I’ve even had other barbers at other shops I worked at benefit of someone finding my post and me being myself that’s roads.

I try to be really active. I talk to my clients on regular basis through social media. Today, I tell everyone I don’t vote for you just to come in here and give you money out of this build a relationship. I wanna know about you. Wanna know about your family business and everything like that, and social media is the easiest way to know all of that you could see what’s going on what people are doing and keep in touch. 

Joe Casabona: Awesome. Thank you for that. I’ll be sure to link all of those things at the show notes for this episode too over at [startlocal.co]. 

Mark Avery:  Awesome. 

Liam Dempsey: Mark, the value of those personal relationships is hugely important, especially when folks need a haircut or for a shave at least once or twice, once a month or two, right? Depending on what they’re doing, maybe even more. You talked a lot about wanting to have relationships and chat with your customers and really get to know them. And certainly though the barbershop has a reputation as a place where folks go to talk and share and chitchat and talk about things, I wonder if anecdotally you can share with us what you’ve been hearing in your shop around what other folks are thinking of the economy in Chester County, what they’re thinking about business, what they’re thinking about economic outlook. What are you hearing in the KSQ Barber lounge? 

Mark Avery: To be honest with you, I’m hearing kind of on every end of the spectrum you can imagine. I hear some of my business owner, clients and friends, you know, worried about their jobs or worried about their businesses to see even if they’re going to make it through this whole situation. There are restaurants that I know, because of their situation, they may not, might not be able to have the outdoor seating, they might not be able to have a lot of the other things that other restaurants and places are benefiting from. So they’re worried, you know, once we get through the summer season, what’s gonna happen if I can only have x amount of people coming into my restaurant? For dine-in services, and that’s really the bulk of everything that they do. How is that gonna work? How’s the takeouts gonna work? Like everything, there’s so many different things. 

But then even on the flip side, a lot of people I know who are looking at this time to step out entrepreneurially the way they wanted to beforehand, and they didn’t have opportunity, but now because so many things have gone out of business for so many, somebody claimed people have that shifted. This is just from a little bit and it’s hot. They may have a chance to to start that restaurant. They may have a chance to start that business, whatever it is. It’s honestly, I’m hearing good and bad because it, yes I am. I still question, I still wonder there’s still where I slightly obviously being a person you’re going to in the state we’re in currently. But At the same time, as much as I question and worry, I see that there’s opportunity for things to come up and grow and be built, and establish themselves. So it’s kind of like I said, it’s just on both ends. I mean, I’m kind of hearing it all and it’s not more than the other. It’s kind of a balance of everything. This is just from a little bit and it’s hot. 

Liam Dempsey: Yeah. That’s really interesting, and perhaps not surprising certainly in our business as Joe and I get a little bit of that as well. And I think you’re absolutely right. There’s plenty of opportunity. Takes a lot more legwork, takes a lot more, I gotta try something new, you know, social media, and you’re leading the way there and teaching some of the, maybe some of the old guard of your industry how to do these things. But, it pays off, doesn’t it? And it can help bridge the challenges that we’re facing, this Covid-19 economy. Thank you. 

Mark Avery: Absolutely. Yep. 

Joe Casabona: And that’s part of the reason we started this show, right? Is to get ideas from local business owners for how they can grow. So you know, like Liam said, you’ve provided great advice on social media.

Last week we spoke to Jim from Levante about how he’s kind of handling the reopening and things like that. So, there’s, thank you for adding to hopefully what is a very helpful collection of resources for small businesses in the area.

And we just wanna wrap up here by asking if people wanna learn more about you, I know you gave a lot of your accounts already, but you know, where can people find you? How can they reach out? 

Mark Avery: Definitely you can reach, anything of reach me at anytime you can e-mail me at juicethebarber.info@gmail.com. I do have a separate e-mail for the shop itself that case gmail.com but anything directly related to trying to grow with middle that any discussions on, I’m always here. I’m transparent obviously like with the social media you’re always going to reach something there or to schedule a haircut, come in, sit down and we can talk if you have any questions about anything that I can help.

Well, like you said this it’s not we have learned that being in business as much as I, obviously we’re in business can make money but if you focus more on the relationships, the money always follows, that they will come. And that’s something that was a big big piece. I didn’t really understand, I’m a numbers guy prior to being you know being a Barber. I thought I wanted to be in the country so crunching number like that’s just what I did. I was completely wrong. I just like money .I just like really all this. So, but honestly it’s just it’s much easier. I feel much more rewarded having someone come in and sit for a haircut.

And they feel inspired to go do something that they wanna do, other than just having someone come in here and pay me money to receive a service. Like, we can talk, we can be you. I tell clients all the time, as much as I feel like I can be a resource to them, all of my clients are resources to me. You know, there’s even if it’s just in life, there’s people from different walks of life. I have clients that are Middle Eastern, that are Spanish, that are white, that are black. It doesn’t matter. It just, everyone comes from different areas. They have different experiences and that’s something we can learn from and we can all wear one big melting pot. 

I can say growing up in Canada and Chester County living around here, this area is much more diverse than a lot of other areas I’ve been in. And for, and I say that for a small town vibe, to have this little of a space and be able to see different people, different culture, different ethnicities and races, and we all, they’re all resources. That’s why I look at every, there’s that person knows something I don’t, and that’s something they could teach me to better my life, better my business, whatever. And if we looked at things like that, everyone I think would really be successful long term. And everyone would, we would all have relationships. We all have the money and everything. 

Joe Casabona: Awesome. 

Mark Avery: Yeah.

Joe Casabona: I love that. I don’t think there’s a better way for us to close out the show. 

So, thanks everybody for listening. Thanks, Mark, for your time. And until next week, stay safe out there.

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