Tom Twellman Sr. | Crain's St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Tom Twellman Sr.

Background:  

Hair Saloon, which offers 15 locations across the St. Louis region, is modeled on the classic barbershop and offers services including shaves and haircuts for men and boys. Each service comes with traditional perks such as a complimentary shoe shine. Locations also offer specials including discounts for fathers and sons with appointments at the same time to encourage the communal barbershop vibe.

The Mistake:

Being unprepared for expansion opportunities.

I've been an entrepreneur my whole working life. Back in 1979, I developed an indoor recreational facility called Indoor Soccer, which was maybe the first of its kind in the country and definitely the first in the area. Soccer is a love of mine and I created a facility where players could come in as teams and play the sport. It turned out to be very popular. I wasn't prepared for the popularity and the subsequent expansion opportunities. And you can't trademark an idea. So what I did was really create plenty of opportunity for other people to knock off the concept, and that's exactly what happened. Everybody jumped on the bandwagon and started opening similar venues.

Food and beverage was another part of those facilities. I didn't realize early on that I wasn't a good fit for that kind of lifestyle — late nights, seven days a week. My family was growing at the time. My wife and I have eight kids and I never wanted to slight my responsibilities as a husband and father.

I wasn't prepared for the popularity and the subsequent expansion opportunities.

The Lesson:

We ended up with as many as three facilities, although I knew early on it was going to be a tough business for someone like myself. So we started efforts to sell those facilities. It took a very long time to do that but, finally, it was accomplished. What I learned from that is if you are going to create something and you believe in it and you believe it's going to be popular, you’d better be prepared for some expansion.

Being a serial entrepreneur, I came up with another idea for a men’s haircutting establishment and created a concept called the Hair Saloon, which was basically a reinvention of the neighborhood barbershop. I saw a need as barber shops were closing. When I was thinking about this concept, I talked to a lot of men and a lot of women. In many cases, there was a level of discomfort for both men and women about being in the same full-service salon. That's what I latched onto.

I wanted to create something that was for men and junior men of all ages. We opened our first one in 1997. I knew if this is going to be as popular as I thought it was going to be, then we needed to be prepared. So we designed our store and our business operation in such a way that we looked a lot bigger than we were. I learned lessons from the first time around. So, when we started the Hair Saloon, we went about it the correct way. Everything was trademarked, all our taglines and so forth.

We started out by building one corporate store a year. It got up to four corporate stores and we knew that if we were going to expand, we were going to have to go the franchise route. So we brought in a franchise consultant and started that process, which is somewhat expensive, to get ready to franchise. The first store opened in 1997, we started franchising 2002, and it’s still something I’m very excited about. It’s a business, but it’s also kind of a ministry. We want to be very wholesome. We're closed on Sundays. We want to create a place for fathers and sons to hang out, an environment that helps men be the best versions of themselves.

Hair Saloon is on Twitter at @hair_saloon.

Photo courtesy of Hair Saloon.

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