by Douglas M. Eisenhart, originally published in the Boston Globe on July 30, 2006
(edited for space purposes)
Step into the room of dark, oak-paneled walls, sumptuous leather barber chairs, and endless gleaming mirrors and you are transported to an earlier era. The spacious, immaculate, old-time interior of State Street Barbers — with its high-tech underpinnings — is no accident, as the carefully crafted tagline on the back of the business card states: “An old-fashioned barbershop with contemporary style and convenience.”
“We created a business I’m inherently interested in, a place I’d want to go to,” owner Peter Solomon said, describing the need he felt was not being met for high-quality men’s haircutting among low-cost “chop shops,” women’s salons that also cut men’s hair, and the barbershops now dying out.
He chose the name, State Street Barbers, because “it hearkens back to the 1920s era, the world of finance,” Solomon said. “It’s got a masculine vibe to it.”
The genesis of the State Street concept dates to a business plan he and his partners created for an entrepreneurship class in their MBA program at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management.
The Boston store — which is not located on State Street but on Washington Street in the trendy South End — is actually the third store under that brand. Solomon opened the first two with partners in Chicago in 2003 and 2005.
He was recruited out of Kellogg by consulting powerhouse Booz Allen Hamilton, whose work environment, challenging problems, and access to corporate boardrooms Solomon described as “intoxicating” for a young MBA.
He credits his consulting experience with giving him the confidence to address any kind of challenge: “You tackle amorphous issues and develop a plan of attack, driving to meaningful conclusions. You are thrown in and learn how to generalize so that you can take on almost anything.”
“The birth of my daughter accelerated the [departure] process,” Solomon said, noting that after living in a Chicago loft, he and his wife felt it was “time for a yard, a house, and a good school system.”
Seeking more balance and proximity to family, the young couple made the decision to move to suburban Boston, near Solomon’s parents. Based on the success of the Chicago stores, Solomon worked on extending the State Street Barbers brand in Boston, while his wife continued to work part time for Booz Allen and tend to their daughter.
After obtaining a list of registered barbers from the state, he screened more than 150 barbers to select the five he hired.
The store opened in March of this year and in just four months, the shop is on a “strong trajectory, with a high customer retention rate,” he said.
Indeed, it was just named Best of Boston by Improper Bostonian magazine. The shops in Chicago are making money, Solomon said, but his current focus in Boston is on “the customer base in this shop. I just want to make payroll, to make the rent payments, to make sure the towels are folded and the floors are swept.”
But he also notes the stress of owning a business: “When I was consulting I was consumed by the job. This is different. The burner’s never turned up to 10, but it’s never off. It’s something I’m still getting used to.”
Solomon felt “the easier choice would have been to continue doing what I was doing. I had a fast-track life that most people would dream about. But it was the classic golden handcuffs situation.”
He also said he spent a lot of time in self-reflection. “You never hear people say `I wish I had made more money,’ ” Solomon said. “You always hear people say `I wish I had taken more chances, pursued my goal.’ I think my goal was to see if I could build something of my own and make it work.”