By Stephenetta (isis) Harmo
For the past decade or so, Teto Wilson’s barbershop has served as a Northside staple for not just a good haircut, but also as a place for gathering, good times, and even accessing community resources.
After graduating from barber school in Malden, Mass., Wilson, an Illinois native, made his next move to Minnesota in 2000. Here he worked with a friend and fellow student and went on to open Wilson’s Image Barbers & Stylists in August 2007.
Since then, he has connected his passion for people with behind-the-chair therapy to become a prominent voice in the community. “When you come into my shop, it’s more than just a haircut,” said Wilson.
The MSR caught up with Wilson to talk about what it takes to prepare for entrepreneurship and how he combined his two passions to benefit the community.
MSR: What made you decide to open your own shop?
Teto Wilson: When I think back on the things that I did to generate money as a youngster, I’ve always kind of had, like, an entrepreneurial spirit. So, I knew eventually I was going to open up my own shop.
When I came to Minnesota, I worked with a lifelong friend of mine at his shop for seven years. It gave me an opportunity to get to know Minnesota. I built up a lot of clientele, but I knew that wasn’t going to be it for me to just stay working in their shop.
Around the fourth or fifth year, in my mind I was ready. But I hadn’t done things to get myself in position to do it. So I started planning. I started saving money, thinking about locations and how I wanted my business model to be structured. So, it took me a few years after I put it in my mind that it was going to happen.
MSR: What was that opening process like? What were some of your challenges?
TW: Even though I had been here for a few years, I didn’t know who’d be willing to take a chance to come and work with me as a start-up business owner. So, I took my time. Challenges were more making sure I chose the right location and that I had gained enough understanding from working under other barbershop owners of how [the business] actually works, taking what I learned from them and getting all the good that I saw from them and then bringing it into my own and doing things my own way. And getting the right people to work for me.
Also, we always talk about “buy Black” and “shop Black.” Well, you have to support Black. I give good service in a clean, safe environment at a fair price. So, just treat me like you would treat another establishment. You go in, you get what you want, you pay the price.
MSR: What’s one thing you would tell someone else who wants to launch their own business?
TW: I would tell them the same thing as some of the challenges that presented for me, [such as the importance of] location. If you have your own money, then that’s great. If you have to do financing, don’t get in over your head. You have to do your day-to-day management; you have bills, utilities. If you bought a building or if you’re renting, you have a lot of expenses that go with that. Just make sure you plan it out and don’t, don’t just go out there and say, “Hey, I want to open up a business” and throw caution to the wind hoping that it works. You have to be strategic about it.
MSR: What do you think makes a haircut experience in your shop so special?
TW: When people think of barbers and stylists as kind of like their therapist, I think about it as like we are working on their head and that’s how we end up getting in their head, whether it’s 30 minutes for a haircut or with women who can be in the shop for hours. That’s a real intimate time, so people like to share things that are important to them. For me, it’s a listening to what they got going on and making sure that I keep that personal.
Beyond that, it’s having a great haircut and listening and giving your customer what they’re asking for. If you can’t do it, maybe send them to another barber that can… Building relationships — it feels good, you get a great haircut, and you build a relationship with your customer, laugh and talk with them about some things that are important.
MSR: Outside of cutting hair, you have a scholarship fund, host community events. Why is that important for you?
TW: I’ve been cutting hair with a license now for about 25 years. But my passion — as much as I love to cut hair — is not cutting hair. My passion is community and being able to connect with people.
Being a barbershop owner and having my barbershop right in North Minneapolis gives me a space where I can connect with community. I look at the barbershop as a community resource hub. There’s a space in my shop called the situation room, and I designed it just like a round table. We have a lot of events where it could be conversations with the Minneapolis Public Schools superintendent…or with the Minneapolis chief of police and the newly elected Hennepin County sheriff.
Whether it’s around education, police and community relations, whatever it is that we can host here where people can gain from it, that’s what’s important to me. And having the parties and stuff like that, that’s a fun time, a way to give back, too.
MSR: What does success look like for you?
TW: When we’re all winning. I’m going to continue to grow and get in these spaces where I can connect and go to bat for our community. I also go to other spaces where I can gain for us, [and] I can bring it back so we can benefit from it.
The haircutting thing is down pat, you know what I mean? I’ve been doing that for years. But just making sure that our community continues to get what they need — that’s what success is for me.
Wilson’s Image Barbers & Stylists is located at 2201 W Broadway Ave. in North Minneapolis. From April 1 through June 30, MSR readers can mention this article for $5 off adult and kids hair cuts. For more info, visit wilsonsimage.com.
This article originally appeared in the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.