Chris Evans and Mackenzie Geehan opened Fogtown Barber and Shop (134 Water St.) just before Christmas with a lot of haircutting experience but little business experience. What they have, though, is the do-it-yourself attitude of the punk music they favour — as well as sell — in the shop. Evans spoke to the Telegram about how easy it is to run your own business.
Who opened Fogtown Barber and Shop and when?
It’s myself and my partner. Me, Chris Evans, and my girlfriend, business partner, Mackenzie Geehan. We opened up 20th of December, I think it was, so just about a month ago. We opened it up because we both wanted to own a business and be barbers, sell our products, but spurred on mainly by the closures of barbershops around town. If Family Barber didn’t close down, if Gus’s didn’t close up, we probably wouldn’t have done this, you know? But when those guys closed down, the market just opened up for it. So it seemed like opportunity knocked, and we just had to jump at it. We weren’t entirely ready to do it — we’ve never done a business before — but we said, “How hard can it be?” So we went for it, and so far so good.
What’s your background in hair-cutting?
I have training from Woodford Training Centre, and Mackenzie as well. She’s got a little bit more than me, she’s a red-seal stylist and she also does esthetics and makeup, so she’s trained in all the beauty stuff. She works on “Republic of Doyle,” and does her own private clients, females and stuff. But during business hours we’re just a barber shop, and it’s mainly me doing the barbering. I pretty much got my start with cutting hair early ... teenagers, 13-, 14-years-olds. I just started shaving my buddies’ heads over the summer. We got into punk rock and stuff in the mid-’90s, and I guess one of the things that attracted me to the form of music was the crazy look of it. I was always compelled to style my own hair wildly and my friends were the same way, and I just became the guy who did backyard head-shaves and mohawks and stuff. So that’s how I became known as someone to go to get your hair cut.
Let’s talk about the records, because it’s not “Fogtown Barbershop,” it’s “Fogtown Barber and Shop,” so let’s talk about the “…and Shop” aspect of it.
As soon as you come in, you’re in the shop, and we have, I’d say, 70 or so records in the shop. We’re big into the vinyl. I’ve been listening to vinyl since I got into music. My first entry into music was finding my dad’s record player. In the era where cassettes were being replaced by CDs, I went and got into vinyl. I don’t know, I just always loved it, and now that it’s starting to come back. CDs are dying. People want a piece of music that they can also see the artwork for and read the lyrics, too. I feel like there’s a resurgence, so we’re embracing that, the same way that we want to embrace the old-time barber. It’s stuff that a lot of people think is outdated or not modern enough. It’s sort of our taste. It’s what we like. That’s why we have it in the shop. We also have our own clothing line, just T-shirts and hoodies and caps. Simple, casual basics with our own name and custom designs on it. People really seem to dig that kind of stuff.
Who’s doing the design?
I do the design. I’m also a self-taught graphic de-signer. I have worked in that industry for a few years. I love it. I do a lot of design work still for bands and for clothing companies. It’s very much a passion of mine that I do on the side, but I’ll always do it and design our own clothing.
You have just the one chair right now — is it just the two of you that work here?
It is right now, but man, we get so busy right now on Friday and Saturday, we have a lineup of probably three or four people sitting here in the pew, waiting to get into the chair. It’s gotten to the point now where we’ll either have to take appointments or look at getting a second chair in here somehow, or maybe we’ll expand into a bigger location. It’s horrible to have to turn people away. We want to be, very much, a place where you can just walk in without an appointment and get a haircut. It is just the two of us, it is just the one chair. But I think there’s definitely expansion on our minds. It’s hard to find somebody else to cut as well. Mackenzie’s on “Republic of Doyle” all summer, so she goes and does that. We need somebody else in here who can cut hair. We want somebody who just wants to do barbering, and most people, most of the students in hair school, take it from me, are females, and they just want to get into hairstyling where they’re doing updos and colours and hair extensions and perms and all that type of thing, but we’re looking for traditional, classic cuts, you know?
I remember talking to a barber years ago who said it’s really hard to get people to go to school and learn to cut men’s hair because it’s 20 bucks for a haircut as opposed to $60 or $80 or whatever it is for women’s haircuts.
That’s the thing. There’s a lot of money in salons because services are so expensive, and that’s one of the reasons guys don’t want to go there, is because their haircuts are twice what they could be at a barbershop. So yes, it’s tough to get somebody to throw down the investment to go to school if they’re saying, “Oh, I might not make a ton of money at this to start with.” You do have to build up your clientele. But there’s definitely a shortage of barbers. But at this point we could train people in. They could apprentice under Mackenzie and it might just turn out to be something where we bring someone in and they’re the apprentice and they cut their teeth.
Is your clientele mostly men?
It is pretty much a male-only shop during the business hours, but we’ve had women come in if they just want basic bang trims or even boy cuts. We do that as well. But for the most part it’s just guys who come in. We don’t really advertise it this way, but after hours, Mackenzie will do full-on salon stuff. We’ve got a sink there, so she can do all kinds of colour and cuts and stuff. It just takes a lot longer to do. You could spend well over an hour on one of those cuts, and you don’t want your guys, one person back in line, waiting over an hour for their haircut, so we like to keep it classic male cuts. Keeps the chair moving. Keeps people coming through the door.
Who chose the name Fogtown and why?
I guess we both chose it. It’s something we’d been playing with for quite a few years, just started out doing clothing. It’s kind of a weird scene of punk rock kids who embrace the name “Fogtown.” I don’t know why. It was just people from all over St. John’s, Mount Pearl, C.B.S., Torbay, who used to go to punk rock shows together and it was like a St. John’s scene. The name “Fogtown” just caught on, so it sort of meant we were all from different places but into the same thing. People embrace the name, and it’s something we’ve always worked with and liked to incorporate into everything we did. It just felt natural that when we opened the shop that we would name it that, because we wanted to bring the same vibe in that it was about a larger group, not just the both of us. It says we’re still who we are. This is very much an extension of who we were when we were into that stuff, into headshaves in the backyard and putting out our own shitty punk-rock demo tapes. It’s just an extension of that.
Did you have any business experience before you opened this shop?
Just doing the clothing. This is something I have done for close on a decade. My business experience was learning how to make something and then sell it. It’s not formal training, but just that entrepreneurial instinct of taking different pieces, putting it together in a unique way that people are going to like, and selling it. So that’s always something I was attracted to. I always wanted to do my own thing, work for myself. So yeah, that’s my business experience: learning how to sell things that people liked that I made and only come from me.
Now that you’ve been open for a month, what do you know now, as a business owner, that you wish you’d known before you opened the shop?
I wish I’d known it would be so easy, because I would have done it earlier.
Really? That’s not the usual answer I get from business owners.
It’s a small business. There’s definitely hiccups, but I only like to focus on the positives. It has just been overwhelmingly easy. I didn’t think it was something I could do. I wish I’d known it was something I could do if I just put my attention to it. I probably could have done this a while ago. I’ve learned how important good friends are, and how important it is to treat everybody with great respect, because you don’t know the ways that people can end up helping you out down the road. I don’t know, there’s nothing I really wish I’d known, but I have learned how business is all about community and the people who support you. You also have to support them. And if you do that, it’s not so hard.
It’s interesting that you say you didn’t know you could do it. Do you think that your punk background — I mean, the punk ethos has always been “do it yourself.” Punk musicians have never let lack of experience or even ability stop them from starting a band. Is it the same thing with your barbershop?
Absolutely. I took the attitude of “just do it your own way.” Don’t worry about the way people are telling you to do it. Don’t worry about what the people in hair school think modern hairstyling is or what a salon should be. Just do it your own way. If you have a vision, there’s probably other people out there who have the same tastes. Just create it, man. Just make it happen to the best of your ability, and the people around you who are attracted to it will come and help you out as well. It’s very much a DIY thing, where you can be supportive of a scene, and it will support you back, and you can grow and do all sorts of things you never imagined doing or just felt were out of your reach or that you weren’t capable of doing. Work as a team and don’t worry about what people say you can’t do.