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20 Years of Inclusive Culture at V’s Barbershops: One-on-One with Jim Valenzuela

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V’s newest location in Chicago’s Wicker Park follows V’s authentic, traditional barber décor with local sports accents.

[column size=’1/2′]V’s Barbershop’s first location didn’t turn out to look or operate exactly how founder and CEO Jim Valenzuela originally envisioned, but 20 years later, he can take pride in the success and inclusive culture that he, the V’s team and a diverse network of franchisees and barbers have built. Together, they have provided well over one million services in 46 stores in 15 states, closing only one store over two decades. Five more locations and three more states are opening soon.

ISBN caught up with “Mr. V,” as many on the V’s team affectionately and respectfully refer to him, on the exact date of the 20th anniversary of opening his first shop—which happened November 12, 1999, in the Phoenix market.[/column][/row]

ISBN: 20 years of V’s Barbershop growth—how does that feel?

Valenzuela: It’s been like a blink of an eye that took a long time. Opening the first V’s was a pretty big leap, because I’m not a barber. I had been in physician’s management, so I was used to regulation and compliance issues, and to running a business in an environment that relied on a professional delivering a service. Otherwise, it was a completely novice endeavor.

ISBN: So, what was the attraction? Why go into the barbering business?

Valenzuela: It started with fond memories of going to the barber with my dad, who was an entrepreneur himself, a restauranteur, and I wanted to create something for my son to experience.

I was at a point in my career where I had time and money to invest, and to indulge in research. I saw that the barbering industry in 1998 was in pretty bad shape. The shops themselves weren’t all that great, a rough and tumble environment. From a business perspective, it was low desirability as an investment.

But I’d learned from growing up in a culture of “yes sir, no ma’am and a handshake that meant something” and by seeing my dad instill those core values into his business, that a service industry can be based on civility. I knew if I could incorporate that into a barbering culture, we could really have something.

I had this itch, and I didn’t have any industry biases playing on me at all. I could go ahead and build and staff a barber business the way I wanted. I had an idea to have a shop that was well done and could scale up, and I couldn’t find anything to benchmark against. It didn’t exist. So, my concept was either really great and original, or it was going to fail miserably.

ISBN: There are 46 V’s Barbershop franchises across the country today and five more opening soon, so evidently your idea was solid. And the barber category and business have been on fire in recent years.

Valenzuela: My timing was good. The barbering industry was ready for a fresh set of eyes.

When we opened in 1999, it took a couple months to get traction, but then our concept took hold. We were way before our time and unique. We had to make some changes early on, and we are still learning daily.

ISBN: What kind of adjustments did you have to make after launch?

Valenzuela: What I had originally pictured in my mind was something straight out of a Martin Scorcese movie set—barbers in white uniforms, a very specific look of the shop, a steady stream of fathers and sons coming in every day. The reality was sure, fathers brought their sons, but there were also lots of moms bringing in their kids during the week. We would have to appeal to women, too, with a clean environment, civility, and make sure all details, even down to the reading material, met everyone’s needs.

Ultimately, then and now, it all came down the culture we created. If you are inclusive and treat people properly, word will spread. If you treat kids well, for instance, their moms will tell their friends. Treat kids poorly, and those moms will tell everybody.

ISBN: What about staffing and team culture?

Valenzuela: Diverse and inclusive from day one. When I first started V’s, I envisioned a group of barbers, all male, from central casting. But I learned immediately that having the United Nations of talent behind the barbering chair was going to be V’s route from a diversity standpoint, and that our clients, too, would come from all walks of life and communities. Our first team of barbers in our first store in Phoenix were black, Mexican and Russian.

ISBN: We visited your newest store in the popular and hip urban neighborhood of Wicker Park in Chicago right before it opened earlier this November, and saw a team prepping their stations. We saw a woman as well as young black and LatinX guys working side by side. Would you say that kind of diversity is the V’s norm?

Valenzuela: Our barbers and cosmos, too, represent all backgrounds and orientations. If you can be nice to people, including kids, say thank you, pick up after yourself and cut hair well, come on in.

V’s Barbershop COO Emily Brown tells me our franchisees current staff demographics nationwide are approximately 40 percent Caucasian, 33 percent Hispanic, 25 percent African American and 2 percent from other ethnicities. We welcome everyone at V’s and want them to be comfortable and successful. Same with our clientele, we serve a potpourri. Women patronize V’s, too, and we’ve seen an uptick in short-haired women tired of paying a lot to get a really good haircut.

ISBN: What advice would you give to other barber or salon leadership teams on building diversity and inclusion into their culture to grow their businesses?

Valenzuela: First, be sure you can recruit talent, period. Everyone in this business has the same challenge, it’s the biggest issue—getting good people to work for you in a traditional way.

So have a solid plan to acquire talent, then be a good human and care about them. Help them build their chair, talk to them about preparing for their future. Instill and hold them accountable to your core values of civility.

I’ve also learned that to appeal to and be inclusive for everyone, you have to make some decisions about those simple details I mentioned earlier. In my “movie set” V’s, Sinatra music was playing. That wasn’t going to work for our diverse range of clients or our team. So, we don’t play music. We have TVs people can watch, and classic and local sports memorabilia setting and a uniform, traditional barber décor. The point is to pay attention and work to try to make everyone comfortable, down to what is playing on the TVs. Today’s politics are really divisive. So inside V’s, we are agnostic, Switzerland. Sports are completely allowed, politics are avoided.

ISBN: Any other data or info you would want other ISBN members and industry leaders to know about V’s Barbershop?

Valenzuela: We are seeing growth in shaves and facials, as we have been able to bring awareness to this traditional service that is often not available in other barbershops. Our current service splits are haircuts at 85%, shaves 10%, products 4% and facials 1%.

ISBN: Final thoughts on 20 years of V’s Barbershop success?

Valenzuela: I’m looking forward to the next 20.

With 46 stores, 5 more opening soon and a total of 73 V’s franchises sold to date, we’re not looking to conquer the world, but we are excited about the future.

ISBN members and industry friends who want to learn more about V’s Barbershop can visit Valenzuela says he and his team will also be at ISBN’s Conference May 3-5, 2020, at Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, a great place to share ideas and get unparalleled access to multi-unit salon, spa and barber leadership.

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