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Volume 41,   Issue 2       February 2006

the Business

Of Haircuts and Carwashes

by Lyle R. Hill

A lot of guys Ö especially the older ones Ö look at getting their hair cut the same way they look at getting their car washed. At some point you have to get it done, but itís an expense and an inconvenience that a lot of us would just as soon avoid. I know there are exceptions to this, but guys who spend a lot of time obsessing about how their hair looks or how clean their cars are tend to worry me a bit. Of course, some might say Iím just suffering from some form of jealousy because I have neither a particularly nice car nor a head of hair. 

At this point in my life, Iím actually on what I refer to as the George Washington Plan Ö in other words, I get my hair cut and car washed about once a quarter Ö four times a year whether itís needed or not. 

OK. Right about now, a few people might be asking Ö where is he going with this hair cut, car wash thing? Well, let me just encourage you not to bail out yet. We are headed somewhere, and I do hope to make a point when we get there. I always try to make a point, as obscure and unimportant as it may be. 

A few years back, Luigi Vesuvio, my barber of many years, retired. His shop was on the North side, not too far from Wrigley Field. Luigi was a treasure trove of information. He knew everybody and everything that was going on. Sometimes, when it was just the two of us in the shop, he would tell me things because, as he would say Ö ďI gonna tella you some tings causa I know you notta gonna tell nobody.Ē 

During his career, he cut the hair of sports personalities, politicians, bankers and mobsters. In fact, we were talking one day about politics and I asked Luigi what the difference was between cutting the hair of politicians and the hair of mobsters. He told me that there really wasnít any except that the politicians never shut up and hardly ever left a tip. 

After Luigi retired, I panicked. I know that sounds a little crazy, but I had been going to his little one chair shop four times a year for as long as I could remember. I never had to make an appointment, he knew what to do with the handful of hair that was still growing out of my head, and if somebody was ahead of me, Iíd read the paper or watch a ball game on his 19-inch black-and-white Magnavox TV until it was my turn. He was quick, he was pleasant, he never asked me for anything, and he didnít try to sell me anything. Our arrangement had been virtually perfect and, although most women would never believe it, a guyís barber is important to him, even if he hasnít got much hair.

In desperate need of a haircut one day, I called the barbershop closest to my home and after talking with a guy named Jonathan, made an appointment. It turned out to be an OK place. They charged a little more than Luigi, but it was efficient enough and finding a new barber Ö making a new deal Ö being accepted as a regular Ö was a good thing. 

However, after just a couple of visits, it became apparent to me that Jonathon was a lot chattier than Luigi had ever been. My time in the chair almost doubled. And within just a few haircuts, Jonathon learned that I was in the glass business and that I had the ability to get tickets to certain sporting events. By the end of the second year of our quarterly meetings, Jonathon had leeched a mirror, a door repair and more than $400 worth of tickets off of me. And not once did he offer to pay for anything or cut my hair for free. In all the years I went to Luigi, he never asked me for anything. The one time we reglazed his doorlite for him after a vandal had broken it, he not only insisted on paying in full, but thanked me a dozen times for our prompt and courteous service. 

But now, after eight years of shakedowns and dull conversation, Jonathon has decided to retire and I am again in search of a new barber. But instead of feeling panicky, Iím happy about it. In fact, as strange as this may sound, I actually feel some weird sense of freedom. I know I should have looked for a new deal Ö a new barber Ö years ago, but itís not as easy as it sounds. The pain of change is very real, especially when it involves a guy working on your head with a pair of scissors or a razor in his hand.

OK. So whatís my point? What was the purpose of this Luigi the Barber story anyway?

Well, first and foremost, if you got a good deal with someone, be they a barber, a glass supplier or an employee, be appreciative and do your best to maintain it. You see, itís not going to last forever and good suppliers are not so easy to find. Secondly, if and when you get yourself into a bad deal, donít be so slow to get out. Cause the bad deal is probably not going to last forever either. So if itís going to change anyway, why not make it sooner instead of later? Why allow someone to take advantage of you? Move on. Get it over with!

Thatís it. I could maybe come up with another point or two but as you know, I gotta start looking for a new barber Ö and my car needs to be washed. 

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