In 2008, Dan Dixon was facing a crossroads in his life. After a career spent in the medical field and real estate, he found himself divorced, unemployed and unsure of his next move.
His girlfriend at the time was a cosmetologist and informed him there weren’t many licensed barbers in the state of California. Dixon dove into the Labor Bureau’s numbers and found only 1,233 licensed barbers, compared to over 35,000 cosmetologists. Many barbers were aging and hitting retirement, with few people behind them to take their spots.
Like any entrepreneur, Dixon saw an underserved market and decided to give it a shot. He sold all his possessions and enrolled in barber college. For the next nine plus months, he spent 10 hours a day, six days a week, working toward his certification. Upon graduating, the Bay Area native got a job in a two-chair barber shop, but knew he wanted his own place.
One day, a chef friend of his went to meet with investors in a new market in downtown San Jose, so Dixon went with him. At the meeting he was asked about his profession, and upon telling them that he was a barber, they shared that they had an opening for a barber shop in the building.
With that, Dixon became the first person to sign a letter of intent to open a business in San Pedro Square Market. Since then, Crewners has gone from one chair, to three, to a new location that opened in September across the street with five chairs. In 2015, Dixon and Crewners partnered with Rick Garian, and the duo has grown the company to be a widely recognized brand in San Jose.
In this Q+A, Dixon and Garian explain how they’ve done it, and what the future holds for Crewners as they've expanded into their new location at 111 N. Market Street, Suite 140 (with the entrance located on N. San Pedro Street, across from Silvery Towers):
Before we get to the future, let’s look at the past. How was the idea for Crewners born?
Dixon: “The name Crewners is a play on Crooners, which is the music I grew up listening to. But my mom said, ‘Why don’t you put a spin on it and spell it like crew cuts, c-r-e-w?’I looked into it and to my surprise it was available, so I locked it down for 12 months. We started construction in March 2011 and opened the door to a one-chair shop called Crewners on September 22, 2011.”
The original Crewners went for a unique look, with vintage memorabilia on the walls, Frank Sinatra on the speakers, and mafia movies on TV. The novel approach to cutting hair caught the eye of Garian.
Garian: “I was looking for a barber, and my wife and I walked through San Pedro Square Market, and I looked through the window, and said to my wife, ‘That is really neat.’ That was it. But then I went in and got my hair cut. Dan and I formed a relationship, one thing led to another and Dan asked if I would be interested in partnering with him in moving Crewners forward, and I said sure.”
Crewners had immediate success – almost too much success.
Dixon: “When I started with one chair I didn’t anticipate the success the shop would have so quickly. I had set my goal for a work week for 10 cuts in an eight-hour day, 50 a week, 200 a month, and do it on an advertising budget of zero for the first six months... At three months, I had 212 (customers), at six months I had over 400, and it kept going, and I kept continuing to book myself out. So within the first year I’m already booked four weeks deep, now we’re in the four-to-six week return pattern, and I had to start turning people away.”
The vintage look got people in the door, and that unique vibe, along with the customer service Dixon and Garian committed themselves to kept their customers coming back at incredible rates. They knew they couldn’t keep turning away customers. They grew the shop to three chairs, but even then they were booking out weeks in advance.
Dixon and Garian knew the next step: leaving their original San Pedro Square Market location. They've moved Crewners across the street into a facility housing five chairs. The new location has shed much of the vintage feel for a more modern barber shop designed to appeal to the millennial audience. It's that millennial audience that makes up the majority of the Silicon Valley tech workers who comprise much of downtown San Jose’s residential base.
Dixon: “When I opened it as a one-chair shop, it was about bringing attention to the brand and the occupation, and that was fine for a one-chair shop, that nostalgic, vintage look I had in there. But moving forward, we had to have something that was scalable, that brought a new, fresh look and service to our customers and our client base.
During the expansion process there was a point in time where we looked at some architectural renderings, and looking at pictures, I had the old mindset. I thought, ‘No, I don’t like this polished concrete floor, let’s go with the wood’, and Rick said, ‘What’s wrong with that?’. And I’ll never forget it, that’s one of those a-ha moments when you listen to your partner and that was it. That was probably 6-8 months ago, and it just worked. It was one of those lightbulb moments and it was perfect. That was when we really started pushing forward.”
Garian: “Moving forward in the new shop, we decided we need to be customer-centric, and downtown San Jose is busting out at the seams, and the majority are millennials working at high-tech companies. We decided we wanted to upgrade and have an upscale, downtown San Jose barber shop, which is indeed what we will have.
Everything has been upgraded exponentially – better chairs, much larger space, the floor will be gorgeous, we’ll have a big screen TV down at the end for people who want to watch it. There’s nothing we’ve skimped on with all of the new upgraded amenities.
We have the busiest barbershop in Downtown San Jose. It’s incredible what’s happening. Our customers are going to be extremely happy. They’re getting Voss water, a complimentary Coronita or Corona beer. It’s extremely exciting, and we are very much looking forward to building Crewners, and this is just the beginning.”
In addition to the precision cuts and traditional shaves, Crewners has become known for the exclusivity of carrying Baxter of California products:
Garian: “We are the exclusive Downtown San Jose barber shop of Baxter of California products. They invite people to carry their brand. You can’t just call them up and say ‘Hi, I’m a barber shop and we want to carry your brand’.”
Dixon: “You can’t petition to have the products brought to you. They ask you and even then, that invitation is slight. We’re one of a very few locations in Northern California that carries the brand.”
As Dixon and Garian have expanded and upgraded, they can’t help but look back on where Crewners started, and how far it's come:
Dixon: “When I started this, I knew that based on a one-chair shop, based on its location, based on the time allotted that I gave myself, that either this beta test was going to succeed, then good for me, or it was going to fail, then shame on me, and I should have done something different. So I based it on customer service first and the professional service, the cut, second.
I knew what I could do, but I didn’t anticipate the accolades we’d receive. After 14 months of being open, Yelp named Crewners the #1-rated barber shop in California. At 18 months, Reid Hoffman (Internet entrepreneur and co-founder of LinkedIn) sent me an email saying that Crewners was in the top 5% of profiles viewed out of 200 million users! In the middle of 2015, just after Rick came on board, the Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce named us the Small Business of the Year out of 13,000 other small businesses. I didn’t set out to get accolades, but they’ve kind of come as part of the package. I’m happy with where we are, I’m happy Rick is on board because I couldn’t have done it by myself, and I’m excited to see where this takes us.”
At Crewners, we think you'll be as excited as we are for the new location at 111 N. Market Street - make sure you enter on N. San Pedro Street across from Silvery Towers. Book an appointment today to come see the new digs for yourself!