Ben Davis is a Dallas, TX-based entrepreneur and the founder of the upscale men’s grooming club The Gent’s Place. They currently have locations in Frisco, Dallas, and Kansas City.
The Gent’s Place has the look and feel of a ski lodge, even including free drinks with your experience. Whether you want a quality hair cut, a straight razor shave, a manicure or pedicure (“Hand Repair” and “Foot Repair” in Gent’s Place lexicon) you can get it all at their clubs.
Davis, a University of Texas graduate, started the Gent’s Place in 2008 and it has been featured in publications from GQ to the Huffington Post. We talked with Davis about starting the company and why he doesn’t believe the customer is always right.
SB: So what is your background and how did the idea for the Gent’s Place come about?
BD: I’m the type of guy who is going to put 100 hours a week into my job, so I wanted to find something that I was really passionate about. I talked to my wife about what I really hate and what I would like to fix. I realized that there were two things I hated in life: One was getting a haircut and the other was going to the grocery store. I avoided both at all costs. I would purposely get my hair cut twice as short as I needed to avoid going as much.
I didn’t want to do a discount chain though. I started seeing some upscale men’s hair places popping up so I checked them out. I went all over the country to these different places and when I walked in I realized that the idea was there and the space was inviting but I realized that as soon as I got in the chair the execution was lacking.
I had no experience in the hair business and it was a horrible economy, but it felt like the best choice was to do something from scratch and figure it out along the way so that’s what I did.
– 2 –
SB: What was your learning curve like and how did you learn about the hair industry?
BD: I moved my family into an apartment complex next to our first location because I wanted to be able to walk to work every day. For three months while my store was being built, I sat at a coffee shop and watched it. I held my interviews there, while my goal was to hire some people my other goal was to learn about the business and to ask a lot of questions from people that were looking for jobs. They were young, old, some were former salon owners; I don’t know how many people I interviewed, but it was probably over 100. I learned what other people in the business were doing wrong and I was able to hone in on how to use my own managing skills.
A fundamental belief of mine is that business is its own business. If you understand business then you can apply those concepts to any industry. So I made the decision to run this like any business, not like a hair salon.
– 3 –
SB: You’ve said that you want people to walk into the Gent’s Place and not even realize that it’s a place to get a haircut. Why is that the goal and how do you accomplish that?
BD: That was the vision from the very beginning. This is not a haircut joint. We believe that we are selling a feeling. In order to generate the feeling that we want to generate, the layout of the space, the conversations, the words that we use, there’s a lot that goes into that. If I have to generate a feeling of confidence, positivity, empowerment, and relaxation, I don’t want them walking in and listening to ten other people’s conversations.
We got a lot of inspiration from all these log cabin magazines. We have a beautiful fireplace in our Frisco store. When you walk in you immediately go “Finally, I’m home.” Eventually you get to the grooming service, but my hope is that even if you don’t get a haircut, you have a great experience just walking in.
– 4 –
SB: How do you stand out as a boss?
BD: We are really big on beliefs. Our beliefs control our decisions in life. We only have two assets at the company: our members and our employees. We need to treat both equally as well.
For example: If we are too far in favor of the employees and we forget about our clients then the clients won’t be getting what they want. And the other way is if we are too far in favor of the clients then we wouldn’t be treating our employees properly.
We put everything that we have into both of those assets. I think a lot of these companies say that the customer is always right and tell their employees to suck it up when the customers treat them improperly. I don’t believe that anyone who pays us money gets a pass at being a jerk. I try to keep it in balance.
– 5 –
SB: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
BD: I worked for this retired UPS driver who desperately wanted to be an entrepreneur. He wanted so badly to start his own business and make things happen. He hired me and a couple of other people and we worked for him for a few months. We then hired a few more people and it didn’t work out for them. He called me into his office and said, “Ben let me tell you something. There are three types of people in the business world: There are people that follow the rules, there are people that break the rules, and there are people that make the rules. You Ben Davis, you are someone who makes the rules and those type of people change the world.”
That is my driving force. If you are an entrepreneur you have to be the one making the rules. You can’t wait for other people to tell you that you can’t do it or that it hasn’t been done before.