This story originally appeared on Heart of Texas Public Radio.
A portable Honda generator rattles off as I walk up to James Plowden’s customized trailer. Plowden tells me all this juice is powering everything, from clippers to a hot towel machine. If it sounds like this trailer is a barbershop, that’s because it is.
“It’s a small space, but a booth normally is smaller in a shop, so it’s actually bigger than a booth – it’s like a suite,” Plowden says.
Plowden has been cutting hair for about 10 years and says he wanted to go mobile to cut down on the “dead-time” he would regularly face when working in a shop.
“Time is money and, you know, if you’re sitting not doing anything, you’re wasting time to me,” Plowden says. “The reason I wanted to go mobile was to cut out that dead time, or be able to use that time that I’m sitting to do something else.”
The 39-year-old barber left behind the brick-and-mortar barbershop he worked at, and the booth rental that went along with it, nearly a year ago. As an independent contractor, Plowden says, he was paying roughly $500 a month just for space. Although his trailer – which is decorated with decals of superheroes and sports teams, like Spider-Man and the Carolina Panthers – cost him about $20,000, he says he’s been able to greatly reduce his overhead.
“I think coming out with a trailer for $20,000, something that I own versus paying rent for God knows how long,” Plowden says. “That’s, you know, a tremendous break in cost right there.”
But Plowden isn’t the only brick-and-mortar barber to realize the potential cost-effectiveness of making the mobile jump. Since 2008, Texas has allowed for special licensing for mobile barbershops, and today there are 17 certified mobile barber setups in the Lone Star State. To be a licenses and state-sanctioned operation – mobile barbers, much like their conventional counterparts must meet certain requirements and pass inspections, but unlike them, they have to keep a GPS on board, or a submit a weekly itinerary of what locations they’ll be at. It’s what Dierdre Bass does. Bass, who has been cutting hair professionally for more than 20 years, used to own a salon in Killeen, but left it to go mobile. The change, Bass says, has meant paying about one third of what it cost to operate out of a building. It’s also given her more control over the hours she works.
“People are now wanting quick service,” Bass says. “They want specialized service. So everybody’s kind of in a rush in a sense. Everybody doesn’t want to wait.”
And people are willing to pay extra for something that’s quick, convenient and personalized, says Marlene Reed. Reed is a professor and the “Entrepreneur in residence” at Baylor University.
“People have become so busy, time is probably the most scarce of all of our resources, maybe even more so than money for many people,” Reed says. “And they want someone to come do something for them on their premises or at work.”
But despite the advantages like creating that more personalized feel for customers, the great equalizer between brick-and-mortar set-ups and mobile ones is location, location, location.
“You can’t just pull up anywhere because you’re mobile and you have a license,” Bass says. “You have to ask permission, and then if you pull up on someone’s property and they already have a barber shop, of course they’re gonna say no, that’s competition!”
While figuring out a location can be a bit of drawback, Bass has been able to set up 3 standard spots she operates out of throughout the week. She’ll park her renovated RV at her church, a business area, and near a funeral home. But Plowden, who has gone to apartment complexes and a friend’s restaurant in the past, is now set up outside of house. He’s still figuring out new potential locations and ways to fine-tune his mobile operation. But as he tells me, the important part of being a barber is having that established relationship with clients – people can be particular about who cuts their hair – so no matter where his mobile shop ends up, his clients will come.