For 10 years Matt Croxford has had an empty second chair at the Downtown Barbershop in Dallas. If he goes down with an injury (from motor crossing twice this year alone) or goes on vacation, his regular clients had to go without a haircut until his return.
Jacob Rorem, 27. had been bouncing around various gigs since graduating from Dallas High School in 2013 and was aching to find his next opportunity.
Their searches aligned last July when Rorem walked into the shop, knowing Croxford’s connections to most everyone in town like any good barber, and asked if he knew if anyone was hiring.
“He said, ‘Yeah, right here man.’ I said, ‘That’s funny. I’m bald. I can’t be a barber,’” Rorem recalled. “We had some beers, talked about it, I went to school, now I’m here.”
Croxford said Rorem was actually the second person he tried to recruit into the profession.
“I told him, ‘Hey you’d be good at this. You check all the boxes of a dude I’d be looking for,’” Croxford said, now aged 38. “He’s somebody younger than me, but not a kid either, you know? With life experience. From around here. Knows people. He’s in the community, so he’s going to care about the community.”
But first, Rorem had to return to school – the Bella Institute of Cosmetology in Beaverton, where hardy souls can brave $6 haircuts while students learn the craft. Rorem was ready to return to Dallas by the week before the 4th of July.
Armed with the tools of the trade, “I just copy and pasted what Matt had that worked for him,” and Rorem was ready. He quickly learned it looks a lot easier than it is.
“Matt makes it look easy,” Rorem allowed. “You’ve got your seasonal looks and everybody has different types of hair. Like he’s (his current client in the chair) got really thick hair. So, I’ve gotta be on point. And then there’s really fine hair where every mistake shows. It makes it more challenging for sure.”
Just a month in, and Rorem is already getting repeat customers. One of his first to return was actually one his more challenging cuts – Carsi Walker, a pitcher for the Portland Mavericks.
“I came in here with an extremely long mullet,” Walker said, adding it took a good six to seven months to grow out. “He got me back to looking like a normal person.”
Rorem recalled asking Walker with his scissors poised over his head, “Are you sure? Alright.”
The reason Walker was ready for the shears?
“I hadn’t pitched great since I had it,” he said.
“Oh yeah,” Walker said, adding Rorem did a great job. “He’s got one of the best personalities I’ve seen as well.”
Rorem discovered there’s definitely a learning curve. Like it takes the right kind of shoe to stand in for eight hours straight on busy days. And while he hasn’t had any real big “oops” moments yet, Rorem said Croxford is happy to step in to give pointers to get rid of any little unexpected marks made.
“If anything, I have a habit of not cutting it short enough. It can be a pain in the butt. People get frustrated about that,” he admitted.
So far, he’s enjoying the job and especially likes getting positive feedback from clients who actually want to be there. That’s unlike some of his other jobs, which have included security, temp work at the courthouse and Sheriff’s Deputy “back in the day” over at the jail and with corrections some.
“You mean your old customers didn’t want to see you at your last gig?” Croxford prodded Rorem.
“Some of them were stoked,” Rorem shot back. “Guys I knew, but it was always kind of awkward. Oh, hey Dan, sucks to see you here, but how ya doing?”
Another area he’s getting the hang of is chatting up the customer. Some clients are easier than others to get talking.
“You ask them a few questions, find out what they’re interested in. It’s not always hard to find something to talk about, sometimes it’s if the client wants to talk at all,” Rorem said. “It’s not quite like being their bartender. I get it, though. Sometimes they want to relieve some stress or look for some kinda counseling while you’re here.”
One thing he’s discovered being in the same shop all day with Croxford is how much he repeats himself.
“You know how many times I hear the same story from this guy? Because everybody asks him. It’s good though. People care,” Rorem said.
“He didn’t know what he was getting into to,” Croxford added. “Same stupid stories, same stupid jokes. You got customers cycle through here, you could rattle through the same joke 4-5 times a day.”
“But it gets a laugh, every time,” Rorem said.
“It’s been fun having another guy in here,” Croxford reiterated. “It’s kind of tough to keep the conversation going. It’s easier to bounce stuff off between the two.”
Croxford added the secret to being a success at the local barbershop is selling yourself, because, he admits, his haircuts are mediocre at best.
“People like coming in here, can talk (stuff), have a good time. That’s why this shop will always be on a walk-in basis. That’s what makes a barbershop. Ol’ Dave and Isaac (two customers) just hooked up to do business. That’s not happening if you’re making appointments,” Croxford said.
So far, the two-chair system is working at the Downtown Barbershop, located at 194 Mill St. Croxford said there haven’t been any complaints yet, “At least to my face.”
And if things continue to go smoothly, he hopes to open up on Saturdays and let Rorem go solo.
“I appreciate all the support the community has given over the years,” Croxford added. “I’m just trying to be there, be open hooking up people with good cuts, and be a place for guys to come, chill and be guys.”
When Rorem finished up with Dave Rothwell, who’s been coming to Croxford for 10 years, he spun his chair around to face the mirror and asked how’s it look?
“Perfect,” Rothwell simply said.
So far, Croxford has found the right other guy for the job.