Hair-cutting family tree grows into Springs market

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Brian Aguilar, owner and manager of Aguilar Barber & Styling, has opened a shop northeast of Garden of the Gods Road and Centennial Boulevard. He plans to target the family niche.

Aguilar Barber & Styling

4695 Centennial Blvd. (next to Marigold Café and Bakery)

www.aguilarbarberstyling.com

Hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday — Friday; and 10 to 6 p.m. weekends.

Number of employees: two stylists and five barbers.

Brian Aguilar believes he can take a tried-and-true barber shop business model, which his family perfected over the past 50 years, and turn it into a big-time venture that competes with mega hair-styling chains.

The Aguilars are a household hair-cutting name in Pueblo, where 33 members of the family are barbers, cosmetologists and stylists. They have styled, cut, colored and designed hair from flat tops to mohawks to the Justin Bieber shaggy side-swept hairdo for clients across Southern Colorado.

Now, the great grand nephew of the original Aguilar barber is making a move on Colorado Springs with the opening of Aguilar Barber and Styling, near Garden of the Gods Road and Centennial Boulevard. His shop blends the old-school barber precision with a fresh modern salon that caters to males and females of all ages and all hairstyles.

Brian, 26, who owns a salon and barber shop of the same name in Pueblo, believes his business plan has something the competition does not: “the collective knowledge in my family on every end of the industry,” Brian said.

He wants to open a second shop in Colorado Springs at this time next year and believes he can grow the business to four or five shops in the Springs.

“Considering the layout of the city, four to five would be the right number,” he said.

Deep roots

The original Aguilar barbers, Sal and Carlos Aguilar, with little Tony in the center.

Great Uncle Sal Aguilar was a champion flat-top cutter in the Marines during the Korean War — even won a national competition with a record three-minute time. When he was back stateside, he enlisted his brother Carlos and they opened a barber shop in Las Vegas, N.M.

Carlos later moved his family to Pueblo where he continued to cut hair and work on the railroad. Then came the next generation of barbers.

“My father and uncle (Tony and Louie) got their GEDs, got licensed and opened their own shop at ages 17 and 18,” Brian said. “They were the youngest brother-tandem to own a business in the country.”

At the time, the Beatles had made their first appearance in the states and long hair was an overnight sensation, Tony said.

“We let our hair grow long too,” Tony said. “We promoted ourselves to the youngsters — I guess they would have been the rebellious crowd then. And, (business) went crazy. We would have 15 people waiting in the shop and 15 more waiting to get in.”

Growing up around all the scissors and clippers put the barbering bug into Brian and his brother Charles.

Brian started cutting hair when he was in eighth-grade — classmates from the basketball team and neighborhood kids lined up outside his house mostly for the en vogue spiky hairdos of the time.

Brian’s father Tony was a perfectionist with the shears and clippers, Brian said. He was a partner in the Image Academy of Hair Designs and trained aspiring barbers, including Brian and his brother who both paid their way through college barbering. Tony also ran a barber school for youth through the Department of Corrections and some of his former students barber all over the state.

“That program was my pride and joy,” Tony said. “Those kids did not re-offend – they went to work in barbershops, paid their taxes and were good citizens.”

Over the years dozens of the Aguilar clan picked up the shears and made hair their livelihoods. In addition to Brian’s Pueblo shop, his uncle runs Aguilar Barber & Beauty Salon; his aunt operates Perfect Image and two cousins own Studio 127 in Pueblo.

“It’s been good to us,” Brian said about the business of hair. “As far as I know the 34th (family member) is in school right now.”

Not grandpa’s barber shop

There was a moment when Brian didn’t want to stay in the hair-cutting business. He enrolled at University of Colorado Colorado Springs to major in engineering. But, he missed the family business and switched his major to business marketing. Then, he started planning the Aguilar barber shop expansion.

“The possibilities of directing the growth of the company, that’s what excited me,” he said.

Like his dad and uncle, he joined business forces with his brother, who graduated as an engineer and works in business consulting. Charles is more behind-the-scenes with the business, while Brian runs the day-to-day operations and joins his team of hair cutting pros on the floor.

In 2007, Brian and Charles doubled the size of their Pueblo shop to 2,500 square feet, with a women’s salon on one side and a barber shop on the other. They have 17 chairs, two-shifts, and modern décor attractive to women and children.

“We sat down and thought about it, redeveloped the model and decided that the niche market we want to attract is families,” Brian said. “They can come in, bring in the whole family and get all done at the exact same time and be out the door in a reasonable amount of time.”

He knew the concept would be popular. People drive to Pueblo from all over the state to get their hair done at any one of the Aguilar shops, Brian said. So, he felt strongly that a Colorado Springs location would work.

“I would venture to say we are the busiest barber shop in Pueblo,” Brian said.

He opened the Colorado Springs shop in October with five barbers and two cosmetologists — one who also is a barber and an esthetician — and he’s interviewing more. He took over a former Veda Salon and Spa, which moved to University Village. He’s got 1,800 square feet and 14 stations with room to add seven more. His team can work on any type of hair and any kind of style from chemical straightening to work on toupees. A man’s haircut is $17 plus $25 for hair designs. Women with short hair pay $17 for a haircut and $20 for long hair.

“We positioned ourselves to be able to take care of every need that any client could have,” Brian said.

But, this isn’t Pueblo and Aguilar is not synonymous with hair — not yet, he said. According to the state, there are 44 licensed barber and cosmetology businesses and partnerships in the Springs.

So, Aguilar’s is on Facebook, Instagram and has a website with giveaways and contests. He’s offering deals to Everest College students and nearby county workers. He’s personally handed out 2,500 fliers and asked everyone he knows in Pueblo to call their friends in the Springs.

“I got to a point where I could have stayed just in Pueblo and I could have made good money, been comfortable,” Brian said. “But, I want to challenge myself and take myself out of that comfort zone and try and reach new heights.”

And while barber shops had been declining a decade ago, they are on the rise again. Men are heading back to barbers and this time around they are looking for designs, flat tops, faux-hawks and the side-part is making a come back.

“People realize how big the industry is and the potential to grow inside the industry,” Brian said.

Everyone wants to look good, said Cornelius Wallace, a barber at Aguilar’s in Colorado Springs. He grew up with old-school barber shops, small shops with one or two chairs and big bulky wooden stalls. He loves the modern shop where on any day he can be asked for a buzz cut or lightning bolts.

“We still do old-school pampering,” he said. “The younger guys want new styles — mini fros, and high-top taper. We rock the high tops.”

At Aguilar’s, barbers, cosmetologists and hairstylists are independent contractors who rent a station from him, which allows barbers and stylists to keep more of their earned money. But, what attracts them to the shop is Aguilars continuing education, Brian said. Tony comes in the shop twice a week to show them some old-school moves.

“I really attribute our success to his ability to train the staff,” Brian said. “He’s naturally talented at teaching; he’s meticulous and he’s a perfectionist.”

New barbers and stylists fresh out of college still need mentoring and advice, Tony said. He teaches the principals his father taught him.

“He gave unselfishly of himself – he taught for many years,” Tony said. “There is a need for that transition from entry level barber to work with a mentor who can share knowledge.”

Brian is counting on 50 years of family barbering to make his Colorado Springs shop competitive with high-volume chains and franchises.

“After researching it and going to school and doing some of the marketing audits, and looking at the competition, I think we have something,” Brian said. “It’s that level of quality.”