Work: A barber treasures his autonomy

By: - September 6, 2021 6:00 am

Antone Darrington owns Tone’s Barber Lounge in Rochester. Photo by James Napoli/Minnesota Reformer.

 

This is the first in an occasional series on the working life of Minnesotans. 

Antone Darrington: Barber and owner, Tone’s Barber Lounge

Salary: Darrington expects the shop takes in about $80,000 annually, but out of that comes rent for the space, benefits, business insurance and supplies. 

Benefits: As the business owner, Darrington pays for his own health insurance, dental insurance and retirement. 

Age: 29

Family: No kids. Engaged to be married to Molly Rossi in September 2021.

Location: Rochester; Darrington is originally from South Minneapolis.

What is your work routine?

Most barber shops just focus on haircuts, but we do a lot of different services here. So, a typical day for me might start with doing a haircut. And then my next client, it might be a facial. Next client after that, it might be a scalp detox.

Most of the time, the TV’s on low, and I play jazz and a lot of chillhop — it’s like hip-hop and jazz mixed.

How did you get your job? 

I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do for the longest time. I started looking up trades, and barbering just stuck out to me. I’d never cut hair before, but after a couple of days in school, I fell in love with it. I think I was attracted to the whole idea of being a barber, being your own boss, and having the freedom to create.

I graduated from barber school in 2016. After that, I worked at a couple shops up in the cities. I kept hearing that Rochester was a growing market and there weren’t too many barber shops — mostly chains like Great Clips and Sport Clips. So I thought it was an ideal spot to start a shop. My fiance and I didn’t take out any loans, we just saved and put our hard-earned money into it.

We moved here three years ago, and I didn’t have one client when I started. Now I have a couple hundred repeat clients.

What is the most rewarding part of your job? 

Being able to provide solutions to problems that clients are dealing with, like ingrown hairs, gets me excited. You can change somebody’s whole mood from a haircut — it feels good to look good.

Looking back at where I was and where I’m at now, just seeing that growth is what makes me happy. Continuing to grow and create, investing in knowledge — that’s what keeps me going.

What is the most challenging thing about your job?

As you try to grow your business, your clientele doesn’t always want to grow with you. They might drop off and go somewhere else, because they’re so used to haircuts at a certain price. You build relationships with clients, and then to see them leave, it hurts. You just have to understand that’s part of growing, and everybody’s not going to accept your growth. That’s the biggest challenge for me so far.

It’s hard for barbers to raise their income, because they’re so scared about losing clients. But everything around us is going up — housing is going up, cars are going up, gas is going up. So it’s only right that barbers raise their prices also. If you invest in your shop, in aesthetics, and in your education, then it’s right for you to raise your prices.

Photo by James Napoli/Minnesota Reformer.

What kind of person do you need to be to be good at your job? 

Staying humble is the biggest thing, because you’re constantly learning. I don’t think you ever get to the point where you can become cocky, because there’s always something that’s going to humble you in this industry.

With barbering, you also have to learn how to read your clients. They might come in one day and they’re in a good mood and talking. And then you have those days when they might have had a long day at work or they come in after an overnight shift at Mayo Clinic and just want to relax. So I’ll just turn the music up a little bit, cut their hair, and let them relax. I have people falling asleep in the shampoo bowl and during facials all the time.

What would make your job better?

Once I get all the equipment upgrades that I want for the shop and really master all the services that I’ve learned, I think that’ll be good. We just ordered a shampoo massage chair—that’s one of the services that’ll upgrade the experience here.

What did you want to be as a kid? 

I wanted to go to the NBA. And I figured out fast once I was playing in college that it wasn’t going to happen. So, I did security for two years and then looked up trades.

What do you think is the best job there is? What job would you like to have? 

If I was 6’6”, I would be on the Timberwolves and help them out. I haven’t even thought about other jobs since I became a barber. But if I could do anything else, I’d probably do some real estate or some type of investing.

Is it a job, a career or a calling?

I definitely feel it’s a calling. It didn’t even hit me until I’d already signed a three-year lease, and I was like, I don’t even have one client out here. There’s just too many things that have happened since becoming a barber that I don’t even know how it all happened. Moving, remodeling this place — it was a leap of faith. 

How much do you think about your job when you’re not there? 

The job’s not over when you leave the shop. It never stops. Thinking about the business is constant: What can I improve on? What trip am I going to take to go get more education?

How important is your job to who you are? 

Very important. This is my life right now, and it’s mostly what I think about. If the business is doing good, it makes you feel good. If the business is doing bad, you don’t feel like you’re doing what you’re supposed to do. So, I think it plays a big part in who I am.

How much control do you have over your job? (i.e. hours, responsibilities, etc.) 

All the control. In the barber industry, there’s these expectations that you’re supposed to do certain things. For example, kids’ cuts are supposed to be less money than a regular haircut. But, when you think about it, it’s really a bad business move because it might take just as long as doing an adult cut or longer, because the kids are moving and this and that. So, I stopped doing kids’ cuts, period—and that’s been beneficial for me.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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James Napoli
James Napoli

James Napoli is a Twin Cities-based freelance editor, writer, photographer and radio producer.

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