Life is all about relationships. There are the ones that you have with family and friends, but there are also professional connections equally crucial to our sense of well-being.
Doctors, dentists, your bank manager and the barista at your local coffee shop can all have an impact on your day, but choosing the person who cuts your hair is one of the most significant lifestyle choices you will make. After all, how many people do you know whose tools of the trade are a sharp pair of scissors and the opportunity to make you look presentable to the world?
Nancy Ducharme has been cutting hair in Braintree for many years and her barbershop on Elm Street has become a focal point of the community. Her welcoming smile and positive attitude are one of the reasons that Scott Brown popped in to see her recently, although he declined the opportunity to get his haircut.
This week, Patch sat down and talked about hair, community, football and Justin Bieber with the Braintree resident and business-owner.
When did you open your business?
We opened in May 1993.
There is a distinction between a barbershop and a hair salon. Was it a deliberate decision to open a barbershop?
Yes. We’re an old-fashioned barbershop. The business was male-dominated for many years, but when I went to school back in 1987 there were lots of males, but women were starting to come through. I got my first job at the South Shore Plaza at the barbershop there and, when I started my own business a lot of the staff came with me because the shop had closed at the Plaza. My old boss, Larry, taught me everything that I have brought into this business and I give him a lot of credit for that.
Does Nanci’s cater for both sexes?
The majority of our clients are men. I have some wives that come in, we do a lot of little girls, braiding and such, but it is a family barbershop.
Is it easier to cut men’s hair?
Some of us find it easier. I do a lot of haircuts for women, but it’s great that families can come in and everyone can get their hair cut. I’ve had families that come in on a Saturday and all of them got haircuts; mother, father, two kids. Men are simple to cut; they kind of let us do what we want to do.
You have 11 members of staff, three of them are men. Do you find that men prefer to have their hair cut by women?
No. There’s no real preference. Especially with the businessmen that come in. They make appointments, they want to get taken right away and we have that ability because we have so many staff. With our turnaround rate, they don’t have to wait long.
The shop is open very early in the morning. Does that help to drive business?
We’re open from 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. every night but we are only open until 5:30 p.m. on Saturdays. When we show Monday Night Football, we’re open until midnight but we host the football and have a spread of food.
Showing football is a unique feature. Do you also show any other sports?
No, just the football season. We started this in 1994 and we have continued it throughout. It’s amazing how many people work late. They come in with suits on at 10 p.m. after just getting out of work, so it’s definitely convenient hours. It also depends on the weather; if the winter is really bad then it’s not so good. But we still stay open, we get the locals coming in to eat the food and watch the game.
What attracted you to Braintree Square?
When I was working at the Plaza, I was living up the street and I used to go by every day. I was originally located at the back of this store, I have only been in this location for three years. I drove by, saw a For Rent sign and thought I’d take a chance.
What is the Unique Selling Point of your business?
Our hours, our great haircuts and our customer service. People think that our barbershop is like Cheers (the TV show, not the bar); everyone knows your name, it’s a wonderful atmosphere and people love it. People just sit and watch the conversations between barbers because they either find it comical or a drama. Whatever it is, they tell us that it’s better than TV.
Are there any topics of discussion that are banned from the chair?
(Smiles) No. I don’t need to say anything; they know what to talk about. It’s a family barbershop so once you get to know the customer, there’s a lot of joking and some sad or happy stories. We connect, we get closer and it becomes a friendship.
So in many ways, your regular customers are coming in for more than just a haircut?
Right. Sometimes we sit in the chair for an hour and talk after the haircut. If we have time, of course! We love helping the community; we love being a part of it. We do anything we can, we raise money for schools and different charities… we like to give something back.
What effect does the South Shore Plaza have on local business?
They have hairdressers and barbers in there. They have a lot of chain stores but the rents are high and it’s just another level of business. It can be tough.
How do you compete against “chain” hair salons?
There are a lot of barbershops popping up lately, Floyds for example. I think with us being in a little community, there’s not much competition because people aren’t going to drive to Boston to go to a chain. Once you build a reputation and you build a clientele base, it’s positive and it’s wonderful. If it was me and I was using a ‘Mom & Pop’ business, then I would want to stay to give back to the community and help out the town. It’s nice to see all these little shops still around.
How has the business changed since you opened in 1993? Do you have to keep your finger on the pulse of the latest hair fashions?
Absolutely. It started out with the carvings in the head – we do the Patriots symbol, Batman and many more. Then it went to the Mushroom and the Bowl cut. Then we had Buzz cuts, the Bieber or the Hockey Hair (the one with hair in the back). We call that the compromise cut because children want the long hair, parents want short hair, so we compromise. We take the bulk out, parents are happy, kids are happy. This is how it is all evolving. You get guys with chinstraps and goatees, you’re carving into beards and sideburns, it’s all a learning experience. We take classes and go to shows; they all contribute to the business.
Do the younger customers come in with a certain style in mind?
A lot of them do. They take pictures off the computer and we copy that. A lot of them know what they want but the parents won’t allow them to have it so we try and help them both out.
When can a child choose his or her own hairstyle?
(Laughs) When they pay for their own haircut. That’s what the parents tell us.
Is there anything new on the horizon for Nanci’s?
We’re now offering a rewards card, after so many haircuts you can get a free one. We’ve just started a Facebook page, which is great and has all the latest news and events. And we’re starting a website!
What advice would you give to anyone who is thinking about starting a business in Braintree?
My mother always taught me to try it out and just do it. If it doesn’t work out, then it doesn’t work out but at least you tried. That’s my philosophy.