Since I was a teenager less than 10 people have given me a haircut – and 98.24% of those clippings have been by four people: two in Ft. Worth and two since we moved to the Houston area. During the past dozen years only one person has taken her razor (at a 2.5 setting) and clippers to my hair.
I followed Jaki to two salons, an entrepreneurial venture on her own, and back to the second place she worked. During various stretches she’s given haircuts to all three of our kids… and still squeezes me into her schedule on short notice.
Recently, the salon’s owner sold to a couple that emigrated from Venenzuela three years ago to escape the economic turmoil there, and the wife is running the business. The first time I walked in the door under the new ownership, as Jaki led me to her station, I commented: “Seems quiet in here today.” She said: “Three of our employees quit this week.”
When I asked why, her response caught me off guard: “What they told me is they don’t like the fact she doesn’t speak English well.” I probed for a deeper reason, and Jaki said that appeared to be the only one.
When she finished the haircut and I paid, the new owner was sitting at the reception desk. I introduced myself and asked if I could speak to her outside. She raised her eyebrows, and it occurred to me that she probably thought I was going to complain. Instead, I told her how impressed I am that she bought the salon and that I would continue to be a loyal customer.
I also offered to provide some free coaching to help her in these initial months of business ownership. She hasn’t taken me up on that; however, I hope she does. From my seat in the barber’s chair, the best way to offset insensitivity is to reach out and embrace those who don’t look, speak and think like me. After all, 160 years ago next month when my great-great grandparents arrived in America from Austria-Hungary they didn’t understand a bit of English.