Terrell Brandon played 11 years in the NBA from 1991-2002 for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Milwaukee Bucks and Minnesota Timberwolves. As a member of the Cavaliers, the University of Oregon product was named to the NBA All-Star Game twice and finished with career averages of 14 points and 6 assists.
Now 44 years old and retired from basketball, Brandon continues to dish out assists and haircuts in his hometown of Portland, Oregon. Two decades ago, Brandon opened The Terrell Brandon Barber Shop on NE Alberta Street, which now doubles as headquarters for his charity and business interests throughout the area.
His barber shop, which was opened in a Portland neighborhood once riddled with crime and violence, now serves as a beacon for change and hope in the community. Surrounding Brandon’s barber shop these days are a number of small business retail stores, boutiques, coffee houses and restaurants that are all thriving.
Small Business Trends caught up with Terrell to talk about how he built his business over the last 20 years and what advice he has for entrepreneurs looking to take their small business to the next level.
Small Business Trends: This building was an old gas station when you were growing up, before it became home to The Terrell Brandon Barber Shop. Can you talk about the initial vision you had in opening your business in this location?
Terrell Brandon: I had been passing by this place for many, many years growing up. Then, once I got to college and started to see what I wanted to do in life, the barbershop came to mind with a friend of mine. I ended up hiring him, and he worked with me at the shop for 15 years. But as far as the initial vision, we just really tried to establish something positive in the neighborhood because it needed something positive.
Small Business Trends: What were some of your goals for the small business community and neighborhood overall when you first opened your business?
Terrell Brandon: We tried to come in and bring a fresh outlook on a neighborhood that was drug infested and filled with gang violence. We just tried to change the image a little bit, bring something positive to the neighborhood and we’ve been able to do that. We wanted to show people that with fresh ideas and initiatives this area of Portland could be more than it had been while I was growing up. So I came home one summer, saw the vacancy, and purchased the land. I sat on the land for a couple years until I got my business plan down and then opened it up. And we’ve been here ever since.
Small Business Trends: If you were offering advice to someone looking to open their own barbershop or salon, what would you say?
Terrell Brandon: I think one thing is location. That’s always the key. Having a steady flow of foot-traffic coming in and out and going up and down the street. It helps when people can not only see your building when they drive by, but also when they’re walking down the street. Being able to see a sign, the hours they can get a haircut, and then looking in the windows and seeing what’s going on inside. It helps when people are able to see in and see out and get comfortable.
Small Business Trends: From your experience as a business owner and basketball player, what are some important aspects of building a winning team?
Terrell Brandon: First of all, I don’t ever have anybody who works for me. I have people who work with me. So having people on your team who share the same vision is important, and then keeping those people around you is key. Making sure your team is always staying current with what’s going on and the new technology is also important. For example, most people don’t have cash on them so making sure you have some type of credit card device so that people can do things like swipe and keep it moving is also important. And then those people who work with you, making sure they’re always courteous with the customer, saying hello and things like that goes a long way.
Small Business Trends: What similarities have you found from leading a basketball team during your playing days and leading your small business team over the last 20 years?
Terrell Brandon: There most definitely are similarities, especially with me being a former point guard. Point guards are always into organization and really focused on the ‘we’ and the ‘us’. So I’m always looking to see if someone is in a good mood or bad mood, and what I can do to improve the way people are feeling at work. Then I’m making sure we’re organized. Are the clippers up to date? Are the caps the guys are wearing up to date? Do your employees have what they need to succeed on a daily basis? It’s just a point guard mentality to always have that ‘we’ and ‘us’ atmosphere because you can’t win with only one person on the team.
Small Business Trends: What are some ways you’ve worked to increase your profit margin as a business owner?
Terrell Brandon: Managing your profit margin or bottom line is really an everyday situation. It’s not a weekly or monthly thing; it’s every day because you are always selling something. What makes it easy with a barber shop is that my barbers are individual contractors. So you don’t have to worry about that as much. It’s the other things you have to pay more attention to — the brushes, caps, hair product, t-shirts, those are the things we have to monitor. Which is why I’m here every day 23 years later. And also, that visual of seeing the boss here, that helps your profit margin too.
Small Business Trends: What pitfalls do you suggest that small business owners be aware of and make sure they avoid from your experience?
Terrell Brandon: You need to make sure that your staff and team buys into the overall vision for your business. I have three barbers now, but I’ve had to go through other barbers over the years because they didn’t maybe understand the concept of where we were coming from. Just different personalities, different opinions. Nothing personal. It happens. As far as other pitfalls to avoid, trying to do too much is something you need to be aware of. We used to have this area which is now my office set up as a retail store back in the day. I was selling merchandise, jeans, jerseys and shoes. But as time went on, I changed up because those products weren’t as profitable. It wasn’t really part of our core business, either, so we stopped doing that and focused on our strengths.
Images: Small Business Trends
I love that your initial goal is not to make money but to make people happy. I think other small business owners can learn from you in this area. It is something that I have learned the hard way but I found how it pays in loads when you do the right thing.
Brendan: I am still struggling to understand the rules of baseball! 😉 Thanks for drawing parallels between this sport and business.