Business advice from a 94-year old barber

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The LA Times ran a beautiful story this morning (covered in our local paper the Arizona Republic) about Elvie Lewis, a 94-year old barber in Los Angeles who is still cutting hair.

The article says:

His regulars travel from as far as Palmdale, Calif., to the three-chair shop on South Normandie Avenue in Los Angeles that Lewis has operated since 1952. He started cutting hair in 1947.

Longtime customers praise his $15 haircuts and his upbeat attitude.

Through the years, Lewis mastered each new style that came along. There was the buzz cut of the 1950s, the bushy Afro of the ’60s, the dreadlocks and cornrows of the ’70s, the 1980s’ mullet, the high-top fade of the ’90s and today’s high-and-tight.

“My favorite style is what they ask for,” he says with a grin. In his zip-up barber’s smock, the short, cheerful-looking Lewis favors a short crop on his own receding gray hairline.

Customers said it’s his smile and encouraging outlook on life – just as much as the haircut he gives – that keep them coming back.

We often look for business inspiration from high-flying social media-fueled internet startup cool cats with fancy tools.

I think Mr. Lewis trumps them all:

“My favorite style is what they ask for.”

Read the article here.

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19 Responses to “Business advice from a 94-year old barber”

  1. Wow!!!! What a great post!! I am going to share this post as inspiration to other barbers!!

  2. Tej Kohli says:

    Its Very amazing a person who had reached just at the life end having still hope and passion to its business and he know how to manage well the business . His life experiences and passion make him still live ….

    I want to Salute this Barber!
    Tej Kohli

  3. Tony Wanless says:

    this man, another example of a stockbroker who’s pushing 100, and others cited are just leading the way.
    Truth is retirement is an outdated concept. Nobody is going to “retire” any more in the traditional sense. Average career lifespan now involves something like 7 different jobs or careers. So we’re all going to “retire” many times in our lives — i.e. take a break from a situation we are tired of — and then reinvent into another type of work. Or, as in this case, we’ll just reinvent while remaining at work we love.

  4. Karen says:

    I love reading stories like these. Older folks have so much to give – they should do away with mandatory retirement. After all, that’s going to be you and me one day, too.

    When I first started reading the article, I thought of David Chilton’s book “The Wealthy Barber”. In addition to being happy with what he does and being social with his customers, I’m sure Mr. Lewis is also pretty financially secure. He’s happy with what he’s doing so why should he stop doing it. Good for him!

  5. That’s exactly why I stick to my old neighborhood’s local beauty parlor – the service is good, cheap, fun and feels like home…no need for fancy 5th avenue hair salons….

  6. In addition, it’s his attitude that keeps them coming back. They can tell he cares about what he does, but he’s lovingly positive about it.
    Very nice. I hope that’s how I am at 94!

  7. […] Business advice from a 94-year old barber (tags: business customerservice passion) […]

  8. […] One of my favorite blog posts in the past few days has been, Business advice from a 94-year old barber. It’s a simple post, highlighting a wise […]

  9. Oh, this is wonderful! I love hearing about people like this—people who live honestly and touch people in such a small yet significant way. It truly testifies to the idea that you can do good in any job–you can serve people no matter what you do, just by having a good attitude and being open.

  10. Hi Pamela,
    Great story. Sounds like Elvie really gets the idea about ‘putting your customer at the centre of your business’.


  11. fas says:

    Sweet stuff, he must be a pro and people coming from far shows how popular he is.

  12. Bart says:

    I go to the Uptown Barber Shop in Naples, Florida. $15 for a great cut, great conversation, and great atmosphere. Pictures of Ken Griffey (Sr, not Jr) on the wall, old fashioned chairs, the stripe outside.

    I used to be able to walk to the shop from my office but now I work an hour north. So I wait until Saturday for a cut. My 6-year old son and I go once a month and gladly make the 30 minute drive. It helps that they know how to cut — # 2 on the sides and blend it up! But it’s the experience that keeps us coming back to visit Jimmy, Big Joe, and the rest of the gang.

  13. Walter P. Little says:

    If you love what you do, who needs retirement? Haven’t been to that particular barber but there’s another guy up here in Sylmar (northern Los Angeles) who’s been cutting hair for about as long. I’ve learned so much about the history of this area from that dude…. I’ve gone with friends so we all can listen to him for longer. And he loves it!
    I also read an article in the LA Daily News a few months ago about a guy that just retired from Pep Boys (auto parts chain). He started there in 1949! He apparently tried to retire once about 20 years ago but went stir crazy and asked for his job back. It’s easy to see how his coworkers and/or managers could have just seen him as the old bastard who won’t leave, but they didn’t feel that way at all. In fact they are all going to miss him a great deal and one coworker said he made sure to get the old guy’s phone number because _nobody_ knew more about car parts. Because he loved what he did….
    With small business I always remember that if it lasts more than 10 years, its for one of three reasons (usually the first): 1. they’re doing something right, 2. the owners keep putting good money after bad and they keep barely making it work, or 3. it’s a front for something else ;-).
    A great example of “doing something right”: There’s a Thai place – Nun’s Kitchen – by my house that is celebrating its 19th anniversary this year. A true family operation – a mom and her son. It doesn’t look like much, in fact I lived here for three years before I ever went there because I assumed it was another “dollar scoop” type fast food place. Not at all. Every order is made from scratch to order, every time. I don’t even order anymore, I just let them make whatever they want because it is all excellent. The other day I came down with a nasty head cold, went in there for lunch and said “make me well.” She made me soup from scratch. When I asked her what it was called, she said “some stuff I threw together.” Damned if I didn’t feel way better when I left. I’ll never forget that. They aren’t getting rich, but they are doing what they love, what they are good at, and always put their customer first. Nun takes it personally if somebody has a bad experience.

  14. Karen Hodges says:

    This post reminded me how simply it really is — it’s all about the relationship and
    giving customers what they want.

  15. Iyabo Asani says:

    I love it. My favorite style is what they ask for. Classic!

    So as a coach, what do I like to coach on? Whatever you the client needs! I love it.


  16. Joanne says:

    as I noted in my tweet, “the customer rules” is ageless, timeless and paradigm-neutral (in other words: brick/mortar, web, etc). I’m not surprised at all that a 94-year old business has great (simple) wisdom to share, we forget that our wise elders have been there done that and bought the t-shirt, and us hot shot techno-savvy youngsters can still learn very valuable lessons here, we just need to stop and listen. So thanks for making us pause to do that with your article.

  17. Hulbert says:

    Whoa, what an inspiration from a person that’s still working at that age. I think that’s really amazing; and from reading this article, it seems like he also really enjoyed his work too.

  18. Elvie is right on, and he’s a Lewis, so he’s got a twofer going on there! Once again, a fantastic gem on your blog. Thanks!

  19. Laura Click says:

    Isn’t it amazing that the best advice is often the simplest? Thanks for sharing this wonderful piece of wisdom!