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Mobile Cuts on the move

Barber, marketing professional launch mobile venture

Martin Desmarais
Mobile Cuts on the move
Mobile Cuts Boston co-founders (l-r) Montrez Williams and Christopher Roberts target their mobile barbershop business toward companies and corporate office buildings that want to provide extra services to employees on location during work hours. (Photo: Martin Desmarais)

In today’s on-the-go culture it is probably not a surprise to see a mobile barbershop when everything seems to be available on the fly, but in Boston you’ll only find one.

For startup Mobile Cuts Boston, which officially hit the streets in January 2015, that is not a bad thing. However, for co-founders Christopher Roberts and Montrez Williams, it is also a challenge because there isn’t an example of how to make their mobile barbershop business a success.

The closest they could come to finding a similar concept is in Los Angeles, but that is long way off and a country apart in terms of the business environment.

So Roberts and Williams are full speed ahead without a roadmap.

“What we are doing is groundbreaking and innovating,” said Williams. “There is no other model that we can look at to say we can go from here … We are learning as we go.”

Author: Martin DesmaraisMobile Cuts Boston co-founder Christopher Roberts, a certified Master Barber, at work in the company’s mobile barbershop truck.

On the web

If you see Mobile Cuts’ mobile barbershop — a converted RV — rolling down the street or parked on the corner it’s hard not to think what a great idea company co-founders certainly had. Visit Mobile Cuts online at www.mobilecutsbos.com.

By design, Mobile Cuts sounds exactly like it is: a mobile barbershop that offers barbershop services that range from a buzz cut for $25 to an artistic shave for $45. The Elite package includes a cut, shampoo, scalp manipulation and shoe shine for $50. The Executive package offers a cut, shampoo, scalp and face massage, hot towel, straight-razor shave and shoe shine for $75.

The business model is capitalizing on the advantage of being on the move and going to where the customers are, but Roberts and Williams want customers to forget about that once they step on the Mobile Cuts truck.

“We want a barbershop feel and a lounge feel at the same time. We want it to be welcoming so when you walk in here it is an experience,” said Williams. “I know we are not a typical barbershop because we are on wheels, but we want to make it feel comfortable and at home for people.”

Mobile Cuts’ barbershop expertise comes from Roberts, who is a master barber and has more than three decades of experience working around the city. Williams, who graduated from Emerson College, puts to work his degree in business administration and marketing to run that side of the company. Both Williams and Roberts are Boston-born and raised — Williams in Dorchester and Roberts in Roxbury.

The interior design of the mobile barbershop certainly leaves the street corner quickly behind with comfortable leather barber chairs, wooded counters and trimmings and a lounge waiting area in the back.

Roberts calls it an intimate setting.

“We try to keep it real soothing and relaxing. It is a nice environment. The client has a personal relationship with me so once they are here it is just us, one-on-one,” Roberts said. “To be in Mobile Cuts it is a beautiful experience all around.”

Steady clients

Since Mobile Cuts features a large truck and parks on the street the easy association would be with food trucks. But Mobile Cuts business model is different. Food trucks benefit from lots of foot traffic in public places and can rake in big bucks from one-time customers. Mobile Cuts does take walk-ins, but most of the business is done through appointments, so repeat customers are critical to keep revenue coming in. While food trucks deal with the city and permitting to be on public streets, Mobile Cuts focuses on corporate locations and private property. The mobile barbershop doesn’t need public permits as they get the OK from companies or office buildings to serve tenants and park on their locations.

Mobile Cuts is capitalizing on the growing trend of companies and corporate office parks offering services to employees through vendors and mobile businesses that come for one day a week or for a couple hours at a time. Such services range from yoga to fitness classes to car washes to dry cleaning to pop-up restaurants.

These services all benefit from a set schedule — employees know exactly what day of the week or times they will be there — and also promotion from the company or building.

Williams works with company or building coordinators to get out information about Mobile Cuts and point interested customers to the website or mobile app to book an appointment. While the sight of a 40-foot-long mobile barbershop definitely draws some curiosity by those walking by and some may book appointments, Mobile Cuts can only succeed if they already have a slate of appointments on the books when they pull up to a location.

Mobile Cuts will typically spend about four hours at a location, mostly around lunchtime, and can handle about two to three appointments an hour. Roberts is the main barber, but the company employs two other barbers that help when needed.

According to Williams, the goal is to have a set location established for every day of the week. The Company needs at least five to six days a week to hit the revenue it needs to be successful. Right now, Mobile Cuts is at one corporate location every week and is trying out other locations to establish more of that work.

The ideal client is the busy professional who doesn’t have the time to visit a traditional brick-and-mortar barbershop and can benefit from a lunch-time appointment right outside the building where he works. With all the companies around Boston, Williams sees no shortage of opportunity for Mobile Cuts. They just have to hustle and get the name and brand out there.

Williams’ marketing background comes into play in this. Roberts and Williams also started a marketing and event planning company, Exclusive Clientele Brands, that handles the boat load of focus on making Mobile Cuts the name in mobile barbershops.

They have a broader vision for Mobile Cuts that includes expansion and more trucks, but want to solidify the business first.

The pair first met in a barbershop when Roberts became Williams’ barber. They have been kicking around ideas to start their own barbershop business for over a decade. They first tried to open up a traditional barbershop location, but weren’t able to get it off the ground and realized in the process that such a business was easily lost in a sea of similar options.

Williams said the food truck business explosion in Boston in recent years did initially give them the idea to start a mobile barbershop business, but once they researched how they would do so they realized they couldn’t just run it like a food truck and started to focus on the connection with corporate locations.

So far Roberts and Williams have funded the startup out of their own pocket and run the business out of Fields Corner Business Lab in Dorchester, but they said the pressure is on to make the business work and hit enough revenue to cover operations. But they have confidence about the prospects.

“We feel really good where we are at. We are being perceived well. Everywhere we go, everybody is talking about it, everybody has an ‘ah’ moment about it,” Williams added. “That alone I feel good about.”