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Small Business Center helps launch new barbershop

PITTSBORO - For more than six years, Eric Brown had a dream: owning his own barbershop. The 2001 graduate of Sanford Barber College spent those years taking care of clients' needs, but always in someone else's shop.

On May 1, his dream became a reality as he welcomed clients to his Carolina Barbershop, in Chapel Hill. "When you have your own shop, you're independent," he said with a confident smile. "You set the rules. You can set high standards. If you do that, you'll be successful."

On June 27, he and his business both gained a partner when he married Tru Kelley. The couple now resides in Carrboro. They had worked together to plan for the barbershop, but realized they needed help in creating a successful business. For that, they went to Gary Kibler, Small Business Center director at Central Carolina Community College's Chatham County Campus, in Pittsboro.

"Eric and I had tried to do a business plan on our own," Tru said, "but Gary made a lot of changes that made it better." Kibler brings a wealth of business background to his work with entrepreneurs, like the Browns, and existing small businesses. He was a marketing executive with international firms and owned his own marketing firm before retiring. He is also the former chapter chairman of Chapel Hill SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives). Kibler draws on his background and a network of people and resources to help entrepreneurs successfully launch new businesses or business owners improve the ones they have.

"I was very impressed with Eric," Kibler said. "He couldn't get a business loan, but started anyway. I liked his persistence." Brown knew about barbering, but he knew he needed help to create a workable business plan and understand the financial challenges of opening a shop. "Gary was very helpful," he said. "I wouldn't have known how to write a good business plan or about getting an accountant to help with the finances and taxes, or other things."

Kibler discussed with the Browns what their goals were, what resources they had, and how to set up the kind of business they wanted with the best chance for success. With his help, they created a plan of where they wanted the business to be in five years and how they would get there.

The plan included details such as prices to charge, having weekly specials, and requiring ongoing continuing education for the barbers in the shop. The Browns, who are Black, want to serve all races in the shop, so Kibler gave them pointers on how to attract and serve those customers.

Now they are the proud owners of their own 600-square-foot shop at 136 E. Rosemary St., Chapel Hill. Brown serves the clients and Tru provides the non-barbering support for the business. The shop, which is open Monday-Saturday, has four chairs, with two currently in use and two for business expansion.

"I would recommend anybody wanting to start a business go to Central Carolina Community College's Small Business Center and let them help you," Brown said. "I look at my barbershop as a foundation for opening other franchises and businesses. When I do, I'll probably go back to the Small Business Center for advice and get Gary to help me out."

Brown is already making plans, looking forward to getting more barbers in the shop to work the other chairs. "Then I'll be able to play golf on Saturdays," he said with a smile.

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