When you’ve started your business in the recession, and are in remission from cancer, it can help put things in perspective.
When Sean Casey moved to Fort Myers in 2006, he arrived with a dream: to open his own barbershop. He’d worked in the hair-cutting business for years while living in New York City, but it was too expensive to consider opening a shop there.
He spent his first several years in Fort Myers at someone else’s shop, building up a client base and networking even further while doing open mic nights and other evening events in downtown Fort Myers. In 2010, his plan finally became a reality, when he opened TwinCutZ in a location on Six Mile Cypress Parkway. He’s since grown his business to five locations, with a new dream for even more.
‘I knew I had to spend money to make money.’ Sean Casey, TwinCutZ
The launch of his business was completely self-funded. “It was just get to work every day, cut hair and save money,” says Casey, 41. Although it took him until 2010 to save enough money to get started, that timing worked in his favor. The area was still recovering from the recession, and there were empty commercial spaces around town landlords were anxious to fill. “It was a great time for me to sit in front of someone and work out a deal,” Casey says.
Casey recognized creating brand recognition would be a key part of growing his business. “I knew I had to spend money to make money,” he says. He ran ads on the radio and did cable advertising on networks like MTV and BET popular with his prospective clients. He was also an early adopter of using social media to talk up shop promotions.
His $10 Tuesday special brought in a lot of young clients, including athletes from Florida Gulf Coast University. When the school became known as Dunk City in 2013 after the men’s basketball team’s NCAA Tournament run that took them to the Sweet 16, TwinCutZ was also put on the map. “It exploded for me,” Casey says. “Those kids were walking around campus and being asked, ‘Where do you get your haircut?’”
That exposure led Casey to his second location at Gulf Coast Town Center. That was actually where he had wanted to open his first shop, but no one would even meet with him back then. Things were different this time.
“When I opened up at Gulf Coast Town Center, all the athletes were coming through the door,” he says. “On day one we had 10 barbers working with a full lobby. That location almost became the unofficial barber shop of FGCU, and that continues today.”
People soon started asking where his next location was going to be. To get there, Casey joined forces with business partner Danny Womack, who invested in the company and helped with startup costs for TwinCutZ’s third Fort Myers location, in addition to new shops in Cape Coral and Naples.
“For me to grow, it’s been important to get someone [as a partner] who wasn’t a barber, someone who looked at things with a different set of eyes,” Casey says. “Danny’s been able to assist me as well as challenge me on certain ideas.” Although Casey declined to provide revenue figures for the company, he did say it had grown to almost 50 employees as of earlier this year.
Now TwinCutZ faces the difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s led to decreases in business, with weekly clients now coming in much less frequently if at all and increased costs of doing business, such as the extra expenses of masks, disinfectants and a weekly cleaning service.
“But we had to take on those costs to make sure we’re keeping everyone protected in the business,” Casey says. “And since we’re already working with razors and metal tools, sanitation has always been a big thing for barbers.”
Casey’s also no stranger to challenges. He was diagnosed with stage III non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2018 and battled that illness while building his business. (He’s currently in remission.)
“I would get chemo on a Wednesday and be in the shop on Thursday,” he says. “I was used to the challenge, the challenge, the challenge. But I was still able to make sure the doors were open, and my team of barbers was behind their chairs. Going through some of those difficult times before coronavirus kind of created a callus on me, I think.”
He’s used the current slowdown to focus on ways he can make his business even better, such as setting up a booking app for his barbers. He’s also continuing to plan for the future, with a goal to add 10 more shops in the next five to seven years.
“Our bills are being paid, and we’re getting through the process with a good outlook that things are going to get better,” Casey says. “Every new day is a step closer to an ending.”