A lone barber’s chair sits on the rich hardwood floors of Kelly’s Kuts, and that’s just how Kelly Holman likes it.
Holman, who has been cutting hair in Vancouver for nearly 40 years, has been the master of her own stylist shop since the 1990s – ever since she decided that corporate hair cutting salons just weren’t her thing. And, while her business has never advertised anywhere, she’s managed to built up a strong clientele that brings in new customers consistently through word of mouth.
“Cutting hair is my passion,” Holman said. “But I don’t like to be told when I have to work. The last time I worked for a corporate shop, they kept giving me split-shifts. I got sick of it, so I left and started my own business.”
She founded her first shop next to Sellberg’s Tavern on St. John’s Boulevard, and spent nearly two decades there. But she always had her eye on a cute little house zoned for business down the street.
Then, finally, about a year ago, the spot at 2803 Fort Vancouver Way became available and she was able to move in, along with a friend’s jewelry business, Rebecca’s Retro Resurrection Jewelry Designs, which sublets from Holman.
“There had always been a business in here, and I always thought it would be the perfect location for a shop,” Holman said. “Every time I thought I could get in, a new business would appear before I could talk to the landlord. But it finally became available and I finally got it.”
Holman likes the spot because it has protected parking, better visibility and a larger space. And that’s helped her business grow, she said.
“Business is picking up,” Holman said. “A lot of my clientele followed me here. I had a few who thought I had closed, but I’ve also gained a some new clients.”
Financially, she’s not getting rich off the business, she said, but “I do OK.” She declined to give any revenue numbers.
What really drives her, though, is the families and long-term clients that she’s gotten to know over the years. She keeps her prices low – $7 per cut – because she thinks everybody should be able to afford a haircut, and she only takes walk-in customers. Sometimes she’ll cut hair for free or very low cost for the homeless or for struggling families in the area, she said.
“I have families that I’ve given their kids their first haircuts and now those kids are grown up,” Holman said. “I have one client that I gave her first haircut, and now I’m cutting her grandkids’ hair.”
She also doesn’t charge customers if they’re not happy with her work, she said.
“I can’t make somebody pay for something they’re not happy with,” Holman said. “I’m a firm believer that if you give somebody a good haircut, sometimes they’ll share that information with friends, and sometimes they keep it to themselves. But if you give somebody a bad haircut, they’ll tell everyone. I’m willing to stand behind my work. And if they don’t like something I did, I’ll fix it for free.”
One of the biggest keys to building up clientele and creating personal connections with clients is her rules for discussion in the shop: No politics, no religion.
“I try not to discuss politics or religion because everyone is entitled to their opinion,” Holman said. “That’s how you find opposition. I’d rather not discuss those topics.”
Instead the conversations usually focus on families, kids and how her clients are doing overall in life. Her goal is to be accepting of everyone – and her clients span the range of political affiliations and lifestyles, she said.
“I’m cool with anybody and everybody,” Holman said. “I don’t discriminate against anybody based on anything – politics, gender orientation, sexual orientation – I don’t care. Love is love and you can’t help who you love, so you should just love everybody.”
Even though she’s getting older, with her dream location recently secured, there’s not a single thought in her head about retirement. That’s just not going to happen, she said.
“I’ll never retire,” Holman said. “I love doing what I do too much. I enjoy interacting with different people every week. I have people that come in, and we talk about family, kids, grandkids. I just enjoy my clients so much.”