After Serving Time, the Founder of Clean Cut Grooming Lounge Finds Success as a Barber–in Business and Life

Summary: The owner of Clean Cut Grooming Lounge used SQUIRE to bring a new level of professionalism to his business, giving him the confidence to run the shop his way despite a lack of business experience.

      —Knoxville, TN

For formerly incarcerated people, finding a job can be one of the most difficult parts of getting back to normal life. By some estimates, 60% of those formerly incarcerated are jobless and 33% won’t find a job within the first four years after being locked up. 

There are over 2 million people in the US criminal justice system at any one time, and each year 650,000 people are freed from state and federal prisons. But a staggering 70% of former prisoners return to prison within 5 years. 

The high rates of joblessness and poverty in this population play a huge part in this trend.

Tylor Trotter, the founder of Clean Cut Grooming Lounge in Knoxville, TN, wanted to get his life back on track and provide for his family after serving time for his “irresponsible past.” When his wife noticed him looking at a lot of haircut videos online, she suggested he attend barber school. 

The question was the jumpstart he needed. “Her question was actually the thing that gave me permission to go to school,” Trotter said.

“Barbering was one of the only open doors that was available to me for someone with a criminal history,” Trotter recounted. “ I didn't have a great record, and so barbering gave me an opportunity to, you know, step into a profession as a way to provide for my family as well as myself.”

After enrolling in barber school in 2015, he quickly went from cutting his son’s hair at home to doing free haircuts–or even paying people to get a haircut from him at the school–to practice his craft.

Once Trotter graduated, he worked for almost a year at a shop renting a booth. At the end of that first year, he was confident he had the skills and the clientele to open up his own business. He was determined to put his stamp on the Knoxville barber scene and provide a great atmosphere for customers and barbers.

Tylor Trotter, owner of Clean Cut Grooming Lounge, out promoting his business in the streets of Knoxville, TN.

The Challenge of Becoming Part of the Knoxville Business Community

What was missing, however, was the know-how to run the business. Trotter was nervous about putting himself out into the community so visibly as a business owner–especially when he was working to overcome the stigma of incarceration.

“For me, my biggest concern was opening up a business and becoming a member of the community. You become one of the people that you’ve been watching your whole life, and I knew deep down inside that I didn’t really feel prepared.”

Trotter knew he wanted to open up a commission barbershop–in part because he knew that operating a rental barbershop business would mean there was a cap on how much he could earn in the business. The trade-off for higher earning potential was, of course, more responsibility as a business owner.

“When I was working in somebody’s shop, the only responsibility that I had was to pay my own booth and cut hair,” Trotter said. “I knew that despite my background, not being somebody versed in business, that I had enough skill in cutting hair and charisma that people would support me. But I did not know how to do it on the back end. I didn't know anything about taxes. I didn't know anything about payrolls.”

It required a lot of faith in himself and those around him to make the leap from barber to business owner. At the grand opening of Clean Cut Grooming Lounge, Trotter worked with one barber by his side. Soon, others followed and his business quickly grew.

But as the business grew, he began to feel the impact that his lack of business knowledge had–and he knew he needed to figure it out sooner than later.

An empty barber chair at Clean Cut Grooming Lounge in Knoxville, TN.

SQUIRE Helps Clean Up Business Operations

In the early days, the barbers at Clean Cut Grooming Lounge all used their own booking apps to manage their schedule and clients’ appointments. This created a huge headache for Trotter.

“I asked them to keep track of their haircuts and numbers,” he recalled, “and then they would send me pictures at the end of each day. It was like “Let me know how many cuts you did, how many services you performed, how much you made, and then pay me whatever the commission was from those numbers.”

Not only did this require a huge amount of trust in his barbers, but it created a lot of extra work for the barbers and Trotter. It was time wasted they could otherwise spend with clients or growing the business. That was just one area where he was spending more time and effort than he thought necessary to keep the business running behind the scenes.

Soon, Trotter came across SQUIRE, and found a solution to many of his struggles as a business owner.

“SQUIRE pretty much solved all the issues that I felt like I had as a barber who was not fully equipped to also be a business person,” he said. “From scheduling and the reports to helping me collect the commissions, I didn’t have to worry about the things I had been worrying about all the time. It really freed me up to focus on what I was good at and to work on promoting the business.”

The biggest takeaway for Trotter from the beginning of working with SQUIRE, in his own words: “I didn't have to become an expert at business management in order to run a successful barbershop.”

With SQUIRE by his side, Clean Cut Grooming Lounge quickly grew into a beloved Knoxville business. And Trotter was able to evolve how he ran his business and discover new opportunities for growth–opportunities that he might not have been able to capitalize on as quickly without SQUIRE.

While there are many things Trotter loved about SQUIRE, some of the features he appreciated the most to help him level up his business included:

  • Monitoring reports to track and project the business’ revenue and help make important decisions like when the shop can support hiring a new barber
  • Sending out emails and text messages to clients through SQUIRE Engage to keep them informed about the business
  • Adding retail products to the shop, giving the business another line of revenue and his barbers another way to make commission income
  • Tracking inventory automatically to help keep on top of re-ordering
  • Easily adding new services and changing the prices without fear of miscommunication

How Grit Becomes Greatness–and More Professional–At Clean Cut Grooming Lounge

As a formerly incarcerated person, Trotter was aware of the perception many people have towards him, and by extension, his business. 

“There was a point when I was not a productive member of society,” he recalled. “I was always the black sheep. I was always on the outside looking in. What SQUIRE gave me the opportunity to do was to be able to function as a productive member of society, even though I didn’t really know what I was doing at times.”

On top of having a storefront, SQUIRE provided him with a website for his brand and simple online booking for clients. As a result, Clean Cut came across as more modern and professional than the walk-in shops in the area because few had those at the time.

“SQUIRE gave me a huge line of credibility. The community that at one point looked at me and knew that I was a nuisance could now say, ‘Wow, this guy’s serious, this guy’s building something.’ I wasn’t just throwing some chairs in a building and charging people $20 for a haircut.”

Building a brand to compete with the top barbershops in the area was more than a professional challenge–it was personal. The entire customer experience was a reflection on him and his brand. 

Choices like moving away from walk-ins to be 100% appointment-only were uncommon in the area, but Trotter wanted everything to be streamlined in the business.

“I didn’t want the shop to be something basic,” he said. “I wanted to show people that we’re a step up from what you’re used to, that we value your time and value the service we provide you. We don’t want people to have to wait, so booking and then keeping appointments on time was really helpful.”

The hard work and attention to detail paid off and helped make Clean Cut Grooming Lounge a trusted business for many Knoxvillians.

A positive review of Clean Cut Grooming Lounge from Yelp.

Paying It Forward and New Beginnings

Today, you won’t find Trotter at Clean Cut Grooming Lounge. He recently left to follow a calling to mentor others in Florida, in part by sharing his story. 

“That's really what's important to me is that people believe that they don't have to stay stuck where they were,” he said, “that they can move into something bigger and better as long as they can believe it about themselves.” 

The Clean Cut legacy lives on in Knoxville, however, as long-time barber at the shop, Nicole, took over the location to create her own brand.

He hasn’t left barbering behind entirely, as he found a shop, Hollywood Cuts Barbershop, to get behind the chair again in his new hometown of Jacksonville–a shop that uses SQUIRE, he was happy to learn. 

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