Mar. 22—NORTH MANKATO — Before they opened Northside Hair Co. in North Mankato, owners Jennifer and Richmond Clark noticed a gap in local hairstyling options for an increasingly diverse clientele in the Mankato area.
"We wanted to be able to help whoever walked through the door and not say, 'we don't know how to do that,'" said Jennifer Clark. "There's a huge need in this community for stylists that are diverse in all types of hair, especially ethnic. That's something our town is really needing."
The couple had been considering opening up their own barbershop and salon, and when the previous business at the same location went up for sale, they took a leap of faith and purchased it in 2018. Jennifer Clark said they hit the ground running that very day, using social media to keep new customers in the loop about their progress.
"The day we bought the property, I opened a Facebook account business page for us, and I just started putting updates," she said. "Every step of the construction process we posted going up until the day we opened to start getting the word out."
Since they've opened, the positive reviews came pouring in, commending not only the quality of the actual haircuts, but also the laid back, warm atmosphere. The couple say they strive to make Northside Hair Co. a welcoming place — where good conversation and building relationships with clients is just as important as the actual haircut.
"One of the most memorable pieces of advice that I learned in school is that when you're dealing with a haircut, 70% is personality and 30% is the cut," Jennifer Clark said. "They're more likely to come back to you if they enjoy your conversation and your personality, than if you give an awesome haircut and you don't have that customer service."
On the technical side, years of hands-on experience has helped them to broaden their skills to meet the needs of any hairstyle for any hair type.
Right after she graduated from Nova Academy of Cosmetology in Mankato, Jennifer Clark took a job at Fantastic Sam's, where she learned a plethora of techniques from the other hairstylists she worked with, taking a piece from each towards developing her own style.
Richmond Clark, who began cutting hair when he was a teenager, compares the trade to driving to a destination.
"We all know where Wal-Mart is, but we may take different routes to get there," he said. "As long as the destination is the same, and as long as the haircut comes out how the client wants it, how you get there is up to you."
The business doubles as a traditional barbershop and a full-scale hair salon. Richmond Clark primarily does men and boys haircuts and shaves, while Jennifer Clark handles the cosmetology side of the business.
"For women we do haircuts, colors, perms, eyelashes, manicures, eyebrow and facial waxing — so just about everything," Jennifer Clark said. "We do silk presses for our African American and biracial clients."
Richmond Clark said there's an artistic side to some styles, like etching designs and images into the haircut. They're especially popular among kids and sports teams. Lightning bolts are a common request, as are basketballs and player numbers.
Jennifer Clark said shorter haircuts for women have been increasing in popularity lately, and styles that used to be popular decades ago are making a comeback in recent years, from perms to mullets.
"For a lot of younger kids — their peers are doing it," she said. "I had a kid from one of the smaller towns and their whole hockey team did it, so he wanted to get a perm. A lot of young boys are getting perms now.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, business has been so good that they made the leap to purchase a second location on Front Street in Downtown Mankato, after securing loans from the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation.
The new location, Unique Hair and Ink, focuses on men's haircuts and tattoos by local tattoo artist Donny Cruz, while the original location will become a women's salon entirely.
With two locations, Richmond Clark said forming relationships and community building will continue to be a priority. It's also his favorite part of the job.
"A lot of the time, returning customers come back for the conversations they've had and the relationships they've built with the barber or cosmetologist," he said. "You're asking, 'how are the kids? How's the family and how are things going? And they do the same. You're building relationships that are extremely valuable."