Small Business Spotlight: Larry’s Barber College stays a cut above with new walmart shop

Barber Shop

Angela Harvey had never cut hair before she enrolled in Larry’s Barber College. Her first time wielding clippers, after months of classroom instruction, “I was shaking like a leaf,” she said.

“Now I’m not scared of anything,” Harvey, 54, said as she sat in a red barber chair waiting for customers inside a gleaming South Side Walmart, where Larry’s Barber College recently opened the first of what it hopes is a chain of barber shops owned by the school.

Larry’s Barber College, a two-time alum of the Polsky Center’s Small Business Growth Program, has reached an exciting juncture in its evolution. Founded in 2004 to offer professional barber training as an alternative to street life, it now has six training locations, including three inside of the penal system, and is embarking on a plan to open a chain of shops where its graduates can build their client rosters and launch their hair-cutting careers.

The first shop, called Larry’s Barber Maximus, opened in September 2021 in the Walmart Supercenter in Chicago’s Chatham neighborhood, with eight barber chairs plus stations for cosmetologists and nail technicians. The second shop, in a Walmart in the Pullman neighborhood, is slated to open this month. There are plans for three more Walmart locations.

If all goes well, Adam Farmer, chief operating officer at Larry’s Barber College, hopes the partnership with Walmart opens the door to a nationwide expansion of Larry’s shops that its barber school graduates could take over and run themselves.

“I really want for our graduates to become the small employers in the community,” Farmer said. “To not just be a barber, but to own a shop that can help them employ other barbers.”

Walmart reached out to Larry’s with the shop opportunity after civil unrest sparked by the murder of George Floyd caused extensive damage to many of its Chicago stores. When the retail giant announced it would recommit to impacted neighborhoods, investing $50 million to reopen and improve the stores, it also introduced new services to meet community needs.

The Chatham store, which closed for six months for repairs, reopened with a health center offering dental, vision, and behavioral health services, and an adjacent Walmart Academy offering vocational and college prep courses. The in-store barber shop adds to the one-stop convenience for shoppers.

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This story was first published by Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

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