William Kaminski, Madison-based Cost Cutters franchisee, dies

October 11, 2018

William "Bill" Kaminski, who learned to be a barber while in prison, moved to Madison from Minnesota in 1977. He opened his first Cost Cutters salons in 1984. Kaminski is shown above at one of his stores in 1989.

Businessman and barber William “Bill” Kaminski, one of the most prolific franchisees for Cost Cutters who owned dozens of stores throughout Wisconsin and the country, died Monday. He was 74.

Kaminski grew up poor in the northern Minnesota town of Brainerd, learning the craft of hair cutting while in prison. The Verona resident, though, went on to become at one point the largest franchisee for the hair salon with a peak of nearly 100 salons owned by his company, Cost Cutters of Madison.

Steve Kaminski, 49, described his father as “bigger than life” and “very generous,” while Kaminski’s daughter, Stacy Carroll, 50, said her father was passionately involved in the company and still planning future expansions at the time of his death.

Carroll said her father had fallen and broke his neck last week. Complications stemming from the fall led to his death, she said.

Kaminski was 2 years old when his father died and 12 when his mother died. He began hanging out with a rough crowd that led to burglaries and eventually stints in prison.

“I decided at that point I didn’t want to do this anymore. So I finished high school in prison. Then I went to barber school in prison,” Kaminski told the Wisconsin State Journal in 2011. “I’m not proud of everything I’ve done, but I’m sure proud of where I am.”

After leaving prison, Kaminski moved to Minneapolis, fell under the tutelage of Joe Francis — who went on to start the Cost Cutters brand in 1982 — and excelled at hair-cutting competitions throughout the Midwest.

“This was in the ’60s, though, when the hippie movement was in. I mean nobody was getting haircuts, and here we were trying to make a living cutting hair,” Kaminski told the State Journal in 2008.

He made the move to Madison in 1977, viewing the area as a better market than Rochester, Minnesota, where he opened his first barbershop.

With $100,000 in backing from an investor, Kaminski opened five Cost Cutters locations in Madison in 1984. With his company growing, Kaminski stopped snipping locks and started shifting more paper as he focused solely on administrative work.

Expansion led to him owning shops in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Indiana, but Kaminski decided to scale back his operation, selling off a good portion of his business in 2005 to focus on southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois.

About 30 stores are now owned by Cost Cutters of Madison, Carroll said.

Though he stopped cutting hair for customers, Kaminski continued as barber for a handful of friends, including professional golfer Andy North.

In 2008, North and Kaminski teamed up for a “Clip Cancer” fundraiser for the UW Carbone Cancer Center. The next year, North started his annual golf fundraising outing, Andy North and Friends, that benefits the cancer center.

A celebration of Kaminski’s life will take place from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday at Gunderson West Funeral and Cremation Care, 7435 University Ave., Middleton.

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