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Teenage business owner runs Springfield hair salon

October 5, 2018

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — A recent Tuesday was like many other workdays for Gabriel Crouch, owner of Blades & Shades salon in east-central Springfield.

In the morning, the curly-headed 16-year-old went to Parkview High, where he is earning his diploma.

Crouch is a 10th-grader, but he expects to graduate a year early. Crouch aims for good academic marks, but he said he likes business better than school.

Still, he began the day with school before heading to his business. Crouch had earth science and photography classes. They ended at 11 a.m.

Next, he went to Blades & Shades, which he opened in January. It is located at 1825 E. Cherry St., just off a busy stretch of Glenstone Avenue equipped with an Arvest Bank and a McDonald’s.

Blades & Shades is at least the third business venture for Crouch, not counting mutual fund investments, the Springfield News-Leader reported.

As a 4-year-old, Crouch said, his mother began teaching him about investing.

“It was like, if you put your money in the right spot, it will grow without you doing anything to it,” he said. “That was how she explained it back then.”

Later, Jill Crouch began instructing her son in the importance of diversifying investments, and he managed his own mutual fund.

By the time Crouch was 8, he made and sold laundry detergent.

“I actually did pretty well at that,” Crouch said.

As a 12-year-old, Crouch started a garage business repairing bicycles.

Crouch invested most of the money he made, he told the News-Leader. The teenager eventually amassed a nest egg of about $60,000.

In 2017, his mother — who owns The Cottage, the salon next door on Cherry Street — was looking to unwind her ownership of a cosmetology school, Touch Academy.

“It just wasn’t the right fit,” Crouch said.

Parent and child soon struck a deal: Crouch bought Touch Academy’s assets in September 2017 and soon began retooling the space as a salon.

Mind you, Crouch isn’t a hairstylist, though he grew up in and around salons and recognizes their social appeal.

“It’s always where I wanted to be,” he said, “not necessarily because I wanted to do hair. I just liked being around the people, and being able to talk to people.”

Did people tell him he was crazy for making this choice as a teenager?

“Absolutely,” Crouch said. “A lot of people just didn’t really think I could do it.”

Crouch smiled.

“I just wanted to prove them wrong,” he said. “In a positive way.”

Crouch admits his drive sometimes outstripped his knowledge level.

“At this point, I was 15,” he said. “There was a lot of stuff I didn’t quite know.”

Paperwork — for example, writing a job application form — was high on the list of things to know. So he started learning.

“I did have, and do have, a good support system,” he said, crediting his mom and family friends who had management experience for their help.

Crouch said he’s learned that managing a salon encompasses a wide range of tasks. When he comes in after school, he might be doing payroll or washing towels.

He now has seven employees, including hairstylists, two nail technicians, and specialists for eyelashes and skin care, he said. He also retained a business consultant, Rachael Shepherd, whose background includes real estate sales and advising small-to-medium firms ranging from an Asian restaurant to a medical cannabis business.

In an interview with the News-Leader, Shepherd credited Crouch with inspiring salon staffers.

Many say they want to be their own boss, Shepherd said. “Sure, people may have that dream as a kid. But he cares about the stylists, that they have the business they want.”

In Shepherd’s view, “they believe in him because of that.”

Crouch said his goal in a year’s time is to add three more employees and develop the base of repeat customers that a salon needs to thrive.

The key challenge? Building trust.

“Someone working on your hair can be a scary thing,” he said.

When people are skeptical, “it’s not with me, or my age, or even because I’m a high school student. It’s just because (the salon) is new, and new to them.”

Crouch said his goal was to provide a youth-oriented atmosphere and draw in a bit of a different demographic than his mom’s salon next door.

As part of that effort, Blades & Shades plans to host a grand opening event Friday, complete with an acoustic guitarist, a wine-tasting and refreshments.

“We’re not where we want to be,” Crouch said. “There are little milestones you accomplish every now and then, that’s just the best feeling. Seeing your stylists grow in their profession, seeing their business grow — that’s very rewarding.”

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Information from: Springfield News-Leader, http://www.news-leader.com

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