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Barbershop celebrates 10 years in business

April 9, 2018

SOMERSWORTH, N.H. (AP) — The day before Rick Sullivan opened Loaded Dice Boston Barbers in Somersworth in 2008, he thought he had everything set up — the shop was clean and the equipment and decor were all in the right place. He was missing one crucial element to running a business, however.

“I realized I didn’t have any money to put in the cash register for change,” Sullivan said. “I had no money to put in the drawer.”

He drove to his storage unit and found an old coffee can full of change. “There was, like, $105 in it,” he said. “I felt like, a hundred bucks, this was awesome. So I put it in the cash register.”

One wonders what Sullivan would have done had he not stumbled upon that emergency stash of cash as getting the barber shop up and running had stretched the remainder of his resources.

“I had literally $78 in my pocket,” he said. “I sold my car. I put everything I owned in storage. I was bouncing from sofa to sofa.”

Sullivan timed the opening of Loaded Dice for the spring because he figured he could go without a car in warmer weather. Loaded Dice Boston Barbers has since moved from its original Somersworth location to Dover, and five years ago opened a second shop in Rochester. Sullivan recently reflected on those early tough times on the occasion of his 10th anniversary in business.

“I was making enough to at least survive,” he said of the first few months. “I was sleeping in the shop on a sofa and bathing in the back in a plastic construction bin. I’d hook the utility sink up to a hose. I didn’t have a place to live — I was sofa surfing.”

Determination, plus encouragement from his parents and friends, helped drive him to see his business succeed.

“I knew that this had to work,” Sullivan said. “That’s not to say that there hasn’t been many times I’ve wanted to quit. Many times.”

He joined the U.S. Marine Corps at a young age, but after getting out, knew he wanted to do more than just make a living. He wanted a career, something he could do for the rest of his life.

“I guess I had a midlife crisis-slash-meltdown,” he said. “No nervous breakdowns or anything like that. But I’d been working my whole life. I had a paper route when I was 8 delivering the Boston Globe.”

Sullivan’s father suggested barbering to his son. “He said ‘Didn’t you kind of work on the side in the Marine Corps giving haircuts in the barracks for extra money? Why don’t you be a barber? I see these barbers out there, they work their whole lives,’” Sullivan said.

With his G.I. Bill about to expire, Sullivan used the money to enroll in barbering school. Soon after, he was working at various barber shops, including one of the first to open at Pease International Tradeport. He soon realized owning his own shop was the only way to make any real money. The idea for Loaded Dice was born.

“And this was before the explosion in barber shops,” Sullivan said. “We were the first of the many barber shops in the Seacoast to open.”

With no budget for traditional advertising, Sullivan utilized social media (then still in its primitive form) and resorted to guerrilla marketing tactics.

“I printed up fliers on my computer,” he said. “I’d get up every morning and go to businesses. I would walk around and hand the fliers out. I didn’t have money to advertise.”

Sullivan would hand a flier to a potential customer, ask him to keep Loaded Dice in mind and walk away. “I didn’t give them a chance to say no,” he said.

Ignoring most businesses’ rules against solicitation, Sullivan wouldn’t hesitate to walk into a store or restaurant to hand out (or sometimes hide) his fliers.

“I used to fold fliers up and pretend I was looking for pants, and I’d put the fliers in the pants pocket in the men’s section,” Sullivan said. “When they got home and put on their pants and reach into their pockets, they’d go ‘What the heck is this?’”

He got kicked out of his fair share of businesses. “Then I gave it a couple of days and I’d go back,” he said with a laugh.

Now with two locations and eight employees, Sullivan said the future of the business is bright. He cited the diversity of his work crew and clientele as a business advantage.

“I call us an ‘everyone welcome’ barber shop,” he said. “Our barbers, they’re all different people. (Here) we can have a 2-year-old kid next to a 93-year-old man next to a police officer next to a guy who just got out of jail who’s straightening his life out.

“You watch the news, a lot of people think we’re divided. If you were to come in here on a regular afternoon, that’s not the case. We have every nationality in here and everybody is just a guy. Everybody jokes and kind of picks on each other. Doesn’t matter what your tax bracket, where your ancestors came from.”

The atmosphere at Loaded Dice is laid back — both locations feature sports and film memorabilia on the walls and a pool table in the waiting room. The Rochester location has a tattoo parlor in the back room. That doesn’t mean it’s all fun and games.

“It can be stressful,” he said. “If I could just come in and be a barber and cut hair and go home — I’m not saying I’m not happy, but I’d be happier. A lot of stress comes with running a business. Trying to make everything work. That’s the stressful part.”

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Online: https://bit.ly/2qhF7EF

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Information from: Portsmouth Herald, http://www.seacoastonline.com

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