Splitting time between two jobs wasn’t Jason Keys’ idea of a fulfilling career. With a position at Lowe’s and working third shift at UPS, he kept late, long hours and didn’t get much out of the punch-in routine besides his paychecks.
Then in 2003 he talked with a cousin who was a barber. It didn’t take much persuasion for Keys to pursue men’s grooming as a profession. He’d been cutting hair, including his own, since he was 15. The next year he attended Barber College and discovered a drive for entrepreneurship that’s kept him devoted the past 14 years.
Master’s Beauty & Barber Shop operates in its original location at 1610 West Pasadena in Flint, the Master’s Beauty & Barber Shop at Genesee Valley Center, and newly opened Master’s Salon & Day Spa, also in the mall.
“We’ve been able to attract some really skilled and talented people, so they see the vision,” says the 41-year-old Keys.
Four stylists staff the Pasadena shop and a total of 18, including a receptionist, help operate both Master’s locations at Genesee Valley Center. Keys’ wife Tamera, a former banking professional, joined him in the enterprise after he got the shop up and running, making it a family business.
“There aren’t a lot of places where we can go and spend our money with other small businesses.I stay on my customers about going into business for themselves.” -Jason Keys, Founder and Owner, Master Cuts
The grooming industry in Flint, as in much of the country, tends to prosper, with hundreds of barber shops, salons and pampering outlets throughout Genesee County. Serving a client base that tends to remain stable because of consistent demand has enabled Master’s to expand its offerings at the day spa, which opened in January, providing massages, manicures, facials and more.
“When you look good you feel good,” says Tamera, 39. “Here in Flint, people still want to feel good.”
The pair credits a combination of factors for the shop’s ability to independently maintain three locations. Keys was a supervisor for 13 of his 14 years at UPS and his wife’s banking specialization involved customer service.
“I think it’s got a lot to do with our background,” says Keys. “You get people who want to go into business and they don’t always have the experience.”
Maintaining generally good credit and developing financial management skills has been an asset for the pair in generating start-up capital.
“I would say being in business as long as we have been, and being as consistent as we have been, gave us the confidence to take on more overhead,” says Keys.
Expanding to Genesee Valley Center has also proven valuable in expanding Master’s customer base.
Opening at the mall in Flint Township has increased the visibility of the North Flint-based brand, drawing traffic that represents consumers from Fenton, Swartz Creek, and Brighton. Mall business has even included visitors from as far away as Ghana and Cuba, like the Spanish-speaking patron, who relied on his cell phone’s translating program recently to give a barber his request.
“In business they say ‘location, location, location,’ but they should probably say it three more times,” Keys says.
As parents of three, the Keys say Master’s creates a hospitable space for customers of all ages.
“It’s a family atmosphere, a safe, family environment,” Tamera says. “Jason has some kids who grew up in his chair, and they have kids now.”
Along with touting the satisfaction of working for himself, Keys says his role as a business owner is to strengthen the black community’s economy.
“There aren’t a lot of places where we can go and spend our money with other small businesses,” he says. “I stay on my customers about going into business for themselves.”
Unlike during his pre-barber shop days, Keys says long hours aren’t such a bad thing anymore. He enjoys the results of a career choice that supports his family and his staff.
“A lot of times I have to make myself stop for the day,” he says. “I look up and I’ve forgotten to eat, or I’m thinking, ‘I have to get home before my kids go to bed.’”
Editor’s Note: To learn more visit Master’s facebook page
Master’s Beauty & Barber Shops
Genesee Valley Center, 3197 S. Linden Road, Flint (48507); 810-407-7093
Master’s Salon & Day Spa, 3341 S. Linden Road, Flint (48507); 810-285-8936
Pasenda Shop, 1610 West Pasadena, Flint (48504); 810-600-0575
Lead photo: Jason Keys, owner of Master’s Beauty & Barber Shop, serves customers from throughout Flint. Photo by Alvin Brown