Larry Ruffin is still practicing some barbering skills, like how to perfectly blend a hair line.
But he had one tool of the trade mastered before enrolling at D & D Barber Institute in November – the gift of gab.
“Me, I ain’t ever met a stranger,” said Ruffin, 40, who lives in Raleigh.
Ruffin knows the importance of putting customers at ease, beginning with those who stop by D&D, at 2717 Guess Road.
“The barber is not only your friend,” Ruffin said. “He’s a fashion expert, your father, your friend, your confidant, a person who serves the community … You talk about everything, politics, sports. You hear a lot of relationship stuff, stuff with the kids.”
The social aspect of being a barber is a major draw for many of the students at the school, which Melvin Brown of Raleigh started a year ago.
Brown, 38, has been a barber for 12 years. D&D is a place open to everyone interested in learning the trade, including those who have spent time in prison, he said. In his 20s he served about three years for selling drugs.
“I’ve been down that road,” he said.
But he got on the right path, “and I want to encourage them and let them know they can do it too.”
The 10-month program costs $5,100, with 25 percent due at enrollment. Scholarships are available. The accreditation process for the school takes two years, Brown said, and he is seeking nonprofit tax status.
Students spend about 38 hours a week practicing in the barbershop – a simple cut is $6 – and five hours in the classroom learning about safe work practices, basic cosmetology, professionalism, shaving, diseases of the skin and other topics. They also learn the basics of women’s hair styling. ‘My own boss’
The independence of barbering has attracted many of the students at the school.
“My main goal, I can remember this in elementary school, is I want to be my own boss,” said 22-year-old Michael Melchiorre of Durham. He already has an associate’s degree in business management.
The way Nikius Austin of Durham sees it, the financial success of a barbering is simply a matter of time and energy.
“If you put hard work into it, you’re going to get a lot out of it. It benefits you and not somebody else,” he said. He has done a lot of warehouse and construction work and was with Time Warner for about nine years before being laid off.
The shop’s small size and Brown’s presence make the school an ideal situation, said Austin, 31.
“If I have a question he’s right here to help me.”
But keeping an eye on his student’s use of clippers and scissors isn’t a barber instructor’s only responsibility, Brown said. He tries to encourage students and give them some career coaching.
“It’s a big world out there,” he said, but sometimes students are hesitant to move out of town or even just their parents’ house. “That’s one of my challenges, to get students out of that mindset.” He encourages them to look everywhere for jobs. “Maybe Atlanta or Los Angeles, or there might may be a small town out there that doesn’t have a barber,” Brown said.
Twelve students are enrolled, and four students have graduated.
Barbering seems like a good choice in this economy, said Jaiheem Broadhurst, 21, the first graduate.
Broadhurst never wanted to cut hair. But his father, a barber, encouraged him to after the welding classes he wanted to take were full by the time his financial aid came through.
Cutting hair seemed like a safe bet considering the economy, he said.
“People always need a barber.”
He learned more than he expected to at D&D, and now he works at Raleigh’s West Gate Community Barbershop, which his father owns.
“I’m enjoying it right now,” said Broadhurst, who lives in Raleigh. “I’m building up my clientele, and I appreciate being able to work with my dad.”
He plans to use barbering income to pay for welding and phlebotomy classes.
“But I want to master this first,” he said.
For more information contact D&D Barber Institute at www.danddbarberinstitute.info or 919-479-7052.