Starting from a shoebox, to owning her own barber shop, to creating a nonprofit foundation, Dot Reid, owner of Refuge For Men, has found her own refuge in giving back to the community.
In cosmetology school Reid was asked to build a business out of a shoebox. On the top of her shoebox she wrote the word refuge. This word turned out to be the cornerstone of her business model and how Refuge For Men got it’s name.
The store’s slogan It’s not just a haircut means that it is a nonexclusive place where anybody can come, feel comfortable, and receive the services they want. For Reid, the experience is a chance to connect with her clients on more levels than just a haircut.
“Anyone who knows her, knows that she’s all about giving back to the community,” said Ryan Williamson a business consultant for First Data. He is one of Reid’s customers as well as her merchant processing representative. “She’s got a big heart for people, a large part of why she’s so successful.”
Reid began her work in the community through volunteering with her church, participating especially with Karitas. As her business grew in staff, she felt the need to give back to the community more as well. “The vision is to utilize as many resources, to help as many people as possible,” said Reid. “Those that have the least, you give the most and the best.”
The Refuge For Men Foundation has been doing nonprofit work for eight years, however the foundation was officially incorporated as a nonprofit in 2015, which has made partnering businesses more inclined to help since they can receive a tax break.
The mission of the foundation is to connect economically disadvantaged community members with affordable housing and services while offering community-based learning opportunities such as honing barber skills and social skills.
The foundation has a three part program that works toward providing these skills. The first aspect of the foundation is called Refuge Connect, a program that works with marginalized individuals to assist in providing services and affordable housing. The Richmond Housing Authority helps provide vouchers for the second aspect of the foundation, Refuge Kindness Cuts. This program offers grooming services for marginalized community members who otherwise can’t afford them. The final part of the foundation’s mission is called Refuge Community Clippers, a barbering program that is offered to students at risk of systemic problems, such as drug addiction. The program offers to teach them barbering skills as well as helping them develop social skills.
In addition to the Refuge For Men Foundation, the store has helped provide resources or funds to different aspects of the community. “Each November we sell gift cards and donate 100 percent of the profits to Massey Cancer Research. In the last two years we’ve raised close to $15,000,” said Reid. She also works as a ram to ram mentor at Virginia Commonwealth University’s school of business and helps to work with distributors of hair products to acquire quality shampoos, razorless hair removal, and dry shampoos for the homeless.
Also in November, Refuge has a two hour session only for men where they can ask a doctor any questions they may have about health. “When I started there weren’t any salons, per say, exclusively for men,” said Reid. “It’s a place for men to get the services they want without feeling weird.” Although the name of the shop is directed towards men, it is still a nonexclusive place for everyone. 25 percent of each days customers are still women, said Reid.
Her inspiration for the style of the shop itself came from traditional barber shops that offer private time with your barber upstairs as well as having the modern walk-in style downstairs. “Barber shops were considered the glu, a connector of the community, a place for sharing news,” said Reid.
The upstairs part of the store is reserved for employees who have close to complete bookings. A hairdresser is still a performing artist who must be creative and open minded to giving the customer what they want, said Reid. “The worst thing to hear someone say is ‘It’s okay, it will grow back’.”
In addition to the service, the surrounding is a part of what makes Refuge For Men so unique. Reid’s love of art is present all over the shop, from exterior to interior. After she owned her first shop and saw the inspiration and struggle that artists go through, she wanted to help provide a way to showcase that work. Most of the artwork done at Refuge For Men is by an artist named Hamilton Blass.
In Reid’s office, a large painting of an octopus wraps around the room. “I’m an Aries which is a fire sign. I believe opposites attract and I’ve always been attracted to water,” said Reid. “I love looking at water because it’s a serene and relaxing thing.” In addition to the painting there are three fishtanks either built into the wall or surrounding the room. A projector screen can also be found in her room. “Projectors are unique and the screen of the projector is larger than any of the tv’s found in the rest of the shop. Since I’m the boss I’ve got to one up everyone else,” said Reid.
Reid always loved the feeling of a barber shop and was also looking for the aspect of sustainability in a career. “Hair always grows,” said Reid. In the future she is hoping to mature as a business owner, be more objective, and understand delegation. Reid hopes to take her business from a macro level and focus on the small details that are just as important.
Because she’s had so many opportunities to cut hair and connect with people’s lives, she wanted to create a business model to reflect that. “My eventual goal would be to cut hair for free and give all the proceeds to nonprofits,” said Reid. “This is my passion, this is what I see myself doing for the rest of my life.”