Belonging in the social club
"We created a place for students to belong. They belong here."
Sebastian Jackson first started his company to solve a basic need: providing a barber shop on a college campus. He soon learned he could do more than provide a service, he could build community.
“I really challenged myself to think more about what our customers wanted. They want to be a part of something,” Sebastian said. “We created a place for students to belong. They belong here. They hang out here. They also get a service they need.”
The Social Grooming Club sits on the edge of Wayne State University’s Campus near a wide road along a row of small businesses, serving the college’s large and growing student population as well as young professionals in the city. Sebastian’s vision for service and community has grown immensely from their Detroit location to traveling around the world. But it started from their very early and intentionally diverse team.
“Most barbershops are pretty segregated. White people go to white people for hair cuts. Black people got to black barber shops,” he said. “We hire all different kinds of people. We’re so busy because anyone and any race can come in and get a haircut.”
Sebastians team also includes his wife Gabby and his business partner Rick who provide creative and operations support. Sebastian is the salesman by heart. He calls himself the vision guy on their team.
“I knew I could be an entrepreneur when I was 9 or 10 years old,” he said.
As a young boy Sebastian lived with his mom in Flint where there family often struggled to get by on bills and necessities. Sebastian’s father lived in Kalamazoo in better financial circumstances. Everytime he’d visit his dad growing up, he’d receive lots of gifts, clothing and other things he says looking back that he didn’t really need. So he’d come home to Flint and sell the gifts.
“It was a way of survival and it taught me how to sell. I didn’t realize I was building a skillset. I just saw things I didn’t need anymore and friends who wanted it,” he said.
Connecting People and Places
Once a customer comes into the barbershop, Sebastian has cultivated a unique process to help them feel warm, welcome, and connected. At the heart of building a community is helping others to always feel connected people and places and that’s what Sebastian’s business specializes in. This helps to get at the feeling Sebastian thinks is the heart of their business, that feeling of belonging.
“We want people to belong to the social club. They are members here,” he says.
Often members come in and are getting a haircut are also looking for activities and things to do in the city. Sebastian and his team make recommendations and connections to their members. They take notes and pay attention so they can learn each member's’ preferences. A member begins to see they have access to more in the city, that they do belong.
“We want you to feel like you have access to other people doing cool things in the city here,” Sebastian said. “The number one thing we do to achieve this is pay attention.”
Sebastian and his team have also started a series of events called “shop talks” that he’s taken around the world with the Social Grooming Club’s corporate partner Shinola. This helps them to connect their brand to new cities, such as Ann Arbor, New York, and Chicago, building up a brand and community for later retail expansions. It’s a strategy that help them grow doing what they do best, cultivating connection with people in new environments.
“I want our customers to always feel like they belong,” he said. “Because they do.”