Getting and giving haircuts was just another part of growing up for Jay “Majors” Raposo.
As a child in Hartford, Connecticut, Majors’ family didn’t have much, and so looking fresh came with a limited budget. The kids who lived in nearby public housing acquired cuts and clothes that he grew jealous of, compelling Majors to stay on top of his game. That’s when he met an Italian barber that inspired him — even if the barber’s talks of money and grandeur weren’t exactly true. “I started to build a relationship with this guy,” he said. “I’d sweep the barbershop, clean up for him, and in return, he’d give me a free haircut every couple of weeks. Just to keep to the culture.”
But a handful of hustles gone awry ultimately landed Majors behind bars. To make money on the inside, he took to his growing knack for cutting hair. It also opened the door to cosmetology school after, where he qualified for scholarship funding, and, later, the state certification exams. His entrepreneurial spirit, he said, had landed him in trouble in the past, but barbering was a way to take something he loved, and make a whole new hustle out of it.
“It was my only way of forming revenue, while I was in there,” he said. “And I kind of had an epiphany one day, like ‘When I get out, I’m gonna do this whole-heartedly.’ That’s what I said.”
Years later, Majors is recounting this story to me while in the backseat of a black car, en route to yet another event that he’s appearing at. (He’s not driving his Bentley for this one.) A nationally acclaimed master barber and educator — whose past clients include rapper 50 Cent, the Black Eyed Peas, and others, all viewable by his 54,000-plus Instagram followers — he’s on the road leading up to the ninth year of his CT Barber Expo, one of the largest events of its kind in the world, where the battles alone see close to 6,000 attendees, per The Source. Prospective and veteran stylists come from all over the world to compete, learn, and improve, while hundreds of businesses vie for a booth on the main floor. One of the competition winners this year will take home a brand-new 2019 Nissan Altima, and general admission tickets start at $35 a person. And sometimes, even Rick Ross makes a cameo.
Never settling for a single stream of revenue, Majors now finds himself flipping real estate; consulting in the U.S. and Canada for hair styling companies like BaByliss PRO; giving cutting demonstrations; orchestrating speaking engagements; and throwing events with his Barberology Team across the country. It’s not just a means for him to pay for items like the Rolex-gold watches he wears to the International Beauty Show (IBS) in Las Vegas, New York, and elsewhere (which he also helps to coordinate), but also, a sign of just how big the industry has gotten.
“I know some guys who charge a $100 a haircut, $85 a haircut, and they’re doing 15, 20 heads a day. Serious money,” Majors said. “Dudes that got salaries of a couple a hundred thousand dollars a year. I’ve heard $2,000 a haircut, $1,500, a $1,000 for a hotel call, to an A-list celebrity. When Usher says get on that flight, you better get on that flight.”
Majors’ philosophy embodies the vast potential in barbering and hairstyling right now. With brick and mortar shops closing due to online retail, he contends that barbershops are one of the last trusted spaces left, where customers can refer, and be referred. (And maybe that referral makes you another $100 or or so.) This, he says, offers barbers a level of access like no other: each client is a new opportunity, to use that trust to expand beyond just walk-ins — through brand partnerships, customer loyalty, and networking.
“We’re the last spokesperson for the streets, for the communities. There’s nobody doing that no more,” he says. “We’re personal image consultants. And we have the ability to market to humans.”
Frankly, given his career up to this point, this thinking is a pure distillation of what Majors, who’s eyeing a book and reality TV show deal, is all about: success through self-worth. “I’ve got barbers that cut at my shop that make $80,000 to a $100,000 a year,” said Majors. “You can make as much money as you want in the barber industry, by being to work early and leaving late. But what are you gonna do with the money once you make it?”
“Really, the sky’s the limit.”
Before he opened Major League Barbershop & Academy, Majors worked for a number of barbers, from different backgrounds and ethnicities. He said that taught him what went into reliable customer service, and a strong workplace environment. It also showed him the power of providing an experience, rather than just a haircut.
“I’m in an area now where people are still selling $13 for a haircut,” he told me. “We start at $24. But at the end of the day, it’s because we wear a tie, on Fridays and Saturdays, and are all black, Monday through Thursday. We provide facials, steaming, waxing, straight razor, free hot towel, and things like that.” By enhancing the customer’s experience, he said, you’re able to add more intrinsic value to the price you’re asking for.
As his business grew, Majors began cutting hair for local DJs in the Hartford area, and saw an opportunity to expand his reach. With 13 chairs, and each barber cutting about 20 heads a day — and even more on Saturdays — DJs who came by regularly could get free admission if they shouted-out Major League at their shows, and distributed flyers. “We’d get all of the college kids that would come in from Long Island,” he said, noting the cultural relevance of MTV’s ‘Jersey Shore’ at that time. “I became an emcee, and I’d just like get on a mic, and amp up the crowd, and say ‘Come down to Major League Barbershop.’ It was like a dual promotion.”
Majors begun hosting ‘barber battles’ at schools and venues he visited — a way, he said, for barbers to put egos aside and refine their skills at the same time. But an unrelated stabbing outside one of the clubs convinced Majors that he needed to take his business elsewhere, to a place where he could promote his work, and also help foster that network of industry interest that was growing at his events. So he contacted a nightclub outside of town to book a Sunday night, when it’d be less frequented.
“I charged everyone like $20 to get in, but everyone competes for free,” recalled Majors. When he emailed clipper companies for sponsorship, they balked at the location—”They were like, ‘Connecticut? Nobody’s gonna go to that.’” Except for one company, he said, who agreed to sponsor it because an educator lived nearby. “That show, we did 600 people.”
And then it went viral. Thus, the CT Barber Expo was born.
Between the Expo—which has since added a second stop in Las Vegas, and sells out of booths and tickets practically every year—his barber school (otherwise known as the Academy), and the speaking tours, Majors said he encounters three types of people.
The first is the student: “They go when they’re in school, and they’re inspired for the rest of their career, because they meet people who are doing what they’re doing, and see that there’s a broader spectrum of a barber.” The second is the passionate, “who goes to all of these types of events.” And the third person, who reminds him of himself all those years ago, is the entrepreneur.
“I’ve had the valet parker who worked at that hotel that was attached to the Expo sign up for my school,” he told me. “I said, ‘Dude, how did you find out about us?’ He said, ‘Bro, I was a valet at the Marriott. [Everyone there] were so cool and happy, I signed on to be a barber. You gave me my career just by doing your expo next to my job.’”
It’s stories like these that drive him to do more day in and day out, said Majors. When I asked Majors what attracted him to visiting neighborhoods like Chicago’s South Side to teach a class or give a demo, he didn’t hesitate in his response: “Because I’m changing lives.” He places himself in their shoes — the same ones he once wore, when he longed for a path forward to prove to himself that he could be worth much more.
That’s why Majors says he stresses to up-and-coming barbers the significance of telling clients about the seminars they’re attending, and the expensive tools they’re using (“Let them know that you’re cutting their hair with a $220 clipper!”); of showing off a sanitary shop; and of making investments in their long-term financial well-being, rather than caring so much about short-term gains. The Expo now includes financial education seminars to teach barbers about the importance of insurance, 401ks, IRAs, and property. In a recent Instagram post, Majors pointed to eight distinct income streams that, he added, are essential to securing that future. (He’s at seven.)
“My uncle’s a millionaire, and told me that your first million is the hardest to make. After that they just come,” he said. “Once you have that, you have enough to invest a $100,000 here, $180,000 here… you have some money to invest, and then you have interest building. It makes you more money.”
It’s about enhancing the value of one revenue stream, and adding another, he says. For example, with his rental properties, Majors says he only puts people to work on them—like roofers, plumbers, and electricians—who get a haircut at his shop. Or with brands, he uses his barbershops and events as testing facilities for new products; 20 chairs allows his barbers to make money by talking about the products, and also, using them. “It should be an inner circle of money,” he says, “with one hand going to another, and returning back to your chair.”
Majors thinks back to the Italian barber, who got him to where he is today; the man bought the block in his old neighborhood, he remembered, to guarantee revenue for tomorrow, and the next day. “They say there’s a difference between being rich and wealthy,” he explained. “The wealthy are when your next generations are financially stable. And being rich is just like you have a little bit of money that you need.”
“I want my barbers in my network to be wealthy,” he said. “Not rich.”
By John Surico