It’s easy to defame masculinity in 2019 with nightmarish examples of manhood are all around us (Trump, #metoo, Michael Jackson). What takes more gumption is finding a way to make money by tapping into our ideas about manhood while keeping the concept relevant. Nick Prosseda and his Modern Man barber shops seem to do just that. He’s making a killing by giving guys fly haircuts and educating the next generation of gentlemen.
A thriving businessman with multiple salons, endorsement deals, plans to open a school, Prosseda’s pulling in a lot of money. “Right now I maybe pull 130,000 to 150,000 and then reinvest the rest,” He says, estimating that he only keeps half of what he makes. That means he makes upwards of 65-75 dollars an hour. This drive to invest in his business comes from the connection Prosseda has with his craft, a craft that fills the spot in his life that his father left behind. For Prosseda, being a barber, creating opportunities for other barbers, and the camaraderie in the barbershop is the driving force of his career.
Prosseda sought out this all-male environment while growing up in South Philadelphia after he lost his father at 11 years old. “I got my first pair of clippers when I was 12 years old. A gentleman took me under his wing after my father passed away” Prosseda says. What started as lessons on how to cut hair became something far more reaching. When talking about the mentor he found after a couple of years of barbering, Prosseda said “Not only did he teach me how to cut hair, he taught me how to be a man.”
This mentorship in manhood was Prosseda’s idea for his Modern Man barbershop. He noticed that the sense of brotherhood he experienced in shops growing up was fading. The same men were manning the chairs and doing the same styles, which made classic barbershops fall out of vogue. “There was no young blood stepping up and doing long hair looks, just short, shorter and shortest,” Prosseda said. His idea of the Modern Man was capturing the aesthetic and vibe of the classic shop while staffing it with barbers who could keep up with modern trends and techniques.
Part of that modern approach was a canny attitude towards making money: namely realizing that the barbershop is selling more than just a haircut. In Prosseda’s vision, it’s a place to purchase a whole range of hair care products with the help of a seasoned pro instead of a dull-eyed supermarket cashier. “I’m a doctor I’m the prescriber…I’m not gonna sell you 5 things if you don’t need them, but if you want to replicate what I’ve created for you today here are the products I recommended,” he says.
This works in everyone’s favor. “If I sell one pomade, or aftershave to a customer, the chances of him coming back increase about 20-30 percent,” Prosseda said. Selling products is a sliver of his income. The speaking gigs and upcoming plans for a school all come after maintaining Prosseda’s “bread and butter,” owning and operating 5 barbershops.
Prosseda’s client comes back to those shops because of the just-got-done effect of a Modern Male haircut, which lasts longer with the use of his products. Prosseda and his barbers ensure this effect by showing clients how to apply the products they’re using in the shop. “Then they go as far to ask the client on the next visit to take the pomade out and show them what they’re doing at home and diagnose why the cowlick is sticking up on the back right side,” Prosseda said.
Teaching about haircare goes hand in hand with teaching about modern manhood. Prosseda hopes that young men in the barbershop learn more than just what pomade to use. “A father and son can sit in the barber shop and the son can hear the conversations his father has with another man and what it means to be a gentleman,” said Prosseda.
Prosseda is very clear on which parts of our culture’s ideas of masculinity he’s quick to reject. “We have a curse-free zone in our barbershops. I don’t even have GQ magazines in our barbershops because my preference is (having) books on boats, books on how to tie a tie, books on how to dress ” he says. This goes beyond just media or rules on language and extends into how to treat women who find themselves in an environment so focused on brotherhood. “Our barbers are made known that women are to be treated with the utmost respect at all times, and treated as they should, just like they would if a gentleman was to come into the barber shop,” Prosseda says.
A big part of Prosseda’s definition of masculinity is also his sense of altruism. This again was something he learned from his mentor. “He was a big person in the hair industry who gave back, so I was taught about honor and humility,“ he says.
This sense of altruism is a defining aspect of Prosseda’s approach to business. “You can’t take wealth without giving it back,” he says. Out of all of Prosseda’s accomplishments, he’s most proud of creating opportunities for others. He’s created jobs for 26 employees and brought his financially savvy mother on as the CFO. “Being able to bring my mother on full time and create a job opportunity for her and a better quality of life for her is something that I’ll always remember,” he says.
It also is a factor in Prosseda’s school, by far the biggest business risk he’s taken at over 200 thousand dollars. “Being that we have the systems and processes down, we need the people now. That’s where the school comes into play. We are going to produce barbers stronger and faster. This will fill our chairs and give us the ability to add shifts and earlier hours and later hours. We can double the income one chair produces,“ Prosseda writes to me over email. It’s a gamble until the school opens, but one that he’ll be hoping will pay off.
Once open, the school will be a huge income generator. At the price of 20,000 per student and with Prosseda’s estimate of graduating 60-70 students a year, soon it’ll be his biggest source of income. What’s perhaps more important is that he’ll be ensuring a legacy of modern barbers to spread his philosophy of style and substance. You’ll have to walk into one of his many shops in Sellersville, Perkasie, Souderton, Quakertown, and Landsdale Pennsylvania to see it for yourself.