Ben Davis doesn’t sell $50 haircuts or $65 straight edge razor shaves. The Gents Place isn’t a salon.
The founder of The Gents Place pioneered the men’s grooming club nearly 10 years ago in Frisco, Texas to give men an alternative to the traditional haircut chains or women’s salons. From the leather chairs to the open bar stocked with hard liquor and beer, The Gents Place sells an overall experience.
“We fundamentally believe that we are in a different industry than what people would perceive to be our competitors,” Davis said. “We’re in the business not of selling a haircut but selling a feeling of positivity, confidence and empowerment.”
Getting a high-end business off the ground during the economic downturn of 2008 wasn’t easy but Davis stuck with it. And 2018 is shaping up to be a big year for the company.
The Gents Place opened its first franchise in Chicago in November. The company has 10 more franchise agreements signed across the country. A Houston franchise is scheduled to open in February and a San Antonio location has been announced. The company will open a fifth company-owned location in Uptown Dallas, also in February.
In December Davis received a “substantial” investment from Blue Star Innovation Partners, a fund started by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
“I believe that it was of interest to him because we are building the most attractive, and hopefully most valuable brand in our industry, ultra premium men’s grooming,” Davis said. “We are defining a new category in the men’s grooming industry.”
The Gents Place headquarters is technically located in San Antonio but Blue Star’s investment - the amount wasn't disclosed - also includes office space at The Star in Frisco, the Cowboys world headquarters. In 2016, Davis got former Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith on board as an investor and co-owner.
Davis got his bank loan in the summer of 2008, just a few weeks before Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy. The collapse of that financial services firm sent shockwaves through the banking industry.
“I was waiting on the contractor for the Frisco location when the banker calls me and says, ‘Spend the money now. The whole world is falling apart,’” Davis said. “That was my introduction to entrepreneurism.”
If he’d tried to get the loan just a few weeks later, it probably would have been denied.
Despite the tough financial environment, Davis soldiered on, confident that he could scale the business. It actually turned out to be much more difficult.
“I was overly confident about the business model and how fast I could scale,” he said. “I had no experience and we were in the worst economy so I had a lot of learning to do.”
Poised to grow
The Gents Place did grow, though at a more measured pace. Davis gradually added new corporate-owned locations in Southlake, Preston Hollow in Dallas and Leawood, Kansas.
By 2016, Davis felt confident that he could grow on a bigger scale.
Based on customer profiles and demographic studies, Davis said he believes The Gents Place could grow to 350 locations. The challenge was how to fund that growth. One option was a multi-million-dollar capital raise. Or, he could use someone else’s money through the franchise model, which means entrusting your brand to other people.
Davis decided to go the franchise route but that doesn't mean he's not protective of the business.
“It’s something that I’d given several years of thought,” Davis said. “We award franchises. We’re not selling them."
It’s a challenge all business owners face when they decide to open franchises, said Sara Waskow, owner of Dallas-based FranNet, a franchise research consultant.
“It’s definitely a level of trust to maintain that brand you as a founder have developed,” Waskow said. “It’s really imperative that your system be really tight so someone can come in and utilize what you’ve already set up so they can create the same experience in their own store.”
The Gents Place has awarded 12 franchise licenses so far. They’re looking for owners who are embedded in their communities with $400,000 minimum net worth and liquid assets of at least $175,000.
The initial investment will range from $440,000 to $705,980, including a $40,000 franchise fee. Franchisees receive management training, ongoing employee training, a web-based management system, marketing and site selection assistance.