“Elevate Your Voice” Entrepreneur Spotlight: Dion Chapmon

This article is part of a 12-part profile series that seeks to capture the thoughts and ideas of entrepreneurs in Inkster, Dearborn/Dearborn Heights, Ecorse, and River Rouge. This series is made possible through the New Economy Initiative’s “Elevate Your Voice” campaign, designed to help inform entrepreneurship support, and amplify authentic voices in the small business ecosystem. This profile features Dion Chapman, owner of A Cut Above the Rest Barbershop, based in River Rouge, Michigan. 
Can you share a little bit about your business?

A Cut Above the Rest Barbershop is all about the family cut. Since we opened in 2021, we have been providing the best service to men, women, children, and seniors in our community. We are all about family and building a stronger community by sharing information and guidance and education through experiences with the next generation that's coming up behind us. I previously opened my first barbershop in 2013 in Lansing, Michigan. I stayed there for five years, and then relocated to River Rouge to be closer to my mom because she was getting up there in age. So, from there, in 2000, I started working at a barbershop called In the Cut Barbershop. The owner, Hughey Mitchell, showed me the business in 2021, and that's when I took over, and it became A Cut Above the Rest Barbershop. 

What would you say inspired you to plant business roots in the River Rouge community? 

I wasn’t sure I would open up another barbershop because, while I was in Lansing, I operated my business in three different locations. I went from a smaller building to a bigger building, and then to an even bigger building where I had five barbers working under me. During that time, I experienced all types of challenges and, I almost went out of business due to unfortunate circumstances, in addition to the overhead, maintaining the shop and dealing with barbers that weren't paying their rent. It was just becoming more of a burden on me as an entrepreneur, so I almost gave up on my dreams of being a shop owner until I moved to River Ridge. When I saw the way the previous owner was running his business, I saw a lot of things that could have been done better if I were the owner, so that kind of motivated me to just get back into the swing of things. Now that I'm in control and the owner and following my dreams again, I'm trying to take it to the next level. 

How have you been able to find or access capital needed for your business?

I had to come up with the capital on my own to fund most of my business. I used a company called Quick Lease to get more barber equipment. The company provides funding to buy your equipment, but you have to pay them back this high interest rate. So because I couldn't get a loan from a traditional bank, I had to do what I had to do to get the business up and running.

What are your current business goals?

My goal is to take A Cut Above the Rest to the next level and build a stronger economic-driven business in the community. I want to do things differently than I did in the past such as getting a website developed for the business and hiring talented barbers fresh out of barber school. As a barber with over 30 years of experience, I want to help mold and teach the best practices of being a good barber, and help them learn the business, and one day own their own barbershop because I know that when people come work for me, they're not here to stay for life. So I want to give them all the knowledge that I have about the business, and pass it along, so that when they leave they have tools that I taught them, the knowledge and wisdom to take it further, to their idea of the next level, and to create their own business and be able to support their families.

What would you say are some resources you need to achieve those goals?

One need would be more customers and to do some financial planning to gain more equity and to build capital so I can expand. Right now I have seven barbers in the shop. With me included, that makes eight total, and the building that I'm currently in is really tiny, so we’re crammed up in there. I would really need a bigger building, so I can do bigger things. One of my goals is to have a 20-chair barbershop one day. I believe the more barbers that you have, the quicker people can get in and out, and it's not a long wait time, so my barbershop can really be the place for everybody to come get serviced because they know they can get in and out, and they’re going to leave with a good haircut. 

If someone came to you and gave you the best resource guidance for your business goals, what would support from that resource look like for you?

The best resource would be capital. Easier access to funds or grants that’s not so complicated. Sometimes these grants that we come across are very complicated and they don't cover the actual things that we need. I would need grant funding that would allow me to purchase land or property to expand my business. I know there’s funds out there, but it's hard to access those types of grants because I don't have the resources.

Fill in the blank: ____ has been a really good resource for me. Please share how or why. 

The University of Michigan has an economic growth program. They reached out to me and they have been a real good resource for me as far as getting a grant for my business. They helped me transition to a technical platform such as getting the business website built, claiming my Google information and putting the business on social media platforms, which was really helpful for us. So now I'm starting to see that there is help out there. After the pandemic, we were forced to close down. This was right before I took over the business. Everything shut down, so that's when Hughey came to me, and sold the business to me in 2021. So I had to take over a struggling business that had lost a lot of clientele. The website that’s being built through the grant, I believe, is going to bring more business back to the barbershop.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in starting, growing, or sustaining your business? 

Well, first, finding the right people. It's always a challenge trying to find the right people to work for your company because some barbers might be under-skilled, so you might have to show them a few things. Some might be fresh out of barber school and they're a little timid, so you have to try to motivate them to just build their confidence up. And then making sure the barbers follow the best practices when it comes to maintaining the maintenance of the shop, and are getting along with each other. It's been a challenge. Also, balancing my budget and keeping my bookkeeping up to date, and trying to find resources for equity to build up my business. Because my wife is disabled, she doesn't work. Before she was disabled, she would help me with the business, but now everything is on me. I got a very large overhead, including the bills at the shop, and all the bills at home. 

If you met a new business owner in the community, what is the first resource you would recommend connecting them with to help them succeed within your city? Who would you connect them with outside of your city?

I would connect them with the County Commissioner Patti Campbell, and Carl Lobb who sits on the board. Outside of the community, I would recommend Louisa Self with the University of Michigan. She's the director of the economic growth program.
What would you say is a shared issue, concern or challenge among the entrepreneurs and small businesses in your community?

 I would say one thing we can all agree is a challenge is access to capital and land. 
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