Jeffrey “JP” Patterson is putting the finishing touches on a shave when the middle-aged man in his chair stops him.
“If your child needed a car, would you buy it for them, or make them earn it?”
JP considers for a moment, then steps back in and reapplies the razor.
“If they need it,” he says, “I’d buy it. If they want it, they’d have to earn it.”
Exchanges like this happen dozens of times every day at his eight-chair barbershop on Grand Canyon Drive.
“We know as barbers here, we have to be careful what we say,” JP says. “People will take our word as the law.”
JP also says he learns as much as he teaches.
“We have a lot of subject matter experts who come in, whether it’s a lawyer, a doctor, a banker, a small business owner,” he says. “Those professionals sit in our chairs and we get to learn from them.”
After a while, it became clear that he wanted to share what he was learning with the wider community. For example, Department of Workforce Development Secretary Ray Allen is a customer. “We talked about the fiscal cliff” in 2012, when Allen was Deputy Secretary of Financial Institutions, JP recalls. “A lot of us, people coming through the shop, didn’t understand the fiscal cliff or how it affects us. I knew because Ray Allen was able to tell me about it.” JP felt it important to share everything he was learning with the community, so he produced a web video series titled “Behind the Chair with JP.”
“That’s something I use to engage the community in what I’ve learned just being behind my chair,” he says. He’s covered topics ranging from estate planning to the importance of voting to the right way to deal with the police.
It helps that his clientele includes a who’s who of Madison’s black men: Mahlon Mitchell, Maurice Cheeks, NBA player Wesley Matthews, news anchor Brandon Taylor, Reverend Alex Gee, former Badger and NFL running back Ron Dayne, and more all regularly sit in one of his chairs.
“One person I missed was Smitty,” says JP, sadly. “I planned to do it, I just never got around to doing it, and I was sad about not being able to interview my mentor.”
He’s referring to Taylor “Smitty” Smith, his mentor at Style and Grace, the shop once owned by Ben Parks on Madison’s south side, and the first place he had a job after graduating from Scientific College of Beauty and Barbering in 1996. He attended that school only because all the schools in his native Illinois were full after he graduated from UW-Whitewater, where he studied sociology and played wide receiver and kick returner on the Warhawks football team.
Illinois’ loss was Madison’s gain, as JP started JP Hair Design on Yellowstone Drive in 1998, moving to his current location — with only four chairs — in 1999. Just four years later, his shop doubled in size by adding for beauticians — and more.
“We had a nail tech, we had and esthetics person doing facials, we had a massage therapist. It was full-service,” he says. “My best beauticians got married and moved out of state. If they were still in Madison they’d probably still be working in here. As they were moving out, I was bringing barbers in. That’s what was working for me. 2009 was when it became all barbers. That works for me.”
All along the way, he’s instilled in his barbers the importance of serving the community.
“He’s a great man. Best barbershop in town,” says Xavier Guadalupe, who’s been cutting hair alongside JP since 2010. “JP helped me out a lot. He’s really good to everybody. I feel like it’s been here for so long, and the service we provide is good. Just the all around atmosphere is good. We work hard and provide for the community.”
The shop is so busy now that it barely has room for more customers, and it may be time to grow again soon.
“Ideally I would like to get property,” JP says of what might be next. “I’d like to have my own building. It’ll happen one day. I think I’ve got a keen vision on if I should move or if I shouldn’t move. There have been opportunities that come up and I just didn’t have the feeling. I didn’t see the green light. I rely on that feeling I have. Thank God that he gave that vision to me, so that I know when to take a step and when not to. At some point it’ll come.”
He says he’s been encouraged to open multiple locations, but he’s too hands-on as a manager for that.
“I would like to get big, but I would like to get big in one spot,” he says. “I could have a lot more barbers, but only if I’m there. That’s manageable to me. It’s hard to manage four or five different places if they spread out throughout the city.”
For creating jobs and serving the community far above and beyond his core business, Madison365 proudly honors JP and JP Hair Design with the Ben Parks Small Business Award.