“We put little kids up on the booster seat to get a haircut and the next thing you know, they are playing in the NBA. These are the cool things that happen over the years serving the community,” says Spencer Johnson, a barber at JP Hair Design on Madison’s west side. “We see the growth over the years and we inspire other kids. We let them know, ‘Hey, you see that guy on the TV playing against Kobe [Bryant], he was sitting in the same booster seat that you are now.’”
Johnson has seen kids come through JP Hair Design grow up and go on to do great things, NBA basketball among them. This past April, he celebrated 20 years of not only making community members look good.
“The time definitely went by quick, especially when I approach my time just concentrating on bettering myself each day … next thing you know, 20 years have passed,” Johnson tells Madison365.
The whole community comes into JP Hair Design – from the movers and the shakers – NFL and NBA players, politicians to everyday people that make up the backbone of the city. Over the decades, Johnson and the barbers at JP’s have become an integral part of the community.
“As a business, you never want to come across and some money-hungry institution. We do really care about our community and we do care about the outcomes for our kids, as well,” Johnson says. “We know the importance of how you look is directly related to your performance. If you feel good about yourself, obviously you will be more inspired to do better. We want to build that confidence.
“But it’s also an opportunity to connect with kids and give them those little words of encouragement during that time of the haircut,” he adds. “We keep in touch with them even outside of the barbershop. We go to the soccer games and football games. If they have awards, we try to make it to those things. So, at the barbershop is not our only way of connecting. We go out and support as much as I can.”
But for Johnson, this amazing and interesting career path almost never happened. Johnson was reluctant to join JP’s staff, at first. He recalls first meeting Jeff “JP” Patterson when both were students at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
“JP would do haircuts for a lot of the football players and some of the students there,” Johnson remembers. “When I got to school there, I had never been inside of a barbershop or gone to a barber. My mom did my hair. So, I just kind of learned how to do my hair myself. My roommate saw me doing my hair and he was like, ‘Hey, can you do me?’ I started to do his hair.
Fast-forward 5-6 years and Patterson was in the process of opening up a 4-chair barbershop and looking for barbers.
“My old roommate was a client of him at that time and he told JP, ‘Man, you should get Spencer,’” Johnson remembers.
JP contacted Johnson to see if he would be interested in working as a barber.
“Mind you, I had never been inside a barbershop. I knew nothing about what barbering is all about. I laughed at him. ‘I’m not about to be a barber. I went to school for four years,’” Johnson says. “JP waited another year and he asked me again and I said, “You know what? Because we’re friends, I’ll help you out for a year to get your business started because I believe in you. But after the year, I’m going back into banking.’”
Johnson never went back into banking and has become a popular and sought-after barber for JP Hair Design for two decades. But it didn’t start out that way. Johnson says that when he started, everybody wanted to have JP cut their hair.
“But I sat back and I listened to what people wanted. Some people wanted more efficiency in terms of timing of a haircut,” Johnson says. “At that time, designs were becoming popular. And we were OK with designs, but people wanted more intricate designs. So, I chose to enter that field of haircutting to add another skill set to our shop.
“I got so good at it, that I soon became a necessity,” he adds.
What is the weirdest design anybody ever asked for?
“Ohhhhhhh, man. I’ve had some weird ones. I had to do whales. I’ve had to do a dog inside a kennel,” he says. “A popular one has been Michael Jordan jumping over a city dunking a basketball in the air with birds flying by. It has gotten pretty wild.”
Johnson found his niche and he soon became part of the JP Hair Design family.
“It helps to be an all-around supporter of your colleagues. I think that has helped us to be successful. We went from young men to family men and we all need to learn from each other and use each other as a support base,” Johnson says. “That’s been helpful as we’re learning to become men, we all learn together and use each other’s experiences and have always been there for each other.”
A few years ago, Aaron Perry and Patterson collaborated to host a Men’s Health and Education Center right inside JP Hair Design to help teach the barbershop customers about health topics and to give them a resource to ask questions and seek information about health and wellness-related topics. Their innovative health care model has gained quite a bit of local and national attention.
“With the Health Center it started out pretty tricky. With anything new, there’s always some skepticism. It’s up to us to bridge the gap between what they’re used to just coming in to get a haircut to the additional showing them that we care about their continuing life,” Johnson says. “We offer this education system to give them an outlet and to figure out what their health needs are and to answer their health questions.
“I think it’s been an awesome tool to have ready for them right here at their fingertips. It’s been an awesome idea,” he continues. “We fear making that trip to the doctor to figure out what’s wrong and what’s right for us, so if we can have something so easily accessible, that’s really great.”
Because of the Men’s Health and Education Center, health and wellness conversations have started to become more prominent in barbershop conversations, which used to focus more on sports, music, and entertainment.
“What’s happening is that the older we are getting, we’re starting to see a lot of loved ones and people close to us suffer some health issues,” Johnson says. “Now, we’re like, ‘Wait a minute. What should we be doing to prevent this from happening to us?’
“We can refer people to the Health Center that has all this great health information,” he adds. “There was a prominent person in the community who suffered from a stroke and died. It really hits home. So, now we can see the relevance of why we need to be educated about our health and in tune with our bodies and check in as frequently as possible.”
Over 20 years, Johnson and the staff at JP Hair Design have made a big impact on people’s lives and on the greater community. Johnson is happy that he took up Patterson’s offer to be a part of the JP Hair Design family.
“What I like that every day is not the same and I like the fact that I can wake up without an alarm clock because I’m so excited to see what the next day is going to bring,” Johnson says. “I like that I get challenged as far as my creativity. I love that my clients believe in me and they challenge me to the point where they think that anything is possible. That’s a really good feeling … that they think I can accomplish any style of haircut that’s out there. That’s pretty cool.”