“Hey guys, we’re over here!” That’s the message the ladies at Gent’s Hair Parlor want to get out, especially to former customers.

Five women, four of whom started out at another hair salon several years ago, have opened a shop of their own at a new location, 1002 E. Harper Ave., Maryville.

The foursome of Sarah Snavely, Nakitta Loveday-Hancock, Jem Hagan and Dana Jeffries are now doing business as Gent’s.

“There’s four of us that went in partnership, and we have one that is commission, but she’s family so we can’t help but take her,” Jeffries says, prompting laughter.

That would be Elisabeth Eckel. She stands out as the youngest, but maybe more so because of her hair — pink today, maybe turquoise tomorrow.

She’s not exactly a conformist, and she has reasons for being a hair stylist that fit in with her co-workers’ attitudes. It was partly about herself and partly about the customer that pushed her through the schooling, the testing and the licensing required to be a professional hair stylist.

“For me it was the freedom of being able to make my own schedule, and I love the feeling of making someone feel better. They sit down in the chair, you give them a haircut, they feel like a brand-new person,” Eckel says.

One more thing. These women like working together.

“We’re all happy. It’s a good work environment,” one of the women says. It’s hard to tell who’s doing the talking as they complete one another’s sentences as voices bounce around the salon.

A place of their own

Independence is also something that drew Hagan to toss in with her co-workers to open a new shop.

“I really wanted to own something for the first time in my life. Making an adventure with the other girls here was the best way to do it. Sharing the expenses and trusting everybody. Taking care of yourself, mainly,” Hagan said.

But with all the excitement of new, wasn’t there a little bit of scariness about cutting ties?

“Oh, god yes. There are still days that I panic, because we’re slower than what we’re used to at our other shop. We’ve had quite a few walk-ins and they’re finding us, which is good.”

Welcome to the world of the entrepreneur. Part of which means coming up with a name for the business. Turns out they already had access to one, albeit slightly used.

Loveday-Hancock brought the name with her from Texas. She had been with the others when they started working together at the opening of Legends Custom Cuts on East Broadway years ago. After a while, she moved to Trinity, Texas. Not for long, about four months. Being two houses down from a big box store was too much.

“It was horrible,” she said.

Two weeks in business was all she could take, and she returned to Maryville with her skills and her store’s name, Gent’s Hair Parlor, intact. Loveday-Hancock went back to Legends before going in with three co-workers on their own. As with any business, things change and are left behind. “Here we are. I wish them the best. So it all worked out. So far, so good.”

On the lookout

They started looking around for a location of their own in April — they already had a business sign, one carried all the way from Texas. By the end of May they’d settled on the spot on East Harper Avenue, a place done in all pink. Not for long.

As Jeffries recalls, “We ripped up carpet, tore down walls, removed cabinets, countertops and put in flooring, paint, you name it. We did everything in three days and were ready to go, ready to work.”

She said customers have followed, but they couldn’t get in touch with everyone.

“So we’re still looking for them and hope they’re looking for us. But there’s not a day that has gone by that we’ve done nothing. We have worked every day since we have opened. It’s been very successful. We’ve been very excited, very happy in our location and with the atmosphere and with everyone that followed us,” Jeffries says.

She, too, struck the twin themes of independence and togetherness.

“We do not argue, and there’s no drama.” There’s laughter in the background at that one. “We all trust each other. We get along very well. We’re not wanting to do any hiring. This is it. Together in one unit with the freedom to be your own boss. That’s what we were looking for.”

Hair salon for men

As for those customers. It was a gradual process that brought this crew around to focusing on styling men’s hair. For one thing, it’s simpler than women’s coiffure, although not without its challenges. The hot trend today is beards. The Gent’s ladies kid that they’ve invented a new name for what they do with their newfound talents for grooming chins, calling themselves “beardsmiths.”

Still, it’s haircuts that pays the freight and was the inspiration.

“I like to be able to see the fades and how the fades move on the clippers, how clean-cut the hair is. And they’re easier to work with. Doing women’s hair was too much work,” Jeffries says to more laughter.

Not that they’d turn away female customers. Not little girls who see their brothers getting haircuts while sitting in the little car that serves as a barber chair for tykes. Girls like cars too.

“That always gets me,” Snavely says. “They’re like, ‘Please, I want to get in the car.’ I’m like ‘Okay, I’ll cut it.’ Even if the mom’s like, ‘No,’ Snavely says. “It breaks my heart when you can tell they want to get in that car so bad.” So little girls get to ride, too.

Like a saloon

As for the big boys, there are future plans for them. Before customers get to the salon area of the shop, they pass through a good-sized room. Gent’s hopes to turn that area into a place where men can feel comfortable hanging out before and after their haircuts.

“In the front room we want to do a western saloon, card tables, a whole bar area, bar stools, swinging doors,” Jeffries says. “We’re going to try and get local breweries on board.”

They’d take their cue from nail salons that offer a glass of wine, but Gent’s Hair Parlor would offer a mug of beer instead.

They do have another idea. One that doesn’t require refrigeration. They say most of their customers at their former shop read the newspaper, so they wanted to get their picture in print so those guys will know where they are now.

“We want them to see it and say, ‘I remember them.’”

Because you-all were a little crazy, maybe?

Jeffries is quick to retort: “Because they were crazy, fun and quality — all at once.”

Bob has served in a variety of roles since joining The Daily Times in the 90s. He currently is editor of the business section. When someone gets promoted, retires or gets hired at a new job in Blount County, he's the man to email.

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