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A Cut Above

The target market for Ryford Estores’s specialty grooming product? Men. With short hair. Did someone say “sales potential”?

SAVING TIME AND MONEY — not to mention looking good — are core tenets of entrepreneurship. Ryford Estores, a born entrepreneur, knows that as well as anyone — and he has thus blended all three features in his development of The Self-Cut System, a unique three-way mirror that enables anyone to cut his own hair.

Well, maybe not anyone; Troy Polamalu and Joakim Noah might have a hard time getting their locks under control on their own. But if you’ve got a close crop and are tired of spending money (not to mention half your Saturday) at the barbershop, the Self-Cut System is for you.

Estores, 27, runs the business from his home in Ossining, New York (up the Hudson River from Manhattan; take a right at Sing Sing). A part-time nurse, he’s long wanted to run his own company. A device that helps people take control of their hairstyle seems, as he puts it, like “a highly sellable product.”

His primary markets? African-American men, as well as one institutional customer with plenty of commercial weight to throw around: the U.S. military. Estores’s products are currently available for purchase at MilitaryShoppingChannel.com, which is owned by legendary entrepreneur Kevin Harrington, of Shark Tank fame — an outlet with explosive sales potential for Estores.

Want to save time and money (nearly $800 a year at $15 for a weekly cut, not counting tip) but worried you’ll make a hash of the job and end up looking like a dog with a skin disease? Don’t be. Each Self-Cut System comes with an instructional DVD; you can watch the videos online as well. Besides, “cutting your own hair is like riding a bike,” Estores says. “Do it a couple of times, and you never forget how.”

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The Self-Cut System is not exactly a standard entrepreneurial product. Where did the idea come from?
I was inspired while watching The Big Idea With Donny Deutsch on CNBC. I was inspired, but also frustrated knowing that [other] people are coming up with ideas and turning them into businesses. I wanted to turn my frustrations into millions. I really wanted to start my own business. I work as a nurse part-time. I enjoy it, but I’m not really satisfied with what I’m doing. I wanted something challenging and creative at the same time.

Haircuts are creative — and challenging, if you’re doing it yourself.
One time I waited four hours to get a haircut. It’s a weekly thing, and it’s time and money. I started cutting my own hair, and that led to the development of the Self-Cut System. The most important tool when cutting your hair — of course you need the clippers, but you really need to be able to see every angle on your head. So I developed the three-way mirror, which is patent-pending.

There would seem to be a huge market for it, no?
I worked as a barber when I was in high school, so I know the industry, and I know there’s a market for it. Friends of mine have been very cautious about cutting their own hair, but to me, cutting your own hair is like riding a bike — once you’ve done it a couple of times, you never forget how.

Do you have any plans to expand into products for women, or even men without close crops?
At this time, we’re just focusing on the typical short-hairstyle look that’s very popular in the urban community. All my friends have short hairstyles, especially African-Americans. Also the military — those guys need to be self-reliant, shining their boots, making their bed. Especially the Marines — every Sunday they go to the barbershop and spend $10 or $15 per haircut. I’d say about 40 percent of my customers are from the military. I’m working AAFES [the Army & Air Force Exchange Service] right now — that’s like the Walmart of military bases worldwide.

The Self-Cut System, at the moment, is just the mirror, right?
The three-way mirror and the instructional DVD.

What about other hair products — clippers, combs, brushes?
I need my own clippers, yeah — and $10,000 from 100 Urban Entrepreneurs would really help me get started! Right now I have a sellable product, but it’s like selling a set of bed sheets with no pillowcase. Why not give them the whole set? I had a kiosk in the local mall — I got clippers from a beauty-supply store for $30, then sold them for $60 or $70. My goal was to get feedback from customers, and I learned that if I get everything, people are willing to pay $130 for the whole set. That was my “Aha!” moment.

What’s your battle plan, as some of your customers might say, going forward?
Focus my energy and time on the big guys — the buyers. That’s why I’m going toward the military; it’ll give me a lot of credentials, and I’ll be able to attract a lot of buyers from retail stores. A lot of small businesses focus on their target consumers, but if you have a highly sellable product, focus on the buyers.

The barbershop is a big social spot in a lot of communities. Do you ever get guys who say, “I love the Self-Cut System, but I don’t want to miss my weekly trip to the shop?”
I’ve never had a customer complain about not going back to the barbershop. Once they get the Self-Cut System, they’ll be their own barber and won’t have to spend the extra dollars and time. •