Old South Barber Spa

The Old South Barber Spa The Gentleman’s Holy Grail

By Paul Meeks, Special Financial Correspondent
The Charleston Mercury, Tuesday, October 6, 2009

As you may know, I typically profile publicly-traded companies for potential stock investment. In this issue, however, I evaluate a private business that has opened downtown on State Street. It’s the Old South Barber Spa. Its owners are Joe Spector and Stephen Schaefer. Spector lives South of Broad, while Schaefer lives a bit further west in Houston, Texas.

Any organization is only as good as its management. I can vouch for the spa’s hands-on operator. I’ve known Spector since our New Jersey days. We both moved to Charleston — chiefly because we could — a few years ago. He’s a self-described “serial entrepreneur” with several business successes to his credit. Spector’s only limitation is that there are only 24 hours in a day.

Schaefer is Spector’s classmate from Northeastern University’s (Boston, Massachusetts) Class of 1987. He’s a managing director at Riverstone in Houston. That company is a private equity firm focused on opportunities in the energy and power industries. I met him last week at the Spa’s Grand Opening. He knows how to have fun. I’m still shaking the cobwebs off from that night.

To succeed, every business must have an “edge.” In my last article highlighting Altria Group (MO, $17.67), I described how the best enterprises have “economic moats” around them. This term was coined by investment giant Warren Buffet and refers to the competitive advantage an organization has over its peers, which allows it to attract and retain customers and to reap superior profits. I sincerely feel that the Old South Barber Spa meets this criterion.

The spa is located at 10 State Street, which is downtown between Broad and Chalmers streets in the Historic French Quarter. The Barber Spa is housed in a 1794 building that throughout the years has been a printing company, mortgage and title business, a law firm and a residence. It’s simply spectacular. Spector and Schaefer have taken great pains to restore it to its original splendor. For example, the owners have reclaimed antique heart pine cabinets and have reused them to make a bar top and portions of the floor. Additionally, they have refinished “all” the woodwork in the building and restored the courtyard. The spa oozes old Southern charm with impressive artwork including historic photographs, maps, drawings, etc. The back bar — although no alcohol may be purchased at the spa — is Old School. In the rear, there’s even a quaint, walled courtyard for gentlemen to enjoy complimentary beverages and their favorite cigars.

Oh, yes, this museum also provides full spa services. You can get a haircut — the “Clean Up,” the“Young Man’s Haircut” or the “Old South Signature Haircut” — massage, old-fashioned hot lather blade shave, manicure, pedicure, facial, waxing (ouch!), hair coloring and more. You may even have your shoes picked up and returned after they’ve been spit-shine polished.

The spa offers an extensive a la carte menu of services as well as gift certificates and memberships that offer such pampering that they can cost as much as $3,000 per year. For those of you who aren’t breezing through this recession, don’t worry, gift certificates are available from $25.00 on up and memberships start at $295.

The owners have even made accommodations for those who have difficulty climbing the steps to the spa’s magnificent third floor.

I view the spa as much more than a barber shop with a few bells and whistles. Individuals and companies can host meetings there. Although the Spa has only been open for a few weeks, several events have already been scheduled there, including a board meeting. How about other business or corporate events or perhaps a bachelor or wedding party? I belong to a local men’s club. I plan to encourage our group to use the spa for its next gathering.

Last week (September 24), the spa held its Grand Opening. Out & About images on page seven show some of the more 400 who attended and had a grand time. All of the 14 employees and the two owners were there. Impressed revelers booked their haircuts, massages and other treatments on the spot. What happens at the spa stays at the spa, so I’ll leave my event review there.

I spoke to all of the spa’s team members. I found it particularly interesting that four of the 14 left downtown’s only other similar business to join Spector and Schaefer. One can assume that those who left the spa’s competitor changed jerseys for a reason. I encourage you to visit both facilities and make your own choice. In my book — and I’ll draw yet another sports analogy — the spa wins by much more than a nose.

How does the spa fill up its many historic rooms? There are nine barber stations, two massage rooms with large showers, two manicure / pedicure areas, a shoe shine booth, five working fireplaces, a wonderful lounge area, four flat screen televisions, a bar and more. You can even browse the Internet on your laptop computer while you wait because the building is Wi-Fi enabled.

Another interesting spa feature is its Father and Son Saturday. Bring your kid in — I know, he often kicks and screams all the way to the barber — for some male bonding. He can watch sports on one of the flat screens and visit with the attractive ladies who work there. Dad can do the same while enjoying a cigar and a complimentary drink.

With all that the spa has to offer, it’s no surprise that it has been busy since its September 9 “soft” opening. This step back in time to a gentlemen’s club with old Southern charm and with a service-first mentality is clearly worth your making an appointment for your next treatment. The spa also accepts walk-in customers.

The spa is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. It’s also doing business on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For members, the spa may even open its doors for you to fit your busiest schedule.

I’ll see you there.

Original Article

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