The growth of Sambuco Barber Company in Charlotte, North Carolina, is fueled by its Owner Todd Sambuco’s determined vision for the brand, including cultivating a strong culture with established barbers, developing an elevated service and defending his pricing through the salon’s motto, attracting a carefully curated client demographic who share the same passion and creating gatherings for his team and clientele.
The lettering on the front window of Sambuco Barber Company in Concord, North Carolina, reads “Cuts, Shaves, Social,” emphasizing that Owner Todd Sambuco places as much importance on the social atmosphere of his shop as the he does on the excellence in its services.
That’s because the barbershop is much more than a place to catch a trim or a shave—it’s a place where local men gather to share their enthusiasm for vintage cars and motorcycles, sip and comment on a good bourbon and even pick up some professional tips on being a good parent.
That carefully cultivated atmosphere stems from the fact that this barbershop is a result of Sambuco’s career reinvention, when he decided at a critical point in life it was time to follow his personal passion.
A Foundation in Business
As early as high school, Sambuco had an interest in cutting hair, but he ended up going to college and pursuing a career in project management in corporate America. He slowly discovered it wasn’t the best fit.
“I’ve always been more of a free thinker and I expressed my thoughts, and that wasn’t always welcomed,” Sambuco says. “After 10+ years, I grew bored and burned out, and I didn’t like the direction the corporate world was going, and how companies tended to treat people.”
When a bout with meningitis hospitalized Sambuco for a few months, the experience caused him to examine his life. After he recovered, he quit his job, surrendered his salary and benefits and enrolled in a Paul Mitchell school. After graduation, Sambuco worked in a few salons and barbershops. While perfecting his grooming skills, he also studied the owners and the business decisions they made, determining what he like about how things were managed and what he didn’t.
Curating the Brand
As the master of his brand, Sambuco’s leadership is pushing the Sambuco Barber Company to be one of the most elite barbershops in the area. Backed by a unique vision and supported by his corporate background, Sambuco has had a calculated hand in almost every aspect of the barbershop’s creation:
Sambuco took design inspiration from the city that serves as his home base, Charlotte, North Carolina, which has gathered nicknames, such as “The Queen City,” “The Beehive” and “The Hornest’s Nest.” The barbershop’s logo is a hornet with wings made of straight razors to represent barbering.
When it came to the design of the barbershop, Sambuco says his wife Sarah was responsible for bringing his vision to life. Sarah herself was raised in a barbershop world, and her father, mother and brother are all barbers.
When clients enter the space, they are greeted by a small reception space, then they walk through the barbershop to the lounge, bar and event space in the back. Adorned with sports and music images and an American flag, the lounge and bar space also features the head of a tiger that was painted by one of Sambuco’s friends, Josh Miller, to mimic the tiger tattoo on Sambuco’s hand.
The barbershop floor is concrete painted a shiny black and finished with a silver wash, then trimmed with hand-cut mosaic tile. A large white decal of the hornet logo features prominently on the galley-style floor, which is flanked on both sides with barber stations and chairs. The large wood mirrors at each station have a vintage feel, each one custom-styled with metal piping, gears and parts.
An Experienced Team
As important as Sambuco’s desire to create a place where clients want to be, is his desire to build a business where barbers want to work. He maintains high standards, and expects his team to develop five-star customer service.
He says he doesn’t hire amateurs or groom apprentices—all of his barbers have a minimum of 10 years of service.
A Clearcut Motto
The barbershop’s motto tips its hat to Sambuco’s belief that his barbers should charge what they are worth and he never relies on discounts or Groupons to drive customer acquisition, because he believes coupons chip away at the barbershop’s value and sincerity.
The motto is: “A Barbershop for Men Who Can’t Afford a Cheap Haircut”
Sambuco says his barbershop appeals to “men who appreciate classic, precision grooming by the area’s best barbers, men who want to show the world what it takes to be a man among men.”
Classic haircuts start at $40, fades start at $45 and a straight-razor shave is $40.
When asked to describe his brand, Sambuco says, “It’s masculine, it’s bold and it’s about brotherhood—it’s also a lot about myself. For example, I don’t post pictures of hair every day, I post pictures of things I’m interested in, like motorcycles and cars. As a result, I tend to attract like-minded clients who share the same interests. Our clients tend to select themselves—they are either with us or they’re not.”
It’s a strategy that’s working. The barbershop doesn’t take walk-ins and is consistently booked out five to six weeks, with 50-80 customers on a wait list every day.
The barbershop’s customers are such raving fans, Sambuco designs and sells new branded T-shirts each season.
“I love creating new designs for my brand, and we just placed a big order of all of our current stuff for a big event we’re doing and our 4th anniversary,” Sambucco says. “Some of the designs we come up with, and some we work with our apparel company, Studio Print Shop, to help design. Our guys really dig it, and they support us by repping our clothing and brand.”
Sambuco’s newest T-shirt is a tiger head (like the mural in the salon and his tattoo) wearing a retro-style helmet with the hornet logo on it. “One of my barbers and great friend Patrick brought this design idea to me and I was immediately like, “We’re doing that—it’s pretty dope and it fits the brand well.”
True to the sign on the window, Sambuco’s Barbering Company is also a social destination, and is constantly leveraging their lounge and bar area to throw small events—some open to the public, others are invitation only.
The barbershop’s event space has game tables, TVs and couches and the bar usually carries 10 different canned and bottled beer brands and an assortment of bourbon. Occasionally, the barbershop hosts an invitation-only Bourbon Night where everyone brings a favorite bottle to share and they do bourbon pours.
As a father of three himself, Sambuco loves to host Dads’ Nights where clients come in and speak freely about their parenting challenges. He’s even hosted Jonathan Catherman, a best-selling author, award-winning sociologist and seasoned dad (and a regular client) who shared practical ways to prepare kids for the real-world demand of life. Catherman also appeared for a Father and Son night, which gives the barbershop a chance to cultivate the next generation of clients.
Sambuco also is quick to support community and charitable events. One of the team’s favorite events is The Old Town Revival, a vintage car and motorcycle show, where the barbers get on stage and cut hair all day for charity.
One of the barbershop’s favorite charities is Hinds Feet Farm, a local working farm and farmhouse that serves as a therapeutic program for people living with brain injuries. In March, the barbershop hosted a display of masks that portrayed survivors, giving them a voice to educate others about what it is like to live with a brain injury.
A Success Strategy
All of Sambuco’s efforts to grow his brand are proving fruitful. The barbershop is so busy, it doesn’t take walk-ins and is consistently booked out five to six weeks, with 50-80 customers on a wait list every day.
Sambuco Barber Company recently was ranked as one of the best barbershops in Charlotte by Expertise.com, a service that finds, ‘mystery shops’ and reviews the top service professionals in more than 200 industries across the United States. “They reviewed 168 barbershops in the area and picked 23, including us,” Sambuco says.
But what matters most to Sambuco is a satisfied client, like Jonathan Robbins. “Every barber who works here is SUPER talented—you can walk in and no matter whom you work with, you walk out with a cut you feel great about,” says Robbins. “Every time I go in, I feel like they would give me the shirt off their backs if I asked, that’s how awesome they are.”
Meet some other great barbers, including Tone McGill transitioning to working on-set at the latest Black Panther movie; Lilly Benitez opens an academy that teaches upscale barbering services; and Cookie Zamarripa finds an accepting community within barbering and she supports her hometown of Uvalde.
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