“My dad said, ‘I put you through 12 years of school; if you go to college, it’s your own money.”
Wiens said his mother suggested he go to barber school. In only nine months he’d be earning money while he figured out what his future career should be.
“I still don’t know what I want to do in life, so I still cut hair,” he said.
Wiens has been in the profession for 35 years now. His first 10 were at Oakley.
“I’ve always said I should have worked for the government—I could have retired 20 years ago,” he said.
Humor is one of the things that has made Wiens’s endeavor in Hillsboro a success—to the point where he estimates he has about 700 regular customers.
Wiens said he wasn’t sure he’d be successful as he headed for Hillsboro in 1982 after buying the local shop owned and operated by Wayne Schroeder.
“I remember coming in on Highway 15 about four miles north of town, where you kind of look over Hillsboro—and my stomach just kind of sank,” he recalled. “I thought, ‘What am I doing, leaving a good business out in western Kansas, moving to a town where I don’t know anybody and have no idea how much money I’m going to make?’ I was thinking, ‘Man, you are stupid.’”
Schroeder was working only part time when he sold the business to Wiens, so his list of clients wasn’t long.
“I started May 14 and business wasn’t very prosperous,” Wiens said. “I remember Saturday afternoon on Memorial Day weekend I did not have one haircut. That was kind of gut-wrenching.”
But his persistence has paid off. Today he not only has a sizeable clientele—90 percent of which are men—but he knows them so well that he can recognize their voices when they make appointments over the telephone without asking their names.
“The women get amused when the husbands call in for haircuts and say, ‘Good morning, Randy,’ and I’ll say, ‘10:30, John,’ and they hang up. Their wives will say, ‘John, you didn’t even tell him your name,’ and the men will say, ‘I don’t have to.’”
The system isn’t foolproof, though.
“Once or twice when a guy walks in the door that I think should be somebody else, we have to argue a little bit about whether he really had a haircut at that time or not. But if nobody else walks in, it turns out all right.”
Wiens also remembers his clients’ preferred hairstyle from one visit to the next.
“Ninety percent of the time it’s ‘same as usual,’” he said. “If you do something different, usually the next time I can remember.”
Wiens said occasionally he does a little “warranty work” if a client wants a little more clipped off, or to even out a sideburn. But only once in all his years has he had to refund a client’s money.
Wiens’s familiarity with his clients goes beyond professional concerns. Wiens said he develops a strong rapport with most clients—even in 15-minute segments.
“I think it’s the best business in town because everybody who walks in the door is a little bit different,” he said. “I probably get more free advice than anybody in town.
“I’m a sounding board for a lot of people—and what you say in a barbershop, stays in a barbershop,” Wiens is quick to add.
Occasionally, the conversations become quite personal.
“I’m kind of a psychologist that costs $11 for 15 minutes instead of $100 an hour,” Wiens said.
Conversations about politics are usually avoided, but local issues make for popular fodder.
“The school bond right now is a topic, and the jail was a hot topic,” Wiens said. “The (wheat) freeze was real hot with all the farmers, and we talk about weather and sports—sports is big. But you’ve only got 15 minutes, so it’s in and out.”
A lot has changed during Wiens’s caree. The price for a haircut has increased from $1.75 to $11 and hairstyles come and go. The relatively recent return of long hair on boys takes Wiens back to the 1970s.
“In the ’70s we lost half of the barbers in Kansas,” he said. “We went from 4,000 all the way to 1,800 because of long hair. The older guys didn’t want to cut it and didn’t learn to cut it.
“The younger ones did, but the dad still think the kids should have should have short hair and the mom says, ‘We’ll leave it a little long.’ So they left it a little longer at the beauty shop—so you know where the boys decided to go.
“That’s how beauty operators got into the hairstyling business with men and how unisex cuts got started.”
Wiens said his philosophy has been to adjust to whatever hairstyles his clients want, and he goes to styling classes several times a year.
If there’s a down side to barbering, Wiens said, is that his economic well-being is directly tied to the number of clients he sees each week.
“A lot of people say, ‘You can take a vacation anytime you want to,’” Wiens said about being his own boss. “But when you put the key in your pocket, the income stops.”
Likewise, there are no auxiliary benefits, such as employer-supported health insurance and retirement plans.
“Retirement’s not in the picture right now,” said Wiens, 53. “As long as I’m healthy and I can cut hair, why not? I enjoy it. I get tired by Saturday afternoon, but I’m ready to come back to work on Tuesday morning.”