Talking Shop with Gary Stroder of Gary & Company Hair Designers

Gary Stroder, who operates Gary & Company Hair Designers in Cape Girardeau, has been styling hair for 50 years. (Fred Lynch)

Gary Stroder celebrated his 50th year of hair design and styling in April. Stroder said he loves it as much as the day he started.

Q: How did you become interested in hairstyling?

A: Surprisingly, I wanted to be an architect. My parents wouldn't send me to school for it so I went [in Cape Girardeau] and you could be a teacher, accountant or get a fine arts degree. I didn't like accounting. I met a couple of people who threw around the idea of becoming barbers. I was always artistic and when I was in high school, my sister would let me tease her hair and the idea clicked. It would be 18 months before barber school opened and I didn't want to wait that long, and it was going to be a couple months for beauty school to start. I talked to my parents about it. My mother was negative. My father was a riverboat captain and had the super macho image and he thought it was a good idea. They fought over it one weekend and my mother said I'd have to pay every penny back. I've never regretted it. I got married and we had three children and am expecting my eighth grandchild this summer. It's been a wonderful life. My wife passed away a couple years ago.

I have a different philosophy. I like to analyze the facial structure, body form and lifestyle of my clients and design a hairstyle to fit the individual. I'm a member of the Missouri Design Committee that teaches others to style hair. One should always try to learn. I attend style shows every year, now they're mostly refreshing my memory because styles go around and come around.

To say someone has found the right spot in life to work, is something I can say. I've enjoyed every day.

Q: How common was it for a man to work in a salon at that time?

A: There were fewer male stylists and the image was that most were homosexual, so my mother was hesitant to let me go into it. I have broad shoulders and an open mind and don't worry about what others think of me. I have high self-esteem. One must feel good about oneself before projecting good feelings to others. No one is better and only God can judge, I may be more fortunate than some, but I'm not better. That high self-esteem has carried me through the years.

I couldn't have picked a better profession. I have to deal with people and each day is different. I consider my customers friends and they come back through with new news about what's going on with them. I'm a people person and I think you have to be. I like to have a great working environment and hope to work until the day I die. People ask me when I'm going to retire, and I say if I keel over dead behind a chair you'll have to finish your own hair that day.

Q: What was challenging about starting your salon?

A: Suprisingly, when I started I worked for Paul Huffmaster. He got sick after I started and I had to take care of his clients for the first six months and it just took off like fire. That was the kick-start [of] my business. A lot of his clients wanted to change to me and he became jealous; he didn't have the self-esteem that I do. He treated me terribly, but I never let on in front of clients. I got married and was offered a job at another salon that offered me a higher percent. I still give him credit. I had the talent to please the clients and he gave me the opportunity. I was serving 30 clients a day and would work from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. a lot of days. I've been busy ever since. That helped me to get so busy so quickly.

Gary Stroder, who operates Gary & Company in Cape Girardeau, has been styling hair for 50 years. (Fred Lynch)

Q: What has been the biggest change you've experienced as a business owner over the past 50 years?

A: I switched from having employees to doing booth rentals because of the bureaucracy and government. You have to pay so much in taxes and workman's comp, it became easier to do booth rentals. I did that around 25 years ago. I almost bought the beauty school [when] it went for sale around 1990. Many students were coming out untrained. I learn by seeing better than by reading. When I was in school, I asked the owner what I should have asked because I didn't understand and learned in two weeks time. She helped me make corrections and let me learn hands-on. I'm a perfectionist.

Q: Based on what you've seen in the past five decades, what leads to success or failure for businesses?

A: In beauty, you have to be an owner and be behind the chair. You can't just have employees. You have to keep up with trends and keep yourself trained. You have to be loving what you do, have a good personality and be good at your business and be dedicated to success. You have to set goals for what you want in life. I don't own my clients, but I strive to keep a good working relationship and be personable. I try to please the client to the utmost and take care of their wants and needs. A happy client comes back.

Q: What advice would you give to people just starting their careers?

A: Be sincere and genuine in the career you want. Educate yourself to the utmost. Keep an open mind to all avenues for advancement. Be compatible with your co-workers. I try to have a happy workplace. It makes business better.

For people going into beauty, I would say, make sure they love it. One thing I would do over is to start a retirement plan my first year in business. One technique I would use to build my business is to print out cards for a free haircut and pass them out to as many people as I could for the first month. Most people won't turn down a free haircut. If you have the talent and if you please them, they'll pay for the next one. When I was in school, my instructor told me to always give a good shampoo so even if you don't cut well they'll still pay for the shampoo. It's the same principle.

Q: Anything else readers should know?

A: Be ready to work long hours until you have your business built. You have to go to a company store to build your clientele. You have to be dependable and steadfast for your clients and be there for them.

Gary and Co. Hair Designers is at 1017 Harmony St. in Cape Girardeau. For more information, call 334-2300.


Pertinent address:

1017 Harmony St., Cape Girardeau., Mo;