The owner of The Barbers Inc is portrayed in the mural on the side of his shop cutting Muhammad Ali’s hair—something that never happened, though David Diggs wished it had.
“I remember my grandmother telling the story about when she was in his presence at a fight—him walking by her and just how remarkable he was to her,” Diggs said. “I knew his challenges and some of the hurdles he had to overcome. It would have been amazing to be able to pick his brain and be intimate on his journey.”
Though Diggs, 43, is now the owner of two successful barbershops in San Jose, he’s had his own struggles defining his career and achieving his goals. He first became interested in cutting hair in elementary school and continued working at it in high school. After enrolling as an engineering major at San Jose State University, he became dissatisfied with his studies and returned to the basics.
“I didn’t have faith that I could have a great career that way,” he told San José Spotlight. “So I drifted away from it, getting to the point where I felt the need to rely solely on myself. And barbering, a talent I had, gave me that opportunity.”
After graduating from the San Francisco Barber College in 2010, Diggs worked in other shops before opening the first Barbers Inc location in 2012.
“I took on this space with a lot of square footage because my goal was to have 10 chairs,” he said. “The shop had six chairs to start with, but I only had two other barbers and myself, and we were only using a third of the space. But we started adding quality barbers and gaining a positive name for ourselves, so our clientele grew.”
He recalls sometimes having to take leaps of faith to risk expanding the shop.
“I was money strapped because I took on such a big facility,” he said. “I had to take some gambles, things that helped me get over the hump to try to get out of the red. I got to a point where I had to actually skip paying a month’s rent so that I could buy four more chairs and more stations. I took that risk and then apologized to my landlord after her letting me pay the late rent back.”
Being able to service more clients allowed Diggs to expand further, with him increasing the original shop to 15 chairs and seeing the opening of a second nine-chair location in 2017.
The closeness of the stations, along with the bright decor and communal atmosphere, facilitates conversations between customers, barbers and those just waiting in line for their haircuts.
“I wanted to create a place where barbers would love to work,” Diggs said, “and create a team that barbers aspired to be a part of. I want barbers with good character who are motivated and want to grow in their ability. And I want them to care—community service and being ingrained in the community is a major part of who we are and what we do.”
The shop has been involved in projects as diverse as coaching little league and running toy drives, as well as going out to cut hair for homeless residents and holding events like free back-to-school haircuts for children under 17 and Thanksgiving turkey giveaways.
The mural, created by Ian Young at the original Barbers Inc location on East Santa Clara Street, hints at the overall aesthetic and ideas behind the business. The portraits on the mural are the barbers themselves cutting the hair of people they wished they had known, including Johnny Cash, Carlos Santana, Bruce Lee and Fela Kuti.
The mural speaks to the fellowship of the shop, which has been a great recruiting tool. Tavion Maultsby left his job in Florida seven years ago to join the crew.
“Dave and I talked, and he just made it interesting for me,” he told San José Spotlight. “It’s very rare that you see 15 people in one place that work hard together every day and get along. So it’s like a brotherhood, a camaraderie. It’s just a nice environment being around everybody here.”
Even with all the duties of running two shops, Diggs is still out on the floor cutting hair 50 hours a week, striking up conversations with the regulars and keeping the crew motivated by his example.
“I want people coming in to know this place is authentic,” he said. “I want them to know our people really care about what they do and they have a passion for their careers. Obviously, I want them to leave with an amazing haircut, but it is important to me that they also take pride in coming to our shop.”
Contact Robert Eliason at [email protected].
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