Enter McNeal’s Barber Shop you think you’ve entered a time warp. No, you will not be shuttled back to the barbershops of the olde, you know, the ones from B.C. where in addition to mastering the art of hair and beard trimming, barbers were also responsible for providing such services as dispensing herbs, tooth pulling and blood-letting. Picture instead a shop like the one in Chicago where President Obama’s hair was cut or the shop where Cedric the Entertainer’s character talked non-stop about Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and other black leaders only Maurice McNeal is not offensive or obnoxious.
McNeal’s Barber Shop’s décor accurately captures the 1960's furnishings with its geometric aesthetic and clean lines. What transports me back to the 1960s are the wall posters and photos of greats, such as, Muhammad Ali and the 1968 Olympic medaled African-American athletes Tommie Smith (gold) and John Carlos (bronze) with raised black-gloved fists. One gets the sense that Maurice McNeal believes that any failure to understand one’s history will result in the possibility of repeating the mistakes of the past or missing the mark.
Begin talking to Maurice, the shop’s proprietor, and you realize that he possesses the wisdom of the forefathers, especially those brave men who paved the way and made it possible for today’s entrepreneur to live the dream. Once Maurice revealed that he is son of a Pontiac school system math teacher and auto industry worker both of whom were educated Tuskegee Institute (the campus forms a national historic site), a historically Black college located in Alabama, you appreciate why Maurice is so steeped in tradition and mother wit. Now, for those of you, who are too young to remember, mother wit is an old school phrase meaning common sense of which his parents had plenty. Maurice’s father made a practice of dispensing wisdom sayings such as, “if it don’t make dollars, it don’t make cents” words that Maurice has taken to heart.
Life, Knowledge, Business
Maurice got his start by attending barber school, working in others’ shops and learning from his brother who runs an auto repair business (a stone’s throw from Maurice’s shop). Instead of treating his father’s advice as platitudes to be ignored or discarded, Maurice applied what he heard as a youngster to his life and ultimately business. Like many, in the Detroit Metro area, Maurice worked for one of the Big Three (more about that later). When Maurice and his father talked about plans for life after high school going to barber school and attending Central Michigan were on the table. Unlike some parents, Maurice’s father offered his children options but let them make the final choice. After all, whose life is it anyway?
Learning life by doing and being seems to be in keeping with McNeal’s philosophy that it ain’t what you do; it’s how you do it. Well, as a barber, Maurice keeps it simple – he maintains three chairs and adheres to appointment times. Maurice is gregarious yet appreciates the value of sticking to the appointed time. In addition to gaining knowledge from just living his life, Maurice is an avid reader who spends some of his spare time reading about business and real estate, especially rental properties.
What you put in is what you get out
Maurice knew that his time working for someone else was limited. Unlike others who became enamored with the steady paycheck and benefits that the Big Three once offered, Maurice followed the ten and out plan. Essentially, Maurice worked ten hour days while still finding time to pursue his dream of being his own boss and follow his motto of “pay yourself first”. Maurice took advantage of his company’s buyout offer (limiting his Big Three stint to less than ten years) and plunged into his shop full time.
What’s next for Maurice? Perhaps opening a barber school in Pontiac but in the meantime, Maurice is also writing a book. I can’t wait to read it because I know it will be crammed with sound advice and wisdom. McNeal Barber Shop is located at 1101 Joslyn Avenue, Pontiac, Michigan 48340, 248-821-6188. Appointments & walk-ins are welcome.