When Donna Brosious became a barber eight years ago, some customers at the South Jersey shop where she worked mistook her for the receptionist.
There’s little chance of that happening at The Boardroom Barbershop, which Brosious — who has three grown sons — describes as “my fourth child.”
After all, she found the location in the heart of Medford, designed the space, hired the staff, and built the business from scratch beginning in 2015. She’s an expert at hot-lather shaves with all the trimmings, too.
“The more often you pick up that straight razor, the better you get,” said Brosious, 58, a high-octane, no-nonsense Northeast Philly native who lives in Southampton Township, Burlington County.
A stay-at-home mother who became a single mother, Brosious said most of her professional career has involved fashion, makeup, and hair. And while barbering remains a male-dominated field, Brosious regards specializing in men’s grooming as a natural fit.
“When my boys were growing up, I always cut their hair," she said. “When my oldest son Ryan was playing football for Johns Hopkins, I cut his team’s hair on the fire escape of the frat house in Baltimore, and I always cut family and friends’ hair in my basement in Mount Laurel.”
A fan of books and TV shows about entrepreneurial trends, Brosious went back to work when her sons were in high school and became convinced that the growing market for men’s grooming products and services was here to stay.
But she also concluded that this niche “had not been totally conquered the right way,” and decided a shop of her own was the best way to do it. So she decorated Boardroom Barbers with an unusual assortment of images of iconic males such as Jack Nicholson, Bob Marley, and Mahatma Gandhi. She gave the space a cozy, clubby feel, sort of like a man cave for the whole family.
“From kids to grandfathers, I want people who come in to feel comfortable,” Brosious said.
On the morning of my recent visit, she and her equally gregarious crew were busy with a steady stream of clients. Clippers and conversations buzzed.
“I think I was one of the first clients,” said Carl Onuchovsky, 40, a data analyst who lives in Medford. “I walked in and I liked the vibe in here. It’s as simple as that. I feel at home here. Sometimes I come in just to say hi.”
Said Ector Quiles, 67, a retired college administrator who lives in Atco: “It’s very difficult to find a place that does a traditional hot-lather shave. I like the look, I like the feel, I like the detail.
“I want a good barber — he, or she.”
Occasionally, a potential customer feels differently. “Sometimes a man will walk in and ask if there are any male barbers in the shop, and we say, ‘No, just us.' But usually, they’ll stay,” said barber Katie Garsick, 29, of Deptford.
Some men are fussy, others, not so much, said barber Brittany Chambers, 28, of Marlton.
“With shorter hair, you can see a mistake in two seconds," she said. "Any little mistake, you have to look at every single hair from every angle, and make sure it’s perfect.” she said.
Brosious’ son, Tyler, who’s 23 and works in social media, said his mother has always been ahead of the curve. “She has a bad-ass mentality of wanting to do her own thing.”
But doing so can be a challenge, said Brosious, who earlier in life ran a gift shop in Marlton with her mother. Customers or the family members of customers can sometimes be difficult to please or even “unaccommodate-able,” she said. “But I’m a perfectionist. I try.”
Karla Clark, a fellow Medford entrepreneur — she formulates a line of personal care products Brosious carries in her shop — said the two “are trying to run small businesses in small town, USA. We’re trying to create something of our own and make our brand stand out.”
Doing so takes passion, said Brosious.
“I loved raising my three children ... but when they flew the nest, I wanted to put my passion behind something else,” she said.
As a barber, Brosious said, she can “help a man or boy feel their best at their biggest moments, whether it’s a big interview, graduation, a prom — or even a baby’s first haircut.”