David Rubenzer, 1968 graduate of Bloomer High School and co-founder of Great Clips, was a key speaker recently at the 30th Anniversary Great Clips convention in Minneapolis, Minn. He was also inducted into the Great Clips Hall of Fame at the convention. Rubenzer and Steve Lemon started Great Clips hair salons in 1982 and began franchising them in 1984.
Rubenzer was in Bloomer Dec. 13, for a family Christmas party and took time to sit down and chat with me. He was also interviewed by Great Clips a few weeks after its convention in October. The following is an amalgamation of those interviews.
The Start Of A Franchise
David Rubenzer grew up on a farm near Bloomer but the day he graduated from Bloomer High School he and two friends, Pete Hartman and Earl Hassemer, moved to the Twin Cities and went to work for the Northern Pacific Railroad in St. Paul. They were making around $6.00 per hour at a time when minimum wage was $1.95 and they were on top of the world. However, the Northern Pacific was in the middle of a merger and the job only lasted 90 days.
Hassemer moved back to Bloomer, “because he missed Bernie, his wife,” said Rubenzer. But, Hartman and Rubenzer stayed in the Twin Cities and got jobs as orderlies at a hospital in St. Paul. It was there Rubenzer met his first wife Mary Alice Schneider, who was a nurse. He decided to go to school to become a nurse as well, but he needed a way to pay for nursing school.
“I thought, ‘Gosh, I wonder what kind of a job I can get while I work my way through three years of nursing school,’” said Rubenzer. “Somebody suggested barber college. It’s nine months and costs like fifteen hundred bucks, so I got a loan from my dad, got through school and registered at North Hennepin Community College, and got a part-time job working Saturdays.”
“I was working a lot with the orderlies and the nurses and the doctors that I had been working with as an orderly. My wife said, ‘I don’t think you’re going to like nursing. It’s just not your kind of deal.’ And I remember this doctor telling his secretary, ‘Get me an appointment.’ And she was saying, ‘Well doctor it’s going to be two weeks,’” said Rubenzer. “I thought, ‘Now, what kind of a barbershop can make a physician wait two weeks for an appointment.’ Well, it was a company called The Barbers, hairstyling for men.”
Rubenzer applied and kept applying until he got a job at The Barbers.
“Once I started it was like, this is the greatest job in the world. I’m getting paid to have somebody tell me every 20 minutes what a great job I’m doing,” said Rubenzer.
Rubenzer went on to buy a couple of franchises of The Barbers, one in Burnsville and one in Northfield, Minn.
“It was the age of conspicuous consumption where people liked to brag about how much they paid for a haircut,” said Rubenzer.
But the world was changing, especially his world.
His wife, Mary Alice, contracted cancer in 1980 and died in December 1981.
Then, Steve Lemon, whom Rubenzer worked with at The Barbers began investigating a new hair salon in Canada called Super Clips, which was a walk-in, select services salon charging less than half what The Barbers charged for a haircut.
“…the idea of starting a walk-in, select services salon would not go away. After Mary Alice passed away, I was able to invest the money from her life insurance to get the business going. This business is a great legacy to her, and her brothers, Pete and Tom Schneider, were some of our early investors and are still franchisees today,” Rubenzer told Great Clips.
Rubenzer turned over his interest in Great Clips, Inc. in 1998, but remains a franchisee.
Great Clips asked Rubenzer what it was like to be part of the 30th Birthday convention.
“… It was also the first time I brought my two children. My wife, Lori, was also there. It was energizing for her, too. Lori is a former stylist, trainer and corporate employee herself, so we both saw a lot of old friends,” said Rubenzer.
Rubenzer’s children are also involved in the business.
“The two of them Justin (35) and Sara (33), own about 80 percent of the business in Jacksonville and all of Reno. They’ve been silent investors for some time but I’ve been slowly backing away and giving them more autonomy and authority,” said Rubenzer. “It was great to watch them experience the spectacle of Convention for the first time. After I finished on stage, Justin said, ‘Dad, you’re a rock star!’ Having been around the business most of their lives, but only peripherally, they’ve never seen me like that.”
Rubenzer has also invested in business ventures closer to his boyhood home although it didn’t go quite as well.
“I discovered that whatever business acumen I had for the Great Clips organization didn’t transfer because, as you know, I was the proud owner of the Ruby’s Roadhouse for, gosh, about ten years,” said Rubenzer. “Actually my brother Charlie and my sister Judy ran it, they were shareholders with me. But, we sold it about three years ago and it became the Blue Moose.
“But, the best thing about that was it got me back to Bloomer on a much more frequent basis,” said Rubenzer. “It’s always good to see the folks.”