Barber's drive is a cut above
Those who know theyoung entrepreneur don't doubt he will reach his goal.
By ROGER G. SMITH
CITY HALL REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Ryan Gilchrist is a worrier.
Thank goodness for God.
Gilchrist figures he wouldn't be where he is today if he hadn't listened to his spiritual side.
The spot he occupies is well ahead of many business owners in his field, particularly at just age 28.
Gilchrist owns and operates Ryan's Chair, a South Side barbershop and beauty salon that started almost 10 years ago in his family's home.
Today, he has five barbers, four hair stylists and three others working at his Glenwood Avenue operation.
He also is a husband and father. He and his wife, Stephanie, who works the front desk and is studying marketing at Youngstown State University, own a home near the shop and have 10-year-old son.
"It's a big task ... so many peoples' lives. I'm responsible for that," Gilchrist says, excitement and worry evident in his voice.
Gilchrist isn't tall, standing maybe 5 feet 5 inches, and he takes his share of ribbing for it. He speaks softly and often pauses to sum up his thoughts.
He becomes animated, however, when the subject turns to business and responsibility. His head bobs, he slides back and forth in his seat and gestures with his arms when he thinks back over the past 10 years.
It's that passion, say those who know him, that makes Gilchrist special.
He was born in Philadelphia but reared in Youngstown. He was groomed for his career -- pardon the pun -- from his early teens.
Gilchrist started cutting friends' hair as a teen after watching others in the family cut hair.
He soon formed a mentor-type bond with the late Tyrone Beaver, whom he met through church. Beaver, who operated a Canfield salon, guided the budding stylist through his teens. After Beaver died, Gilchrist started the home-based business.
He built a following, and his clients trailed him from the family home to a couple different salons around town.
Then, he stepped out on his own.
Gilchrist opened a small office on Market Street and had hired his first two employees. The office soon became cramped, however, and something inside told him to strive for more.
"It was like a baby waiting to come out," he said. "It was time to go from the back street to the front street."
But he was scared.
He pondered buying the 11,000-square-foot former veterinarian office on Glenwood for a while, but he wasn't sure he could handle all the responsibility.
It was faith and family, he said, that led him one day to buy the building. Gilchrist isn't sure why, but he said God guided him down that path.
Three years later, business is good.
He credits the Christian-centered niche he and his workers have carved out.
Ryan's Chair is a professionally run shop where the whole family -- kids to grandparents -- can feel comfortable having their hair done, he said. There's no loud music, no smoking and no swearing; soft music plays over the speakers. Workers start each day with a prayer.
Business is so good, approaching $500,000 a year in sales, that Gilchrist wants to make the building look as successful on the outside as it is on the inside.
He is arranging for $15,000 in city grants that will go toward fixing the brick, installing new windows, fencing and advertising.
"I want this to be a spot that people say, 'That's a nice office.' I want it to stand out," Gilchrist said.
Jay Williams, director of the city's Community Development Agency, knew Gilchrist in high school.
Williams was in banking a few years ago and helped Gilchrist with loans to start his career and buy his house. Now, Williams is helping his classmate expand the business with the economic development grants.
He describes Gilchrist as driven, determined and focused. Something more stands out, too, Williams said.
Many people have good business plans but expect banks or government to fund the start-up, he said. Gilchrist, however, struggled to start his business. He grew it himself and only then turned to others for financial help, Williams said.
That's the way small business, banking and government are supposed to work, he said.
"He did what he had to do," Williams said. "It's been interesting to watch him."
Those who know Gilchrist don't doubt he will reach his goal of making Ryan's Chair better known in Youngstown and beyond, even nationally.
"He sees a dream and wants to make it happen," said his wife, Stephanie.
His brother, Kyle, the office manager, takes that thought a step further.
"It will be more than what he dreams," he said.
Ryan Gilchrist sets the example for everyone at the shop, said Jerome Franklin, a barber there for 18 months. One day Franklin wants his own shop and is watching Gilchrist's approach.
Christina Chislom has been a stylist in the shop for two years. She describes Gilchrist as balanced, a man easy to work with but businesslike when necessary.
Kelan Hughley has been a barber at Ryan's Chair since the shop opened. He needles Gilchrist for everything from his boss's lack of height to his constant motion.
"He's an energy-filled little guy," Hughley says with grin.
Then, Hughley turns serious. He talks about Gilchrist's faith and the atmosphere he's created inside the shop.
"It's one of his highest assets," Hughley said.