It’s no secret our industry is booming! Every day, more talented people are building successful barbering careers, and I love bringing you their stories.
I never thought a barbering story would start in jail in the southern United States, with a drug-addicted, homeless young man, serving a one-year term for robbing a druggist.
But many stories start at rock bottom, and that jail cell was rock bottom just a few years ago for Knoxville, Tennessee-based Tyler Trotter, whose brilliant recovery was capped off when the young man with the fierce red beard appeared onstage at Premier Orlando.
“I don’t think that has soaked in yet,” he told me when we sat down for an interview. “That I am here at Orlando Premier and I am a platform barber – it’s amazing!”
It was a coincidence that I’d met up with Tyler at the Premiere. We hadn’t planned an interview. But he graciously agreed to spend some time with me so I could share with you.
I was eager to hear more of his one-of-a-kind story. “I was penniless and homeless,” the recently certified Master Barber told me of his jail time. “I’d lost my children to Protective Services; I served a year locked up 23 hours a day, going through withdrawal.”
“And it was all because of my choices, my drug addiction,” he continued. “I lost everything that was important to me. Most importantly, I lost respect for myself. I had no idea who I was.”
“Pain is a really good teacher and motivator,” he added with a smile.
If you are one of his more than 6,000 YouTube subscribers, you know Tyler brings it with unsparing honesty, a trait winning him more barbering fans on social media every day.
“I couldn’t stop using drugs,” he said bluntly. “When I got arrested and was locked up … desperation took over. I decided I can’t do this. I didn’t know how to get a job, I didn’t know how to keep a job, I didn’t know how to pay bills, I didn’t know how to do anything, and I was ready to give up.”
He said a last-minute call to a local addiction help center introduced him to the 12-step recovery program and to a spiritual side he had long neglected.
“I started to find out who I was and started to believe in myself,” he told me. “I found out I was extremely ambitious. I had a desire to be successful in life; to be a great husband and a great father, so I started trying different things.”
He recovered his sobriety and worked as a counselor at an addiction treatment center (“It was fantastic!” he recalls). He reconciled with his wife; his two children were back in his life. His family was soon expecting a third child.
“Our financial situation meant I couldn’t continue working as a counselor,” he smiles. “We agreed I’d become a stay-at-home Dad.’
And that’s how it started: former inmate and stay-at-home Dad giving haircuts to his kids.
“Giving haircuts was special to me, it was a moment of nurturing,” he says. “One day, my son says, ‘Can I have a fauxhawk?’ I didn’t know how to do it, and a little voice inside – my conscience, and I believe God speaks to me through my conscience – said, ‘I wish I could cut it the way he wanted it.’ So I went on YouTube to look at different haircut videos.”
And he never looked back.
“After the fauxhawk video, I wanted to watch the bald fade video, and after that, I wanted to watch the other haircut videos, and I thought, ‘Yeah, this looks fun!”
“I watched student barber YouTube journeys. I got excited, and this passion and ambition started snowballing inside me.”
After stitching together funding, Tyler was soon studying at the Knoxville Institute of Hair Design and You Tubing every step.
“I had watched other barber students document their journey, and I found value in it, so I said ‘I am going to start right now.’ My first video is me before I even owned any clippers, saying, ‘I am going to be a barber. Watch this!’”
“I documented and blogged my entire experience through barber school. I did reviews on all the clippers and all the tools that I saw,” he told me. “And I continue today.”
“If a barber wants to know how to be successful,” he said, switching to his current YouTube offerings, “I do my best to document my victories as well as my failures. I document the process of what it takes. I document the hard work. I document the time away from my wife and kids. I document the grunt work and the labor, scrubbing the rust off the chairs that are going into my shop.”
“A lot of people share the glory,” he concludes, “but they don’t share the story.”
Besides his strength, determination, ambition and love for the industry (“I want to breathe everything barber and pursue it”), Tyler’s belief in relationships shines through. One of his most important bonds is with fellow American and Barber Society Administrator Christopher Burke.
I recently interviewed Christopher for my channel, where he went out of his way to mention Tyler as a top mentee.
Tyler told me he met Chris through sheer doggedness, peppering Burke with questions via social media while a student.
“Christopher not only answered me, he showed me how to hold a pair of clippers in a comment thread by taking pictures,” Tyler recalls with amazement. “Him being a busy man and me just a student – there were 9,000 members in the Barber Society – for him to take the time to show me these things, I didn’t want it to go to waste.”
Tyler realized his path to success was simple. Not easy, of course, but not complicated.
“When Chris gave me advice,” he says enthusiastically, “even if I didn’t like it or didn’t want to do it, I did it anyway.”
“To be successful, I have to listen to the people who have already attained success. I need to do the things they are telling me to do or the things they are sharing with me, and Chris, man, he has never stopped helping me.”
Tyler’s ambition and drive have already taken him far. He developed his own beard oil while he was a student, giving it away to class mates and almost immediately becoming overwhelmed by demand.
“It is all essential oils so your beard absorbs it,” Tyler said. “Plus it takes care of the most important part of your beard, which is the skin and the follicle the hair grows out of.”
“I can’t give you a wholesale price on 50 bottles a month right now because I don’t have time to make it, I can’t meet the demand,” Tyler said. “I still make it myself in my kitchen. I still mix it in my blender. There is just no time to make it that way much longer, and I am looking at mass manufacturing that will preserve the integrity of the ingredients.”
Not a bad problem to have for someone who just got a license two years ago!
From a man who has seen so much hardship and then so much success I wanted to know how Tyler views the industry, and what thoughts he might share with other barbers.
“If you want to become a barber, find barbers,” he said firmly. “Go to shops, look at what they do, look at YouTube videos, make sure it is what you want to do. If you continue to aspire, ask somebody to show you how, and when they show you how, do what they show you to do.”
“You don’t just wake up one day and know how to be a barber,” he continued. “You have to do something you have not done before. If you want to see something you have never seen, you have to go places you have never been.”
“So get a mentor, develop relationships, and if the first person, the second person, the third person you reach out to don’t reach back, keep going because if you don’t continue to reach out, you guarantee you are never going to find that relationship.”
“I suggest you focus on people and focus on yourself. Character first, then business.”
That last line is as good a slogan for barbering as I’ve ever heard. Words of wisdom from Tyler Trotter and words of thanks from me, Larry the Barberman. It was a great interview and a privilege to meet such an inspiring figure.
I hope you enjoyed reading about Tyler as much as I enjoyed talking with him. Be sure to check out our entire interview on my YouTube @LarrytheBarberman.
Until next time, happy barbering!