Serial entrepreneur and celebrity hairstylist Jim Markham charged just $1.50 per haircut when he was starting out. Fast forward to 2022, and he’s made over $1.2 billion in retail sales.
When the PureOlogy founder married his girlfriend and became a father at the age of just 15, barbering seemed like the suitable option for a young kid who was trying to figure out his path. He spent three and a half months training before he started charging for cuts, entering competitions and eventually becoming national champion. In 1969, he took over celebrity stylist Jay Sebring’s company, after Sebring was tragically killed in the Manson Family murders of 1969.
As a result, Markham inherited a clientele that included Johnny Carson, Paul Newman, and Robert Redford — some of whom he credits for teaching him valuable lessons in life and business. “[I was] an uneducated kid from New Mexico charging $5 a haircut, and eventually I started doing men’s hairstyling there. I went to California to charge Jay’s clientele at $50 a haircut, it was pretty nerve-wracking,” Markham says. “I was terrified, but I knew I had the skill.”
Markham would go on to establish four hair companies, but it wasn’t always plain sailing. One of his brands, ABBA Pure & Natural, almost collapsed when he was down to his last couple of thousand dollars, and he was forced to think of a solution that would bring it back to life. He made some changes to products and repositioned the brand, reviving it, and even tripled sales that year. Later on, however, the boom of affordable haircut chains threatened to undercut Markham’s services.
“I think that price is what most men gravitate towards,” he says. “Most men don’t realize they’re getting a bad haircut.” While making the switch to women’s haircuts helped soften the financial blow, he insists that knowing both your demographic and market is critical. “Pricing of your service or product is critically important. And know what your competition is before you start pricing your service,” he says. “Cash flow analysis and sales projections are really critical in any business.”
Markham has learned a plethora of lessons throughout an extensive entrepreneurial career, which he’s instilled in his new book, “Big Lucky”. “I go through five different companies in 50 years,” he says.
Throughout this timeframe, he addresses the importance of putting grievances to rest in his personal life. “Starting out, the very unsuccessful kid, an alcoholic mother,” he says, “going through those processes of settling up with her before she died, I thought it was a very important point that I go through, that we got to meet up before she died, which is critical for the rest of your life — make up with everybody.” Within the book, he also outlines the ins and outs of each business venture, including the stumbling blocks, sales, strategy, failures along the way, and how he picked himself back up. “I think there’s important things that entrepreneurs should know, especially younger entrepreneurs…I wish I would have had this information before I started a company.”
So, what kind of lessons does a serial entrepreneur like Markham actually learn along the way? “Regardless of where you’re from, your education, or your situation, if you look, study, and work like hell, you can survive. You can thrive in the marketplace,” he says. “You can win regardless if you fail, because I’ve fallen pretty hard and did it again, three different times.”
Not only does Markham stress that you can bounce back from any failure, but he believes entrepreneurship is something everyone is capable of. “I do believe God made us all to win, we’re all equally smart. But it has to be paired with a focus and a motivation to reach the top,” he says.
Over the course of a 50-year career, Markham has collected his fair share of lessons, but he can identify his single most important nugget of wisdom he’s ever learned. “Resistance,” he says. “You’ve got to analyze things, be very persistent, and refuse to lose.”