Etienne Hardre isn’t one to sit back and rest on his laurels. Instead, he’s always looking at ways he can improve Colorado Springs, the state and the world.
After some soul-searching and some praying, he thinks he’s found a way to be true to his entrepreneurial roots — and to his overarching desire to leave the world a better place than he found it.
Starting out at Biggs Kofford, Hardre went on to form his own accounting firm, Next Exit Advisers. But he soon discovered that he wasn’t content working for himself — he wanted to lead a team.
Recently, he took time to discuss his life in a barbershop, cigars for women and hair-cutting lessons in Third World countries.
What have you been up to since Next Exit?
It’s been a long journey. I’m not one of those guys who sits around and does nothing. I started working with Paradigm Projects, a for-profit business that provides ways to create paths out of poverty. The owner has since moved the company to Fort Collins, but they make products that can change people’s lives in Third World countries and teach them a skill as well.
From that, I did a brief stint with a medical device company, hoping to grow it, but it didn’t succeed. I sat around and figured out what I wanted to do. I wanted some business I could buy — but nothing was the right fit. I got a little bored, a little depressed. I have all this wind at my back — why can’t I find something? In the midst of that, I kind of shook my fist at God and asked why he’d given me all this experience and all this drive, and no place to put them. Immediately, I heard a response: ‘You have great experience around the world, what do you want to do with it? You decide. I’ve given you the tools.’
And what did you decide?
I decided the perfect business would cover four things. The idea needed to be big, huge. The sky’s the limit. I’m not a little thinker, and I couldn’t settle. The idea had to grow as large as I could take it. Secondly, I needed a team. When I started Next Exit, I was on my own, and I couldn’t be focused enough. Third, I needed to go back overseas. I needed a reason to go and take my four boys. I didn’t want to just vacation or just do a missionary vacation, I wanted a reason to go and try to transform the lives of people — to show the boys what the world has to offer, to show them that there are opportunities written on everyone’s face. The world’s a big place, and I wanted to wake up every single day to know I was going to make a difference.
And as soon as I laid out those four things, I got a call. The owner wanted to sell Locals Barbershop. It was perfect!
Locals was perfect? How?
It checks off every single item. I could be part of a team, growing a business, providing jobs. And when I walked in, one of the barbers had this kit for his tools. He had customized a briefcase with a power strip and all these containers that held his tools exactly as he knew he needed them. There’s nothing like it out there. I asked him if we could take it to the market, and he said yes.
And then I met Darla, who’s our manager. She used to own a training school — owned it for years. I asked her: ‘If you didn’t have to teach all the regulatory stuff we have to do here in the United States, how long would it take to train someone to cut hair?’ She said two weeks — it’s 18 months here.
So we took the barber kit and created a mobile barbershop. Darla trains people in two weeks, and they have a job. We’ve already been to Laos and Thailand, and we’re looking for other places to go. It’s that old adage: If you teach a man to fish. People everywhere want to be empowered, and this gives them a way to create their own destinies.
I always look for people like Darla, who are focused on the industry and don’t view cutting hair as a fall-back trade skill. Darla can use her skills to make a difference. We’re going to go to other places in the world to provide vocational training. It can help transition the lives of women involved in [human] trafficking. And for Christian missionaries, who converted from another religion and might face discrimination or be ostracized — it provides them a different way of life. It’s a difference you can feel, and that can continue over and over.
For Locals, we’re planning an expansion into Castle Rock. I’m working with the owner of SwitchBack Coffee, who wanted to expand into a different market. We want to take both concepts and make them seamless.
At Locals, we provide free beer and wine with a haircut — high quality, local beer. And now you can get a high-quality cup of coffee. What we want to do is have a larger waiting area, so it will be a coffee bar. People can have coffee and hang out before they get their haircut — or they can just come in for a cup of coffee and a pastry. We’ve put in an application to Castle Rock already.
I’ve also launched a new company. I’m ridiculously bad at getting gifts for my wife, so bad at it. So when she asked for a cigar humidor of her own — I smoke cigars and so does she — I went to look for something for a woman. It didn’t exist. So I designed one. It’s pink and it’s for women. She designed it, so the tagline is “for women, by women.” It’s on sale on Amazon right now. We’ve sold maybe 20. But there are 3.5 million women who smoke cigars and so there’s a market out there for it.
What’s your business philosophy?
My business exists because I believe we can change the world one person at a time. People don’t come to salons to get haircuts; they come to boost their self-confidence. If they look in the mirror and like what they see, they’ll be more confident. Everything we do at Locals is around that theme — making people feel better. We deliver a service; we raise the bar. I believe that businesses need to do three things, take care of customers, take care of investors and take care of employees. I think if I take care of my employees, they’ll take care of the customers and investors. That’s where my focus is.