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The barbershop with an edge

DJs, bar and art all part of salon's experience

Haircut clippings
Bishops customers never lack eye candy -- magazine clippings and murals canvass the walls.

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Portland (Oregon)

(CNN) -- In name and in practice, Bishops Barbershop's main focus is from the neck on up -- offering haircuts, colorings and other salon basics.

But for Leo Rivera, the founder of the small but burgeoning Portland, Oregon-chain, the Bishops experience goes well beyond a simple trim.

Billing itself as "Portland's original rock 'n' roll barbershop," Bishops has tried to carve a niche as a trendy option for those seeking a good haircut, good beer or good company.

Inside, the decorations tend to be edgier, the music louder and the conversations often less restrained than at most high-end salons, although most of the same services -- plus buzz cuts and shaves -- are available.

"We don't serve you a glass of wine: We serve you Miller High Life," said Rivera, adding that he first envisioned Bishops as a "poor man's social club" for Generation X. "We want you to make this not just a place to get your haircut, but like a lifestyle "

CD release parties, magazine clippings canvassing the walls, occasional live disc jockeys and stylists ranging from punk to preppy all factor into the Bishops formula.

Rivera hopes to replicate the package outside the Pacific Northwest, as he eyes expansion into Chicago, Illinois; Vancouver, British Columbia; as well as California and elsewhere.

"You've got to take advantage of it when it's hot," said Rivera, noting that soon a Bishops Barbershop could pop up in Las Vegas' Hard Rock Hotel. "I never thought it would be this big, this fast."

A hairy business

At first glance, Rivera may not seem a typical candidate to start a haircutting business.

Professionally, he has a marketing and sales background, but none in the hair-care industry.

Personally, he's bald.

Even without much hair of his own, Rivera said he saw the business utility of creating a brand around something as universal as hair.

"This is something that everybody uses," he said. "I mean, everybody needs a haircut eventually. So I [wanted to] take that service and add the atmosphere of a bar and create this environment."

Not a fan of donning a coat and tie and settling down for 9-to-5 workday, Rivera said he determined early on to create his own business before his 30th birthday.

He just made his self-imposed deadline in the summer of 2001, when the first Bishops Barbershop -- named after Rivera's dog -- began offering haircuts and more in Portland's hip, alternative Hawthorne District.

Three establishments have since opened elsewhere in the city, catering to students, professionals and families. Rivera credits Portland's warm, open, cool culture with helping Bishops succeed.

"People here are very trendy, very independent," he said. "They really respect the little man, the ma-and-pa and up-and-coming businesses."

Growth likely

Haircut talk
Rivera encourages stylists to engage in candid conversation on everything from politics to pop culture.

Rivera said he initially targeted young adult males, between ages 18 and 30, as Bishops' core demographic. But the barbershop's clientele has been more diverse than he expected -- 40 percent female and ranging in age from 18 to 65, according to Rivera.

"Usually you can predict who ... you're going to get, but really, the combination of what we offer brings these people in," he said. "It's across the board."

Ranging from $10 to $24 for cuts to $45 and up for coloring treatments, Bishops' prices come in lower than many high-end salons -- albeit without some of the perks, like free lotions and massages, offered in such establishments.

High- and low-profile marketing efforts, from hair shows to providing free cuts to area trendsetters (from newscasters to well-known waitresses), aim to generate a persistent buzz around Bishops. While Rivera focuses on creating new business, he said he trusts his employees to keep customers happy and loyal.

"My whole deal is I'll get them in here, it's your job to get them back," he said.

So far, Rivera said the strategy has succeeded, with major leaps possible should Bishops move beyond Portland. But where will the company be five, 10 or 20 years from now?

"I couldn't tell you that right now," he said. "I know it's going to grow, and that it's been a fun ride so far."

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