Small Business Survivors: Taking a Shortcut

Shortcut 4
Shortcut connects people with barbers and hair stylists in their area.
PHOTO: Provided

Business is booming for Will Newton’s tech start-up.

Sure, there was a brief interruption during the initial stages of the novel coronavirus pandemic, but now demand is as high as it’s ever been for his haircut service, Shortcut, which connects people with barbers and hair stylists for at-home visits.

They seem more comfortable with the clippers coming to them because traditional, brick-and-mortar barber shops and salons have been struggling, with capacity limits and lingering fears about the virus keeping customers away.

Newton, 31, who grew up in Chestnut Hill, saw the disparity. He and his team had been thinking about building a system to integrate his company, with its sleek website and app, with shops that rely on walk-in appointments.

“When COVID happened, we said, ‘If not now, when?’” Newton said. “And so this summer we were able to release a trial version of our product that allows salons to adopt Shortcut’s technology and kind of make it their own.”

The experiment is being tested at Essentials Salon and Spa in Doylestown, and, so far, the results are promising. Essentials has been able to double their business and set up 100 home visits with customers over the last six weeks.

Newton said Shortcut plans to partner with other salons and barber shops to share the company’s system. Salons, like Essentials, can customize the app to add their own services, branding and pricing.

Newton said he’s heard that many salons and barber shops are down 20% to 30% since reopening.

“So, our mission is to really help them fill in that gap,” he said. “I think now it’s really important when so many businesses are on the brink, just surviving, and even though they’re open, they’re on the edge, teetering on the edge.”

“I think what our platform does is help them play offense again and reach new customers and reach their existing customers to help fill in that gap and survive this time until we return to normalcy,” he added.

Will Newton, who grew up in Chestnut Hill, plans to move his New York-based start-up to his hometown.PHOTO: Provided

The app allows salons to serve customers further away, too, Newton said. Essentials has made visits to people living 40 miles away in Center City.

Hair professionals using Shortcut have been asked to use face coverings, plastic gloves and hand sanitizer and to cancel appointments if they feel sick or test positive. Customers are also asked to wear masks and put off their haircut if they have symptoms.

“We’re giving haircuts in people’s garages, in their backyards, and we’ve adjusted considerably,” Newton said.

Newton started Shortcut in 2016, in part because of an issue he encountered: Working long days in New York City, it was difficult and time-consuming for him to get to a barber shop and wait in line for a cut.

Users can download the app or visit the website, view hair stylists in their area, view photos and reviews, and book an appointment.

The service quickly became a tool for stylists who were looking to branch out and become more independent, Newton said. Shortcut takes about 20% of the cost, much lower than an average salon, according to the company.

About 90% of the hair professionals who use the app work in traditional stores and use it to make extra income, according to Newton. Shortcut serves 25 cities with more than 400 stylists.

It only expanded to Philadelphia last year, and there are currently 20 to 30 area hair professionals active on the app, he said.

Though it has its origins in New York, Newton recently moved to Center City and has plans to relocate the firm to Philadelphia.

“I think Philadelphia is on the up, and I’ve always wanted to return here,” Newton, who graduated from Germantown Academy, said. “We personally see a lot of opportunity here in the city and also in the metro Philadelphia area into the suburbs.”