Trep Talk: Donald Johnson of Baron’s Man Cave

17 May Trep Talk: Donald Johnson of Baron’s Man Cave


Welcome to Trep Talk! Trep Talk features some of our city’s compelling entrepreneurs who are boldly building what is uniquely Memphis. The spotlight series is curated by Elizabeth Lemmonds, Director of Talent Programs for the EPIcenter.

We’re going to veer a bit further east for this week’s Trep Talk, into Germantown for Baron’s Man Cave. When I first heard of the business my curiosity was piqued – how could it not be with such a name? – and then I started seeing increasing social media posts about an incredible new high end barbershop “refining the modern man.” But don’t let the “barbershop” term fool you: in addition to haircuts and shaves, the Man Cave offers facials, manicures and pedicures (check out the Baron’s Presidential, stat).

I later met co-founder Donald Johnson – his partner is Dara Vongphrachanh – as he was participating in the New Memphis Institute Fellows Program. And we didn’t just have NMI in common. It turns out he used to work at International Paper! I was not just intrigued by the Man Cave, but also his entrepreneurial story of transferring corporate experience into an entrepreneurial endeavor.

He’s also a true Memphis ambassador, which you might have surmised is pretty compelling to me (and to Make Memphis!). I hope you enjoy getting to know him as much as I have. And psst… they host private events and groom’s parties!

Give us your elevator pitch! What sets you apart? We are revolutionizing the craft of Men’s Grooming. Baron’s Man Cave is a new kind of barbershop. Designed with the modern man in mind, we bring to you all the amenities and services of high end salons but deliver them in a laid back masculine environment. We offer haircuts, shaves, hand/foot treatments and facials all under one roof. Our mission is to ensure Memphis’ most distinguished men are always looking on top of their game.

What – or who – was your inspiration? My inspiration was my Grandmother, she was a successful female Master Barber/Owner of a barbershop on the south side of Chicago during the 70’s through early 90’s before passing away to cancer in 1997. She showed me that hard work and determination could take you anywhere and make you anything you wanted to be. Being a business owner and an African American female in the barber industry was pretty remarkable.

Did you always know you were destined to own a business? I’ve always had a desire to become an entrepreneur, however I wanted to do it the right way and in my eyes that meant learning and understanding how a business ran/worked before starting my own. I worked at International Paper for 9 years in various finance/business strategy roles before leaving to explore entrepreneurship.

What’s been your greatest accomplishment or proudest moment thus far? I think my greatest accomplishment was taking that initial leap to leave my comfortable corporate job to begin this journey. You will never fly, if you never try to leap.

What are the biggest challenges you face as an entrepreneur? The biggest hurdle has been dealing with the amount of taxes a small business is exposed to!!! People don’t realize the amount of taxes business must pay, sometimes your tax liability will swing you from profitability to the red during any operating month.

What is the biggest piece of advice you would offer someone considering this plunge? Be prepared to work, I mean putting in some serious time. I have never worked more in my life, but the work is more enjoyable but you can’t be a successful entrepreneur without some serious ‘sweat equity.’ Also have a solid plan, not just an idea.. I have found that our initial successes have been because we had a solid plan.

What additional resource/s would you like to see developed in Memphis, to help smooth the path for future entrepreneurs? I think it would be very beneficial for organizations like EPIcenter to continue to shine light on the struggles that entrepreneurs face. Continue being a valuable resource for us, because its a lot harder than people think.

How do you maintain the elusive work/life balance? Ha! I definitely need to find a better balance between work and life but I do try to give myself 4 hours a week to be alone with my thoughts and do nothing. It’s my time, to disconnect and recharge my mind and body.

What should be on every entrepreneur’s bookshelf? The Dream Giver by Bruce Wilkinson, and The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth by John Maxwell

Who’s on your playlist right now? I have Spotify so I have a nice mix of things but my favorite genres of music are Hip-Hop and R&B.

What are some of your favorite Memphis-made products and local organizations? I love Ghost River Golden Ale! I also like Start Co. events, and what they’re doing to local entrepreneurship.

PERSONALIZED question just for you: Is it really just a Man Cave? It’s a man cave only in the conceptual sense. We provide men and women with services at Baron’s Man Cave.