To Marcus Hall, the time a client spends in his barber chair is sacred. A haircut is a ritual, a relationship between barber and client. The client must trust the barber. And the barber must transform the client into the best version of himself.
But Hall, 34, is different from other barbers. His shop is a 30-foot-long RV that makes house calls. You may have seen it around Durham – red, white, and blue (like a barber pole) with his shop’s name on the back: “NEED MOBILE BARBER? KLIPPAS MOBILE GROOMING.”
Hall himself keeps his head closely clipped, with more hair on his chin than his scalp. Born and raised in Durham, he talks lovingly about his city and his job. “You can give back anywhere,” said the 2006 Hillside High School graduate. “But giving back at home is always better.”
The RV has the feel of a regular shop, just in tighter quarters. A small TV is often playing TNT dramas, the dialogue lost under the buzzing of Klippa’s clippers. A shelf of hair sprays faces a shelf of books, where the thrillers of Eric Jerome Dickey sandwich Dante Lee’s “Black Business Secrets.” The couch cushions and wallpaper are red, white, and blue, in keeping with the barber shop pole theme.
The shop is so stuffed with equipment and books that it’s hard to tell where the professional life of Klippas the Barber ends and the personal life of Hall begins.
Hall decided to go mobile because he thinks customers appreciate the convenience and personal service in the RV.
“You get the barbershop to yourself,” he said as he clipped a client’s hair on a recent afternoon.
For clients like Zacc Lofton, the personal service and friendly conversation in the RV is a welcome change from the rest of his busy life. Lofton, who works remotely for an insurance company, has been seeing Hall for about three years.
“I’m more so on the quiet side, but Marcus somehow gets me to talk,” Lofton said. “He finds some way to ask me about how my day’s going.”
Even in an RV, the barber chair is a special place for Hall’s clients, a place where they feel comfortable sharing details about their lives. With customers ranging from college football coaches to 3-year-olds, Hall never knows where the conversation will go.
“All types of stories come through the barbershop,” he said, likening it to therapy. The time in his chair may be the only time his clients have to slow down and let themselves be cared for, or share details about relationships or work. Sometimes they just fall asleep.
That personal relationship is so essential that Hall usually asks his next appointment to wait outside the RV if they arrive early. Customers are required to make deposits when they book appointments. This guarantees a one-on-one slot with Hall.
A walk-in, hoping to get a haircut, was directed to grab a card. “Go to my website and make a deposit,” Hall told him. “I promise I’m here for whatever time you put.”
That commitment comes with another price if you’re late, as a reel on Hall’s Instagram page details: “IF YOU ARE NOT IN THIS CHAIR AT YOUR TIME SLOT, YOU WILL BE CHARGED $10 GRACE/LATE FEE.”
Hall will bring the shop to you — your home or your business. But you can often find it parked on N.C. 55, just down the hill from N.C. Central University.
He likes the RV much better than his old way of doing house calls, setting up his equipment in a customer’s bathroom. He just couldn’t replicate that special barbershop experience with the right chair, the right lighting, or the right vibe.
The RV allows Hall to offer the professional environment of a traditional shop with the convenience of house call. “I’m not coming into your home, invading your privacy or anything like that,” he said as he sculpted clean lines on his patron’s head.
Still, it has a polished look. Everything, from the RV to the back of his spinning chair, is marked with a logo he created in photoshop, an M and a K put together in the style of a razor and a clipper. Coworkers at an old job “named me ‘Clippas’ because I had a lot of clippers,” Hall said. He switched to Klippas because the K lent itself to his logo design.
The actual barbering is probably the most straightforward part of Hall’s operation. Getting his RV up and running may have been the most difficult. He found it in a junkyard and, as he watched it being towed into his driveway, was immediately hit by buyer’s remorse.
“That day kind of overwhelmed me because it didn’t look like the same vehicle I bought,” he said. “It looked dirtier at first.”
His first mechanic botched the job, leaving Hall $3,800 in the hole with a broken-down RV. “What in the world did I put myself into?” he wondered.
Finding a good mechanic, Hall said, is like finding a good barber. If you find someone you like, “you better not change.” He finally found someone who got the RV running and he doesn’t ever plan to let anyone else touch it.
Lofton feels the same way about Hall – he doesn’t plan to let anyone else cut his hair.
When Lofton recently moved 80 miles away to Goldsboro, he decided to keep coming back to see Hall. He likes the personal service he gets. Other barbers, Lofton said, “just want you in a chair and want to cut your hair and then on to the next. Marcus takes the time to get to know you and listens to what you want.”
While Hall’s clientele is mostly Black men, he is happy to take any client. He cuts women’s hair, straight hair, whatever. “I worked at a nail salon in Chapel Hill where I learned to cut Asian hair,” he said.
When a customer asked if he accepts credit cards, Hall was quick to confirm. “I take everything but food stamps,” he said, glancing in a mirror decorated around the edges with his Cash App, Paypal, and Square payment information.
Much of his income goes back into the shop itself. “As a struggling Black man, I have enough jobs to try to sustain myself and try to get above.” Hall said he’s worked for grocery delivery services like Instacart, and just picked up a side job for peak season with Amazon.
If the business keeps prospering, Hall may eventually buy a bus that could have two or three barber chairs. But he never wants to go back to a brick-and-mortar shop. “It’s hard for clients to find good barbers, but it’s also hard for barbers to find great homes.”