I’m frequently told I’m not a normal man. I enjoy doing the household cleaning, don’t have a clue what hockey players are doing, and I drive 45 minutes to get my hair cut in a specific salon. I don’t think liking things to be neat needs any justification and I have no intention of finding out what hockey is all about, but the hair salon thing – well – that makes more sense.
Years ago Laura and I lived fifteen minutes north of the city, just a few minutes from a small, new salon called Studio Raw. We first visited after a friend told us to give it a try, calling it an unusual place filled with wacky people who would shout at each other, speak freely, and give you a beer while you get your hair done. Laura went before I did. Naturally nervous about going to a new place for the first time, I remember texting her a while after her appointment started, asking how things were going.
“Awesome. Color is setting. Having a beer.” she replied.
A beer? You’re getting your hair done and having a beer? Yes. That’s a good business.
She came home to tell me all about the place and the people. She told me about the very attractive, very homosexual man named Dan who did her hair and was one of the owners. She told me about his mom, also an employee/owner, and Rohn, Dan’s partner and the third owner. She told me about Erin, the lady in the station next to Dan who seemed to be a woman version of him. And she told me about the wall made from a shattered mirror, the grand piano in the middle of the salon, the shampooing wall decorated with Sharpie signatures of every client who had visited, and of course, the free beer, wine and coffee. On top of it all, the prices were better than we’d been paying, and the people seemed way better at what they do. I signed up.
Less than a year later, Laura and I moved to a house about 30 minutes south of the city. Four years have since passed and we’re still going to Studio Raw, sticking with the business through several trials and troubles. The original salon has since burned down, was relocated to a tiny, temporary space, and then restored to several times its original size in a brand-new, immaculate studio on the original burned property.
Over these years, the clientele and business image continued to grow despite the location issues. Dan and Rohn’s presence in the community is impossible to ignore. Masters of marketing and social media, they developed Raw Hogs marketing videos, post daily clips to YouTube and Vimeo, guerrilla market like crazy and launched the Raw Boys web reality show. They attend charity events, all the city’s public events, and spend 100% of their time promoting themselves and their business. It’s hard to find someone in the Pittsburgh area who doesn’t know of Dan or Rohn.
I got the chance to help the two last year by designing the website for their Raw Hogs videos. At the time, their new salon had not yet opened after the fire and they were operating out a tiny ex-barber shop while a new place was constructed. One Sunday morning, I came by to get an off-hours haircut and discuss some plans for the site. Rohn showed up a few minutes into my cut and added his thoughts. We talked business, I got my hair fancied up, and the two asked if I wanted to come see the new half-done space. Though I had known Rohn for a couple years at this point, we had never had much opportunity for more than two minute conversations because our relationship was limited to casual discourse while I was getting my hair cut, and Rohn was always running around doing business-y things. I was interested to see him in his natural habitat and agreed to the tour.
We arrived to bare walls, sawdust, loud Mariachi music playing in the basement, and a very large, open space with easily identifiable potential. It was evident even among the plaster and drywall that the two, and Rohn in particular, had a completely defined, exact image of what this place was going to look like. He walked around a basically empty floor showing me the specifics of where everything would be – shampooing stations, the kitchen, color bar, each stylist’s station. He showed it all to me with such enthusiasm, such excitement and passion. He talked about it to me not like I was just a salon client he didn’t know that well, not like I was just someone doing some web work for them, but like an old friend to whom he’d been excited and waiting to show off his new business.
He also told me how much he enjoyed the red pants I was wearing that day.
“I can’t wear pants like that,” he said, sadly.
“That’s because you have leg muscles,” I told him. “It would be a lot of red. My legs look like I’m seven. Your leg muscles are bigger than my chest.”
After the “tour of what-would-be,” Rohn tossed about a thousand paint swatches onto a counter and decided it was time for us to figure out what color everything was going to be. The three of us stayed there for about two hours going over all the shades of blues and reds and greens, walking from room to room deciding what colors would perfect Rohn’s vision. Rohn’s vivid mental images of the future made it possible to picture each room’s layout and purpose, and subsequently helped me offer my thoughts on color. I was honored that they included me in this process. I wasn’t just “helping” because I was already there – Rohn genuinely took what I had to say and used it to aid in his own decisions, and I appreciated that.
When the place finally opened, I walked in to see every component of the salon exactly where Rohn said it would be. The shampoo stations were sitting where his foot had outlined on the dusty floor. The walls took the shape he had drawn in my mind a few months before, and the paint colors – well, they all looked rather familiar.
It’s a really beautiful place, and even though I’m a client of the salon and not a member of the business team, I’ll always be glad I got to have that day with the Raw Boys picking out paint amidst the dust and drywall. Though we’ve talked many times since, that day would ultimately be the longest stretch of time I ever got to spend with Rohn.
On March 16, Rohn passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack at the age of 48. He was having dinner with Dan, stood up, and then it was over. The successful realtor, Air Force veteran, bodybuilder, charity organizer, business owner, and lover of one of the nicest guys I know was visited by the largest crowds of people I’ve ever seen gather at a funeral home.
Laura and I have referred countless people to Studio Raw over the years. It’s not just because we know they’ll get awesome hair and a free beer. It’s because they’ll meet interesting people and have a good time. While I love the way Dan does my hair, I’m a guy. I’m sure I can get a tolerable haircut closer than 45 minutes away. But I don’t care. I go there because I want to, because I have friends there. I don’t feel like “just another client.”
And that’s exactly how Rohn wanted it to be.
Watch The Raw Boys on YouTube. They only got to make six episodes, but they perfectly showcase what everything above is all about.