Bob Rohloff didn’t expect to find his dream job when he was 16 — or that he’d stay in the same career for the rest of his life.
The Wisconsin native started cutting hair in 1948, training under his dad, Erv, who was a barber. Back then, a haircut cost 75 cents.
“Believe it or not, we made a lot of money every week and we got excellent tips,” says Rohloff, 91. “Plus, my dad was my best friend, so working with him was really fun.”
Erv Rohloff cutting Bob’s hair circa. 1930s
Courtesy: Rohloff family
Still in his teens, Rohloff took hands-on barber training at the Appleton Vocational School in Appleton, Wisconsin, a 20-minute drive from his hometown, Black Creek.
Following graduation, Rohloff opened two shops in Wisconsin and then worked in Arizona for 18 years.
He tried to retire when he and his wife Marian lived in Arizona, but “unretired” just a few months later because he missed the camaraderie and conversation of the barbershop.
When he and Marian moved back to Wisconsin in 2010, Rohloff took a job at the Hortonville Family Barbershop, but he had always toyed with the idea of opening his own shop again.
In March, Rohloff met Mark Karweick, another Wisconsin barber, who had the same desire to have an old-school barbershop — red and white decorations, low prices — in the state they call home.
In June, the pair opened Bob’s Old Fashioned Barbershop in Hortonville, Wisconsin.
At this point, Rohloff says he can’t imagine his life without working in a barbershop. “I’m too happy to quit,” he says.
The secret to a long, fulfilling career is to surround yourself with the right mentors, says Rohloff.
He credits much of his success to his dad, Erv, who introduced him to other barbers who were hiring, and always gave him honest advice about “what it really takes to be a barber, and how I could improve my work,” he adds.
Erv also encouraged him to stay up to date on the latest beard styles and trimming techniques, among other skills, so he could “stay competitive in the business,” says Rohloff.
“He always told me, ‘You’re going to learn this trade and keep your license up, and if you don’t do it forever, I don’t care, but one day, you’re going to like the fact that you’re licensed to do this and have a career to fall back on if you leave some other job,’” Rohloff recalls.
In terms of finding a good mentor, Rohloff recommends starting with someone who you admire in your field, or who has more experience than you, then seeing if they are “a good listener” and “excited to help others.”
Rohloff honors his father’s legacy of mentorship and encouragement at Bob’s Old Fashioned Barbershop.
“We trade techniques back and forth, he’s always teaching me something new,” says Karweick, 55, who will take over the shop from Rohloff whenever he decides to stop working. “It’s been a lot of fun.”
As for what Erv would think of his son continuing to cut hair at 91, “He wouldn’t believe it,” says Rohloff. “But he worked until he was 85, so I think he’d be proud.”
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