steve duross - craftsman. artisan. entrepreneur. musings on running and growing a small business

once again finding my voice

changing your life doesn't begin with a wish or a dream. it begins with the choices you make. almost two years ago i upended our entire work life to create some things that had yet to exist. what a pain in the ass that turned out to be.

once upon a time.. i started out with nothing. then i made something really wonderful. then something else. soon after, things went a wee bit haywire but we pulled it together, and now we are marching on. in the reckoning of the last few years some people got left behind. some stayed. i've spent months soul searching for answers, trying to figure out what it was that i did to make things turn out the way they did. and then one day i woke up, said f#ck that shit and put it all behind me. what works works. what doesn't has to change. it's a fundamental principle of running a small business. and so we must all move on.

in this blog i have previously defined my idea of success. not all of the people with whom i work share my point of view. but the people with whom i partner must. recently sarah read a book on the boys of '36. she shared the story of the rowing team who beat all odds to win the olympic gold in berlin 1936. the team rowed in sync. period. they didn't piss and moan about the way the cox was calling the stroke. they weren't little bitches because the man setting the rhythm was not doing it right. he did his job the way he knew and in the end, it was perfection. what all winners know for sure is that when the moment presents itself, you pull out the stops and go full force regardless of the consequences. deciding is freedom. indecision is torture.

i recently heard very sad news floating around about two business partners (who are also life partners) and how their personal lives are falling apart. i know how difficult it can be to sustain a relationship when business partners are romantic partners. or in my case, ex-romantic partners. in almost every situation, without fail, the brokered "friendship" falls apart and they truly part. depending upon who is telling the story, it comes out with various riffs on a theme. i could tell you such a story about duross & langel. but i won't. because whenever a friendship dies, it's just plain sad.

speaking of duross & langel (the store, not the people), our world is an ever changing landscape. the last few years have left us panting, and while we forgot for a little bit why we were involved in the work we do. the drama within the house took up so much of the energy. drama with production, drama with growth or a lack thereof, drama with the salon and the stylists and me and natasha learning how to share. drama with sarah not being full time on the floor anymore, and yoga and endings and coming back down to run the store again. james and steve drama. culture clash, time wasting, ill-fitting bullshit that every business has to deal with on some level but not when it threatens to undermine the business itself. that was yesterday. that is behind us. now we can focus on price point, selection, creating deals that rotate throughout the line. we can focus once again on how we contribute to the community, how we show up, how we give back. what we want from our daily lives.

money is like air. without it you cannot survive. thriving means we have to make money. period. we cannot waste one single dollar. producing high quality natural hand made products is not cheap. but it has to be affordable for those who want it. it has to be attractive to people who are on a budget. a great lesson i've learned from all this is that i personally have to change my relationship to money. to budget. i also had to ask myself how it would feel if i took the pole out of my ass about everyone doing everything exactly the way i want all the time? i trust i'll work it out soon enough. but i also trust cory and sarah to be honest with me. and to have some balls.

for anyone who thinks owning your own business is a ticket to the good life, think again. some people do it well. some not so much. many will have you believe through social media that it's all a great big whirlwind adventure. i'm guilty of that. "looking prosperous" has always been the rule. "nobody wants to know about the negative stuff" is what i hear from nearly everyone. well, the negative stuff is boring but so are most of the fancy events i attend. i'd rather be home with take out and a movie. yet like everyone else, i am striving for relevance in the marketplace. and seriously. sadly. most small businesses cannot sustain. that means people give up because the business sucks up all of your time, energy and money. and that's fair. because anything worth having is going to cost you something big. either you like the rhythm and roll of the coaster or you step off. the image most people hold of anything is rarely on target with the reality. 

so where do we go from here? the salon is doing well. price is a fairly average ticket, and while i appreciate discount sites like groupon, we are moving past that particular model. we don't want people who are moving from chair to chair for the cheapest price. we want to build relationships that last longer than a haircut. the joe grooming lounge (my new barber shop) is working up a head of steam and new people are coming on board. i get to cut most days and i love the connection it gives me to my clients. it is what i dreamed of when reconstituting the salon a few years ago. this was my goal. check out for more info.

as someone once said "if you're serious about changing your life, you'll find a way. if not, you'll find an excuse". the future? who the hell knows for sure? but my attitude is this: if you want to kick ass, lift your foot. once again i will be spending much of my time back up in the production studio making many of our hand made products. i'll be in the store, in the salon and yes, of course, cutting hair in the men's grooming lounge. everything i'll be doing is a bit of what i love best. all of it. and it doesn't matter if we are the most popular place on the planet or just a part of the philadelphia tapestry. what matters most is that we can fulfill our dearest desire to enjoy our work, to sustain the enterprise, and to build wonderful lives of purpose.


on any given day, it is easy to get lost in the details. informative moments pass at the speed of light, perspectives shift; everything flows from one day to the next until we find ourselves far from where we began. as ideas blossom they die and then resurrect themselves again enfolded into new ideals. promising careers begin and end and become new again, forged in the fire of dissolution and disappointment. though the beginning of any idea feels promising, in the reckoning, little appears as it once was. no one sets out for their life to become a grind to pay rent, pay loans, to keep up and be relevant. easily forgotten is the intention many of us held to be exceptional. once that goal becomes unfocused, it can be confounding, frustrating, and even maddening. when we fix our ideals on the things we intend to exude, create, design, produce or craft, we have a solid goal that can be set. something we can make truly exceptional. quite often however, one's attitude toward tasks, co-workers and/or management can diminish exceptionalism to the point where it becomes meaningless. then attitude is everything.

it has been said that there is nothing new under the sun. based solely on my own experience i'd have to agree that the statement is about 98% true. fifty-four revolutions around the sun teaches a person that what goes around, comes around with very few exceptions. something i did not care to grasp at twenty-four revolutions. back then i was the king of the world, the master of my fate. i could pick up and go to the next adventure with barely a moment's notice. i was a person who got by by the skin of his teeth. yet whatever i attempted was always focused on the goal of being the best. though attaining the goal was not always possible, it was well worth the reach exceeding the grasp. this history, my old life, profoundly informs my current life as an owner/manager. it is easier for me to be forgiving of the minor, petty annoyances.. but where exceptionalism is concerned? i have no mercy.

my heart sings on the side of a rocky cliff 300 meters off the ground. in that moment i grasp. for the place my hand or foot will take hold. for my momentary point of view. for my focus, my goal, my need for survival and my need to thrive. i grasp. standing behind the chair cutting hair, creating an educational plan, building marketing projects, fulfilling customer service, formulating, it is all like climbing rock. grasping. going toward my goal. it is exceptionally thrilling as each moment means change. adaptation. growth. though i often drive the people around me to distraction with my need to fine tune, this is how our success, thus far, has been possible. for those who cannot grasp with me, who cannot adapt to the prevailing culture, who cannot reach for the exceptional with me will eventually be moved on. anything less is just dysfunctional.

i have loved very few people in my life. truly. most of the family i have. the family i have built. a few true friends are all i desire. i have selfishly poured my heart and soul into myself and my life. into my childish, childhood dreams and for the most part, i do as i please. because i have chosen my core team wisely, together we do the job exceptionally. show the client a pleasant experience. be sure that the formulations exceed expectations. focus less on the margins and keep the price point attainable. structure the whole thing so that there is something for everyone (some say we are pricy, i say whatever). i do not want, cannot find nor will i retain exceptional people unless they are paid exceptionally. so thanks to the prevailing tax structures, i will never ever be rich. but my life will be filled with wonderful people and exceptional moments. otherwise i'd chuck the lot and move on.

though most of my peers disparage the up-coming generation, i don't feel any disappointment toward millennials. i imagine that they are our best and brightest hope of fixing the miasma my boomer generation has created. but in some ways, i feel as though millennials are not so different from me. for them, just one idea will never do. they want it all. and so they should. not all are willing to grasp though. some, like in every generation, will settle fast (or worse) look to others to fix their mess. we all create messes but most of us clean them up. and we can choose not to fix the mess others make. but in the end my focus is on those who can make the most difference, who refuse to accept the status quo, who will not allow themselves or their surroundings to be defined by the negative voices.. this too is where my heart sings.

i see the exceptional every day, and it is worth putting my back into raising up opportunity for these individuals. understanding all of what they desire isn't required. it is enough that they grasp their own sense of worth, the opportunity they are being given, and that they continue to reach for lives that are exceptional. not for me mind you, but for themselves. fostering these values is reason enough for me to continue grasping, and to keep reaching for the next exceptional possibility. and just maybe they will change the world

the joy of sleep

as a life long insomniac, i've come to covet the hours i spend in my bed.

my past life contained thousands of long nights when my thoughts raced. wakeful and anxious, i would lie for hours and pray for the sleep that simply would not come. invariably i gave up, went back out to the television and raided the refrigerator. i would comfort myself with whatever i could, often up-ending a bottle of whiskey that would drown me into oblivion. i would awaken groggy and unfocused. the day meant accomplishing nothing. i was cranky, depressed and self-loathing. then i began to look for more constructive natural way to bring on sleep. as time passed it became about the ritual. the rituals i created to prepare myself for the rest to come. baths, teas, tonics, herbs, candles... i even conceived of duross & langel while soaking in a hot, salted tub on a cold winter's night while sipping a hot herbal infusion to soothe my racing mind. as i climbed into bed, my skin toasty warm between the cool sheets, the wind howled like a lullaby outside my window, coaxing me to slumber. it was this kind of simple ritual that taught me how to get ready for bed.

once upon a time... i had to learn how to sleep. to want to wind down and embrace the slumber. it all began with the realization that i would not be missing a thing by sleeping, and that the return of this investment was an endless amount of energy, creativity, productivity and a healthier body. the best me i could be.

i also enjoy lazy mornings. waking, stretching, smiling in the morning light and then falling asleep again. a lazy starfish taking up a position in the middle of the bed, stealing a few more winks. though I know many of you will condemn me for welcoming dogs into my bed, becoming wakeful as two terriers snog me to life is a joyful thing. 4:30am is obnoxious hour, but after a quick walk i get to climb back in and sleep some more. oh blessed sleep. where have you been all my life?

my days are long and full. some people call it stress. i call it life. some of us run on a different energy. i average almost five miles a day on the stairs in our building. just one speed. fast. my life runs full steam ahead because i indulge myself in slumber. one third of my life will have been spent in bed so you might imagine i don't cheap on the linens. or the pillows, mattress or duvet. i may be spoiled but at fifty-four, i do not wake up sore.

Tuesday July 26th 2016 5:30 to 7PM we welcome you to join us in our 3rd floor Studio Workshop for a very special evening. My friend and herbalist Sarah Evancho and I will share the many natural ways you can ease your mind, rest/restore your body, and celebrate the eight most important hours of your day.

he forum is a bit informational, a bit experiential and experimental. we get to show off our new workshop space while we brew infusions, chat about herbs (lavender is always a star in this house), demonstrate ways to prep your body and mind with a few simple yoga poses, all the while whipping up tension taming soaks and soaps. we also want to hear what works for you. singles and couples. all ideas and thoughts are welcome. feel free to drop-in or leave as you need, or hang with us for the entire hour and a half.

it looks to be a wonderful prelude to an awesome night's sleep.