- September 2, 2021
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If location is one of the pillars to survive in business, Bry Sims has the perfect corner — anywhere she wants.
Traffic Trims, her mobile barber salon, can operate at a busy intersection, back alley, remote parking lot or park. Even at her home in Hungarian Village on the South Side.
A stylist for 15 years, Sims, 31, has worked in conventional shops. But she wasn’t thrilled about the routine, sharing profits or staying in one place.
“I just haven’t been able to find home,” she said. “Here, I can maximize my profit, maximize my time and have freedom to do what I want.”
She’s been licensed to operate on wheels for almost a year, and she loves the freedom.
There are 18 licensed mobile styling operations in Ohio, said Margie Rolf, executive director of the Ohio State Cosmetology and Barber Board. Five are exclusively nail salons.
A two-year license requires periodic inspections and operating standards including, of course, no cutting while moving.
“There aren’t a lot of them,” Rolf said. “They tend to be in highly populated areas.”
Columbus has licensed three in the past two years. It was not clear, beside Sims’, how many still operate.
Sims had been looking for a trailer for months last year when she found an older couple who had outgrown theirs and agreed to sell it for $7,000. Renovations — removing a stove and installing a barber’s chair and shampoo station — added about $5,000 in expenses.
The state requires separate water reservoirs — one for shampooing, the other for the small bathroom. A generator in her pickup powers lights and equipment.
Being mobile has been great, she said, but establishing a presence has been a challenge. So catching the attention of customers is important. Flashing lights lure passing motorists; a “stop for a haircut” sign in the shape of a stop sign helps to reel them in.
“I always get a lot of head turns, people honking their horns. A lot of people don’t know what’s going on in here … They’re expecting to see a food truck,” she said.
“One guy said ‘I wasn’t sure if you were selling ribs or haircuts in this thing. But either way, I was stopping.’ And he didn’t want to get out of the chair when we were done. He was so happy,” Sims recalled.
Beauticians who visit your home — styling hair and makeup for weddings or proms — are similar. Their websites gleam with makeover promises and dreamy romance. Sims’ is more about everyday cuts for real people.
“When it comes to chemical services and all that girly stuff, we just don’t have the capacity for that,” she said.
James Goldsmith, 56, of the South Side, learned about Sims shortly after Traffic Trims became licensed in June. And he’s been a regular since, visiting her shop — wherever it is — weekly.
“I like the experience,” he said of hot towels and detailed styling. “She’s precise. She cares how it looks and constantly tries to improve.”
Sims’ ambition and quest for independence was spurred, in part, by tragedy. Her mother Arlene Boles was a longtime beautician herself, operating from a North Side shop where the teenaged Sims earned allowance by sweeping floors and cleaning salon towels.
But 15 years ago, Sims, then 16 and a recent graduate of Northland High School, learned that her father had broken into the family home and killed her mother following escalating domestic violence episodes.
Gerry Boles pleaded guilty to reduced charges of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated burglary after Arlene Boles was found stabbed to death on Oct. 6, 2006. He is serving a 16-year prison sentence.
“If I could go home and move back in with my parents, I would. I don’t technically have that. And that gave me more motivation to keep me busy and be independent,” Bry (pronounced Bree) Sims said.
Sims still uses her mom’s curling irons, describing them as “very special, sentimental, comforting.”
A part of her has considered leaving Ohio altogether and starting over.
“I’ve thought about this ever since I bought the camper,” she said. “I would go someplace south and warm. I can see that there are better opportunities in other places … where they just wake up and spend money.”
A single mom of twin seventh graders, she has considered moving to Georgia, near where the kids’ father lives. Just as she has been flexible enough to visit customers anywhere, she’s also open to picking up and living wherever she wants to.
“If I’m already hitched, my takeoff is just unplugging the generator and securing the things inside so they’re not flying around when I’m driving.”
Her responsibility is now to her kids and customers, not a boss.
“I don’t feel any pressure,” she said. “I do work for my customers. I have to find balance to be there for them. But I also have the flexibility to be with my kids.”