- November 17, 2021
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Vicki Tefteller, owner of the Refinery Men’s Grooming Lounge in New Braunfels, says she saw the value of “pampering-type services” for men
NEW BRAUNFELS — The Refinery Men’s Grooming Lounge in the Gruene Lake Village shopping center in New Braunfels is a far cry from the traditional no-frills men’s barbershop.
While getting a haircut, Refinery customers can pamper themselves with a hot-lather neck shave, a scalp or neck massage, a paraffin wax treatment for their hands or a facial that includes cleansing, exfoliation, vacuum extraction of pores and a custom face mask — all while enjoying a whiskey or a local beer on tap.
Owner Vicki Tefteller opened the shop after spending five years cutting hair, including in a barbershop in San Antonio. During that time, she began to question the way many barbershops shuttle their customers in and out to see as many as possible in one day — a practice known in the industry as “turn-and-burn,” she said.
“I realized the need for the full service, the need for facials oriented towards men, and the more pampering-type services versus just the in-and-out,” she said. “I wanted to get away from that and focus more on the quality of the experience versus the quantity of customers coming through.”
Tefteller, who grew up in La Vernia, entered the cosmetology industry because it required only one year of schooling, unlike many college degrees for which “the pricing just seemed outrageous,” she said. Her first job was as the assistant to a woman who did skin care.
“Honestly, it was a practical choice. In the beginning I was like, ‘Hey, look, I could do this and pay my bills,’” she said. “And then I got into it. And I just really fell in love with the human aspect of taking care of people.”
Courtney Bradish is one of seven employees, including Tefteller, at the shop, which survived the pandemic shutdown with the community’s help.
Tefteller and a business partner opened the Refinery in November 2019 after getting crucial guidance from the Spark Small Business Center, a program linked with the University of Texas at San Antonio that connected her with a mentor, New Braunfels businessman Larry New. He “gave us a huge dose of reality,” she said.
The shop was only 4 months old when the COVID-19 pandemic forced Tefteller, her business partner and their two employees to stop accepting appointments. But she said they made it through, thanks in large part to support from the community, including their competitors.
Tefteller is now sole owner of the shop, which has seven employees, including her.
She recently sat for an interview to discuss the pleasures of barbering, the growth of the men’s grooming industry and the difficulties of finding retail space in fast-growing New Braunfels. The following has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: What do you mean when you say that you like the human aspect of your work?
A: It’s not only the practical hands-on aspect of the job that I enjoy; it’s meeting people, building relationships, building that trust. If you think about it, you get your hair cut every two weeks, you’re seeing these people twice a month. That’s more than you see most of your family members, you know? I don’t see my cousins twice a month, or my aunts and uncles.
It’s a very up-close-and-personal type job. You know, we’re all in people’s bubbles, if you will. The trust of not only making sure that your hair comes out well but of just being that close to somebody. Under other circumstances, you would probably never stand that close to somebody or have somebody touching you. I’ve always thought that was really cool.
Vicki Tefteller styles the hair of customer Jered Moeller last month. “It’s a very up-close-and-personal type job,” she says.
Q: It seems like the men’s grooming industry has expanded in recent years.
A: I would definitely agree. I feel that in the grooming industry men are often overlooked. I think that for a long time there’s been this stigma of, “Oh, it’s feminine.” Or, you know, “You’re a certain type of guy if you go and do these services.” Then I think we’ve seen this whole revelation of men waking up and going, “Man, if I’m going to go spend $20 and not enjoy my service that I have to go do every two weeks, I might as well spend $30 and go like it.”
Q: You were open for only four months before the pandemic shutdown in March of last year. How did you make it through that?
A: We made it through really by just leaning on our community. There was a lot of outreach from other businesses, other barbershops, local people that live in the community, as well as the little bit of government assistance we were able to receive. And just working hard at home — we were taking photos, we kept marketing, we kept people on the books for when we thought we would be reopened. We had a lot of customers that jumped online, and they were nice enough to prepay for services or buy gift cards, buy T-shirts.
You know, it was almost a blessing in disguise that we were only 4 months old, because we had been so conservative with opening, with our money. We were so nervous about opening that we didn’t go all in right at first.
Vicki Tefteller styles the hair of customer Jered Moeller at The Refinery Men’s Grooming Lounge, 2363 Gruene Lake Drive, in New Braunfels on Oct. 25, 2021.
Q: You had help during that time from competitors?
A: Yeah, definitely. There was a gentleman that owns a barbershop in town who came by and bought T-shirts from us. He was doing shoutouts for us on Instagram.
Q: Was there a moment of inspiration when you had the idea for your business?
A: It was kind of a progression. It was through some of the trials of working in different shops that it came about slowly. You know, it was like, “Why do we do things this way? This doesn’t make anybody happy.” One thing I kept running into was: This doesn’t serve the customers; this doesn’t serve the stylist. I think we should work smarter, not harder, you know?
I was drawing on my experiences from working in day spas, where you might be with one person for two or three hours. To me, that just makes so much more sense because it’s easier on the stylist and the customer’s having a way better time.
The Refinery Men’s Grooming Lounge is located at 2363 Gruene Lake Drive in New Braunfels.
Q: Are you excited to now be sole owner of the business?
A: Yeah, extremely so. I have a great vision for where we want to go. I want to lean into building a really strong company culture so that this is not only a place to come to get your services, but it’s also a great place to come to work every day. I’ve got the girls excited — we’re going to be naming an assistant manager and a team manager to help with the day-to-day.
Q: How did you raise the capital to start your business?
A: We actually used Spark (Small Business Center). They are through UTSA. It’s a consultant here in town, and they’re free, paid for through our taxes. I took some of the free classes. The capital was a personal savings investment supplemented by a loan from a local bank that we got using Spark.
We kept coming back to Larry (New) and going, “OK, now what? What do you think about this?” There were a couple times where he said, “I think you need to suck it up. I think that this is normal.” Whenever we felt like we were between a rock and a hard place he was very instrumental, all the way up until we opened our doors.
Q: Apart from the pandemic, what were some other instances when you were between a rock and a hard place?
A: Because New Braunfels and Comal County were growing so fast, and because we were a startup business without a big checkbook to walk in somewhere and just sign a lease, one of the things that was really challenging was we would go look at a building and then decide we liked it, try to get back with the bank, type it into the business plan; we had to wait four or five days to hear back and by the time we were like, “OK, cool, we’re ready, we can get that one,” it was gone. That happened to us like five times.
I went (to Spark) and I was like, “What are we supposed to do?” Because the bank just doesn’t front you (the money), you have to tell them what you’re spending it on, when you’re spending it, how you’re spending it before they give it to you. And (Larry New) just said, “If you want to be involved in this city, then you’ve got to get realistic on how long this is going to take and how hard this is gonna be.”
Q: It seems like you found a good location, though.
A: Yeah, the village is awesome. (When looking for a location), I drove through this center and the first building right off the main road had a for-rent sign. I pulled in so fast — my car was running, I ran up and called the number on the sign. The man answered — he was the landlord — and he said, “You’ll never believe it, but I put that sign up 45 minutes ago and five people have already called me.”
I said, “OK, well, if you hear me out, I have a really good idea.” He was like, “All right, let’s hear it.” He felt that of all the other things that had been proposed, it would have been the best fit for the space. And here we are!
Q: New Braunfels is changing so fast — how do you feel about that?
A: I think that for a lot of people it makes them uncomfortable because they’re losing their small-town atmosphere, but there’s so much opportunity here for everybody and it’s been really, really cool to see the local community members and business owners come together. And — how can I word this right? — it’s growing in a really positive and high-quality way. The businesses that are coming into town are so thought-out and well-executed, and I’m just proud to be part of that.
Every day, we’re meeting new people that are coming into the shop, whether from surrounding cities or other states. I think that that’s great — it leaves so much opportunity for growth. If you get nervous about it and you don’t welcome it with open arms, it’s going to happen anyways and it’s probably going to run you over.
Richard Webner is the real estate reporter for the Express-News. He moved to the beat in spring 2016, after spending about a year covering retail, hotels, tourism and manufacturing. Before coming to San Antonio, he was a business reporter at the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, and he had internships at the Chicago Tribune and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, as well as the Express-News in summer 2013. He earned a graduate degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and an undergraduate degree in History from Northwestern University. He grew up in Columbus, Ohio but has had the good fortune to live all over the United States.