To build trust through branding, says Karen Post, a Tampa, Fla.–based consultant and the author of Brand Turnaround, an entrepreneur must establish a distinct identity. Portman and Rapaport did this by offering standard haircuts at below-market prices—$19 for men, $39 for women—and keeping salons open seven days a week. (“Every salon in the world is closed on Mondays,” Portman says. “What’s with that?”) Tapping into Austin’s rich musical heritage, they installed old-fashioned jukeboxes, then turned up the volume. Because Austin is such a bicycle-crazy town, they offered men who rode to Birds a free hair wash. (Women get a shampoo with the standard cut.) And abiding by the company ethos of keeping things local, they formed myriad partnerships in support of hometown causes and events.
Their mission was simple, really: They wanted to make the haircut experience more fun. And that’s where the beer comes in. After noon each day, anyone who gets a haircut at Birds receives a free can of Shiner beer. Birds pays nothing for the beer but gives Shiner plenty of promotional punch, including a neon sign in every salon window. Shiner comes from the Lone Star State’s oldest independent brewery, so it holds a special place in the hearts and minds of Texans. For Portman, the arrangement has been invaluable in helping Birds establish its identity.