When Ronnie Lockett was ten years old, his mother, Myrtle Jude, regularly cut his hair; but one time she cut too deep and left a bald spot. After that, he was determined to learn to cut his own hair. That event was fortuitous, but the owner of one of Milwaukee’s most popular barbershops didn’t realize it would set him on the path to becoming an entrepreneur.
After graduating from what was then Milwaukee Trade and Technical School (now Bradley Tech), Ronnie went into the Navy serving for four years. He was honorably discharged as a Machinist Mate third class in the engineering department. After the military he worked briefly at United Parcel Services, the Bradley Center and the Kelly Company before entering the world of cosmetology. He learned of a part-time barber position at Glen’s Beauty Salon and started working there, as an apprentice while attending MATC.
Ronnie continues to take classes at MATC, only now he’s taking Spanish.
“I aspire to become an instructor in barber and cosmetology. MATC recently had a position available, but they wanted someone who was bilingual to fill it. Taking Spanish puts me in a better position for the next opening. It’s been fun. I actually started teaching myself Spanish before enrolling in classes. I have a great respect for the culture, and they respect me for trying to learn their language. We can connect by bridging those gaps and taking time to get to know each other,” he said.
“By coincidence, while attending MATC as an apprentice, I met the guy who I replaced at Glen’s Beauty Salon. We started talking and hit it off. After a while, he asked if I would be interested in working at Jenkins’ Barbershop, where he worked. At the time, Jenkins was ‘the place’ to get a good haircut,” he said.
Ronnie was torn about taking the job because he and the owner of Glen’s, Mrs. Glennie Pickett, had become very close and he didn’t want to disappoint her. When Ronnie told her about the new job opportunity, they both cried, but she let him out of his apprenticeship contract in 1996 so that he could take the job at Jenkins.
During this time, by happenstance, he ran into Edward Jenkins, owner of Jenkins Barbershop, and his wife while out doing errands. He informed Ronnie that the two other barbers had given their seal of approval for him to ‘fill the empty chair’ in his barbershop and the rest is history.
Ronnie laments that when he started at Jenkins, he was the new guy and it took a while for people to accept him as a barber.
“Doug was the new and up and coming young man. Even though I brought something new, at first customers wouldn’t give me a chance. I still showed up and tried to show a different side of what professionalism looked like by my dress and demeanor. One person gave me a chance, and a legend was born. People saw that the ‘young dude’ could cut hair. It didn’t bother me that people didn’t want to give me a chance at first. I had to prove myself and I did,” he said.
One day, shop owner Edward Jenkins called Ronnie to come to his home and told him that if he went to school and earned all his licenses the barbershop would be his one day, but that he should ‘keep it under his hat’. Surprised that, as the youngest barber, the opportunity was offered to him, Ronnie didn’t take him seriously.
“For all those years I kept it ‘under my hat’ and in 2001, after Jenkins passed, his wife, Susie, told us that Jenkins’ wish was to give Ronnie the first opportunity to purchase the barbershop, which she planned to sell in about three years. I immediately started getting my financial affairs in order, paying off my bills and saving money,” he said.
In 2004, Ronnie informed Susie Jenkins that he was ready to purchase the building, but because she wasn’t really ready to sell, she came up with a high sell price.
“I knew the revenue from the building was her livelihood, so I gave her what she wanted. The bank gave me 90 percent of the purchase price, but I was still short ten thousand dollars. I negotiated with Mrs. Jenkins to pay the additional money to her over time, if she lowered the price by ten thousand and she agreed,” he said.
After that the shop became Ronnie’s Barber Shop, which he has owned now for 15 years.
“My mother has been instrumental in my success because of the way she raised me. She taught me to be straight up with people and to ‘do what you say, say what you do.’ People talk to me about their lives and I don’t share that with others. My mother is a hard worker, who always made sure we (my siblings and I) had all we needed. She did the best job that any mother can do. My sisters are entrepreneurs as well—they have daycare centers and restaurants.
“When I suffered from PTSD in the military and wanted to come home, she made me stay. She said ‘you signed up for it; you stay and finish what you started.’ At the time I had only completed 18 months of my four-year commitment, but her conversation helped me complete my service.
“God gave me a talent—the ability to help people look good, give people advice, and also to learn from other people. Within the community, I’m looked upon as someone who gives back because so many have given to me. My dad was absent from my life but a lot of men who were important in my life, like my Uncle Tommie Lockett gave me advice, talked to me about life, and I’m appreciative. It honors me that people older than me look at me and say they are proud of and thankful for me,” he said.
“Without people, there’s no me. I always remember what Mr. Jenkins told me, “Take care of the people and they will take care of you,” Ronnie said.