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Brandon Ferguson: Making The Den more than just a place for a shave

Story by SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

It may seem like a no-brainer now, but when Brandon Ferguson decided to make the career change from construction to barbering, it’s very possible not everyone saw it as a sure path to success. However, Ferguson was not to be dissuaded. “I was 25. I was tired of construction. I wanted to do barbering full time. I knew I’d be good at it,” says Ferguson.

He enrolled in an apprenticeship program that required him to go to barber school one day a week and find a barbershop to sponsor him. The Senor Barbers in San Clemente took him on. 

One adventure leads to another

Ferguson worked there for seven years until he and his wife decided to do what so many people only contemplate: they sold everything and, with the intention of never returning home, took off on what they thought was going to be a lifelong adventure.

Of course, their adventure evolved and Ferguson’s barbering career didn’t end there. However, when he and his wife took off, they had no idea how things were going to turn out. They had no idea they would eventually return home and Ferguson would one day open The Den, his very own, very successful barbershop, in Laguna Beach.

First, a devoted customer

But first, before he was a barber and a successful entrepreneur, Ferguson was simply a customer at his favorite barbershop. When he was still in his teens and working construction, he would visit Miller’s Family Barber Shop in Costa Mesa. “I couldn’t wait to go in there,” remembers Ferguson. “Every two weeks I went in there. The smell – the talcum powder, the aftershave – I was infatuated with it. I’d get my hair cut and hang out there. Mike (his barber) was never stressed out. And I thought, ‘Man, it would be fun to be a barber.’”

Brandon Ferguson close up

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Brendon Ferguson, owner of The Den, at work

Cutting hair in his garage leads to a career change

Ferguson began cutting his friends’ hair in his garage while still working construction. Once he decided he was ready to make the change from construction work to barbering, he never looked back. Miller’s Barber Shop is still in business, and Ferguson feels indebted to Mike for making barbering look like a viable career. “I owe my career change to him,” says Ferguson with respect.

If Ferguson’s experience with Mike was the spark, his seven years with Al at The Senor Barbers was the flame. It was with Al that Ferguson learned not just how to be a skilled barber, but a business owner, as well. But before he could put this knowledge to his own use, Ferguson and his wife needed to return from their adventure to begin the next one.

Coming back home with a plan

Ferguson says he and his wife were in Costa Rica, in the midst of their leaving-it-all-behind adventure, when they came up with a new plan: return home and, eventually, open a barber shop. “We came back. I started working for Al again and helped him open his second location. After that I decided it was time to do my own thing, be my own boss.”

Finding the space on Coast Highway

Driving south on Coast Highway through Laguna, Ferguson happened to notice an available space. He instantly felt that would be the place for his new venture. “I stopped in the middle of the street!” he recalls when he saw the signage. “I’d always wanted to put a barber shop in Laguna.” Ferguson and his wife “scraped up every dollar” they had and opened The Den. The original space was next door to their current location (1854 S Coast Hwy, Units 5/6).

Brandon Ferguson chair

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Brendon Ferguson working at his chair in The Den

Believing in his vision

From the get-go, Ferguson says he knew his idea was going to work. “When I opened, I remember thinking that everything was supposed to happen this way.”

Not long after opening, Ferguson hired Mike Windhamsmith and then, happily, the space next door became available. “It was perfect timing because I needed a third chair,” explains Ferguson. Now, he has five chairs, a number Ferguson feels is just right. That’s why he’s looking to open another shop in Dana Point, rather than adding more chairs in Laguna. 

The secret is making everyone feel welcome

Besides providing a quality haircut and shave, Ferguson thinks his secret to success is making everyone feel comfortable. “Unless they have long hair,” jokes Windhamsmith. The joke has some basis in fact. The Den is a traditional barbershop. This means they don’t cut long hair. 

No long hair, but you can always have a beer

“If someone comes in and wants a haircut and they have longer hair, we won’t do it. We’re not trained for that and the last thing I want is someone leaving with a bad haircut,” explains Ferguson. However, after directing their long-haired friends to the salon a few doors up (“Those ladies are total pros,” says Ferguson), Ferguson would be delighted if, once properly styled, they’d come back to The Den for a beer. 

Where everybody knows your name

That kind of interaction is exactly what Ferguson says he envisioned when he opened The Den: a place where everyone is welcome, where neighbors run into their neighbors; where, even if you don’t need a haircut, you feel like stopping in to see who’s there. “It’s like ‘Cheers, where everybody knows your name,’” explains Ferguson.

“When this place is hopping, you can feel it,” says Ferguson. “The place links up. Every chair is full and everyone is in on the conversation.” And despite their “no long hair” restrictions, The Den isn’t some testosterone-fueled, hyper-masculine place. When Ferguson says, “all are welcome,” he means it. “Moms come in with their kids all the time and hang out,” he says. “They’ll run into other moms or they’ll see their neighbor getting a cut in the chair,” says Ferguson. 

Brandon Ferguson exterior

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Outside of The Den at 1854 South Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach

Striving for iconic status

“I would love everybody in Laguna to come here,” says Ferguson. And, as a business owner, who doesn’t want everyone in their town to frequent their establishment? But while Ferguson undoubtedly wants the business, he wants more. He wants The Den to be synonymous with the town it’s in. 

“I want The Den to become a staple in Laguna,” he says while listing places like The Marine Room, The White House, Coyote Grill – places that are part of the fabric of this community. This is what Ferguson wants for The Den. And while it may not yet  have the longevity needed to have achieved icon status in Laguna Beach, it certainly appears to be on its way.

“The energy is pretty amazing, pretty rad,” says  Ferguson. “I knew it would work. I knew if I put something cool in this town, where you could come in, have a drink, get a quality product, provide quality service, it would work.” And he was right.