If you have a chance to have breakfast with James “Long Hair” Gallant, do so. You will never forget him. Long Hair and I had coffee a week back to connect and visit about his past and his future. Long Hair runs a remodel and repair business that is thriving in and around Guthrie, Oklahoma. He has long hair, a full beard, quick wit , remodel skills and an amazing story. The name of his thriving business is, Long Hair Repair. Take a few minutes to check it out. I promise you, his story (and language) is colorful, interesting and inspirational.
Good morning, Long Hair. First of all, let’s start with the name of your business, Long Hair repair. It’s interesting for a home remodel and repair business. How did you come up with the name?
Hell, I didn’t. Von Coburn and Patricia Cornforth [both Guthrie based realtors] made me start my business. Von said, ‘you’re starting a business, what are you going to call it?’ I didn’t even know I had a business to start, let alone have a name for it.
I thought for a minute and said, well, everyone I work for says, ‘get that guy with the long hair to do it.’ Von said, ‘That’s it! Long Hair Repair! I’ll get your business cards printed.’ My sister made the logo. Then Von printed the cards.
Let’s do a flashback, Long Hair. How did you make your way to Guthrie, America and end up running Guthrie’s Small Business of the Year?
In 2006 I was working as a hotel maintenance man in Canada on Prince Edward Albert Island. My Mom had a stroke so I came to Guthrie, Oklahoma to help her and my sister.
Did you start your business as soon as you arrived in Guthrie?
Hell no! I didn’t even have a car.
So, how did you start Long Hair Repair?
I was offered a free place to stay in a house on 1st Street. It was free but I had to remodel it. So I did that. But, it didn’t pay me cash. I needed cash to live, you know? So I borrowed my Step-Dad’s bike and some of his tools and went door-to-door.
Would you explain what going “door-to-door” looked like?
Well, I just rode around Guthrie on my borrowed bicycle with borrowed tools and looked at houses. I saw stuff that needed fixing. I’d knock on the door and tell ‘em I could fix anything, sheetrock; doors; windows; downspout; fence picket; lawnwork; painting; whatever. They’d ask me, ‘how much?’ I’d say, whatever you think is fair.
I’d do the work and they always paid me fair.
What happened next?
I met Patricia. She was the cog, the main cog that got me started with my own business.
I was remodeling the house I was living in, remember?
Patricia Cornforth is a realtor and she came by to look at the house. It looked good! And she asked, ‘what company did the remodel?’ I told her, ‘hell, I did it.’ That’s when she started referring me to her clients that needed work done. Then I met Von Coburn and she started doing the same thing.
Then, they kicked me in the ass and said, ‘you need to start a business.’
You went from a bicycle and borrowed tools to a full crew, multiple trucks and now, Guthrie’s Small Business of the Year. How do you feel?
First of all, it’s not really me. That happened because so many people helped me along the way. Von and Patricia helped me get work. Larry, my main man, has been with me from day one. Larry knows how to do everything. Brenda Welch does the books and keeps the business in order. I do work for James Long and he refers people too.
There are just so many people I’m thankful for. I’ve done so much work for so many people in Guthrie. Without everyone I wouldn’t even have a business.
But, you do. Congratulations! What surprised you most during your first couple years as a business owner?
All the work it takes to just run a business. Me and my crew can fix anything. But, running a business, the paperwork was just crazy. Without Brenda Welch, I’d be lost.
What are the keys to success as a business owner, Long Hair?
Honesty and hard work. At every job we do I ask myself, ‘would I want to pay for this work?’ If I’m not happy with it, why would I expect someone to pay me? My people are the key. Everyone that helps run the business and helped get it going.
You give back to the community. You donate time and labor to Neighborhood Solutions, Kiwanis, the local schools. You hire people that need a second chance. You’re a small business, why do you give back?
I came to Guthrie and no one judged me, so many people gave me a chance. I just want to help other people in the community. So, anything I can do to help is my way of saying. ‘thank you.’
This could all go away, my business could all go away if it weren’t for people in our great community.
You also throw one heck of a Christmas Party.
It’s a big one for sure. It started out as an employee party and it’s just grown. Really, the party is a celebration of the community we serve. Again, without the people in this community giving me a chance, I would have nothing. The party is just my way of bringing all kinds of people together to say, ‘thank you’ to all the businesses who support us.
What advice would you give to others as they start or manage their business?
Be yourself. Be honest with yourself and to others. Also, don’t let others’ judgement get in the way of doing your thing. There are always critics. Learn from them but don’t let them control you. And, do quality work. Whatever you do, learn to do it well.
Thank you Long Hair. Congratulations. You’ve come a long way, we’re proud of you and grateful for the work you’ve done.
Hell, I’m more surprised than anyone. I’m thankful to everyone that has believed in me along the way. Thank you.
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