Doug Briscoe, 49
Itinerant scissors sharpener
"I sharpen shears. This is what I do. I go from hair salon to hair salon, all over eastern North Carolina—Raleigh, Fayetteville, Wilmington, Atlantic Beach, and all the towns in between.
"I'm not a grinder. I don't do knives. My equipment is set up for shears—hair-cutting shears only. These guys who sharpen anything, they can really damage salon shears. When they grind a shear, it no longer cuts. Every shear I sharpen will shave hair off your arm, or it's not sharp enough. I'll say to the girls, 'Have you ever seen your shear do this?' They go, 'Wow.'
"I do shears that cost in excess of $800. These people trust me; they know I'll do a better job. I don't do everybody. I gear to higher-end salons. I do not do barbers, for instance. They buy cheap shears; they think you oughta sharpen 'em for $5. I charge $25. It takes 10 to 15 minutes, but I spend as much time as it takes. If I do 10 to 20 a day, I've had a great day.
"I've been doing this for close to five years. I've worked as a deejay at a radio station, a car salesman. This job is totally sales. Sure, you gotta have a mechanical background, too. Years ago, I was a machinist.
"I have a van. I have everything I need. A work station set up in my van, that's where I do the work. I'll visit each shop every four to eight weeks. After I do their shears once, the girls want to keep 'em in that condition.
"It's my business; it's a gut thing. What's happened to quality? By God, that's the only thing I've got. They know immediately if I did a good job. If the shear's not sharp, what have I got to go on?
"Do I make more money doing this than a car salesman does? No, but this is more fun. For a single guy, visiting salons isn't bad. I recently walked into a shop in Durham. I hadn't been there in awhile, and when I walked in, every stylist in there, they all go, 'It's you! Thank God!'
"This guy, a customer, he looked at me and said, 'I don't know who you are or what you do, but I want to do it.' "
A version of this article appeared in the January 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.