All Star Kutz is just one of Audrey Austin’s businesses. More to come.
BY KAREN ACKERMAN WITTER
Audrey Austin considers herself an entrepreneur. She says her father, Andrew Corey, inspired her to develop a career where she could work for herself. Corey was a businessman who owned Corey Rental Leasing for more than 20 years and Rent-A-Wreck car rental agency. Austin says, “I would sit in his office and watch his techniques. He was an entrepreneur, and I wanted to find what I was good at in order to work for myself.”
Austin found her niche in the barber industry. She now owns All Star Kutz located in White Oaks Mall, All Star Kutz II in St. Clair Square mall in Fairview Heights and Illini Fadez on Green Street in the heart of the University of Illinois campus in Champaign. She says she loves owning her own business and loves cutting hair and helping people look good by giving them her best. She has hopes of franchising her business and establishing barbershops in as many malls as possible throughout the region.
All Star Kutz is a basketball-themed barbershop on the lower level of White Oaks Mall adjacent to Bergner’s. Photos and posters of famous NBA players and basketball-related memorabilia fill the walls. Each barber station has a basketball-themed design. There are basketball-related arcade-type games. Austin says the basketball All-Star theme came to mind when she first viewed the space three years ago and sat on the floor looking around and planning her new venture.
Austin’s first business was Flawless Kutz Barber Shop on East Laurel Street and Loveland. She had eight employees, of which three went on to open their own shops. She says the most rewarding part of operating her own business is helping others, and she is proud that her business helped others launch businesses of their own. Opening a shop in the mall was a longtime dream of hers. When Flawless Kutz was destroyed by fire, she decided to pursue her goal of opening her own barbershop in the mall. Austin is continually working to grow and expand her business operations. She also owned Divas Hair Studio, a women’s hair salon, in White Oaks Mall. Although this recently closed, she still owns the brand and is in the process of opening a Divas Hair Studio in the St. Louis area.
Austin is originally from Champaign and grew up in Springfield. She is a 1991 graduate of Southeast High School. She learned her craft at the Peoria Barber College and Larry’s Barber College in Chicago and also through local barbers who let her come into their businesses and watch.
People who work in her establishments rent a station. She helps them better their craft by giving them opportunities to watch and see. Although she helps others hone their craft, they are in charge of insuring their own success. She attributes her success so far to “diligence, determination and love for the industry.” She also says the key to a successful business is keeping good help.
Anthony Gregory is an example of someone whose life has been transformed due to Audrey Austin. Gregory says he came from a troubled background and had a criminal history. He went to Austin’s barber school, and Austin gave him a job and took him under her wing. Says Gregory, “She is a blessing and has been like a big sister. Cutting hair changed my life.” After working and learning in Austin’s barbershops for five years, Gregory is now just a few months away from opening his own barber college. Austin helped him change his life, and now he wants to help others change their lives, too. This is why Austin loves her job so much.
Some might consider owning multiple barbershops enough of a challenge. But, Austin is also co-owner of Nickey’s Southern Style Kitchen, a soul food restaurant, which opened in December 2017 at 330 South Grand Avenue. Necole Alexander is her long-time friend and business partner. Alexander does the cooking, and Austin handles the business operations. Austin says the restaurant business is tough as there are long hours and a high staff turnover rate. Finding the right people with a strong work ethic is one of the biggest challenges.
Austin’s goal is to continue to open businesses to create her own retirement and give back to the community by educating people about the industry. She says, “You have to love, live and breathe what you do.” Austin loves the barber industry so much that she wants to be part of every aspect of it. She is currently working to launch her own product line, which will be coming out soon. Austin makes no small plans. Her goal is to open an All Star Kutz shop in any mall that will let her and see her hair products on shelves in drugstores throughout the country. She believes in what her grandmother, Missionary Rosie Jane Day, taught her, “If you have God in you and have purpose, the sky is the limit. Keep on keeping on!”
Karen Ackerman Witter is retired from the State of Illinois. She is a part-time freelance writer who enjoys writing about interesting people, places and organizations.