Cathie Anderson

High-end shears from El Dorado Hills company make the cut with stylists

Ryan Teal of Hattori Hanzo Shears cuts Jacqulyn Smith’s hair during taping of a promotional video in Folsom on Thursday.
Ryan Teal of Hattori Hanzo Shears cuts Jacqulyn Smith’s hair during taping of a promotional video in Folsom on Thursday.

Chris McCarley launched a boat dealership at age 19, a gig he then considered to be really cool, so 10 years later, when his father-in-law told him he was going to sharpen hair shears for a living, McCarley thought that had to be the dullest occupation ever.

After shadowing his wife’s father for a day of work, however, the cool kid acknowledged that he couldn’t have been more wrong. He wound up going into the scissors business himself after getting an offer he says he couldn’t refuse for his Redding boat dealership.

McCarley and a friend of his, Jonathan Klein, spent two years going door to door sharpening shears in salons. As they met with one hairstylist after another, they kept hearing the same litany of complaints about the scissors. Manufacturers were so focused on delivering products at a lower price that the quality of the shears had suffered.

“We were in salons all day,” McCarley said. “It’s not like we were sitting in an office somewhere detached from the market. Because we were in salons all day talking to all these stylists, we knew that what they really wanted was a higher-quality, better-performing tool, and they weren’t happy with the lower-quality, less-expensive products.”

McCarley and Klein founded Hattori Hanzo Shears in El Dorado Hills in 2008. The two men have acquired quite a following for their shears, so much so that they use some proceeds from their sales to help get women exploited by sex traffickers into new careers as hairstylists.

The two men named their company after the famed sword maker in the movie “Kill Bill,” McCarley said, but they also liked the fact that the original Hattori Hanzo was a 16th-century samurai noted for his tactical brilliance and fearsome spear fighting.

“Japanese steel is regarded throughout the hairstylist community as the finest-quality steel that there is in the world, so it’s regarded as the best steel to make shears from,” McCarley said.

McCarley had about a decade of experience in growing a business. When he started off his boat dealership, family friend Robert Alkema of Malibu Boats would send him just two boats at a time to sell.

“It was me, and I had two boats, and I used a mobile mechanic, so it was very small start-up,” McCarley said. “My first year there, I sold like 15 boats, and I ended up growing that. When I exited, I think we were doing $9 million a year in sales and had like 25 employees.”

From the moment that he and Klein leapt into the shear-sharpening business, McCarley said, he enjoyed hobnobbing with the stylists, seeing the immediate impact of the company’s work and learning how to fit stylists to shears. While McCarley worked out of El Dorado Hills, Klein plied his craft out of Eugene, Ore.

“We just were in salons all day every day,” McCarley said. “And then a couple of our friends wanted to get into the business, so we helped them into the business, and it just started growing and growing.”

When the two men decided to produce shears under their own brand, they founded Hattori Hanzo. For a while, it was just the two of them, but today, Hattori Hanzo has nearly 100 employees, about 70 of whom represent the company in other states. Their shears, which sell for $500 to $2,000 a pair, are used by celebrity stylists such as Diana Schmidtke, Ken Paves and Ted Gibson. Here, in the Sacramento region, McCarley said, name virtually any salon and Hattori Hanzo has a client there: Anthony’s Barber Shop, Hair Formations, Textures.

The company still sharpens shears, McCarley said. Besides selling Hattori Hanzo products, he said, their reps also pick them up and ship them to El Dorado Hills for service. Every pair is taken apart, honed and refurbished as needed. They launched a trade-in program a little more than five years ago that allows stylists to get money toward a new pair of shears.

Just as they were preparing to begin the trade-in program, McCarley said, Klein got an odd request from salon owner Tim Westcott of Portland, Ore.

“Tim says, ‘Hey, Jon, I need 30 pairs of used shears,’ ” McCarley said. “Jon was like, ‘Whoa, what do you need that many for?’ Tim said, ‘Well, I’m heading down to Nicaragua, and we’re on a mission trip, and we’re training 30 women in … a safe house. They’ve been pulled out of prostitution and other bad situations. We’re going to train them on how to cut hair, so they can earn an income and make a living for themselves.’ 

Klein immediately agreed to find the shears for Westcott, McCarley said, and then he called his business partner to tell him what had happened. They ended up sending Westcott down to Central America with 100 pairs of shears, McCarley said.

The business partners decided that their trade-in program could be a vital part of helping with this charitable work, so they formed The Trade Foundation in 2010 to help the effort.

“Stylists would trade in their shears and buy new shears,” McCarley said, “and we would cover the expenses of sharpening and refurbishing them, and then send them out with teams of people who were going around the world to teach women how to cut hair in developing countries. That’s how it got started.”

A year ago, McCarley said, Paul Mitchell Schools donated $25,000 to the cause. Hattori Hanzo also provides annual gifts to the foundation, and this weekend, as part of a charity golf tournament, the El Dorado Hills-based company has pledged a $50,000 contribution. Sales to thousands of stylists around the nation made the gift possible, McCarley said.

The tournament, known as the Sacramento Capital Cup, divided 24 area business leaders into two teams and then challenged them to raise the most money for their favorite charities. As of Thursday, McCarley was one of three people to top the $50,000 mark. In total, the tournament players have so far raised more than $400,000 for charities around the region.

Rick Wylie of Villara Building Systems has so far landed $68,000 for Bayside Church, including a $50,000 contribution from Verdeo Financial & Insurance Services. USA Properties Fund CEO Geoff Brown has raised more than $59,000 for the JB Brown Fund, which was started by his father. Brown’s company boosted his fundraising with a $20,000 contribution. The JB Brown Fund helps low-income residents in apartments owned by USA Properties to pay for college and overcome unexpected financial hardships.

The tournament purse of $50,000 offers an added incentive, McCarley said, because the winning team will get to add it to what they already have raised. The amount each of the charities receives will depend on the donations each golfer has amassed.

The tournament, the brainchild of DCA PartnersCurt Rocca, finishes up today at Granite Bay Golf Club, 9600 Golf Club Drive, McCarley said. The public is invited.