Chiefs’ Travis Daniels on cutting edge
Their business partnership was sealed in a familiar setting, with a late-night haircut in the bathroom. It was a promise more than a deal, a bond more than a handshake, a conversation between two half-brothers who shared a father and a dream.
Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Travis Daniels was a 20-year-old senior at LSU in 2004, back home in Hollywood, Fla., for Christmas and visiting Sheppard Daniels III, 23, a budding rap artist in Fort Lauderdale, when the conversation took place.
"I was sitting on top of the toilet seat getting my hair cut like I always did, and I told him, 'If I ever make it to the NFL, and if you get your barber's license, I'll open a barbershop,'" Travis said. "That way, you'll have a nice, safe place to work.'"
Sheppard recalled his reply. "I said, 'We'll see. Just take care of yourself first,'" he said. "I didn't want him to feel obligated."
But by then, obligations were second nature to Travis -- fulfilling his potential in high school, earning a college scholarship, surviving the neighborhood.
"It definitely could have gone another way," said Daniels' aunt, Cynthia Brown. "He beat odds you couldn't even imagine. The area we lived in was drug-infested and he had ample opportunity to do the wrong thing, but he had his mind set on doing the right thing and making a difference. He wanted success in life; he went after it and achieved it, and it's a beautiful thing."
Success for Daniels could be defined solely as surviving eight seasons in the NFL. But to him and his family, it goes well beyond that to the college degree he earned from LSU this past spring, and to the promise he and Sheppard are now fulfilling to each other.
Kutz Remix is their brainchild, a barbershop in the Atlanta suburb of Suwanee that takes the concept of haircutting to another level. In a little more than a year, the 1,800-square-foot shop -- complete with three plasma TV screens in the lobby, a DJ booth and a squeaky-clean environment (in language, music and atmosphere) -- has become a favorite of Atlanta Falcons players and their families, as well as other athletes and celebrities. Men's Health magazine named it one of the 20 Manliest Barbershops in America.
Travis, a general studies major, had no formal business training, but he knew what he wanted.
"At LSU, Coach [Nick] Saban ran the program like a Fortune 500 company with everything detailed, everyone on time, everything structured," he said. "In the NFL, it's pretty much the same, and I was able to implement a lot of that."
The brothers had a shared vision. Sheppard -- who had found success in the music industry (as a singer and as a writer, including credits on Lil' Bow Wow's platinum album "Doggy Bag") but left the business, he said, because he disliked the lifestyle -- sketched logos and designs for the shop. Travis used Google like crazy, researching the area, including its demographics, median income and traffic patterns, then created his own version of a business plan.
"My whole business sense," he said, "comes just from watching how things work for other people, watching TV, just watching how to count: nine barbers, charge this amount of money and "
The brothers communicate almost daily by phone. Sheppard, who started cutting hair at age 12, happily works 10-hour days as a barber and manager of the shop. Travis travels to Georgia in the offseason. They talk about one day expanding to a beauty salon, spa and barber school, and maybe franchising.
"But my brother doesn't like to count his chickens before they hatch," Sheppard said. "He'll always say, 'If I do well enough, I'll get to that point.' But he's always working to get to that point. He's not that person to ever say he's arrived; he's always reaching for something higher. That's one of the things I admire most about him."
Among Sheppard's first memories, he said, was chasing around 1-year-old Travis while visiting their father, Sheppard Jr., in jail. Their father played a minimal role in the boys' lives, Sheppard said, but the two made amends with him before he died.
"My brother was away at college and I hung out every other day with [our father] shortly before he passed, and I'd report back to Travis how cool it was to be with him," Sheppard said. "Travis sort of lived vicariously through me."
Travis' mother, Spring Rainey, said her son's upbringing was influenced by strong female role models and by constant reminders of what was expected.
"I'd tell him, 'Your mama is not going to visit you in the jailhouse. So any time I hear you're on the corner with a bad group, I'm never going to get tired of coming to get you,'" Rainey said. "But he was primarily a good kid. I was probably hard on him, but he listened."
Daniels excelled in football, basketball, baseball and track. "Three times, he was homecoming king," his mother said with a laugh. "I said, 'Travis, that's not normal.' Every year, I had to get him a tuxedo."
But forging through his childhood, Travis said, was mostly an exercise in listening to his own sense of right and wrong and observing those who did not.
"Growing up in the type of neighborhood I was in, people sold drugs, were in and out of jail, and I remember playing basketball in the park with some of the older guys who had a lot of talent but never made it out of the neighborhood," Travis said. "They always said, 'Man, if I never sold drugs or picked up a gun, I'd have probably gone to college and played in the NBA or NFL.' But because of the choices they made, they couldn't do anything.
"I was always thinking about that and telling myself I was going to go through each step. If the NFL didn't work, I'd be content because I did everything I possibly could to make it through. I worked hard in high school, made good grades and set myself up to make it to college. Then in college, I did everything that was required of me."
It has not gone unnoticed by his family.
I love to learn, and I want to learn how different people become successful and how they maintain their success.Travis Daniels
"Every year," Rainey said, "he comes back to school [where she has worked since her son was in kindergarten] and talks to the kids, tells them to stay in school, tells them about life, and they're so excited. He's very quiet, laid-back; he never brags. But he's a hero, he really is."
Closer to home, Brown called her nephew "a huge inspiration" to her 5-year-old son, who loves football, and to her 14-year-old son, who does not. Travis gave the older boy an iPhone as a reward for being on the honor roll at school and now monitors his grades, a condition of keeping the phone.
"Travis was the first of our immediate family to go to college and graduate, and we're extremely proud of him," she said. "He's setting the bar high for everyone."
Travis' next plan is to attend a series of workshops offered through Harvard Business School in the offseason.
"I love to learn, and I want to learn how different people become successful and how they maintain their success," he said. "I'm hoping to make sure I run future ventures in the right way, and, because I didn't go to business school, I think by going through this Harvard program I'll learn a lot more."
Sheppard said he will happily follow his brother's lead.
"He has such a giving heart, but he's not going to let anyone take advantage of him," Sheppard said. "He's a fighter. He's been in the NFL for eight years, but it didn't come without bumps and bruises. He's been cut from teams, but I know a lot of guys who only made it two or three years, and Travis is still in there."
"We always had dreams. At 5 or 6, he was going to play for the Miami Dolphins and I was going to make music and travel the world. Who knew we were both going to do it? But we still have dreams we want to achieve. We always say, 'If we don't have them for ourselves, who's going to?'"