DB Sutton & Company
406 West Franklin Street, Chapel Hill
Well into his second decade as the owner of a successful downtown Chapel Hill hair salon, David Sutton went back to school at age 50 and got his MBA. He wanted to explore options for a possible career change. All’s well at DB Sutton & Company, but he likes to evolve.
“I’m thinking about going back again at 60,” he muses. “Maybe to law school.”
After Sutton bought his salon’s building two years ago, he says, “I needed to think about monetizing the space.”
He retails hair products and some couture, but the nail tech he put in behind the reception area wasn’t profitable. Perhaps it was too obvious a complement. Or maybe the space was too much like a cave.
Wine likes a cave, and Sutton likes wine—loves it, actually. He knows it well. He used to sell it long ago as a rep for a North Carolina distributor. He’s still immersed in the ferment of the Triangle’s lively wine culture. When he travels, he visits wineries and finds good food and drink. It’s part of his life.
In downtown Chapel Hill, where Sutton lives as well as owns his salon, he observed the residential condo-development uptick and wondered where the new arrivals were going to shop.
“Then I thought, ‘How hard can it be to get a wine retail license?’” he says.
Sutton is the type to “walk off the beaten path a little bit, see something, knock on doors, and ask questions.” (He’s found some good winemakers that way.) He knocked on doors and got the necessary papers, then knocked on more and got them signed. Then he laid in a stock of wines he loves—and some everybody loves—and about a year ago splashed the word “Wine” in his salon window.
Now he’s got one of the best caves in the Triangle.
Yes, in the back of a hair salon.
It happens to be much needed. In the seven years since the demise of the beloved 3 Cups, no Chapel Hill wine shop has filled its niche of hand-selected, gracefully made, small-scaled wines. And with the mall-scaled A Southern Season about to close its brick-and-mortar store, Chapel Hill is losing its largest fine wine retailer.
It was the wine that motivated him, though, not profit, he says.
“You find things that you like, and you do them,” Sutton says. “I cover my overhead with the salon. I’m not trying to gouge. My margins are about 10 to 20 percent lower” than the same wines in other stores.
His unlikely store differs in other ways, too.
When he started selling wine, he says, “I wanted something I could give my clients. People come in here, and they’re overwhelmed by having to describe how they want their hair. Tell me about your lifestyle, tell me what you like to do, who you are, and then we create a look based on how you portray yourself. I thought, why can’t we do the same thing with wine?”
His salon clients account for about 70 percent of his wine sales, Sutton estimates.
“Most are women,” he says. “Most of the wine stores are run by men. It’s a male, hetero-centric industry in many regards.” Sutton is a self-described “Southern gay boy” who “doesn’t care about [wine] scores. I only care about how it tastes. I find most men like a heavier-alcohol wine. Most women like a lighter-alcohol wine, and so do I—wines that tend to be more esoteric, more poetic on the palate, rather than an assault of flavor.”
Sutton followed his nose to like-minded drinkers. He invited Triangle food doyen Lex Alexander, who owned 3 Cups, into the salon to sell the mixed cases of wines he’s continued to select and assemble for his loyal 3 Cups-era clientele.
“Lex comes in and does tastings, and he is so entertaining with his wine palate and his drawings and his reciting of poetry”—a regular feature of Alexander’s tastings—“that I think it accents what we do as a salon,” Sutton says.
Sutton has other accents in mind. He’d like to bring in charities for fundraising wine tastings. He wants to partake in the thriving local cheese industry and sell that, too. He likes it when people buy a bottle of wine, sit down right in the salon, and drink it. He wouldn’t mind if his salon became a wine bar at night.
“We can build a bigger community,” he says. “We’re all small people. And people are always happy to tell you about something they love doing. Doesn’t have to be big-name. It can be little and fantastic and have a better story.”
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This is an awesome store and selection of wines. The thing I love about his space is how casual it is…doesn’t feel like a store at all but like you’re touring some historic French Wine cavern and getting to leave with a few bottles of Wines you can’t wait to test out with friends! Extremely reasonable prices given the unique wines they carry.
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