What happens when you lean into your niche and develop spaces for your community that they’ve been missing? For entrepreneur Jonathan Morris, it’s created businesses where customers feel at home.
In this episode, Trademark’s Senior Director of Design & Placemaking Cassie King, and Creative Manager Alex Hayes, wrap up their conversation with Jonathan. He shares his inspiration for evolving Hotel Dryce and Fort Worth Barber Shop, and what makes Fort Worth a unique place for business. Plus, how he thinks entrepreneurs can find success in 2023. Spoiler alert: it involves leaning in.
Missed part 1? Listen from the beginning here.
Terry Montesi: Welcome back to Trademark Property Company’s podcast Leaning In. This is the second part of an episode, and you can find part one on the podcast page. Thank you for tuning in.
Cassie King: Hello, I’m Cassie King, Trademark’s Senior Director of Design and Placemaking. Today, Alex and I finish our conversation with Jonathan Morris, serial entrepreneur and host of Self Employed on the Magnolia Network. We talk about how he’s used his experience as a platform to spread entrepreneurial passion and spirit. Jonathan shares what he’s learned from owning and operating multiple small businesses as he touts all that Fort Worth has to offer the business world and what he sees coming in 2023.
Alex Hayes: So, Jonathan, I grew up in Fort Worth. I’ve been here for most of my life. I went to school in California then came back. So Fort Worth is a really special place to me, and I love seeing you be such a champion of Fort Worth and DFW as a whole. Do you think that Cowtown has anything unique to offer in terms of operating a small business?
Jonathan Morris: One of the things that I think is particularly unique to Fort Worth is people always say, and it is like the most cliche thing ever, it’s a big town with a small town feel. And I think, as cliche as that sounds, there is a truth to that. But the opportunity that I think lays within that, and particularly for small businesses, is that we have this opportunity to operate at this really communal, familiar level but also having the advantage of being this very well populated place. So, whatever that idea is that you have, whatever that small business service, product, whatever it is, Fort Worth just happens to be a place where there is a lot of consumers that you can position yourself for. And so, it’s like the sweet spot of being able to create these spaces or products or these services that people feel connected to, people they feel an identity within, and they feel like it’s a part of who they are.
But there’s also just a lot of people in our geographic area, and I still think that there are a lot of spaces, a lot of voids in the community that are still left to be filled. This is a city that it moves slower. It moves a lot slower than a lot of other major cities. It’s like we’re the city creeping towards a million people, and we don’t even know it. We don’t act that way. And so, I think that represents a lot of opportunity.
When I look back to opening up the barbershop in 2014, number one, I wasn’t the first person with the idea of opening up a barbershop. But it was this moment in time where we were just a little bit behind what was happening in the barbershop world really in the rest of the country. And so, positioning ourselves at that time allowed us to be this small business with a local story, but also we’re serving a lot of people. There’s a lot of people to be served. So, I think positioning whatever that product, whatever that service you have in such a way that appeals to some faction of this very well populated city, there’s some market share for a lot of people to eat. That’s what I’ve seen in my businesses, and I think that’s one thing that makes Fort Worth special right now.
Alex Hayes: I love the idea of an accessible community. I’ve never heard it kind of described that way, but you’re right. Fort Worth has a really small town feel, but there are a lot of people here, which is why it’s so special when you go into a place that feels like home and you can meet someone that’s new that you’ve never seen before. And I think seeing that aspect of this metroplex and really leaning into it to create a place that feels like home but is accessible to everyone is kind of key of making the most out of that.
Jonathan Morris: We are at a place now where, for the time being at least, we still have a cost of living that is relatively lower than a lot of other parts of the country. And that’s changing. I think there’s a lot of ramifications that come with that, but I think when it comes to investing in real estate, whether it be leasing or buying space, that is still an upside. And I think taking advantage of that is important. It’s been important for me in my businesses. And hey, I think there will be a time when that’s going to be less and less attainable. So, I think that is another huge upside to Fort Worth in particular right now for the time being.
Cassie King: So, Jonathan, you have a found love of espresso. And I believe that began on a trip to Italy with some of our mutual friends. How do you think travel has influenced your palate in other ways, not only in coffee but in design, in creating shared experiences? We talked a little bit about hotel lobbies, but what else?
Jonathan Morris: Travel is I think one of the most important elements to my entrepreneurial process. When I travel, when I go to new places, I am inspired by the things that make those places unique. I am inspired by the way that people interact with their own cities. And to me, one of the things I try to do is take different elements of other places that I’m inspired by and bring those back through to my spaces in Fort Worth and interpret those in a way that speaks to Fort Worth, Texas.
I’ll give you a great example. You touched on me discovering espresso in Italy, so this is back in like 2016. I was in a barber shop in Rome, and I sat down to get my haircut, or I was going to get a beard trim, or haircut, or maybe both. I don’t remember. I sat down, and in a very broken English accent, one of the barbers offered me an espresso. And I said okay, cool. I just like man, that’s kind of a unique thing to this culture, and I’d love to bring that back to Fort Worth and maybe we could do that at my barbershop, offer people espresso when they come in. So that also was kind of my entry to starting to drink espresso. At that time, I had not been a coffee drinker. But I said, you know what, if I’m going to start offering that up at my barbershop, I should probably have some familiarity to espresso.
And so, now if you come to Fort Worth Barbershop, we have a little Nespresso machine, and if you want some coffee, you can have some before you get your haircut. And that only exists because of me walking into this cool little barbershop in Rome, Italy. But yeah, the things I take in when I’m traveling, a lot of times, I find myself obsessing over, and a lot of times I find myself thinking about how can I incorporate an experience that was moving to me into the spaces that I’ve created back home in Fort Worth.
Alex Hayes: You said in terms of mentorship, you really lean into your community, learning from entrepreneurs. How do you see that growing for you in the future?
Jonathan Morris: I think for me what that looks like is I find myself to just be a very curious person. And I think that I’m really excited to learn from other people. I want to learn more skill sets. I want to learn more ways for me to exercise my own creativity. One of the things I’ve been really excited about is I’m excited to exercise creativity outside of commerce. For the last decade of my life now, I’ve been exercising creativity but through the lens of making sure that dollars make sense. And I’m excited to start learning new ways to be creative.
And a lot of times, that is through other people. And a lot of times, that is through my community, whether that be through writing, whether that be through painting or drawing, cooking, these are all things that are of interest to me and things that I want to exercise more. And so, I think the future for me in a lot of ways looks like finding mentors even outside of particularly the business world to help me unlock new realms of creativity and learn more about myself and new ways to create.
Alex Hayes: So, do you have your eye on any other Texas markets like Austin or Houston? And if so, what can we look forward to in these markets?
Jonathan Morris: I personally right now at the moment don’t have my eye on any additional markets in terms of hotel. Right now, my focus is on ensuring that what we’re doing here in Fort Worth we continue to hone in on and to create a better product, create a better work environment, create a better guest experience. That’s my focus right now. I say that, and at the same time, I am an entrepreneur through and through, and I do know that if the right thing, the right project, the right city, the right place were to come across my desk or an opportunity were to present itself, I’m not going to say never. But right now, my focus is on what we’re creating in the Culture District in Fort Worth at Hotel Dryce and continuing to create a better product and grow and learn and create experiences for people that they can’t get anywhere else.
Cassie King: I think we would be remiss if we didn’t talk about your daily Instagram quotes. Because I find them inspirational, but I look forward to them, Jonathan. I look forward to like oh, there he is again, drinking your coffee. Whether it’s your lovely wife Kathrine in the background or Winnie, your dog, I really look forward to that, maybe hearing a new song I didn’t know about or reading a quote and whether you’re traveling or you’re at home or you’re at the hotel.
But also, I love your playlists. And we listen to them at our house, and I know that Alex can really chime in here because he is an avid dweller of both the hotel lobby and your wife Katherine’s coffee shop. So, we just wanted to talk about that for a minute.
Jonathan Morris: I absolutely love creating playlists. It is one of my favorite things to do is to design and curate the music around a space. One of the things I’d love to learn is to actually DJ because I love music. Music inspires me so, so much. So, I try to impart that, I try to impart music into everything I do and everywhere I go. And so, when you walk into the lobby at Hotel Dryce or the coffee shop at Cherry Coffee or the barbershop, Fort Worth Barbershop, it is very, very highly likely that what you are hearing is something that I’ve obsessed over for a really long time and tried to create sounds that help paint the picture of where you are and set the vibe for the experience that I’d like for you to have when you’re there. So yeah, that is a deep love and passion of mine is creating, not creating music, but curating music. Maybe I’ll make you music one day, I don’t know. But it’s a passion of mine.
Cassie King: I love it. And just so if anybody doesn’t know that’s listening to this, that Cherry Coffee shop is on Magnolia, and they have wonderful coffee and seasonal treats as well. And that’s another thing we’ve talked about, design bleeding into every aspect of your world, not only in your personal world but in your wife Katherine’s coffee shop, the interior design there, which is actually the same interior designer that did the interiors for the lobby at Hotel Dryce. The vibe is so comfortable and cool, and people feel really comfortable not only with the music that’s going on in the background but just the vibe. It’s just good. And so, I appreciate the fact that you go around to different hotels. You did your research. You brought back, like you talked about, what feels best to you to Fort Worth, and we appreciate that.
So looking forward, what do you think in 2023, what do you think that’s going to bring to small business owners? I know we don’t have a crystal ball, but how are you preparing for that?
Jonathan Morris: I think one of the things that you’re going to see moving forward, and I hope to see moving forward in 2023, is more business owners that are just leaning in, going with their gut, and producing the products that they want to create, producing the services and the experiences that they want to create and finding that the more you lean into what may feel or seem or be a very niche to the market that they’re going after, that they’re able to succeed in narrowing in and really dallying in what they want to create and knowing that what they’re creating is not necessarily for everybody, but those that it is for, it is very much for. And they create brand advocates and cheerleaders and people who are going to help amplify their businesses more than they ever could if they were trying to be something for everybody.
And so, when I think about my businesses, I want to create these inclusive businesses that are diverse and people from all walks of life are able to enjoy. I also have this desire for my businesses to not be for everybody and for some people to be like that’s not for me, and that’s okay. What I love about that is I think a lot of times, and particularly thinking about in Fort Worth, this growing city, if your space is not for one person, there is a space that is exactly for them. And if not, we can create those spaces. And so, that to me is what I’m looking forward to leaning in is as a business, defining more and more clearly who we are, who we serve really, really well, and continuing to get more and more narrow with our offerings in such a way that it registers very clearly with the part of the market that we want to grab.
Cassie King: I think that’s wonderful. And that’s a huge, great takeaway message – we are not always for everyone. And that’s why we don’t have one tone everywhere. And that’s why there are multiple places for people. And that’s why you have your favorites. Thank you for joining us today. And for anybody in Fort Worth that hasn’t been to Hotel Dryce, go check it out. Go get your haircut at the barbershop. And go watch Self Employed on the Magnolia Network. Thank you for joining us, Jonathan.
Alex Hayes: Thank you so much.
Jonathan Morris: Thank you, Cassie. Thank you, Alex.
Terry Montesi: Thanks for tuning in to today’s episode. Be sure and subscribe to this podcast so you don’t miss one. To learn more about Trademark Property Company, visit trademarkproperty.com.