Big ideas often start with seemingly insignificant beginnings. For Rob Collins it was a pair of scissors and a chair in the basement — nothing more than a way to make some extra money during high school. A few haircuts for friends would years later spark a multi-company endeavor spanning everything from clothing and makeup to brand consulting and music.
The turning point for Rob came in 2002 when he was laid off from his job as a pipeliner. He decided “if I’m going to fall behind or fail, it’s going to be on my own terms.” So he set out creating a magazine dedicated to Detroiters doing big things in the music, fashion and sports industries. While the magazine ultimately didn’t achieve financial success, it provided key experience in building brand awareness and local contacts in several industries.
With the magazine folding, Rob needed to pay the bills and quickly put his network and hair-cutting experience together to connect with the owner of a barbershop on Michigan Avenue in Southwest Detroit. He soon built a solid clientele and began eyeing ownership. Combining his savings and additional support from his father’s 401k, he purchased the shop in 2006. He quickly realized however that his branding vision — Uneek (Unifying Nationalities by Encouraging Education and Knowledge) — could be much more than just a barbershop.
So began crafting the Uneek brand, starting with hosting social gatherings and events outside his personal network. Without a traditional business education or knowledge of existing resources he set about shadowing anyone he could in sales and marketing. It was this “on the ground” approach that allowed him to put his business in the proverbial “accelerator.”
Before long he was churning out shirts and other apparel emblazoned with Uneek and showing up at social events with a personal branding entourage. The clothing and events soon merged into sponsored parties that went beyond metro Detroit and into the clubs of Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Milwaukee and Phoenix. Shrewdly getting his product into the hands of celebrities gave Uneek a powerful branding image greater than its humble operations and further embedded Rob into the entertainment and music industry (he eventually signed several local musical artists).
As if successfully juggling this growing empire wasn’t enough, in 2014 Rob decided to spin off his own brand consulting company, using his “uneek” knowledge gained on his own entrepreneurial journey. To date, he has worked with over 25 clients and currently counts 13 in his portfolio, including: attorneys, DJs, clothiers, lawyers and makeup artists. The next endeavor, will bring Uneek to the big screen, as Rob’s first foray into the film industry via “Change a Heart” aims to bring Uneek’s message of unity through education and knowledge to as many as possible.
“I’ve seen myself go from student to mentor, but I never stop learning and growing,” explains Rob, “I’m happy to sit on either side of that table.”
Rob now sees what his vision of unity that fueled his own brand could do throughout Detroit. He sees the same collaboration that helped him succeed as crucial to growing a rich and diverse network of entrepreneurs that can educate about and share resources and help each other thrive. Perhaps helping to build a different sort of empire; one of entrepreneurs who call Detroit home.
He might be too humble to say it, but it’s that sentiment that suggests we need more leaders like Rob Collins.
This is a guest column from Devon O’Reilly, who is the Manager of Entrepreneurship and Detroit Engagement for the Detroit Regional Chamber. Submit your questions/issues/topics you’d like to see covered and answered in future columns and make sure to check out Startgrid.com/Detroit where you can make connections, ask questions, share ideas, and build your support network.
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