Veteran Entrepreneur: Trever Thompson, Owner, Trev’s Barbershop

Written by: Brady Drake

Trever Thompson was born and raised in Bismarck, ND and graduated from Century High School in 1998. Upon graduating, Thompson enlisted into the North Dakota Army National guard with 1st Battalion 188th Air Defense Artillery Regiment. At that time, he attended Bismarck State College for a couple years. In 2001, Thompson moved to Fargo and attended NDSU and joined the Army ROTC. That same year, he also met the love of his life and future wife, Melissa and married in October 2004. Thompson was honorably discharged as a Sergeant from the North Dakota Army National Guard in 2004 and graduated from NDSU and was commissioned as an officer that same year.

Thompson decided to go full-time with Army upon graduating, serving with the 5th Battalion 5th Air Defense Artillery at Fort Lewis in Washington. His unit deployed to Iraq in March 2007 and spent 15 months there. Thompson was eventually honorably discharged as a Captain in October 2008.

In 2014, Thompson decided to attend barber college and graduated from Moler Barber College of Fargo the following year. He was hired by Everett’s barbershop in 2015 where he did his apprenticeship.

“I learned a lot working at Everett’s,” said Thompson. “Both hair cutting techniques and how a barbershop is ran.”

What was your first job once you finished your service?

I worked for UPS briefly as a seasonal driver. But while I was discharging and out processing from the Army, I applied for a job at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Fargo. I worked there for six years as an administrative assistant for the social work executive and the returning Veterans program. I mostly worked with Veterans from Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo.

Did you take advantage of military benefits when starting your business?

I didn’t use any. I probably should have researched that more. I know there are a lot of really good resources and programs out there. I did however use the Post 9/11 GI Bill which paid for Barber School and it also provided a monthly housing allowance while in school, so that really helped me out.

What skill that you learned in your military service do you use most in your business career?

It is a hard to single out one as there were many procedures used. On a daily basis, I would say discipline, time management, attention to detail and interpersonal skills. Similar to other branches and civilian businesses, the Army uses what’s called an AAR (after action review). Meaning, what was supposed to happen, what did happen, and how it can be done better are all reviewed.

I’d say I use that daily. Always trying to improve whatever I can in areas that can be. Improving your foxhole/fighting position as they say. You come away with valuable interpersonal and technical skills that help you work both independently and as part of a team. All of the skills learned during active duty, national guard, and reserves are good attributes and a solid foundation for an entrepreneur.

Would you have been able to start a business without your military experience? Why or why not?

Yes, I believe I could have. The foundation that my military career provided me led me down the road I am currently on and without this I wouldn’t be who I am which has led me to now.

What words of encouragement do you have for a fellow veteran nervous about taking the plunge into entrepreneurship – or maybe a veteran who started a business and is struggling?

I think a big one is to try and minimize the amount of money you borrow in loans, if you can. Also, remember what you learned during your time in the military throughout the years in your unit/units, whatever branch you served in. You started with basic training/ boot camp and followed with school training. Then, at some point you were promoted and put in charge of people and equipment. Along the way, you maybe attended other specialty schools, leadership schools and you learned a lot and gained more confidence. Remember that! At one point you were nervous to do all of that, same with starting a business. Use those fundamentals you learned while you were serving. Also, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help and support. There are a ton of benefits and programs for Veterans. The Fargo Veterans Hospital/Regional Office is a good resource as well as your County Veteran Service Officer. Remember, it’s not how many times you fall down, it’s how many times you get back up.

I was nervous myself to make a career change. I didn’t make my decision to attend barber college until two years after visiting the school and getting my application. I was nervous about leaving the paid time off, retirement and benefits. However, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Especially starting and owning my own barbershop now. I love what I do.

Many veterans struggle with finding a sense of purpose when reintegrating into the civilian world. How can getting involved in the business community help with that reintegration process?

Many Veterans have a difficult time simply returning to “normal” life and adjusting back to being a civilian which is a hard concept for some people to grasp. You also miss the brothers and sisters you lived a time of your life with. Every Veteran has their own story to tell. Working with the business community helps you maintain a structure, team mindset and camaraderie you had when you were serving. You build new relationships with other business owners of which may include other veteran-owned bussiness owners, electricians, postal workers, law enforcement and fire fighters just to name a few. Networking and building these relationships can help give you that sense of belonging and purpose. A community of like-minded business owners that have went through the process of starting a business, have that experience and can be a valuable resource to one another. Someone to bounce questions off of and learn from. There is camaraderie that comes with that.

What are some things you would’ve done differently with your business career if given a second chance?

Well, I’ve only been open for six months. I did open during a pandemic which isn’t ideal. I am so thankful for all the support I have received. I just would like to say thank you to all the customers that come and keep coming back to Trev’s Barbershop.

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Brady is the Editorial Director at Spotlight Media in Fargo, ND.