The barber shop near the corner of Euclid and Woodland Avenues in Lexington is like most barber shops, offering men’s haircuts, beard trimming, straight razor shaves. But the atmosphere owner Ryan Lykins has created is a lot like a sports bar. Lykins and his wife Cassandra own Kentucky Wildcuts Barber Shop, a business they opened about three years ago.“We thought about naming it just Wildcuts. And we thought well if we can put the Kentucky in front, they won’t think it’s just crazy haircuts; they’ll know it’s a play off the university.”
The Wildcuts shop is decked out in University of Kentucky sports stuff: posters, autographed balls, pictures of athletes. Most of it was given by loyal customers, like Stuart Hines. He’s a former offensive lineman for the UK football team.
“A lot of people come in here and it’s cool because they have the memorabilia and stuff.”
Located within walking distance of campus, Lykins figured a lot of his customers would be students and alumni. And he was right. This semester Wildcuts Barber Shop has been busier than ever.
“I couldn’t imagine naming it anything else. It just made sense.”
Harrod Concrete and Stone is another local business with a mascot connection. President David Harrod is a season ticket holder and has the classic UK Wildcat logo painted on all of his cement trucks.
“We are known for that and it does differentiate us a little bit.”
Harrod can remember going to Kentucky ball games as a boy with his father. He says using company vehicles to cheerlead for UK is a tradition that started decades ago.
“The first ones I remember were back in the early ‘70s. Fran Curci was the football coach and the drums were painted like footballs. And the slogan said ‘Our Cats are Fran-tastic.’”
Lexington is known for its die-hard love of the Wildcats, and the devotion extends to businesses as well. Several central Kentucky businesses have a wildcat or blue theme: there’s Wildcat Ford, Wildcat Massage Therapy, Wildcat Dental Lab, and Bleed Blue Tattoo & Piercing just to name a few.
"Wildcat is somewhat a generic term; there’s an obvious reason that people in this marketplace choose to use that name as part of their name,” says Jason Schlafer, a senior associate Athletic Director for UK.
It’s Schlafer's job to make sure the university’s trademarks and copyrights are protected, and that companies don’t cross the fine line into violate the school’s licensing program. Last year Schlafer says licensing of athletic names and logos generated about $4.5 million for UK.
“There’s a lot of goodwill associated with the university and our brand is an extension of that. And if we allow folks to trade on our goodwill and our good name without our authorization, we have no control over that, and it has a chance to dilute and diminish the university’s name.”
Mascot-themed businesses are not unique to Lexington; you’ll also find them in other big college towns like Lawrence, Kansas and Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
For David Harrod (who says he was granted a license to use the Wildcat logo on his trucks), it’s not about attracting customers, but showing support.
“It is a source of pride and it’s a source of pride that everybody in Lexington should have. And it’s not just athletics because there’s a lot of good stuff going on at UK.”
And when it’s game time, Harrod won’t be cheering on the Cats as a business owner, but as a regular, bleed-blue fan.