WASHINGTON — When people walk past the black cargo truck with the huge storefront window and “SHAPE-UP KING” printed on the front and sides, they stop and stare. They even take pictures.
And the man inside, Emmanuel “E-Man” Azoro, also known as the “Shape-Up King” – a charismatic part-time salesman and full-time barber – has emerged as one of the first mobile barbershops in the nation’s capital.
Azoro, 37, travels the streets of Washington in his customized vehicle, setting up shop and taking on customers wherever he can, often somewhere near the campus of Howard University. He also owns a brick-and-mortar shop in Prince George’s County.
One customer, Marvin Uzoho, 21, a Howard senior from Bowie, heard about the “Shape-Up King” from a fellow student and decided to give the barber a try. As Azoro began work on Uzoho’s hair, he led a discussion about music and higher education. Meanwhile, another customer waiting his turn pulled out his phone and dialed up a friend, raving about the amazing interior design of the mobile shop.
After Uzoho, Richard Ryles of West Palm Beach, Florida, took a seat in the chair. Ryles, 19, had seen the truck before.
“I saw him outside one day cutting, then looked for his pictures on Instagram, and they were hot,” he said. “So I came in here and got one myself.”
As the two exited, they both shared their satisfaction with Azoro, who said such reactions remain the reason that he’s continued as a barber for almost 20 years. Two years ago he opened a shop in Prince George’s County Plaza Mall.
During his youth, Azoro’s parents couldn’t afford getting their children haircuts, to the point where he and his brother got teased in school. So, he began cutting his younger brother’s hair and eventually began cutting other children’s hair as well, charging them three bucks a cut. Soon, the school football team and even teachers were coming to him.
He began working at 15 in a Hyattsville barber shop and continued at various locations until he could afford to open his own place.
“Having a store, you have to pretty much ride with one location,” Azoro said. “But with this truck, I can do so much more: go to fun events, meet new people and even provide my services at homecomings. All the way, you’re making money, building your clientele and promoting your craft. This way, I can do it as I want, when and where I want. There’s no real schedule.”
Azoro’s truck is equipped with one barber chair, mirrors ceilings and mirrors with spinning barber poles along each side, a tiny sunroof, tile flooring and even magazines for customers. Hip-hop music blares through the truck.
He added the storefront window so potential customers could see him in action.
“With heavy foot traffic, you need to be exposed and displayed,” he said. “A lot of people like the art of how a barber looks cutting hair.”
One customer agreed to a cut after his girlfriend convinced him that he needed to give the Shape-Up King a try.
“I’ve never seen anything like this on campus or anywhere in the world,” Amarachi Uzosike, 20, from Ellicott City, Maryland, said as she watching Azoro go to work on her boyfriend.
“As someone with a bunch of brothers, I’ve always been in and around barbershops. But seeing a mobile barbershop – this is a first,” she said.
She said he may even make Azoro her regular barber.
“This is really a cool option for me because he’s right outside of my dorm,” she said.
Another satisfied client – like music to Azoro’s ears.
“Even though I have over 2,000 clients right now,” “I’m still hungry and try to go out and get more,” he said.