A Close Shave At Four Stories

Some people have looked askance at Austin Howe’s agency business model. But recently, many more have looked askance at his head.

Not long ago, the creative director at fledgling Portland, Ore., shop Four Stories breakfasted with Dan Wieden, who wondered aloud if Howe and his partners will stick to their decision to limit their roster to four clients (a choice intended to free the shop from the constant distractions of new business). “He said, ‘I want to see you stop at four. What do you do when that fifth comes calling?’ ” Howe recalls.

Howe, 45, knew he needed to back up his commitment with … a really bad haircut. He left the breakfast and had a “4” shaved onto his noggin—becoming, coincidentally, a dead ringer for one of those hot cross buns the English love so much with their tea. “It was the first time I’ve gotten a standing ovation in a salon. That was cool,” he says. His colleagues at Four Stories were less giddy. “When I walked in, they looked at me with a mixture of shock and fear—like, ‘What do you want us to do?’ ” Howe says.

With his hair now mostly grown back, Howe is reluctant to declare himself a true hero. “It wasn’t a permanent thing, like a tattoo,” he says. “That would’ve been commitment.”

For the record, Howe & Co. have yet to test their resolve. Four Stories currently has only one client: Tillamook Cheese.