The Big Debate: Walk-ins vs Bookings
For years the barbering industry was known for its easy-breezy policy of walk-ins, but a crop of appointment-focused barber brands and chains have changed the narrative. Joe Mills, founder of The Lounge Soho and Ruffians‘ artistic director Denis Robinson put their respective opinions forward. Who do you agree with?
For barber walk-ins
Joe Mills, owner, MILLS, The Lounge Soho and Joe and Co
“At MILLS we offer walk-in options. The biggest benefit of walk-ins is they give you the option to fill gaps. Plus, not all clients know in advance when they want to come in.
“Our location within the Primark store in Birmingham city centre means we have a largefootfall so this informed our walk-in policy. We also allow people to book an appointment for a couple of hours’ time and we text a reminder 30 minutes before the time slot. As we are part of Primark, it means customers can drop-in, book a time for that day and go shopping.
Barbers and men’s hairdressers lose custom by operating a walk-in only policy. It gives clients options and in the current climate that’s key. You need to be flexible with client’s demands and not everyone wants to pre-book an appointment. Personally, when it comes to loyalty, I believe that if you are delivering a first-class service, there should be no reason for clients not to return. The only time our clients may not return is if they are visiting the area, but this is also a plus as tourism means extra business.
It can be challenging not knowing in advance how the day is going to go and how many clients you are going to have. You need to make sure you have a team on the shop floor when it’s needed if you accept walk-ins. At peak times clients might have to queue so we have magazines, books, a coffee shop and digital projector to keep them entertained.”
Against barber walk-ins
Denis Robinson, artistic director, Ruffians
“The whole Ruffians ethos was built around being an appointment-based organisation. Our founder Andrew Cannon is of the view that men want from a barbershop what women have received from hair salons for many years – allocated slots that fit around their schedules.
We didn’t look to other organisations for guidance on whether to be appointment-based or not. Ruffians was always single-minded in its approach to offering a particular type of service. Having said that we do get walk-ins and we take them when we’re able to – we try to be as flexible as possible. We also monitor how many walk-ins we are able to take on a weekly basis. When we have an average of 20 walk-ins per week (per shop) we know we need to employ additional barbers to meet the demand. When we get this number across all stores, we consider opening a new store.
At the end of the day being able to book builds loyalty. We look at our client’s regular visits as building relationships with their barbers. Our clients and barbers enjoy the trust that comes from seeing the same person at regular times. We also use bookings to monitor our business success and make sure our staff are performing at a high level. For example, we monitor a barber’s retention rate as a way to measure their progression and our commission levels are linked to that retention. I feel you can only measure staff levels with an appointment-based system.”