Should Your Barbershop Go Gender Neutral?
There’s a rise in female clients heading to barbershops and hairdressers are introducing more barbering services to their menus, so should the industry consider going gender neutral? HJ Men investigates.
Is it the end of same-sex salons? More UK women are visiting barbershops than ever before, according to ‘The End of the Salon’ survey by The Bluebeards Revenge. There’s also been an increase in gender-neutral pricing, the opening of mixed-sex salons, not to mention the booming men’s haircare market, which is predicted to reach £94m by 2020 according to Mintel’s Because He’s Worth It men’s haircare report. These findings combined might make you want to consider appealing to both sexes in your business. We found out how the industry is responding.
By attracting a wider market, you could help your business to grow. “Introducing men’s services has transformed our salon business,” says Christian Wiles, owner of Christian Wiles Hairdressing Salon in Northampton who introduced men’s services to his salon four years ago. “Our client base has grown at an incredible rate year on year and the spend per head has seen significant annual growth.” Christian’s results could work for your hair salon too as Modern Salon’s 2015 Priority Male Study found men present new retail opportunities and are more regular customers because they get their hair cut roughly every four weeks.
“Word of mouth promotion works well for us. Our existing female clients recommend us to partners, brothers, sons and work colleagues.”
Andrew Smith, owner of Andrew Smith salons in Hampshire has also focused on growing the male clientele in his salon. “Word of mouth promotion works well for us. Our existing female clients recommend us to partners, brothers, sons and work colleagues.” Christian chooses to run regular events to attract new clients. “We hold Ale & A Shave charity events for the men on our database and their friends. There’s beer sponsorship, we have a DJ and we showcase our bespoke services to an engaged audience in an exciting environment.”
So why would men choose to visit a hairdresser instead of a barber? “Historically, barbers don’t take bookings, but we think that men now want this option,” points out Christian. He believes the ability to book, grooming advice and a luxury setting is what sets him apart from the drop-in barbershops in his local area. Christian also runs bespoke courses to advise salon owners who wish to diversify into the male market because it’s not just about offering free beer.
Upping the game
For some salons, men have always been a crucial part of the business, but they’ve certainly not rested on their laurels. Claudio Pizzo, newly appointed Master Barber at Michael van Clarke in Marylebone, is on a mission to appeal to men who want barbering in a high-end environment. “We’ve always had a strong and loyal male clientele accounting for roughly 15% of our bookings,” explains Claudio. “Our new bespoke barbering service attracts younger clients who love the hot towel shaves and facials we offer.” The salon is also offering barbering services for grooms as part of their existing wedding packages.
Women are welcome
More women are heading to barbershops for shorter hairstyles. In fact, 81% of women who visited a barbershop in the past 24 months cited that as the reason, according to The Bluebeards Revenge ‘End of the Salon’ survey. A case in point is Ruffians in London and Edinburgh where fades and patterned undercuts are the most popular requests. Vincent Quinn, shop manager at Hard Grind, believes barbershops should embrace cutting women’s hair. “Sometimes barbers get scared when a woman asks for a cut – but if they simply looked at their clients’ hair they would realise they have all of the skills and techniques required.”
“At Ruffians we’ve always made it very clear to our team, and in particular to our front of house team, that we do not discriminate when it comes to gender.”
The layout of a barbershop and the equipment within it are usually designed for short haircuts, as opposed to longer or more intricate styles. It’s important to consider that a front wash basin will not be suitable for a client wearing make-up and not having a basin at all will present problems when trying to execute a precision cut. In terms of styling, barbers might not carry as many products or tools as hairdressers. “At Ruffians we’ve always made it very clear to our team, and in particular our front of house team, that we do not discriminate when it comes to gender,” says Denis Robinson, Ruffians artistic director. “We would point out, however, the majority of our barbers are trained as barbers and won’t always have the equipment or skills to cut longer hair.
The next question is where to house your new clients. Should you create a separate zone or seat them alongside your existing clientele? Christian Wiles has a separate floor for his male clients. “We recognised that our male clients felt more at ease in their own environment,” he explains. “The conversation flows differently, and clients feel more at ease to ask for advice and discuss their hair concerns.” Andrew Smith disagrees: “Personally, I think having a separate area would be such a shame. Having everyone in the same space creates a good atmosphere. The men are interested in what our female clients are having done and vice versa.” Vincent of Hard Grind on the other hand can see both points of view. “I get that some barbershops are ‘men only’ zones. As long as it’s not done out of malice I think it’s ok to have a place that only caters to one sex,” he says. “However, at Hard Grind if it’s a barbershop style you want, anyone is welcome.”
Go gender neutral
If you can’t decide whether to create a new space or cater to a new market you could consider making your business gender-neutral. One salon dispelling preconceived notions of gender is CHAIR salon in Cardiff. It opened as a gender-neutral space earlier this year. “We are a judgment-free space so we attract a lot of people from the trans community,” explains founder Casey Coleman. “A gender-neutral space makes everyone feel welcome and comfortable.” The salon offers non-binary clients their chosen pronouns and pricing is consistent with the service and not the gender of the client. Casey also sees the salon as educating the community – there are still people who don’t understand the word ‘gender- neutral’. Lynndy Rolfe, owner of Hair by Lynndy in Northampton is keen to change opinions within the hairdressing industry itself. “We’re creatives and we should be excited about new clients and the different challenges and opportunities they present,” she says. “At the end of the day I cut hair and I say to all my clients: ‘Come in, sit down and let’s make you look and feel amazing.’” Vincent agrees: “People are people and gender doesn’t define how they are treated. We have male, female and trans clients and they all get the same service – the Hard Grind service.”
“People are people, their gender or sex shouldn’t define how they are treated.”
Is the price right?
Hard Grind’s Vincent, Ruffians’ Denis and CHAIR’s Casey all note their price list is consistent for both sexes because the cuts are all short styles. However, hairdressing salons such as Christian Wiles choose to price their men’s cuts competitively to the surrounding barbershops and Claudio Pizzo from Michael van Clarke charges for time. “Our gentleman’s cut and finish is priced 25% less because it takes on average 25% less time than a women’s cut and finish,” he explains. Gareth Williams, artistic ambassador at Headmasters has an interesting prediction: “In the future I believe the industry will charge on the time a service takes. This will make people who identify as gender-neutral or trans feel more comfortable.”
Another reason to consider is your bottom line. “We have seen an excellent revenue stream from men’s services,” says Andrew Smith. “In the past year, 12% of clients at our Fareham branch were men. Interestingly, 35% of our male clients buy retail and without introducing men’s services to our Fareham salon, we wouldn’t have seen our turnover increase.”
So whether you’re looking to attract more men, more women or to go gender-neutral, this cross over trend shows that the hair industry is taking a positive step towards becoming inclusive. That’s surely a cause for celebration.
Sexist or not sexist?
Take note – it’s important to know what the law states about refusing a service. If a barbershop or hairdressing salon declines to cut a person’s hair simply because they are a man or a woman, this is direct discrimination on the grounds of gender.
This feature was first published in the Winter issue of HJ Men. Lead image from Lynndy Rolfe.