Are Barbershops the Heroes of Britain’s High Street?
Between January and June 2018 the number of barbershops on Britain’s high streets rose by 349 units, according to the latest research by the Local Data Company. We investigate what the rise is attributed to and discuss whether it’s an encouraging sign for the barbering industry or a cause to worry about standards declining. Plus, find out what you can do to set yourself apart from the increasing competition.
Why has there been a dramatic rise in barbershops?
The barbershop boom could be attributed to a combination of factors, such as a rising costumer demand for male grooming services and the fact that barbershops can become thriving businesses quickly. A male grooming trend has undeniably taken off thanks to popular culture. It’s not just haircuts and beard trims that customers are now heading to their barbers for. They are now seeking out male grooming services such as waxing, eyebrow shaping, facials and manicures. “With the growing influence of social media, TV and the internet, there’s an emphasis on people looking and feeling good. This applies just as much to men as it does to women,” explains the Hilary Hall, chief executive of National Hairdressers’ Federation (NHF). Not only has this seen a new market emerge of men requesting grooming services for the first time, but they are getting them on a more regular basis too.
Keith Conniford, registrar at the Hair and Barber Council adds: “I believe it’s because of the rise in professionalism of the barber industry, the way barbers excel at promoting themselves on social media and the way they provide an excellent service for customers. The change in the public’s perception of barbering as an industry has changed dramatically these past few years.”
Another reason for the boom might be because the financial barriers to setting up a barbershop business are comparatively low. “Barbershops don’t cost a huge amount to set up compared to many other businesses because they don’t carry a lot of expensive stock,” says Hilary. “Many barbershops don’t employ their staff but have self-employed chair renters working in them. This is seen to a much greater extent than in hair or beauty salons. This reduces the costs of running a barbershop, particularly when employment costs are rising (such as rises to the National Living Wage/National minimum wage, pensions auto-enrolment).” A combination of a growing market and the financial accessibility of barbershops has created a boom.
What are the concerns for the barbering industry?
Despite the boom, could it be a case of bust in a few years’ time? There are concerns that an increase in competition could lead to a price war which in turn has seen some businesses operating ‘under the radar’ with very low prices and a cash-only till.
The NHF explains: “Many barbershops charge low prices which rely on high volumes of sales, but these are difficult to achieve when there are competing businesses up and down the high street.” In theory this can send barbershops into a spiral of ever-decreasing prices, and there is evidence to suggest that some are operating cash-only businesses to save money. “Unfortunately there are far too many ‘cash only’ barbershops who charge rock bottom prices, ignore all their responsibilities and work completely under the radar when it comes to enforcement,” says the NHF. “We have been urging HMRC to target those businesses, not the reputable businesses who make an occasional genuine error.”
Education and training is another area of concern for the industry. Adam Sloan MFED CEO explains: “I do worry about the standards declining. In my opinion the public deserves to go to a business that provides qualified hair and / or male grooming experts, or at least an employee who is working towards qualifications.” Adam is quick however to explain that the skill of more senior barbers who have grown their careers without formal training is not in question. But will the increase in barbershops breed a generation of ‘untrained’ barbers? As there is currently no regulation that means barbers have to have a qualification, it seems only time will tell.
How can you set yourself apart from the competition?
Despite potential ‘rogue traders’ operating, there are ways to keep your reputable business ahead of the competitors. Barbershops need to work harder than ever on their brand, on delivering an exceptional client experience, investing in their teams and keeping tight control on costs in order to keep in profit. Keith, registrar at the Hair and Barber Council says: “Offering and maintaining professional standards in training and education is key, as well as ensuring health and safety and hygiene standards are exemplary. I encourage businesses to have a well-fitted and professional store/shop too.”
There are many barbers who are chasing the same clients, so it’s crucial to define what your barbershop does and the unique services it offers, rather than driving down prices and becoming involved in a price war. “Set yourself apart from others by fantastic customer service, constantly upskilling and concentrate on their team,” recommends Adam Sloan.
Christian Wiles, NHF’s male grooming and barbering ambassador also believes brands should be investing time and money specifically into male grooming services in order to set themselves apart from their competitors. He comments: “Social media has dramatically raised the expectations of the ‘modern man’: men are seeking salons that offer a wider service menu. Early adopters of male grooming services have seen significant benefits to their business and salon owners who wish to grow should investigate accommodating the needs of this booming segment.” These businesses can charge higher prices and are likely to keep a loyal clientele if they are the only barbers in the area offering these services.