I made a trip to what has been a sometime barbershop for me over the past year. It is an "old style" shop dating back to the 1950's. My work location changed a little over a year ago and this shop is more difficult to get to during the week, so I have usually been going to a barbershop closer to my home which also dates back to the 1950's but the barbers there do not adhere to a pure "old style" technique and usually don't do the straight razor and lather clean up on the neck and sideburns. They don't carry any shaving products for sale and although more traditional than a modern hair salon, it's not traditional wet shaving friendly. The shop I went to today definitely is, but could be far more with a little effort.
Just like the shaver today who hearkens back to traditional wet shaving methods and products, the same person often also craves a more traditional barbershop experience when getting their hair cut. Up scale shops like the Art of Shaving often also have a straight razor shave feature and present a more "hands on" type of education to supplement the sales of shaving products. The AOS mall shops that also do straight razor shaves cater to a "new wet shaver" and try to "hook" them into buying their products via the advise and demonstration from a "professional barber". For the small corner barbershop owner there is an opportunity to do the reverse. Offer wet shaving products as an add on service for their shop patrons. Old style barbershop can remain vital and profitable by being a friend to the emerging traditional wet shaving customer.
As I've been thinking about the role of the barbershop in our communities and how just like there is a resurgence in traditional wet shaving there is a trend for men seeking the atmosphere and service of a the corner barbershop. I ask the young barber cutting my hair today about whether or not they offered straight razor shaves and was completely surprised to learn that about half of this shops business was giving straight razor shaves every day of the week. Oklahoma is one of the few locations in the United States where you can still get a straight razor shave with a real straight razor and not a disposable shavette blade. My barber laughing reported that they had also taught the one female barber in their shop to give a straight razor shave and consequently many of the male barbers lost shave customers to her in the ensuing days. In this "working man's" barbershop a shave and a hair cut runs in the neighborhood of about $35-40 versus the same in the high end location in town charging $70-80 minimum.
The shop I attended today sold a variety of Jeris and Masters After Shaves, many pomade products, a few straight and DE razors, some blades and a few kinds of shaving soap pucks and creams. They didn't have a huge variety, nor the space to display much, but it was front and center in their shop and not hidden in an obscure corner or cabinet. My barber also reported that there was a local artisan soap maker who periodically makes a couple of hundred pucks of tallow based shaving soap and brings them in to display and sell. "They don't last long," he laughed. "Everyone likes them a lot." We're talking a few weeks not months to move a couple hundred pucks of shaving soap. I didn't know there were that many traditional wet shavers in Oklahoma City to scarf up product that quickly.
The more I ponder this situation the more I am convinced that the corner community barbershop is an untapped resource in the campaign to revive traditional wet shaving, whether it involves straight razors or safety razors. The focus and attention from the wet shaving community has been on upscale high priced barbershops from what I can see. The truth of the matter is that the more "working class" shops offer a much broader market and audience for traditional wet shaving product makers and evangelists than what most pundits would expect. The way to success I think will require thinking outside of the "normal" methodologies of marketing and product distribution.
What better way to make connections with fellow wet shavers in your community than to learn about them via your barbershop? What better location to stage educational events about traditional wet shaving? What better location to showcase traditional wet shaving products that originate regionally if not locally? Large shopping malls may have been the opening salvo in the war for the heart and mind of the wet shaver but I think the corner barbershop could very well be the future location of big corporate shaving's Waterloo in the battle for the future generation of wet shavers. There is a very narrow niche market that can afford AOS level of top shelf shaving products on an occasional visit to a large shopping mall. There is a very wide and plentiful market waiting to be tapped among the working and middle class men who frequents a local barbershop on a monthly basis.
Artisan shaving product makers are you listening? Barbershop owners and barbers are you paying attention? Both of you are missing a very profitable opportunity if you do not co-locate traditional shaving products and gear in your local barbershops. I have seen a few examples where barbershops have emerged as community hubs with after hours events, seminars, and fun meeting locations for lunchtime or evening socialization. Some places have bars or taverns co-located with product branding and all the trimmings. Not every barbershop would need to or want to go to this extent but what goes better with a traditional haircut than a traditional shave...both in shop and at home.
Barbershops are some of the few businesses that have not been gobbled up into the corporate chain store plague that has pushed so many of our independent movie theaters, pharmacies and grocery stores out of existence in recent years. Because most barbershops are independently and individually owned brick and mortar locations it is far more difficult to reach them as a product marketer but isn't starting small and dreaming big what has made the small businesses of the world the largest employers and money makers? We hear about the profits and losses of the big corporations but it is the small businesses that provide the most jobs, profits and losses in our economies.
I'm going to be talking to my barbershop proprietor a little more in the future about such things and even though I have no interest in the business end of the matter I am interested in educational opportunities. I may offer to do seminars and demonstrations if they are interested. Maybe if I ever get a book or two written someday instead of having a book signing in a Barnes & Noble Bookstore I could do it at Charlie's Barbershop on the corner.
I believe the future of traditional wet shaving is large and exciting but I am becoming more convinced that the avenue to becoming bigger and how to make it exciting could very well be found in the small...the small barbershop that has always been there as a community anchor but in recent years has gotten a little run down and in need of some rehabilitation.
"Barber, give me a shave and a haircut, if you please." When was the last time you said those words? I never have, but I'm sure I will in the not too distant future..."and throw in a bottle of Osage Rub, a couple of packs of 7 o'clock yellows and a puck of that Cedar and Lime shaving soap".
Good Shaves, Be Happy, Be Safe