There’s no doubt that the growth we’ve been seeing for the past five years in barbering has been unprecedented. Until, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic happened and everything changed. From salon shutdowns to restricted services in barbershops, it’s been a gut punch for men’s grooming. Lockdowns have forced many people to go months without a haircut, and not surprisingly, many guys have taken matters into their own (or their partner’s) hands with DIY haircuts from the comfort of their homes. What remains to be seen is when and how many of these clients will return to their local salon or barbershop for their usual haircut, shave or beard trim. There’s no question that the pandemic has caused financial strain on salon owners, stylists and barbers alike, and the same can be said of the impact it’s had on clients. And while it’s unrealistic to expect each and every client to return to their usual pre-pandemic hair maintenance-related routines, the concern over losing large numbers of clients has got some owners and stylists proactively thinking about ways to pivot their business. “I think it’s important to evolve and learn more than just what you know,” says Eric Charpentier, a dualist specialist at Salon Blunt in Montreal. “We’re incredibly lucky to have a job where everything continually changes; adapting to new trends is a good way to keep pushing ourselves to learn, grow and try new things.”
Going Against the Grain
While Charpentier enjoys working with men’s hair (he was a finalist for Men’s Hairstylist at the 2020 Contessa Awards), it was important for him to learn how to work with both men’s and women’s hair, as well as how to colour and style (hence being a “dualist” specialist). “I love doing both—each practice is so different and I love to do multiple services when I’m behind the chair,” he says. “Full colour for men has been big, especially with platinum blonde and pink hair, and balayage on men, which I love.” While for many men, colour services may be limited to grey coverage, it’s important to know how to offer a range of services to build business with your client. “I realized that men take more time for themselves; they’re regular with their appointments and they try to find the best hairstylist or barber to make themselves look their best,” adds Charpentier. For Maki Mak, a hairstylist and barber at Zinc Hair Studio in Vancouver, being able to cut shorter and longer hair has been an instrumental part of her career. “For me, barbering and [men’s] cuts are very important, especially with shorter hair, because you can really see the weight in the hair and I feel like that translates into longer hair,” she says. “If you only do longer hair, you don’t always see the weight distribution in the haircut. When I was first cutting long hair, I felt robotic doing the same type of layering every time, until I started barbering, I realized that if I leave one part longer or missed a spot, the weight distribution is going to make the haircut or colour look different and it’s not going to be flattering. You get to really assess the head shape, too.”
Elevating the Experience
For Thom Robins, owner of Thom, a men’s salon and barbershop in Vancouver, the idea of offering his clients a new salon experience is part of his inspiration for his own shop, which opened in 2019. “We opened something that, in Canadian barbering standards, has a little bit more of a European feel and is more of a men’s salon,” says Robins. “A lot of the barbershops here are traditional, and very casual or ‘bro-y.’ I wanted to present something that was more from my background of working in the U.K, London, and in New York, and just has a more salon feel to it, with more high-end service and more technical ability from the stylists to offer more to the consumer. I think the consumer base demands it now.” Since the pandemic, his shop has adapted to the growing needs of men. “We still offer shaving services, but it’s not the bulk of our revenue. I think it’s waned. We do a lot of beard services, but the bulk of what we do is haircare based,” he adds. Some clients are realizing how much of their disposable income they have saved during the pandemic, while others are missing the experience of being in a salon or barbershop. Since the last year has changed so much of the client’s experience (due to the extra health and safety protocols), it’s important to make an in-person visit as enjoyable as possible. “I think some clients realized they saved money [by staying home], so some aren’t coming in as often,” says Mak. “For us, the shampooing and scalp massage is a big part of the experience, and I have clients tell me they miss that. I think the pandemic has made people realize that they miss the whole experience of seeing their stylist, and of feeling special. I think it does a lot for their mental health.” For the men that didn’t go the DIY route during the pandemic, many are sporting longer, grown-out hairstyles that some have even decided to keep. “We get calls all the time from someone with long hair, asking if we have someone that cuts long hair. Of course, we do! But in the barbering world, I think a lot of guys have had bad experiences,” says Robins. “We also get a lot of clients who have been previously going to more women-centric salons, and now they feel more comfortable coming to us because they think they have a comparable environment, specifically for them.”
Treat Them Right
Aside from the traditional hair and grooming services, treatments have been a rising demand among men. Robins says he’s noticed a trend with keratin treatments. “I think people are now starting to realize that as their hair gets longer and they are going three months (or longer) without a haircut, they are living with their natural texture more,” he says. “We’re seeing a big increase in keratin treatments. They take less convincing to do—people are just doing them and spending the money.” Charpentier notes that perms were a big trend and should also be something you’re comfortable with doing, so you’re able to cater to any (and every) client’s hair needs.
With an abundance of free education available online, there’s no better time than now to learn new skills that will help you expand your clientele—especially if your province or region is still in lockdown. “Continuing education is so easy, thanks to so many easily accessible videos. I follow so many different hairstylists and barbers on Instagram, and there are so many posts that you can look through to be inspired and dive in more,” says Mak. “Taking the extra time to practice on a mannequin or a model and dip your toes into a new technique will definitely help open up your eyes to different ways to do things. It will spill over into your daily life, and it may open doors of opportunity.” Add to the fact that the trend of men wearing their hair longer is likely going to stick around, it’s clear that the need to be able to handle any hair length, type or texture is paramount. “It’s important to follow the changes in the industry and educate yourself. If you don’t learn new skills, you stay at the same place and you can’t fulfill [the client’s] request, so you won’t generate any more profit,” says Charpentier. “I enjoy doing men’s hair because there are so many ways to work on it. I love creating texture, blunt lines and an amazing fade on the same head! It’s so creative and seeing the impact of your haircut is amazing.” “We have to keep the momentum going or you’re going to get stagnant,” adds Robins. “Look at new ways to add new services for the future of barbering and men’s hairstyling. I personally think traditionalism is dead and while it’s not likely to go away completely, it’s slowly fading out of the picture.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]