Barber School

By Lloyd Graff

Sometimes you can learn a lot from getting a haircut.

I’ve been going to the same barbershop for 20 years.  My needs are simple.  Same hair style since I was 12.  It’s a 15-minute trim.

My old barber, Ed, died several years ago, and his employee Erin bought the shop.  She inherited my head, I guess, and as a creature of habit I just continued the monthly routine.  I rarely make appointments with her ahead of time, preferring to call her when I know I have a free half hour.  She usually can fit me in on the day I call, but lately I’ve been having trouble fitting into her schedule.  She runs a one-person shop with an occasional helper coming in.  She does not work Sunday and Monday and is on a 9-5 schedule with Saturday ending at 2:30.

A couple of months ago I needed a haircut and had procrastinated until the last minute.  I was going to a wedding, and my hair was getting a bit sloppy.  I called Erin for an appointment for Friday afternoon or Saturday, and she told me she had nothing available.  I figured she could stay a little later or sandwich me in, and I requested that.  She would not fit me in, so I had to look for options.

An expanding Midwest supermarket chain had recently moved into the neighborhood named Meijer.  I had noticed on one of my infrequent visits to the store that it had a Great Clips barbershop that always seemed to be doing a thriving business.  I also needed to buy some strawberries and yogurt at the time and decided I would check out the shop.

The attitude was refreshing the second I walked in the store.  I was heartily welcomed, and the person who greeted me said she could cut my hair immediately.  I cruised into a chair, gave her my hair specs, and she pleasantly cut my hair, quite professionally, in 17 minutes start to finish.  The tab was $11 for a “senior.”  I was so pleased I gave her a $5 tip.  My cost at Erin’s shop, which was much more sterile than Great Clips, was $25 with a tip.

Erin, my barber, became my former barber that day.

As a student of business I understand how big chains like Great Clips and Sport Clips are killing off the small guys, and there is something sad about that.  But the clear fact to me after that first haircut in the Meijer superstore building was that I like this approach more than the Erin approach I had clung to.

I also realized that a small business like Today’s Machining World and Graff-Pinkert cannot afford to disappoint its customers, because they always have other options.  I knew this, of course, as a business veteran, but when it was demonstrated to me as a customer it had extra impact.

Erin has a real problem as a one-man band who wants a “life,” but as a client, I do not care.  I want my haircut when I want my haircut, and if I do not get it I look for another option.  If that option turns out to be significantly better for me she loses me as a client.

It is a lesson to teach employees who may take a cavalier approach to deliveries.   The customer has their needs.  The needs may conflict with your well-laid plans or unexpected breakdowns.  And they don’t care – nor would you.

Question: Do you prefer a private barber shop or a chain?

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15 thoughts on “Barber School

  1. r in nyc

    I have a cute girl in the neighborhood that stops by at our shop from time to time. $20 with tip, and talk about convenient! Although we have to sweep our own clippings 😉

    She has always spoken of the dog-eat-dog world of the hairdressing business here in the city, and I’m sure most elsewhere. She gave up on the nonsense and does this part time with old reliable customers.

    It ALWAYS goes back to simple economics – supply vs demand. And NEVER forget Quality, delivery and service. However I have noticed that too often now relationships have little effect on contract awards – ONLY PRICE.
    And CASH is king!

    I have also noticed there is less and less to sweep up as the years go by…

  2. alan bjork

    i flowbee my hair in the basement. takes 2 minutes. being doing it this way for over 30 years. my son is 24 and he has never been to a barber. total cost for over 55 years of haircuts, one flowbee at $50 in 1985. the stylist at my daughters wedding wondered how we got our hair cut so evenly.

  3. Gordy

    Funny you had that experience with Great Clips. Mine was the opposite.
    I had been going to the same one for about 15 years, even when it changed hands and began using the “sign in on the internet model.” The 20-30 minute wait usually resulted in me going to Binnys across the street to kill some time and buy a bottle of top shelf Tequila, assuming time allowed for that.
    Then I showed up at 5:30 on my way home early from a job and there were 3 employees sitting chatting and they told me I needed to wait 30 minutes since I didn’t check in on line so they could continue whatever was more important than the customer.
    Now I go to Mikes, and not only do the great clips girls not know I left, they wouldn’t care anyway.

  4. Dave Bradley

    Some of us are just creatures of habit, hard knuckle fighting change at every turn. Once in a while we get forced into doing something that breaks our traditions. And probably 75 to 80 % of the time ends up being a good experience. But that 20 to 25% of the time………..see, I told you so!!!

  5. Tim

    As long as you’re happy with the quality of the job that’s how life works. Some people will prefer one and some the other. I go to a barber and it’s more of a hipster barbershop. I’m no hipster but the experience is worth something to me. They are busy enough to only take appointments.

  6. Fred F

    I haven’t been to a barber other than once in a great while, in 30 years. I cut my own hair, by feel, without a mirror. My Girlfriend, who’s picky about hair always looks it over hard in effort to find fault. Maybe once in awhile, she’ll find a hair or 2 that I missed. Usually, she inspects, then shakes her head with a crooked grin because it looks -that- good. I do get her assistance with the back where my neck needs to be shaved. The hair cuts happen at random after it gets long and is bugging me, and always late in the evening on a night when more than several nice dark high alcohol content craft beers have been consumed. I sweep my own floor, no Flowbee required.

  7. Joe

    I cut my own hair also- in the shower with a Gillette Fusion. Best decision I ever made to shave the noggin and wish I’d of done it sooner. Hair is over rated.

  8. Noah Graff

    Have to go to my private barber Dita in Chicago. She was trained in the Czech Republic where they must go to both barber school and cosmetology school. She’s a master.

    99% of the time I’m ecstatic after my haircuts. I often don’t know how to describe what I want or even what I want. She is about as close as it gets to reading my mind.

    At a chain you might get someone good but you might get someone without a clue about cutting hair or what would look good on you. 17 minutes dad! What are you getting a buzz cut!

    New Barber Shop—as long as Dita is there (and owns the place) I will be there!

  9. Bruce Renwick

    Great article Lloyd. Loyalty goes both directions as it should, right? This reminds me of getting service at Walstore, if it ever happens, that’s nice but don’t think it will happen often, it won’t. Not about to excuse your barber of all those years for not stepping up, that’s inexcusable. For me, I’ll continue to shave my own head until i no longer can get my arm up there and I’ll continue to go small and local when I can.

  10. Paul Huber

    My experience with my private barber equals yours. I now also go to a chain store which keeps my haircut preferences on file.
    Therefore I get my cut exactly as desired no matter who cuts my hair.
    It is my sincere hope that the chain spends time and money on the education of their present and future workforce.
    Unlike a certain association, which we both know, who is not willing to set aside at least half of their scholarship funds for engineering students which are needed by its members, but also to sustain our top place in the world of manufacturing.
    Noah, your situation does prove the point that skilled labor training (apprenticeship) will create masters of the trade which we need to salute and respect.

    Paul Huber LSME

  11. Steve

    Been going to the same barber since before I had a drivers license (I’m now 61). I just give him a call & pick a time, never have to wait. He always supports our Christmas event for kids at church (cuts hair for free for 4-hours on a Monday night) even though he goes to church somewhere else. My pastor needed a haircut once & his barber was out of town, sent him to mine & now he has a new regular customer. Not sure what I will do when he retires, but he may out live me & i won’t have to think about it.


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