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The Black Barber

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Diverse Models: The People’s Barber

by James Abayomi Ojo

Back in the 90s when being loyal to your barber actually meant something, and before there was a song made to show appreciation for those who stilltrust their life with their barber, getting a haircut aka ‘a trim’ was a different experience.

I remember the first time I got dropped to the barbershop. My Dad ushered me into the seat of another man who’s firm hand held my head still. I can still remember hearing the instructions my pops gave — a first generation Nigerian in the UK whose main concern was to make sure I had a smart level 1 despite the fact he was liberal enough to bless me with the signature line Mr. Tyson sported in his formative years (thanks Dad!). Ironically the shop was actually called “Dad’s” and in those times Jamaican barbers were the ones we all knew and went to.

Check out the Tyson cut

Don’t touch my head unless you’re my barber

We have learnt, and understood for years that when you go to a barber; nothing is as important as a sick fade or a clean cut (the shape up is actually the most sacred part). This remains consisent across black culture and is why even in the states, we knew Tristan was paying attention to our needs with Bevel.

 I remember moving to Essex but still travelling an hour to Hackney for my trim. Douglas from Dad’s had already gone AWOL because of a girl so my new barber was introduced to me by a school friend. Despite the fact I hadn’t spoken to my schoolmate in years, the intro to this new barber is what kept me loyal. A few years later the bond was broken when Mr. Barber made the mistake of placing someone in front of me in the queue.
Loyalty works both ways bro!

Do you know what? I was relieved to be able to move on to a better barber; it wasn’t too far from the barber who broke our bond and to be honest my friends still joke that going to Hackney’s best barber resurected my trim . Imagine, loyalty to a barber was holding me back!

I had already broken my barber virginity so when “Hackney barber” decided to increase his prices by 60% in the same year, I wasn’t mad, I just moved onto London’s best barber for the same price. See the thing is, Hackney’s finest barber made the mistake of complementing another man’s trim whilst I was in the chair and my experience in banking taught me that everyone has a price — price elasticity had no more slack left.

THE MARKET

In this market where black boys get their trims; sticking with one barber has been the norm for so many years and barbers have benefited from this as it created conditions where the LTV of a customer was higher and cashflow was steady. As long as the trim was good!

Innovative models like Trim-It, have entered the scene, challenging these norms by building on the change in consumer needs. They understand that what the reinassaunce man wants is different; therefore what he values is also.

Times are different…we have benefited from a better standard of living, we’re used to the convenience in our everyday lives, so why can’t we have more of that? When it comes to user experience, vitamins such as: being able to see your barber’s calendar, having appointment’s slot into your calendar seamlessly and being able to manage bookings from your phone makes our life sweet! Imagine if your barber could be the one coming to you

Commoditised & Modular or Desire for more?

Let’s not forget that a marketplace wouldn’t work if there wasn’t two sides. Trimming hair is a proven source of income for people of African and Caribbean heritage.

Get the trim right; be the trusted adviser for your client and you’ve got the client base. Most barbers start off renting a chair in a shop and hustling the hesitant occupants of the shop who have come for the first time or are considering risking it with a new barber because they are pressed for time. Their pay works like this, they either pay a fixed price to the owner and keep the rest or share a percentage of the revenue with the owner/shop. And behind the scenes, differences between owners and barbers happen because of things such as not getting paid on time or other issues not worth going into.

Barbers are driven by two things, fame and money

The experience of the client beyond that can be a real afterthought and it varies depending where you get your trim.

Now let’s look at this potential shift in the market.

Trim-It is breaking up the existing integrated system, and two shifts are happening at the same time.

(1) The platform is aggregating barbers, creating a more modulated service when it comes to how appointments are booked.

Aggregation Theory: Trim-It own the booking and distribution. The service & relationship is still the barbers
Representation of current model: You trim and they come through word of mouth

No longer will barbers compete upon exclusive relationships with consumers an afterthought. Instead, barbers can be aggregated at scale leaving consumers as a first order priority.By owning the booking and communication, Trim-It can modulize the parts of the system that barbers are naturally good at also creating competition. As a result, the most important factor determining success is the user experience: The best market makers win by providing the best experience which earns them the most consumers, attracts the most barbers and enhances the user experience in a virtuous cycle.

Mobile Barbering, I’ve heard nothing like it

(2) The second shift is the mobile barbering service. It will feel like Uber-ing your barber and the fact that you can hop into a luxury “barber shop” anywhere will alleviate all privacy concerns which I hypothesise is a big deal for black men.

At the same time, it won’t come without its challenges.

Typically the internet has made distribution free, neutralising the advantage distributors have of integrating with the supplier. In this case, Trim-It is adding an extra layer to the existing model. Simultaneously, transaction costs are minimal, making it viable to integrate forward with consumers at scale

Some would say that things work just the way they are and whilst that is true, the market is ripe for a new look at what the opportunities exist that will create value for all parties involved. Success will be determined by the ability of challengers to serve consumers better than anyone else in the market, and a repeatable and scalable model that works.

It’s hard to assess what the costs are, and I am sure Trim-It have thought about what their 1 year, 5 year and 7 year plan is. From the outside looking in however I suspect they will need to consider factors such as their expenses and distribution costs.

A good barber can chill in a shop and cut two or 3 in an hour, so with the introduction of mobile barbering a barber may not be able to do as many in an hour; but it does introduce new opportunities for flexibility.

The value proposition is a bit clear, and as adoption increases it will be interesting to see where this takes us. Who knows, this could be the beginning of a revolutionary shift in barbering…

About James Abayomi Ojo ⚡
He uses his product management experience and data skills to bring disparate pieces together for diverse tech teams that want to solve market problems