I have bored myself stupid with talking about how I left the Army to become a barber, and probably those around me too. However, I can't escape the fact that it is a subject which interests people. Otherwise, they wouldn't ask, right? I must admit it is an unusual move so here's the short version of the story.
I moved from Plymouth to Pudsey, Leeds in 1984 at the age of 12. I went to a local school and as the eldest child in a family of six (plus a dog and 2 cats) I couldn't wait to leave our rather crowded home. To break free of being the eldest kid who had to mediate the arguments between the other 3, to set the example of good behaviour to them, to babysit them, to be the most trusted person to do the chores etc. I know...poor me!
I left home at the age of 17 to pursue a childhood dream of joining the Army. I did 5 years, met my dream wife and left the Army aged 22. When we decided our marriage was stable enough, I re-joined and did a further 15 years. I worked in the equivalent role of a HR generalist, dealing with payroll administration, discipline, training, absence, travel, blah-de-blah. I still had to run around like an idiot with a rifle and big 'bergen' on my back, in line with the Army's ethos that everyone is a 'soldier first', but my day job was sat in front of a computer, meeting deadlines, doing various administrative jobs.
I often wondered what I would do when I left the Army, knowing that the administration side of things was not the most stimulating or financially rewarding career path. So, I was kicking ideas about for quite some time for my last 6-7 years of Service. Once I decided that I relished the prospect of self-employment, I then had to decide what I would actually do. I had to consider what I was good at, what I enjoy doing, and other things which gave me some other form of pleasure/interest.
I decided that I kind of enjoyed being attended to by a good barber, but that the whole barbershop experience was generally very poor. It was my mini-eureka moment and I got some very dubious looks when I presented the idea to my wife. The idea was tossed around very casually until about 2011/12 when I was stationed at RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire. I started investigating if/how I could make this idea a reality. There were very few courses on offer and the best seemed to be in the City of London. To add to the expense of the courses, I would have to stay in London for 10 (?) weeks. In October 2012 I was promoted again and posted to Germany. The idea of barbering kind of took a back seat for a short while until it was announced in June 2013 that I would be made redundant in the December.
I then went from training to go to Afghanistan (again) to taking a very serious look at barber training. Slight change of focus there! We moved to an Army house in York and I travelled daily to an academy in Leeds where I found an affordable, flexible course which resulted in me achieving NVQ Level 2 in barbering and also doing the level 3 modules in shaving and facial massage. Well....I HAD to offer something other than just a haircut, especially after enjoying hot towel shaves in Kuwait, Iraq, Mexico, Germany, Dublin and York. I use the term 'enjoyed' loosely as some were better than others.
My training was completed just before my discharge date. We wanted to move to Pudsey where our children were already at school, so I set about looking for premises in the area. We moved (yet again) in Jan 2014 and after a couple of setbacks I found my current premises in Stanningley and things have taken off from there.
I had decided very early on that I didn't want to compete head to head with everyone else on price. I wanted to charge and offer a bit more. The plan started to unravel - the Chesterfield settees, a range of freshly ground coffees, free beer, free WiFi, customer record cards, loyalty cards, Sky Sports on large screen TV and many, many other ideas for creating an environment blokes would come to because they like to, not because they have to. I wanted to be different and attract people who may otherwise have gone into town. It is testament to this vision that at least two other barbers have now started adopting some of these ideas. At first I thought, "what a cheek!" but I soon took it as a compliment.
Men deserve better than to be treated like second rate citizens. When you compare the average barbershop to the comfort and hospitality offered to ladies in a hairdressing salon, second rate is actually not even close. I don't like sitting on a polyprop chair reading out of date newspapers in an environment that's like a dentist's waiting room. How often have you ever been sat there in silence, wondering whose turn it is next? There may be no music but at least it's less than £5. Yes, there's a reason it's cheap and (arguably) cheerful.....
I once read an analogy that compared the cost of barbering to coffee. Most people, when they go into town, don't choose to go to the market for the cheapest coffee they can find, do they? They go to Costa or Starbucks or somewhere similar. Why? Because it's nicer and they feel they deserve something better than the cheapest around. So why do so many fellas look for the cheapest haircut? Why look for the cheapest most uncomfortable experience you can find? Sure, a #1 all over is a #1 all over wherever you go. However, the whole experience and perceived value can vary greatly. Why go for the lowest common denominator?
My final issue is time. If a ladies' hairdresser said to their client that they are the cheapest and fastest around, they probably wouldn't last very long. Most women would rather pay at least a bit extra and have their hairdresser take their time. Why do barbers dictate the opposite for men? Fellas, take a bit of pride in yourselves and demand more from your barber. It should be a pleasure, never a chore!
So, here I am. Looking to look after you 'because you're worth it!" (Can I have some pickle with that cheese?)