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Bringin’ Back the Barbershop: Success in Gender-Centric Business

If you’re a fan of AMC’s “Mad Men,” more likely than not, you’re also a fan of the fashionably-dressed and meticulously-groomed ensemble.

Don Draper – fictional character or not – has singlehandedly made the clean-cut, side-parted, slicked-back hairstyle popular again. Things like “combs” and “hair product” have come back into fashion, thankfully. The hairstyle is back. More importantly, the barbershop culture is, too.

You want the “Mad Men” look? You’ll need the haircut to go with it. It’s just as important as the clothing. If you want one, you’ll have to go to the barbershop. Not the salon. The barbershop.

If you’d thought barbershops went the way of Pat Boone and ambrosia salad, think again. There’re some mighty fine barbers at the Belmont Barbershop keeping the tradition alive and well. These guys are doing it right. Recently I was lucky enough to experience it for myself. I’d never been to a legitimate barbershop before. Unashamedly a sentimentalist, I knew I’d like it from the moment I walked in.

There’s no reception desk, nor is there a receptionist. If anything greets you, it’s that trademark smell: shaving cream and aftershave, like the stuff your dad wore. Eau de Manliness. If that doesn’t spell it out for you, the décor [or lack thereof] will. The décor? Old photographs, vintage tin sign, and a couple fine examples of taxidermy. Right from the moment you walk in, you know this joint isn’t even remotely making an attempt to cater to anyone but the male demographic. If you need a cut or a shave, this is your place, and if you need anything else, well…there’s an app for that, so the youngsters say.

If you’ve an appointment, you can just walk right over to your barber’s chair.

If you’re early for your appointment, you can grab a seat on the couch in back and – if you’re so inclined – help yourself to a cold PBR from the fridge.

Early for your appointment? Help yourself to a cold PBR.

Early for your appointment? Help yourself to a cold PBR.

If you don’t have an appointment, you’re more than welcome to write your name on the waiting list…but come early. (I’d my haircut at 8AM on a Saturday, and no more than fifteen minutes into my cut, there were already a couple fellas on the waiting list.)

My barber greeted me with a hello and a warm handshake, and after taking a couple minutes to discuss the look I had in mind, it was haircut ‘o clock. Now, if you’ve trouble finding a good hairstyle, or describing what you’d like? Be sure to read my tips at the bottom of this article, guys. Useful stuff.

So, for my purposes, “Tight and tapered on the sides, long and loose up top; a pompadour.”

Only had to say so much as that, and Jesse Lee (my barber) took it from there.

He’ll start with electric clippers to rough-out your look.

Cut with scissors.

Clean-up with a straight razor.

And style it with some old-school product and a comb.

Haircuts for grown-ass men by grown-ass men. Est. 2005.

Haircuts for grown-ass men by grown-ass men. Est. 2005.

But what about a Shampoo? Nope. Condition? Heck no. Scalp massage? Are you #$%in’ kidding me? This man’s there to cut your hair. Not give you a spa day. You want a copy of “O” magazine to read while inhaling lavender-scented aromatherapy vapors…this ain’t your place.

Not to say your barber’s all work and no play. You’ll chat: about the music playing in the shop, sports, the day, your plans, what have you. But no more than you’d like to. They’re pretty good at making enough conversation to make you comfortable, but not so much that it distracts them from their work. Barbershops are known for conversation. Good conversation, between the barber and the client, and the clients themselves. Why? Well, you’ve got regulars. A guy finds his barber and sticks with him, and maybe even sees another regular he recognizes, too. (Places like this were social media, back in the day, remember.) Years ago, the barbershop experience was as much about the social dynamic as it was about getting a haircut. Here, it still is.

The guys work pretty quickly, and with little mechanical assistance…most their work is done simply with a pair of scissors, amazingly enough. My haircut there was the first one I’d had in more than four months, and they still managed to get me in and out within a half-hour – which is a good thing. If your barber here is quick, it’s only because he’s that good. They get it: just because he can cut hair like a machine doesn’t mean he has to act like one, too. All their barbers are approachable, personal guys who’ll make you feel like you’ve been a client for years.

When you’re finished with your cut, and it comes time to square-up…tip the man well. At $17, their haircuts are one of the best values in the city. Barbers are a rare lot to come by, especially good ones. These guys you’ll want to keep in business for years. Thank you, Belmont Barbershop, for keeping this manly institution a-going.

Before you leave: if you like that pomade your barber used, they’ve got some of it you can buy, right there. If they style your hair with it, chances are, they’ve got it in-stock. They won’t up-sell you on it. But it’s there if you need it.

And grab a pocket comb on your way out. It’s complimentary, and has their phone number printed right on it. Part hair-styling tool, part calendar reminder, it’s a veritable Swiss Army Knife of usefulness.

You’ll need it, guys.

Ask for Jesse Lee. And even if he’s busy, any of their barbers will do as fine a job.

For the Fellas: Tips for Achieving the Manliest Possible Haircut

Tips for Achieving the Manliest Possible HaircutWhat brought me here to begin with? I knew they did retro hairstyles, and did them well.

What did they call them? No idea.

I needed to familiarize myself with their style of haircutting, as well as the lingo accompanying it.

Luckily, Issac Holmes tossed some fish in a barrel for me, and posts pictures of his work online. To make simple even simpler, he accompanies the pictures with the appropriate terminology. Turns out what I was after was a “High and Tight Pompadour.” Or, in layman’s terms, all that means is keeping is short on the side and back, keeping the length up top, and slicking it back from the forehead. It’s a whole lot easier to say “High and Tight Pomp,” though, ain’t it? Proves my point. Learn the lingo. It’ll save both you and your barber time.

If you’re not privy to such a resource, fret not. There are a few other ways to go about it.

  1. Take a walk by the shop, and see how other guys are having their hair cut and styled. Find a look you like, run it by your barber, and he’ll know where to go from there.
  2. He’s no mind-reader, though, so remember to chat with him about what you want. If you tell him, he’ll almost always be able to hit it right on the money. You clam up, and become indecisive? He’s not going to be able to serve you as well as he possibly could. Let me put it this way: would you ever walk into a restaurant and tell the chef, “SURPRISE ME!” No. No you wouldn’t. Don’t even think about it. Be a smart kid, and do your homework.
  3. If you’re still having trouble, try and see if there’s a barber in the shop with either the same type of hair as yours, or the hairstyle you’d like to have. Chances are, if he’s got to wrangle that mane every morning, he’ll know your hair better than most would.
  4. Ask a friend. A guy entrusts a barber to his hair like he’d entrust a best man to his wedding ring. I went to this barber shop because my best friend recommended it to me. As soon as he told me where he got his hair cut, I asked him who cut his hair. It’s by no mistake nor coincidence that we see the same barber. My friend and I still may disagree on just how awesome Brylcreem is (ask your Grandparents if you’re lost on that reference, or better yet, your barber). But we do agree on our choice of barber.
  5. Bring a picture. If the photograph is of the exact style you’d like, there’s not really going to ever be a better resource than this, shy of dragging the guy from the photo into the shop (which I’d discourage as this could constitute kidnapping).
  6. If you’re going for the “Don Draper?” (For the rest of the cast, see here.) Tight and tapered on the sides. Long and full on the top. Sharp part on the left side of the head. And – please – use the kind of styling product Draper would. Leave the gel to the kids.

What’s your signature hair style? Have you also had a pleasant experience at your barber shop? Why else is this gender-centric business so successful?

Image credit to rob_rob2001, Belmont Barber Shop, and Clipart.com.


Eric Labanauskas

Eric is a data entry specialist and contributing writer for the QLP Blog Squad. He is a city boy with a country heart, with an appetite for anything chicken-fried. He has studied as an apprentice at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, performed across the country as Buddy Holly in "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story," and can tie a bow tie by himself without the aid of a mirror. 1950's rock 'n roll is his soundtrack, especially while on road-trips with his lovely girlfriend. Suffice it to say, he is also the owner of some good cocktail party stories from his many experiences. You can also connect with Eric on Google+.

Comments

  1. Cybernetic SAM

    “…Eau de Manliness.” That is awesome! Every time I see this setting it almost makes guys getting groomed so much more of a nostalgic thing than any salon that I have ever been to. I never thought that I would actually read a blog about the male grooming habits but it is pretty neat!

    I also admire you went full Red-blooded male on this, “This man’s there to cut your hair. Not give you a spa day. You want a copy of “O” magazine to read while inhaling lavender-scented aromatherapy vapors…this ain’t your place.”

    I almost wish that I could fit into a setting like this. You don’t know how often I feel very awkward when some strange person is awkwardly trying to get to know and be Chatty Cathy. Why does silence make everyone uncomfortable? Also, most Salons I have been to you have a choice of coffee, water, or tea… But PBR!?!? Not for the HIP element for for nostalgia sake that was a very nice touch.

    That place would just remind me of my grandpa, and a time when men cared to give a damn about this sort of thing. Heck I can barley keep my significant other from pinching pennies and busting out the clippers and turning our bathroom into a salon.

    So BRAVO! I never would have thought I would enjoy a blog about this topic and what do ya’ know it was really good! This place certainly knows what they are doing.

    p.s. awesome picture caption, “Haircuts for grown-ass men by grown-ass men. Est. 2005.”

    • Jeff Porretto

      “I can barley keep my significant other from pinching pennies and busting out the clippers and turning our bathroom into a salon.”

      You got a problem wit dat?? =]

      Totally agree with you on the silence thing though. Silence is amazing in the right setting.

    • Eric

      Needn’t worry, Sam!

      There are no ironically-worn t-shirts or mustaches to be found, here, so the PBR strictly is for the nostalgia factor.

      I’d say the chat goes with the repoire. As you get to know your barber, and he gets to know you, conversation just happens. It shouldn’t be like some awkward first date game of “20 questions.” These guys respect the value of silence. For some guys, it may be the most of it they get all day, so time in that chair is important to them. Like I said, with this place, it’s up to you.

      $17 for a cut. When my friend initially told me about the joint, I assumed it was going to be double. Yeah, it’s a little more than your typical hair “Chop Shop,” like Great Clips, but these guys’ll do a heck of a better job.

      I have – I’ll admit – gone to a Great Clips. I was depserate.

      I’ll even admit I’ve cut my own hair. I was, well, not thinking.

      After both occasions, I wound up going to get it professionally fixed. People make a living giving men hair cuts for a reason. Because some things are best left to the pros.

      Would you try your hand at self-dentistry? Light surgery? I don’t think so. It’s your body, and it’s your appearance. Guys should be taking care of it, and people notice when they do (or don’t).

      Leave it to the Pros at Belmont Barbershop to keep men looking like men. There will be no Justin-Bieber styles walking out of their shop. Ever.

      Thanks for the comments, Sam. From one old soul to another, I guess, right?

      • Cybernetic SAM

        Absolutely, we are on a the same level in a very unbelievable and most peculiar way, it seems. As for your advice “People make a living giving men hair cuts for a reason.” I literally said the same thing! I hate the passing wave of people who out do themselves in kitsch fashion and design yet tomorrow holds something completely new. Who says you can’t be nostalgic without irony. I made a life romanticizing about novelty and nostalgia and there is nothing cheeky or ironic about it! It is a level of comfort very rarely found by most. I don’t buy my sentimentality with money I earn it with passion! :)

  2. Jeff Porretto

    I’m like 99.9% sure you were born in the wrong era. You would’ve fit right in during barber shops’ heyday. But let’s see how good you are on a computer when they take up a whole room!! =]

    This post was fun as hell to read. I have a fondness for no-nonsense service. I’ve been to a fancy place once, and a barber once (buzzcut does not necessitate it). The fancy place made me feel straight up uncomfortable, not my cup-o-tea. But the barber shop felt like going to an old friend’s house by comparison. No frills, no fuss. If I ever have my hair longer again, that’s where I’ll be heading.

    P.S. I’ve been dying for a professional shave.

    • Eric

      Man, you’re telling me, Jeff.

      Thanks, and glad you liked it! Honestly, I really admire businesses with a no bullsh!# mentality that keep things simple and straightforward. Most – especially in this economy – tend to bend rules and waver with trends. These guys don’t.

      Haircuts. Shaves. That’s what they do. Shaves are a little more expensive, but if I had to guess why, I would attribute that to the amount of time and level of precision required for a straight-razor shave. Definitely NOT something you want to rush through. If I ever had the patience to grow out the slightest semblance of a beard? I’d definitely get one myself.

      Respect for the barber shop!

  3. Mandy Kilinskis

    You gotta give it up for a business that does their job, does it well, and doesn’t mind catering to a specific niche. I wish more business were like that instead of trying to figure out how they can cater to every single person that could possibly walk past their storefront.

    Semi-related, I love Roscoe Village. Rock on, Belmont Barbershop!

    • Eric

      Little known facts: I used to work reception for an upscale salon in an upper-class Chicago suburb, and if there’s one thing that bother me more than anything else, it would be customers taking advantage of businesses in this bad economy. They abuse the system, show up late to appointments, horn their way into timeslots that don’t exist, and aren’t one bit grateful for it when businesses bend over backwards to make the aforementioned forgivings and arrangements. They act entitled.

      Yet another reason I love this barbershop? I went right when they opened on a Saturday morning. As I was in the chair having my cut, I saw a guy come in. He was asked if he’d an appointment, and when he replied saying he didn’t, they asked him to put his name on a waiting list.

      He gladly obliged, scribbled his name down, and accepted the fact he’d be seen on a first-come, first-serve basis.

      Thank you for instilling some sense of order, Belmont Barbershop.

      If only you could get men to wear jackets to dinner again. Or take their hats off inside. Maybe next time.

  4. Jaimie Smith

    ERIC THIS WAS AWESOME!!

    Kind of like what Sam said, I never thought I would care, or be into reading a post about this, but you honestly did an awesome job keeping this interesting for the audience.
    I admit, i LOVE the salon atmosphere, I love getting pampered and getting served a beverage (at my salon, they do serve wine. I would prefer beer, but at a salon, wine is perfect) and gossiping about a few things. The salon I go to is very friendly and makes me feel right at home. But these Barbershops seem badass and it would be kind of interesting to see it. Btw, are girls even allowed in there. Not to get a haircut, but like would girls be allowed to just go in there with their bf/husband?

    What I think is really cool about this post is how you can clearly see your passion and interest for this kind of stuff. It’s so you. If our blogs did not show the author’s name on each blog I still would have known it was yours. It just SCREAMS Eric Labanauskas to me, lol.
    AWESOME JOB with this, Eric. Very impressive!!

    • Eric

      Guess it caters to the specific clientele, Jaimie? I’m the kinda guy who – if he needs something from the store – makes a note of it, goes in for just that item, and five minutes later is done shopping. Most the time I don’t even bother with a cart. #$%^it. I’ll just haul it out by the armload.

      With that in mind, I’m a typical guy, and the whole shampoo-bowl-head-massage thing has always been awkward for me. As is the small talk some stylists use to bide time while they’re cutting. Offering a drink? I don’t mind that idea. I like, here, you’re welcome to one. Just be sure to get it yourself, like you would at a buddy’s house. Now, I went at 8AM on a Saturday and – even though it was St. Patrick’s Day – I couldn’t see having a brewski at that hour without looking like some sort of consummate alcoholic. :) I’m sure the PBR’s delicious, though.

      Haha, yes, I’m sure they’re alright with women waiting in the shop for their boyfriends or husbands or what have ya. Most cuts only take 20 or 30 minutes, so it’s a pretty quick ordeal, regardless.

      Thanks, Jaimie! Stuff like this writes itself, and I’m just happy to spread the good word. A friend suggested the shop to me in the first place, so I’m hoping this let me pay it forward and someone else discovers it, too.

    • Rachel

      I actually have the opposite feeling about salons — I’d much rather just go in, get my hair done, and get out without having to talk to people, haha. I’d appreciate some female-centric barbershops for people like me! ;)

      Great post, Eric. Sounds like you had a great experience. Thanks for sharing!

      • Eric

        Thanks, Rachel!

        No idea where all the salon/spa pampering and perks ever came from. Started giving a service industry a production value it didn’t need. To use another restaurant anaolgy…if the food’s good, why bother with the singing waiter, balloon animal artist, etc.? To me, it’s kitsch. A good barber shop should fill chairs because it gives a great service at a great value. Making a concerted effort to do more than that – at least in my book – reads as compensating for something lacking.

        A female barbershop, eh? Huh. You’re not the first one to suggest it. Wonder if there’s one out West, or East? You never know, but it’s interesting the sentiments about haircuts aren’t all gender-specific.

  5. Jen

    Great post Eric! My dad frequented a barber shop almost his entire life. He started going with my grandpa when he was really young. The barber shop was a local family owned establishment, that from the looks of it, never changed.

    I remember going with him a couple times. You’re right about the smell too, I remember the distinct smell of manliness.

    He loved his barber, but unfortunately the shop closed after the owner died. It’s sad, the shop that had opened when my grandpa was a kid, closed because there wasn’t anybody in the family to take over.

    Thanks for reminding me about this Eric, I hadn’t thought about it in years! :)

    • Eric

      There’re more people out there than I thought who’ve memories of the barber shop. Women, at that! :) Glad to bring back memories for y’all.

      In an age where Febreeze and Glade has a monopoly on most scented things, it’s a nice change of pace. I’ll always remember the building I worked at in the Loop. On the ground floor, they’d a barber there. The kind that would use hot, lathered shave cream. Always would smell it walking by in the mornings, and walking out in the evenings.

      Barbers are still out there, and there’s even a special school specifically for ‘em. Hopefully all the throwback, old-school, vintage-vibe popularity “Mad Men” has given to establishments like this will give them a jump-start they all deserve.

      Thanks, Jen! :)

  6. Shawn

    We have a couple of “old-timey” barbers like this here in New Orleans (I’m thinking of Magazine St. Barber and of course Aiden Gill, which was featured in Esquire a couple years ago). And yes, both of them will provide you with an Adult Beverage – although I never can drink while hair if flying everywhere. The difference is that I don’t know where to get a $17 cut – anywhere. It’s at least twice that price. :(

    • Eric

      Good to know if I ever make it down to NOLA and need a trim, I’ve got my options, Shawn.

      A few reviews I’ve read were written by guys who somehow managed to sip their beer mid-cut. Power to ‘em, but I’m right with you there…no idea how they manage that. $17. Yep. I don’t know if I could think of a better bargain (especially if they’re kind enough to provide a free brewski!).

  7. Jill Tooley

    Eric, this post is so full of win, I don’t even know where to begin.

    Wow, didn’t mean to rhyme just now (it’s been a long week, what can I say)!

    ANYWAY, Belmont Barbershop sounds crazy cool. If I were a man in need of a stylin’ haircut, then you can bet your bottom dollar I’d find my way there! I’ve never heard of a barber shop giving their patrons beer (let alone PBR), but it seems fitting. Head to a manly barber shop and have a drink while you shoot the sh*t…it’s TOTALLY something that Don Draper would do! :)

    • Eric

      Reminds me of the episode where Sterling and Draper both go to the barbershop together to prep for some sort of business meeting, or another. About the only difference is this place doesn’t utilize those clunky handheld electric massagers, but I doubt much is being missed, there.

      You’ve got it, Jill. It’s a classy joint. Thanks for the comment!

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