Shop culture and atmosphere are totally entwined – and as every barber knows a bad atmosphere affects everyone, including the clients. It’s really tough to change the culture in a business but it starts and ends with the people. Our businesses were experiencing some challenges around two years ago because there was a sense that everyone was walking on eggshells, not being transparent with one another and essentially working as individuals inside a business. None of those things were helpful to growth or the working environment. Myself and my business partner Mark Lovell traced nearly all the issues back to our hiring decisions. Historically we had always hired the best barbers based on their technical cutting skills and over time we recognised that the best cutter does not necessarily make the best barber. You need someone that is the whole package; a good communicator, a supportive team member and someone that loves to deliver the best customer service possible. That’s very rare but you can train someone to cut hair, you can’t train them to be a positive individual that wants the best for the whole team and every customer. We had hired barbers based on technical skill to find that they were ‘bad apples’, spreading negativity and breeding discontent with team members and even clients. So, we let a few barbers go and took on apprentices.
We are now committed to training our own people, giving them a real foundation and showing them the best way to thrive as part of our teams. Yes, apprentices do train and leave and that is disappointing but the upsides far outweigh the downsides. As owners, Mark and I also committed to be more open with our communication. We tackle issues fast and privately, we don’t let things fester and we remain accessible to our teams at all times. In the shops that we don’t work in, we visit every few weeks, take team members out for coffee and check in with them. It really helps to ‘take the temperature’ of the shop and address any niggles before they become a problem. We also offer regular training nights on Monday’s. It’s like an open clinic. We cut hair, we talk things through and just shoot the breeze.
Our second big decision in switching up shop culture was about the remuneration structure. Historically we had a chair rent model. This meant that we chased barbers for the rent and they got stressed making their rent. Now we have a revenue share model. We pay the barber straight into their account. They don’t have to worry about paying us. It has been transformative; our barbers are much happier.
Communication has been pivotal in making this culture change stick. Over lockdown some of our barbers took mental health first aid training with an organisation called 12th Man. It started a communication revolution. We now have tools like active listening and feel liberated to share our own challenges and help our customers share theirs. That sense of common caring has really helped underpin a great foundation to our positive culture change.”
TOM’S TOP TIPS ON
• Be picky in your recruitment decisions and if you make a bad decision change it fast.
• Grow your own. Training apprentices is a long term choice that reaps culture rewards.
• Spend time listening to your barbers. Make yourself accessible.
• Make sure your remuneration model is the right fit for the culture you want.
• Help your barbers get access to mental health training tools.