Designing An Upscale Barbershop with X Hair Lounge

  Wednesday 18 May 2022

Designing An Upscale Barbershop with X Hair Lounge

A Type of Service Ever So Personal 

Barbershop services are classified under the consumer services category of business models. However, given their humanistic element and personal scope, it’d be unfair to categorize the hairstyling industry with such a broad flair – a flair under which the industry of handyman services is defined as well.

Think about it. We’d wholeheartedly refer a close friend to a skilled handyman whose services are reliable, efficient, and cost-effective. Yet, in hypothetical settings, most of us would fail to point out why we’d prefer salon A over salon B even when both salons’ customer service standards and service outcomes turn out to be identical.

Satisfaction Measured in Human Opinions

Counterintuitively, in real-life settings, if we ask ourselves why we’ve chosen said barbershop to be our go-to spot in town, we’d probably be able to come up with a number of reasons to back our preference.

The funny thing is - amid a heated discussion with our friend group, an argument over the best barbershop in town would probably lay waste to our experience-based, highly valued personal opinions. 

Heck, what do our friends know anyway? All we know is, at our regular grooming spot, there is zero chance of error. The barber who’s been taking care of us for however long has developed a similar taste for what we like grooming-wise.

And the vibe we’ve grown accustomed to, the sensory experience we’ve developed a liking for, along with the style we wish to barge out with are almost guaranteed at our go-to barbering spot.

A Blend of Familiarity

Of course, this magical impression of blissful familiarity is subjective. And the familiar specifics we take for granted at our favorite barbershop differ greatly from that of everybody else’s –precisely the reason why we may not be able to objectively debate or relate to the conflicting opinions of others. 

Although, while accounting for everyone’s personal preferences can see us counting in the hundreds, if not thousands, we can safely agree that a barbershop with unskilled staff and a standard of customer service that contradicts every definition of hospitality will never see recurring customers.

Now, as for why clients develop a preference out of two comparatively good barbershops, a comprehensive answer will not be as straightforward as you may think. 

The Lengths Some Go For That Familiar Blend 

Ever since he moved to Fujairah, Ahmad, one of the lounge’s most frequent faces, has been traveling 1-hour routes to the lounge and back on a semi-monthly basis to get his fill of our grooming packages. 
For over 2 years now he’s been going way out of town, compromising gas, time, and effort, all for a service he could get within a 10-minute drive from his home.

One wonders – does Fujairah lack the availability of good barbershops? Of course not. While Dubai massively out scales Fujairah in the hospitality sector, the fact is – there is still an abundant amount of notable upscale barbershops in Fujairah that provide a comparatively similar service.

What is it then? What drives the likes of Ahmad to go out of their way in what most would describe as “an absurd fashion”? Well, to connect the dots, we’ll first have to realign the lenses through which we view the industry as a whole.

An Industry Dependent on Customer Loyalty

The barbering industry is an industry in which the value of one loyal client significantly outweighs the value of many organically attained one-timers in the long run.

A loyal client’s value is not only measured in recurring visits. In fact, the lifetime value of a loyal client mainly stems from a client advocating for a barbershop through word of mouth to his circle of family and friends. 
That means every barbershop’s early days are its toughest - a statement especially true if the barbershop’s brand is new, or is physically located in an area with a low population base and minimal exposure to an organic flow of prospective clients.

Personally speaking, we’re not ashamed to say that we’ve had some rough days back then. In fact, we almost had to face the inevitability of shutting down for good within our first year.

We didn’t struggle because we failed to provide what we promised service-wise. No, we almost shut down because our lounge was situated in an area fairly new in Dubai - a place yet to be inhabited, visited, and discovered by our prospective customers.

While our customer base failed to scale at a reasonable rate, we scraped by to cover our rent expenses. There was nothing we could do at the time but bide our time, sit patiently, and hope for the best.

Obviously, had we lacked the quality of service expected from us, sitting tight and biding our time wouldn’t have gotten us anywhere, and it’d have been impossible for us to scale our already slow flow of clients to where it is right now.

With full trust in our team and a service orientation aimed at exceeding – not matching the expectations of our first-timers, however, we got our foot off the ground in due time.

Through our earliest clients’ loyalty and campaigning, we managed to pave our way out of having to end our story a little too soon, branching out into 2 new locations across the city over the span of 6 years. 

The Hairstyling Customer Service Industry

While we’ve slowly managed to shift the odds in our favor, we’re still statistically the exception to the rule. Around 70% of barbershops shut down within their 2nd to 5th year of operation.

To expand, even if everything seems to go smoothly, a barbershop’s frequent clients do not always turn out to be brand ambassadors, nor do all satisfied one-timers return for a second visit. 

Generally, what makes or breaks the difference in whether a client will become an advocate of the brand or a regular of the house rests mostly with the experience and relationship he develops with the salon and its team.

A barbershop’s sound calibration of the factors that shape its unique experience establishes a benchmark upon which clients will be bummed if they had to settle for less elsewhere.

Personally speaking, we believe a big part of the reason we’ve managed to thrive within UAE’s oversaturated upscale barbering industry is the level of care we pay to our customer service standards.

In fact, we’ve taken some time to analyze a portion of our 4.9 averagely rated 2,800+ online reviews to confirm our hypothesis. With a magnifying glass, we’ve taken a deeper look at randomly selected digital reviews of our three branches.

By ticking reviews that had keywords such as experience, friendly, welcoming, helpful, professional, and customer service, we’ve come to find that over 70% of the randomly selected reviews emphasized customer service, confirming the effectiveness of our strategy and intention with our service model.

We believe barbershops should mainly focus on one scope of calibration to differentiate their service models from the competition. For us, our services are defined, aligned, and form through the ultimate in customer service and hospitality.

Naturally, however, upscale barbering should revolve around customer service to an extent. After all, we’re far off the bounds of the hairstyling industry. We’re in the customer service business.

Customer Service Representatives

Customer-centric service design starts and ends with a barbershop’s in-house team. After all, who’ll be administering customer service but customer service representatives?

Controversially, we like to argue that the soft skills of a barber outweigh the importance of his hard skills and years of experience.

Now obviously, a salon with the highest standards of customer service that delivers below-average hairstyling services will rarely, if ever have recurring visitors or word-of-mouth advocates.

Hear us out, though. A barber who lacks any sort of soft skills whatsoever and is the equivalent of a human supercomputer will definitely ensure a stunning haircut, albeit only for once.

A barber’s lack of soft skills makes for a bland client experience deficient in effective communication and flow, consequently resulting in clients that can’t wait for it to be all over, never to set foot in the salon again.

Adequate people skills allow the humanistic scope of barbering to flow with ease, and barbers who’ve max stats on charisma take the client-barber relationship to a whole new level.

Remember, a barber is not a handyman jacking nails into hardwood with a hammer. He is a leisure specialist trying to pertain to the comfort of his client -even while staring him down with a razor as he shaves his neckline.

Hard skills are mastered with time.  But a barber’s natural charm, attitude, character, and passion are not so easily replicated, nor can they appear as natural as they would had they been taught to a barber who lacks that natural spark.

Take Amjad, for example. Amjad is part of our hairstylist squad down at our City Walk branch. While we have barbers who are more technical and with a tad bit more experience than him, he has still managed to top the lounge’s leaderboard when it comes to client retention rate.

Currently, around 93% of Amjad’s first-timers return for a second visit. Crazy, right? We know, he is one skillful chad behind the chair. Yet when we asked him to let us in on his secret, his answer seemed rather modest.

Personalized Service Flow

Every client is a new perspective I must develop a vibe for. I always adapt my style, tone, and the way I work to make my clients feel that the service is as personal to them as possible. What works for one client must be tapered down or changed altogether to create a vibe suitable for another.

While such a wild retention rate calls for an excessively detailed answer, Amjad’s subtleness still manages to sum it up perfectly. The reason he’s so darn busy crafting art all day is his high regard for the personal aspect of the service he provides.

When most service industries dabble in the one-size fits all service flow, upscale barbering would cease to exist if such a standard is adopted. A client’s second visit highly depends on whether the barbershop’s experience clicked and tended to him on a personal level.

That’s precisely the reason we like to argue that the foundation of customer-centricity in this industry rests upon a barber’s soft skills and emotional intelligence. A people-fluent barber grasps from the get-go how a client would like the service to flow.

A barber with strong soft skills has no shortage of effective communication, a medium in which a client’s expectations are affirmed and tended to during every step of the service.

Failure to ask the right questions to a client before, during, and after service will leave a barber wondering what he’s done wrong when a client smiles and nods, yet never seems to return for a second appointment.

Nevertheless, a barber who seems at ease with encouraging the flow of open communication subtly reminds clients that their experience – not his, is the main focus of the service.

A tall client whose chair has been adjusted to match a barber’s short height, for example, may find it easier to suffer in silence than to ask for a modification that would help him sit more comfortably.

As such, constant check-ins with clients at every stage of the service help shift their perspective inwards, allowing them to provide all the right answers that help shape an experience that suits them best - no strings attached.

Value-Added Grooming Benefits

As we’ve previously highlighted, no matter how exceptionally attentive a barbershop is to customer service, a lack of the ability to send out customers looking their best misses the entire point by a long stretch.

A high standard of customer service and service personalization must always go hand in hand with an in-house team of skillful, well-vetted barbers.

Apart from the ability to whip out exceptionally detailed skin fades and goatees, however, the greatest barbershops of all are naturally considered powerhouses of expertise in everything grooming.

We believe that barbers are the equivalent of licensed doctors in the medical profession; they are every bit of a companion to a client’s grooming journey as doctors are to his health.

Although, while being an industry expert is sufficient enough, high client retention rates do not stem out of the ordinary, and the best barbers are better referred to as client experts.

The main distinction between industry experts and client experts is that the latter acts more like a mentor, providing unsolicited grooming advice and guiding a client all the way toward his expectations with his hair.

Dentists sometimes scold their patients for not having a cavity checked earlier. Client experts abide by a similar, yet subtler approach. From offbeat advice on how a client can fix their hair problems to occasional tips on how best to style at home, client experts always seem to help even when unprompted.

By marking the initiation of a personalized grooming journey, client experts ensure the trust and loyalty of their clients. And with clients having finally found a barber who understands their hair problems and grooming expectations so deeply, they are unlikely to go looking for that connection elsewhere.

An Appeal to the Senses

Barber services are quite a sensory affair, and a physical environment that meddles with the senses of clients blissfully gives color to the experience intended by a barbershop.

A physical environment unworthy of exceptional customer service is a contradicting ingredient to the unique service model recipe of any barbershop. In fact, we believe all soft service factors we’ve highlighted earlier stand by the mercy of a barbershop’s physical environment.

In perfect terms, what seems like a barbershop from the outside should be an illusion for an art gallery. Realistically, however, the architecture of a barbershop’s physical environment starts and ends with how it resonates with its clients’ senses.

For starters, a barbershop’s inner décor sets the scene for a barbershop’s unique persona. Choices of color tones, light design, and other decorative elements must align with the image a barbershop wishes to portray to its target clients.

Appealing to the sense of sight isn’t the sole responsibility of interior architects though, and a barbershop’s portrayal of its in-house team, along with its choices of equipment, furniture, and garments must also complement its inner decoration and brand image.

Additionally, the modulation of sound is a no-brainer for most barbershops. Subtle music that pertains to the preference of target clients goes a long way to amp down the awkwardness and stillness of many barber services.

We’ve personally gone a tad extreme with our sound modifications. Every X Hair Lounge branch has an electronic floor-to-ceiling waterfall that creates a soothing white noise of soft water streams, amplifying the relaxation aspect of our services.

Last but not least, barbershops should not always be destined to smell like freshly cut wet hair. A keratin treatment carried out on a client in the morning should never lurk its presence in the air just before closing hours.

As such, it is important that a barbershop is well-ventilated and equipped to deal with ventilation misfortunes in case the worst happens. Air purifiers, scented candles, and even electronic oil diffusers wouldn’t go a miss for most barbershops.

Finals Thoughts 

Here within rests our blueprint of the perfect upscale barbershop. A blueprint that is highly biased, as it is based on the opinions we’ve formed over our lounge’s lifespan.

Make no mistake, however, we’ve put forth the concepts and ideologies that have gotten us to where we are right now; tenets that have highly resonated with the high-class clientele of the upscale barbering industry.

While two upscale barbershops are never alike, there are always standards that distinctly mark the quality of service target clients expect.

And even if by chance two barbershops match in service standards, there’s this hidden element that ceases to define itself when a client forms a preference out of thin air.

We believe this element favors teams, not barbershops. It prefers personalized service, not a generic one. And it values the connection to the barber behind the chair, not the image of the brand by itself.

Clients follow barbers that switch barbershops, albeit we’re yet to hear of clients that switch their favorite barber for a brand. As such, singular barbers form an impression on a customer bigger than the collective brand they are working for every will.

All the pinnacles we’ve highlighted would fail to suffice with a team incapable of bringing them to life. That isn’t to say a brand’s image, its service model, and the way it wishes to appeal to its audience are not important.

Not at all. On the contrary, a brand’s image and service model highlight its uniqueness, but it’s mostly up to the barbers to create a reality of those ideologies, blending them into an experience unforgettable to clients.

Without an adequate team, a brand’s image and service model are part of a daydream that lacks any sort of use case. As such, barbers are the bridge to an intention. They are the field agents of the operation. They speak their brand’s rehearsed lines, and bring its service model to life.