Sunday 20 August 2017

Raising a waxed eyebrow at Irish barber shop boom

Male grooming has taken off in Ireland with a new breed of barbers cutting their industry teeth, writes Fiona McBennett

LUXURIANT GROWTH: 'In 1996 we had 28 barbers in Cork. Now there are 214,' says Lorraine Stout of Bladez in Cork City
LUXURIANT GROWTH: 'In 1996 we had 28 barbers in Cork. Now there are 214,' says Lorraine Stout of Bladez in Cork City

Fiona McBennett

Male grooming in Ireland has changed. While a quick shave and simple haircut may have been acceptable in the past, these days, it's all about the metrosexual man.

Celebrity hair trends, such as the hipster beard, have sparked a boom in the barbering industry and paved the way for a new breed of barbers here in recent years. These high-end salons offer expertise in a range of different cutting techniques and the industry is showing no signs of slowing down.

"We have lots of guys coming into us wanting to look like Conor McGregor and David Beckham," reveals Joanne James, manager at The Grooming Rooms in Dublin.

Founders Cian McDonald and John Erraught saw a niche in the Irish market for high-end male grooming when they opened the business in 2007. The salon offers a range of barbering treatments as well as massages, waxing, and more. According to James, the demand for male grooming treatments has grown.

"When we opened first, I think men were a little sceptical and nervous about coming in," she says. "Our customer base has broadened since then - we get everyone from students, to professionals to older gentlemen."

James says that travel has played a part in opening the minds of Irish men. "Guys are more aware of what is out there now. Male grooming is quite advanced in the US and Australia and it's filtering through to us."

A recent addition to the capital, the Men's Hair Co in Dun Laoghaire, opened last November. Owner Jason Brophy had worked as a barber in other shops over the years before he decided to branch out on his own. "I had spent enough time watching other people run their shops and it was time for me to set up my own business," he says.

"It's been a massive learning curve for me but I wanted to do my own thing."

In an industry that is booming, Brophy feels that it's important for him to stay on top of his game.

"The industry is competitive, so it's crucial to give clients a reason to come back. Word-of-mouth marketing and social media has worked well."

Going it alone can be daunting, however, Brophy has made sure to be sensible when making business decisions.

"Barbering is a simple business model but the recession didn't go over my head - I am conscious not to over-extend myself financially," he says.

According to Brophy, barbering has reached a turning point in Ireland.

"I think we are only cracking the surface of what can be achieved. For a long time, barbering was not recognised as a craft or skill. Now there is a higher standard of service out there."

Lorraine Stout opened her barber shop, Bladez,in Cork city in 1996. She has witnessed the changes in the industry over the years. "There was less competition when I opened, as there were only about 28 barbers in Cork then - now there are almost 214. Barbering has gone from strength to strength, so I got in at a good time.

"Barbers have multi-tasked into so many different areas, like waxing and eyebrow grooming - men are up to everything."

Stout also runs a barbering academy and teaches on Solas courses across Munster. She says it's a job that never gets boring.

"I love it. My clients push me to be a better barber and I go on courses every year to keep up-to-date with styles and techniques," she says. "We try to put out to new collections every year, just to keep on top of the trends. Barbering has changed a lot."

David Gallagher, owner of both The Edge barber shop and Crew Street Barbers in Galway city and says that male grooming took off with social media.

"Clients hand you their iPhone with a picture of what they want. I'm 56 and I have had to learn about social media."

Both barber shops are tailored towards a specific client - The Edge is aimed at professionals and Crew Street Barbers at the students. Keeping on top of trends has helped them thrive.

"I opened The Edge 10 years ago and I was worried that men wouldn't come to somewhere so modern - but we're doing great. I opened the second barbers when I saw there was a demand for a lower price range."

Gallagher say that when it comes to fussy clients, men are the worst. "Men are fussier than women. Young guys know what they want and if you're a millimetre out, they'll tell you. You'd be surprised how many men buy hair-straighteners now."

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