I like out of the way barbershops for a haircut because barbers consistently deliver a great cut. Recently, I discovered 81 Barbers, a barbershop tucked away behind The Children’s Museum open just six months in downtown Tucson—and it is already buzzing busily.
Barbers strictly follow a rotation system; my barber was the young, “LJ.” I always disclose I am a hairdresser, which usually brings a smile to a barber’s face. “Yeah, we get a lot of them.”
“Why can’t most hairdressers turn out the looks you barbers do?” I asked. “You don’t have the tools. You probably have one clipper with lots of blades, I use at least four clippers, plus use a razor to do a razor fade.”
“You make a line with the clipper and razor blend everything down from there.” He meant cutting the hair against the skin.
“True. I have never done anything like that.”
LJ’s brother, Niko, works the next station. Both are licensed, cosmetologists. I asked LJ, who attended a local state-run vocational program, why he turned to barbering.
“The pace is quicker and you can build a clientele faster,” he said, “I like the camaraderie much better than a salon, and everyone really gets along here.” The salon has five male and one female barber on staff.
“How did you learn to barber, Niko, I mean, if a cosmetologist wants to do this, what’s the trick?” I asked.
“You really need the passion for it. Initially, I sought out and hung with old, traditional barbers, and picked up as much as I could.”
“How is this out of the way shop so busy? Do you hand out lots of cards, what do you do?”
Niko doesn’t hand out cards unless he has at least a five-minute conversation/connection with a potential client. “To just hand out a card to a stranger is a waste of time. They go right in the garbage can. Instead, I ask clients to add my cell to theirs before they leave to text me anytime they need a cut. This really works well,” he said.
The clients, ages, and cuts walking out were so varied and each suited the client perfectly, so I asked the brothers, “How do you know which cut to suggest to the client?”
“You observe the client when he or she (two women were getting haircuts) walks in, the clothes, the shoes, and their demeanor. You can’t cut the banker like the DJ.”
“So, what’s happening in barbering?” I asked
“It’s exploding,” Niko said,” a few years back, if a guy wore a cool cut he was tagged gay, just a little later he was metrosexual, but today, dude, anything goes for all men. We do lots of crazy colors.”
“And, we offer enhancements, too,” said, LJ.
“Enhancements, what kind?” I asked.
“We have a hair fiber spray that fills in fine or scarce hair. We work it right in, and we retail it. We also have a tint a guy can use on his skin to make his beard, mustache or hairline appear thicker.”
I think the barber industry needs to rally for fair prices. My awesome haircut with foam, razor hairline, etc. was $25. I paid what I charge for my men’s cuts, its only fair.
More from Carlos Valenzuela here.