Solo Artist

Why the New Barber Battles Could Hinge on a Name

Victoria Wurdinger | June 21, 2016 | 1:29 PM
Antonio Heath’s skills with shears alone make him stand out in the barbering world and allow him to extend his versatility and build his multi-cultural clientele.
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At Tonsorial Studio 24 Barbershop in Birmingham, Michigan, “Tony Tonsorial” (Antonio Heath) focuses on cleanliness, great work and a professional attitude. “The only thing I post about and promote on social media involves my work and my services,” he says.
Photo By Antonio Heath Photo 2 of 4
Working with all hair textures is must, stresses Heath. “Everything is in right now, but men love a good taper. On the East Coast, it’s the Cesar. Younger guys like different shapes and designs.”
Photo By Antonio Heath Photo 3 of 4
A master of all his tools, Heath says he is known for his fades, tapers and detailed lines: “I strive for perfection.”
Photo By Antonio Heath Photo 4 of 4

The same month that Antonio Heath became @tonytonsorial, the old-school barber with a new Sola Suite and an Instagram account started breaking the Internet as one of the best barbers in Metro Detroit.

The Detroit Metro area has always been highly competitive for barbers, and it’s a given that mad skills are a must. But with social media changing everything, revered 50-year old shops aren’t attracting as many young new clients as they used to, and even barbers with red-hot hands are finding they have to get known in a whole new way. Good thing that’s not too hard if you’re talented, says Antonio Heath, a barber of 31 years.

“Twenty-five years ago, you had to hit the pavement and rely on your work as your main advertisement—only doctors and dealers had pagers,” says Heath. “Now, social media makes it easy to get known and build business, and everyone has a cell phone. I just shoot a video in the salon and post it to Instagram with the right hashtags, which are very important. My Twitter and Facebook accounts are tied to Instagram, so everything shows up at once, including in Google searches. Today, consumers use Google like a local concierge.”

Because it’s easy to share your best work with thousands in no time, Heath says his clientele has nearly doubled since he went solo—he sees an average of 65 clients a week and most return every 2 weeks. He’s so in demand (he also travels four times a month as an educator for Hattori Hanzo Shears) that 80% of his clients pre-book and Saturdays are standing appointments only.

The First Cut

Heath did his first haircut out of necessity. His brother, who was a barber in the Marines, would cut Heath’s hair when home on leave, which wasn’t often enough. So, at the age of 15, Heath got his brother to teach him how to cut his own hair. His hobby lead to a career, which progressed from school and 15 years on commission to owning a shop for 10 years to dealing with banks that foreclosed on his landlord to a Sola suite of his own.

His introduction to Sola Salon Studios came about as a result of his educational pursuits. Explains Heath, “To stay on top of things and stand out from the rest, I took a cutting class at Hattori Hanzo Shears. When an educator there saw my Instagram videos, he asked me to be a guest artist. I drove to Ohio in a snowstorm at my own expense, I was so excited to do the show. They immediately hired me as a sales rep, and my first stop was a Sola Salon Studio building. When I discovered they were all individually owned suites, I realized it was perfect for me, and I could work around my sales job.”

A small $305/week suite got Heath’s Tonsorial Studio 24 Barbershop started, but when he realized his true passion was cutting, he quit his sales gig (recognizing a great thing, Hattori Hanzo quickly re-hired him as a platform educator) and upgraded to a mid-sized Sola suite. Men are so location-convenience minded, that just 40% followed him to the Birmingham, Michigan location (a Detroit suburb), he says, but he quickly rebuilt with the downtown business crowd by transforming himself into @tonytonsorial and showing he had chops in his videos.

Notes Heath, “ I also brand myself through my attire—I wear a shirt and tie every day. I stand out through my diverse skills, my dependability and the fact I do a genuine consultation with first-time clients, which a lot of barbers don’t.”

Standing professionally head-and-shoulders above many  of the new hipster barbers, who lean more lax in dress and attitude, Heath also does disposable straight-razor shaves (a lost art), beard trims and facials—another thing the average barber doesn’t offer.

“Barbers tend to be too worried about what the next barber charges; they compete backward,” says Heath, whose cut prices start at $30. “You have to separate yourself, add value to your services and enforce what you want. There is a lot of talent out there, but they aren’t getting the money they would like, because they are not enforcing the professionalism that demands respect.”

Must-See/Fav hair show: I’d love to attend NAHA one day.

Fav Online Education: Kenneth Sui’s YouTube videos. (Sui is the Creative Head Stylist/Director of salon RIHA in Sydney, Australia.)

Best Use of Social Media: Posting my own videos on Instagram @tonytonsorial

Best Money Saver: My wife. She keeps things under control.

Best Add-on Service: The razor line. You can charge $7 to line-up the hairline with a straight razor and make it sharper in 2 minutes. Everyone wants a sharp hairline now.

On Barbers and Retail: Sixty percent of my clients buy retail. I promote regular shampooing and conditioning, which a lot of men don’t do often enough or correctly. I also retail a lot of beard moisturizer.

Favorite Products/Tools: Hattori Hanzo Shears, Andis clippers. Cream of Nature Shampoo and Conditioner, and HUE for Every Man men’s grooming products.

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