The earliest memory of a barbershop that I have is a small posh rectangular shop in Jayanagar 8th block, way back in mid 1980s. Posh because it was filled with grand mirrors on all the walls, and a visit once in a month was a much sought-after event. Usually I was accompanied by my father and since I was too small to be seated on the grand cushion chair, I was elevated to the mirror-level with the help of a wooden plank. I didn’t mind missing out on the cushion nor the wooden hardness as long as I was compensated by being able to see myself as well as the neighbourhood goings-on in the mirror.
When we moved to Jayanagar 4th block in 1989, I guess I was tall enough to enjoy the cushion. It was a different barbershop though, the one closer to the new home. It was called “OK Hair Dressers”. Funny name, and I never forgot it. Amongst its peers, it was considered to be the “poshest” of all. Very expensive too, I believe. Mainly attributed to the presence of a television set on the upper far left corner of the establishment. Considering that hair cut was a Sunday morning ritual (had school on Saturdays too), and the most popular cartoons and Chitrahaar being aired at the same time (whole of India had only one channel at that time), the extra bucks seemed worth it. Slowly, when the craze of the cartoons and Chitrahaar ebbed, the extra money seemed unnecessary, and I started experimenting with lower classed establishments.
Names of many of these establishments escape me but I distinctly remember their locations. There was one on the 18th main street that I vividly recollect. Although there was no issue with the actual hair-cut, the crowd and the behavior within the shop was jarring. I felt as I was in the midst of rowdies. Added to this was the issue of door never being closed. This somewhat embarrassed me. Perhaps I was always used to the barbershop’s door being closed that an open-door barbershop never gelled well with me. I decided that it was my first and last. After experimenting in and around all the barbershops and complaining about the rates (which was more or less started at INR 20 and steeped up to INR 40 due to inflation) in deep detail with my grandfather every one Sunday of the month, I decided that time was now an important factor than money. So I decided to stick to the nearest, whatever be the rate. As it turned out the nearest was a decent establishment with moderate rate and I stuck to it loyally until a barbershop opened just a few yards from my home.
This newbie opened the shop in a grandiose scale with respect to the art of haircutting. Although the establishment in itself was so tiny that only 2-3 people could wait on the sofa, the uniform of the barber, the exquisite dentist-like chair with elongated moving-leg-rest and the range of barber-paraphernalia were overwhelming. The AC was unheard of in Bangalore barbershop, although I knew that in other Indian metropolitan cities, an AC barbershop was a common thing due to the extreme heat. Rumour had it that this barber himself was from a 5-star hotel. When my turn came, he used a rummy tool on my head which stunned me. All these years I was used to the synchronized snip-snip of the comb and the scissors and now, for the first time, a machine was being used on my hair. That was it. I went back to my previous barber.
I guess that barber near my home never got on well with others in my neighbourhood too because soon he went off and someone else took over from him. This guy was an elderly gentleman with a dedicated teenage grandson, who learnt the art of “barberhood” and customer satisfaction very soon. The elderly gentleman just took over the finances, remodeled the hair salon to slightly bigger size, and made it much more common-man friendly whereas the teenager roped in some of his pals to perform the ‘Service-with-a-smile’ act. He encouraged friendly banter, spoke about recent Kannada movies and songs, offered coffee during breaks and returned change with both hands giving respect completely. He thanked profusely for the visit and spoke about how he wanted to expand this business.
This setting worked best for me. It was the nearest to my home – just a few steps. It was moderately charged (touched the INR 50 in late 2000s) and I was just a few years elder than the barber which added a twist to the barber-client relationship. This went on for a long time until it was time for me to travel to the United States.
Marlborough, USA. My first haircut in US was a disaster. She asked me to pick a number. Before I knew it, I said 3 and to my horror I realized later that lower the number, smaller will be the hair. I missed the snip-snip of the comb and the scissor. Instead it was a mix of the machine, of somewhat awkwardly holding the hair in a fist and then snipping. It was mildly irritating during the process but the end was even worse. It took many months for the hair to grow back and I always wondered why I had to tip a barber. It was a small establishment, near to my apt and for the first time in my life, my hair was cut by an opposite gender. It was a strange experience. To be fair to her though, she did her job well. Just that it was an unknown pitch to me. Once I realized my mistake, I changed gears accordingly.
Woburn, MA, USA, 2011. There was a barbershop right opposite my apartment but it was closed on Sundays and hence I could never visit it. But it just so happened that twenty feet here or there in Woburn Main Street, and one ends up with a barbershop. The one I chose was the one that was open on Sundays. The lady who attended to me was from Brazil, and her home was adjacent to the shop. In fact, to go to her house, one had to walk through the store! And then, there I was thinking about the variety of barbershops that I have experienced, when I met the best of the lot in Nashua, NH, USA, 2012.
As part of move-in mailers, I received a $4.99 coupon from a nearby barbershop called Great Clips. It was the first time I had heard of them. I never had had a hair-cut in US for less than $12, and I thought $4.99 was a very good deal. When I did more research, I found out they have a web-site, was franchised and also had online check-in, something that I thought was done only with respect to airlines! Anyways, when I entered, all the barbers exclaimed “Welcome to Great Clips!” Now, isn’t that a warm welcome or what! It is something that is done for each customer entering the store!
Anyways, the lady at the counter asked me to register (name, number, etc) and it was a pleasant experience all around, especially because when I checked out I was given another coupon (more than current but less than actual). Nice way of customer retention, I felt. So, there I go again. This time, even before I could specify how I need my hair cut, the barber (this lady was different from before) asked me if I wanted same way as the last time, and I said yes. Since this was a mystery, I asked her how she knew my previous choice. Apparently a record goes into each registered user on the user’s preferences so that the user need not specify each time what he wants. Only thing he needs to say or confirm if it is the same way as previous and the barber is all set. Wow. That’s all I could think. A simple thing as hair-cutting can be advanced to such heights of professionalism as Gift cards, Haircut reminders, etc. The first two times I had come to Great Clips due to the coupons but the third time – although Cost Cutters and Supercuts was nearer to my house – I still preferred GC because I needn’t had to specify how I wanted my hair cut! What an amazing way of holding onto new customers such as me! But if I thought that was the best of my experience with “barbership”, I was wrong.
It was time for the first haircut for my daughter who is almost a year and half old. Thanks to my wife who had done some research on the topic, we went to Snip-Its. This is a barbershop exclusively for kids, and the atmosphere is as if you are entering into a Disneyland. Cutting infants and toddlers’ hair is so difficult and hence the ambience is made conducive to kids to divert the attention from the actual snip-snip. Be it personalized robotic-looking PCs portraying cartoonic ads of Snip-its or a horde of toys and goodies at arm’s length, it seemed as if hair-cut was the last thing on the agenda! The icing on the top of the cake was a complete set of souvenir for the first hair cut: A bravery certificate, a comb, few strands of hair, a toy and a picture!
My, my! It just keeps getting better and better – Man continues to exceed Himself and it is this thing in Life that is enchanting and enriching! I only hope that that teenage barber near my home in Jayanagar also achieves such impressive feats in his chosen profession…