Barbers give the corner shop a new lease on life

A whole new generation of men in search of exactly that kind of grooming

It’s been a close shave for the corner shop in Australia for many years, but now it’s found an unlikely saviour – a whole new generation of men in search of exactly that kind of grooming.

The surging appetite for ‘manscaping’ is now revitalising retail strips throughout the country, but especially on the eastern seaboard, where the number of barbers’ shops has increased an estimated tenfold in the past five years.

“It kicked off in Melbourne first, then spread to Sydney,” says Andrea Fiorentino, who started his own barber’s shop Jack Rabbit Slims in Sydney’s Kings Cross two years ago after refining his craft in Melbourne for the previous five years. “I guess it just seems so cool to see men doing different things with their hair and their beards.

The Jack Rabbit Slims Barbershop. Photo: Christopher Pearce

“Men’s hair has become much shorter and face fashion requires a lot more upkeep. Women might go to a hairdresser’s every six weeks for colouring and cutting, but guys come in every second or third week for a half-hour tidy up. And now we’re getting a lot more older bald guys coming in with big beards who still need their throats shaved, and they feel more manly having it done with a cut-throat razor.”

In some Melbourne suburbs, it sometimes feels as if every fifth shop is a barber. In Prahran, The Bearded Man head barber Josh Mihan said their surging popularity was a reflection of men trying to find, and express, their own style.

“Melbourne is definitely the style capital of Australia and there’s a real individuality vibe around now,” he said. “There’s a lot more different tribes of people around and a lot more hairstyles to choose from.

“We’ve also got a generation of barbers now who do amazing things with hair, and men realise that a barber is the best possible person now to cut their hair and beards.”

The chief executive of the Hairdressing and Beauty Industry Association Sandra Campitelli said this had proved a really positive trend for the industry.

“Their numbers have increased exponentially, and it’s giving a real resurgence back into the industry,” she said.

“Men are now spending a lot more money on their appearance and we won’t see that go away. It’s been a definite trend overseas, and it’s very strong now. The last two years have seen the number of barber’s shops going through the roof, and I’d say it’s probably increased ten times in the last five years.”

The latest official report on the industry, IBISWorld’s Hairdressing and Beauty Services in Australia, released in January 2017, found that growing image consciousness among men had significantly boosted revenue, with a spike in the number of male-only establishments. It predicted an increase in the overall industry of an annualised 2 per cent over the five years through 2016-17, to $4.8 billion.

Higher grooming standards for men and an increase in baby boomers trying to slow the ageing process had also led to IBISWorld forecasts that industry revenue will grow at an annualised 1.4 per cent over the five years through 2021-22, to $5.1 billion.

‘‘The increasing prevalence of up-market barbers, which provide services such as traditional wet shaves, has provided a boost to the industry,” the report said.

‘‘Male customers are increasingly being encouraged to visit regularly, and for a wider range of services. This trend has been supported by the rising popularity of beards and their requisite upkeep.”

Barber shops have also taken on the role of a defacto men’s shed, believes James ‘Jimbo’ Holder, the editor of the quarterly magazine Cutthroat Journal, which has been going now in Australia for three and a half years. He said there was pressure on men from their wives and girlfriends not to go to the pub with their mates.

“So now they go to the barber’s shop and get a beer and a shave and talk shit with each other,” he said. “That’s a lot more acceptable.

“Also, now we see all the NRL and AFL players coming out with their hair freshly styled, and so people want the styles they see on their favourite players. Back when [Parramatta Eels’ great Peter] Sterling was playing footie, they wouldn’t have dreamed of doing their hair before a match; they would have been castigated by their teammates. But now the whole thing’s going nuts!”

With the new Certificate 3 in barbering introduced by NSW, Victoria and Queensland over the past year, it means more hairdressers are training specifically to do men’s hair, said Sandy Chong, chief executive of the Australian Hairdressing Council.

And that meant barber shop owners like Maria Dillon, of Grand Royal Barbers, won’t have to sponsor so many overseas qualified barbers to work at her three shops in Sydney in the future.

“Barbers’ shops took off first in Britain and Europe before coming here, so they have a lot more experienced barbers there,” she said. “But with the number of barbers now going up tenfold in the last five years, I’d say, we’re going to have a lot more here now, which will keep the trend going.”

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