Let’s race to the top, not to the bottom

Robert Rix runs The Master Barber’s Shop in Southport in partnership with his son, Dan. After 52 years in the industry Robert was recently awarded "Senior Master Craftsman" status. He sits on NHF’s barbering working group and is taking part in the Government’s ‘Trailblazer’ scheme to help map the future of apprenticeships.

To what do you owe your success?

Talent, skill, boyish charm and modesty! Also a thorough understanding of the craft thanks to the opportunity of being trained by the best.

How do you set yourself apart from the competition?

We offer a full service to our clients and include many of the forgotten arts such as sculpture cutting, precision razor cutting, hot towel shaves, singeing and head and neck massage.

What are the biggest business challenges you face? 
There has been a serious undermining of the price structure in barbering over the past two years. This seems primarily due to the huge increase in small salon numbers. My response to this has been to go the opposite way and put my prices up. We are doing well.

What are your goals for the future?

I have six people working for me, two of these are apprentices. Our next step will be to open a much larger operation, and no doubt we will recruit a few more apprentices. I also continue to teach at a local FE college, run private courses and attend NHF working groups.

Could you tell us about the NHF barbers’ working group?

We discuss pressing problems in the industry and what we can do to fix them. For example in the first meeting we talked about the proliferation of cheap outlets that have opened in the last two years and the need to promote ourselves as qualified craftsmen. The quality stamp is reinforced through our NHF membership. It’s extremely beneficial to share ideas with other people in the trade.

Training is a hot topic at the moment. Why is this?

There is currently no industry minimum training qualification and as a result the craft is being diluted because literally anyone can open a salon. 
I didn’t launch my own barbershop until I had learnt my craft inside out. I started out as an apprentice to a gentleman’s hairdresser in Sheffield aged 15. After attending several college courses I worked under the mentorship of world hairdressing champion, Roger Poirier, who was personal barber to the Duke of Windsor. As an Improver, I made the move into the ladies side of the craft and went on to study at the Vidal Sassoon School. I studied under John Santilli at the Sassoon School in London and gained first-hand experience from observing the work of great craftsmen such as Roger Thompson, Christopher Brooker and Josh Galvin.

Understanding both sides of the craft has been a great asset to me over the years and I frequently draw on my ladies hairdressing techniques in my barbering work.

I’m passionate about the craft of barbering and I think that we urgently need to improve standards. NHF has its finger on the pulse of what is required to make the craft better and is supporting work to develop a minimum qualification, which is extremely positive for the industry.

What advice would you give to barbers who want to launch their own business?

Set your standards high and do not be swayed into cheapening the craft. Keep up-to-date by going to trade shows and attending master classes. Learn your craft thoroughly. Be happy, confident and passionate about what you are doing. 
And always do your best.

How does NHF help your business succeed?

I have been a member of the NHF on and off since 1974. I think it is an essential requirement to be a member of a recognised trade body. It enhances your credibility in the eyes of clients.

The members’ magazine, SalonFocus provides concrete answers to real business issues, whereas many of the other industry magazines are quite light and just focus on the creative side. For example, there was a very informative article in SalonFocus recently about the national minimum wage situation.

The contracts are particularly useful. In the past I have used contracts drawn up by lawyers but they charge extortionate fees. The service you get from generic lawyers is second rate as they simply don’t understand the trade.

I recently had a chair rental situation where the image of the business was being undermined. I called the NHF legal helpline and was given clear guidelines - we were able to end the agreement without any negative consequences. NHF was very supportive and gave me the confidence to tackle a tricky situation effectively. The legal helpline is a truly great resource.
You simply can’t put a value on the wide and varied support the NHF offers.