We caught up with Charl Ackerman, founder of a boutique barber's shop, to talk hair health and setting up one of London's coolest boutique barber's.January 14, 2021 10:39 am
Name: Charl Ackerman
From: Cape Town Based in: London
Occupation: Founder of The Barbery
The idea that sparked a business
“The idea for The Barbery was born out of a frustration shared with my barber at the time. There wasn’t a high-end offering where we live in South-East London so my friends and I traveled to Shoreditch, Soho and Covent Garden to have a haircut. It would eat into valuable free time at weekends and evenings.
I was inspired by things I didn’t like in other barbers. During a year of research, I had treatments at as many barbers I could. I would sit in the chair and mentally list the things I didn’t approve of. Things that I would change, imagining my ideal client experience. Barbers with cigarette or coffee breath, conversing with each other in a language I did not understand. The chairs being torn and the interior tired. Floors covered in cut hair, staff knowing very little about the products used and sold, not being able to pay by card….the list goes on. That is how the concept for The Barbery was born.”
“Just like our skin, our hair health can be a reflection of our overall health. Often, the cause of hair and scalp issues can be traced to our diet or habits. We don’t drink enough water, our food is high in saturated fat and sugar. Or, we cleanse our hair too often or with harmful products, do not use conditioner and so forth.
We often tell our clients: ‘You can’t have good hair health without having a healthy scalp’. That’s what made me really focus on getting the right products for The Barbery. I wanted something that is natural and organic. I also wanted to be able to trace the origins, to know where exactly it was made and for there to be accountability.
Sadly, there weren’t many to choose from. If you then overlay the sustainability requirement then the options go down to two or three. I am hoping that in time clients will become more conscious, not only about what they eat but also what they cleanse, condition and style their hair with. We can be kinder to the environment and also improve our long term health.”
The best treatments for hair health
“I work predominately with OWAY, an Italian brand with plant-based products. They grow many of the ingredients on a biodynamic farm* near Bologna in Italy and source the rest through fair trade networks. I was drawn to their strong sustainability credentials.
Packaging is either aluminum or amber glass, which is infinitely recyclable. Their labels are made of rice paper, which biodegrades within days. Also, there are absolutely no nasty chemicals in any of the products.
We use two of their ranges: ‘haircare’ and ‘beauty’. The OWAY Glowing Face Gommage is part of our Biodynamic Facial. We mix it with a Seaweed + Salicylic Powder Exfoliant, manufactured by a Margate-based skincare brand, Haeckels, which I love.
Bringing in facials
The facial is on the menu only because my manager, Megan insisted. I wanted The Barbery to be a masculine space, zen and laid back with a minimalist design but masculine. For some reason I did not think facials fitted this concept. Megan said: ‘You have to trust me, just put it on the menu.’ Turns out she was right, it is very popular.
We offer two prescriptive scalp treatments. The first is a Dandruff Treatment which targets dry and wet dandruff and issues such as Psoriasis. The second is a Soothing Scalp Treatment to relieve inflamed, irritated or itchy scalps.
Not many people know that when we get stressed our scalp can tighten and become sensitive to the touch, turn red and itchy. The Soothing Scalp Treatment tackles this very effectively. It’s really popular.”
“The sustainability angle came about as a result of me personally changing my lifestyle. I became more aware of the damage we’re doing to the environment; excessive use of packaging, not recycling enough and also more aware of my health, in particular, the sort of things that we put on our bodies that we don’t necessarily know are bad for us or the environment.
I take this quite seriously, using the cardboard product packaging for storing clean towels and gowns. For washing detergent and dishwashing liquid I use bioD. A local retailer sells this in bulk (I refill 2.5 liter containers). I also recycle Erbology Rose Water Shot bottles – they’re great for styling product samples which I offer to clients. My business cards are made of recycled T-shirts and we have cotton carrier bags in the salon for the team to use on supermarket trips so they do not need to buy plastic ones.
To encourage clients to recycle, I offer them 10% off their replacement product purchase if they return their amber glass and aluminium packaging to us.”
"I was 17 with senior school qualifications and I boarded a plane with £320 in my pocket…that’s sort of it. I just made it work."
“After senior school, some of my friends and I came to London for a ‘gap year’. It was common. London was and still is a great hub for travelling. I was 17 with senior school qualifications and I boarded a plane with £320 in my pocket. That’s sort of it; I just made it work and never went back. I instantly felt at home here, I made friends, I fell in love.
My first job was as a labourer on construction sites. Later, I got an office-based position, saved money and went to part-time university to study business and marketing. My marketing career in property started from there. A few years ago I was asked by Singapore-based clients to join their team. It was very hard work but rewarding – my favorite job to date. My bosses had an excellent work ethic. I learnt from them how to reward staff and make them feel valued, and I am following their example here at The Barbery.
I do miss South Africa but London is certainly my home. Having said that, I do visit South Africa regularly and whenever the plane lands in Cape Town I get goosebumps. Perhaps it’s a sign that it’s my spiritual home.”
“Finding the right people was one of the biggest challenges. Obviously, the barber has to be excellent at cutting hair and shaving but their interaction with the clients needs to be on brand, too. That was an important requirement for me. The atmosphere at The Barbery is relaxed and laid back. I want you to leave looking good on the outside therefore feeling better on the inside. But I also want to slow your heart rate whilst you’re here.
I want you to relax and be calm. If the barbers are too energetic, too extroverted or loud, talk at you when you are clearly indicating you prefer not to chat, then, in my opinion we have failed.”
Picking up the pace
“You’ve caught me at a very good time. We’re on track to have the best week ever. So, I am in a good mood. We are very fortunate.
It was different three months ago, it was really tough in the beginning. Because I don’t have much experience in the industry, I worry when we have a few quiet days, often unnecessarily. But, I have realized that just like I asked our barbers to have faith in The Barbery when we started our journey together, I need to have faith in them. This involves taking risks which is tough at times. I am very fortunate, so lucky to have many local clients who are loyal but also clients who are not local.
One client found us on social media – he lives in Marylebone and works in the City, so The Barbery is completely out of his way. He came for a facial and two days later his husband called me saying: ‘When Tom came home from yours he looked amazing. Please can I have what he had?’ Those experiences make me happy.
Our clients are very diverse. We treat all age ranges, from students to those who are retired, having regular scalp treatments or wet shaves. Our concept is universal, isn’t it? Any demographic can relate to what we offer.”
“I need to work on this. The Barbery is my child. It needs attention and feeding every day. I need to learn from it, it needs to learn from me.
I am increasingly aware that working six days a week is not sustainable as I have time for little else. The marketing and sales effort often suffers as a result. And just keeping on top of small things to deliver an excellent client experience is sometimes a challenge. I get grouchy when I do not sleep enough and try to get at least six hours, but often only manage five and a bit – not enough. I start the day with a coffee, sometimes two.
Sunday is my only day off. So, I make sure I rest thoroughly, often turning off my mobile. Only very recently I started to take myself away from The Barbery for short periods during the week. I don’t live far from here. So, I cycle home to my desk to clear emails and other administration.”
Lessons I’ve learnt
“It cannot be done alone. Ask for help where you need it and keep talking. Share experiences and ideas. Involving your team is very important. They appreciate it and feel valued. The business benefits as a result.
Finally, providing you have researched your concept thoroughly and the business case for it is sound, do not deviate from your vision. Remain confident, even when getting traction takes longer than you expect.”
Visit The Barbery at 29 Webber Street, London SE1 8QW, UK. +44 (0) 7500 899661.
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