"I want you to leave with a new look which makes you feel good on the outside, but also I want to slow your heart rate while you're here."April 16, 2019 4:23 pm
Name: Charl Ackerman
From: Cape Town Based in: London
Occupation: Founder of The Barbery
“The idea for The Barbery was born out of a frustration between myself and my barber at the time. There wasn’t any high end offering around where we live. I’ve always lived in south east London: Southwark, Elephant & Castle, London Bridge and there was nothing there. Also all my friends including myself traveled to Shoreditch, Soho and Covent Garden to have a haircut. And, that would usually eat into our weekends or evenings.
I was inspired by things I didn’t like in other barbers in London. I took about a year or so to do research. I just went to every barber that I could sort of find in London and get a haircut or shave. I would just sit in the chair and mentally make a list of things I didn’t approve of, things that I would change, and imagine my ideal client experience. You know, what would I not have… And, that went from the barbers having cigarette or coffee breath to the chairs being torn or the floors not being swept for a long time. All these sorts of things. I came up with a very long list and that’s how the concept for The Barbery was born.”
“The sustainability angle came because I personally changed my lifestyle. I became more aware of my health. I became more aware of the damage we’re doing to the environment, excessive use of packaging and not recycling… Then, you know, the sort of things that we put on our bodies that we don’t necessarily know that they are bad for us.
But also, just like our skin, our hair is, to a certain extent, a showcase for what our body is like inside. Often, bad hair or scalp issues can be traced to the client’s poor diet. They don’t eat enough protein or they eat too much protein, they don’t drink enough water, their food is high in saturated fats, and all those sorts of things.
What we often tell our clients is: “You can’t have good hair without having a healthy scalp”. And, that’s what made me really want to focus on getting the right products for The Barbery. I wanted something that is completely organic and to be able to trace the origins. I wanted to know where exactly it was made and I wanted there to be accountability. Sadly, there weren’t that many options. And if you overlay the sustainability element then the options go down to two or three. I am hoping that in time clients will realise that actually it’s not only what I eat but also what I wash myself with, what I wash my hair with and what I style my hair with. All those things make us. They are not only better for the environment. They also help with long term health.”
“I work predominately with OWAY. The O stands for organic. It’s an Italian brand. They grow most of the ingredients on a biodynamic farm* near Bologna in Italy. And that’s where their factory is. They have very strong sustainability credentials. Their packaging is either aluminium or amber glass, which is infinitely recyclable. The labels are made with rice paper and biodegrade within days. Also, there are absolutely no nasty chemicals. We use two of their ranges: haircare and beauty. The OWAY Glowing Face Gommage is part of our Biodynamic Facial.
The facial is on the menu only because my manager, Megan insisted on it being there. I wanted The Barbery to be a manly space. I wanted it to be zen and laid back and I wanted the design to be stripped back. But, I wanted it to be a manly space. I wanted the chairs to be manly. I wanted the service to be manly because it’s a barber after all. And she said: “You have to trust me. Just put it on the menu.” Turns out she was right.
We do two scalp treatments: Dandruff Treatment and Soothing Scalp Treatment. Not many people know that when we get stressed our scalp can get tight and sore. It can turn red, irritated and a bit itchy. We do this really fantastic treatment where we soothe the scalp. It’s really popular.”
“I use OWAY cardboard 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 litre containers). I also recycle Erbology Rose Water Shot bottles. They’re great for styling product samples that I offer to clients. My business cards are made of recycled T-shirts. We also have cotton carrier bags in the salon for the team to use on supermarket trips so they do not need to buy plastic bags.
To encourage clients to recycle, I offer them 10% off their next product purchase if they bring back their amber glass and aluminium packaging to me.”
"I had senior school qualifications. I was 17 and I boarded a plane with £320 in my pocket and that's sort of it. I just made it work."
“Finding the right people was probably one of the biggest challenges. Obviously, the barber has to be excellent at cutting hair but I also looked for the right interaction with the clients. That was a big requirement for me. The atmosphere at The Barbery is relaxed and laid back. I want you to leave with a new look which makes you feel good on the outside, but also I want to slow your heart rate while you’re here. I want you to relax and be calm. And your stylist or your barber can make or break that because, you know, they are too energetic, too extroverted, they talk at you when you’re clearly indicating you don’t want to discuss anything. Then in my opinion we failed. So that was really important for me.”
You’ve caught me in a very good time. We’re on track to have the best week ever. Last Saturday was the best Saturday ever. So yes, I am in a very good mood. If you asked me a month ago, it was really tough. Because I don’t have experience in the industry, I panic. I panic when I don’t see bookings. But, I think part of it was just like I asked barbers to have faith in me in the beginning I also had to have my faith in them and I had to grow the team. I had to take risks and that seems to have worked. I am fortunate. I am so lucky to have local clients but also clients that are not local.
It all started just randomly. This one client found us on social media. He lives in Marylebone, works in the City. I’m completely out of his way. He came for a facial and two days later his husband called and said: “When Tom came home I could hardly recognise him. He looks amazing. Please can I come and have what he’s having?” So, those sorts of things make me happy.
Our clients are very diverse. We’ve got all age ranges from students to retired clients who come for a shave every two weeks. I think the concept is just general, isn’t it? Any sort of demographic can relate to the fact that you get a good haircut or a good shave.”
I see The Barbery as my child. It needs attention every day. It needs feeding. I need to learn from it. It needs to learn from me. But I became aware that it’s not sustainable if I work here six days a week because I don’t have time for anything else. Marketing and sales were suffering. And just keeping on top of things and delivering an excellent client experience became really difficult. And I became grouchy because I didn’t sleep enough. I try to get between six and seven hours of sleep, never more than seven, but often only five and a half. I start with a coffee and then have another one at 11am. I take it outside. We don’t serve caffeine at The Barbery.
The only day when I don’t work is Sunday and I rest very thoroughly. From last week I started to take myself away. I don’t live far away from here so I could cycle home to my desk and then just crack through emails and bookkeeping.”
From Cape Town to London
“After senior school, many of my friends came to London for a twelve-month gap year. It was common; London is a great hub for traveling. So, everyone sort of came here and I, in a nutshell, never went back. I fell in love with London. I made friends. I fell in love. I miss South Africa but London is certainly my home. That was 22 years ago. I am more British I think than I am South African. But still, whenever that plane lands in Cape Town I get goosebumps. That is a sign to me that it’s probably my spiritual home. Maybe one day I will go back or spend more time there.
I had senior school qualifications. I was 17 and I boarded a plane with £320 in my pocket and that’s sort of it. I just made it work. I had no experience, no qualifications. I started working on building sites as a labourer. Then, I moved into administrative work and went to the university to study business and marketing. My marketing career in property started and that’s what I did up until about six years ago.
Before the crush, London was booming in property. I got asked by one of my clients, two ladies based in Singapore, to go and work for them. Because I was their contact in the UK and with the time difference it felt like I was on call 24/7. I was taught what it means to work hard and reward yourself. They’ve got an outstanding work ethic and taught me what it means to make employees feel valued in a company. They saw clear objectives but gave me the freedom to work around that and put my standpoint onto things. So, that’s what I am doing at The Barbery as well.”
Lessons I’ve learnt
“One cannot do it on their own. The more support you have the easier it is. Ask for help where you need it and keep talking, sharing experiences and ideas. Involve your team. They appreciate it and feel valued; the business benefits as result.
Finally, provide your vision. Have you researched the concept thoroughly and is the business case for it sound? Remain confident, do not deviate from it, even when getting traction takes longer than you want for it to.”
Visit The Barbery at 29 Webber Street, London SE1 8QW, UK. +44 (0) 7500 899661.
*OWAY grows their extracts on a 50,000 square meters biodynamic land. They harvest and distill twelve different types of medicinal plants, including rosemary, lemon balm, sage, thyme, mint and helichrysum. These plants are processed without using any chemicals or solvents.