Lessons Learned from the Grumpy Barber

I found out yesterday that my local barber is leaving the island soon. I’ll miss him as much for his excellent haircuts as his grumpy, opinionated personality. Even though I could have easily labeled him as rude, out-of-place, and genuinely disagreeable (at times), I challenged myself to look at each haircut as a time to step outside of my routine and enjoy the banter.
I’ve seen him kick people out of his shop for using cell phones, asking (what he thought were) stupid questions and women: they would not do women’s hair. He has many 1-star reviews on Yelp detailing his unique personality. He also has a lot of five-star reviews.
You would think that this would have hurt his business; it didn’t. In fact, I believe it helped his business: a no-nonsense haircut with a side of strong opinions was what made him special, unique. I’ve never been there when there were not at least a few people waiting. He was busy, always busy.
In this time of political correctness and exaggerated outrage over the most trivial matters, I think his barbershop offered a chance to enjoy, at least for 20 minutes, banter and conversation that wasn’t overly filtered. I think that’s part of what drew the mostly older patrons to his shop: guys would get a chance to complain about the world and not be made to feel self-conscious or wrong.
This is a good lesson in branding. If the market is full of homogeneous, cookie-cutter providers, a person or business with a bit of personality can carve out a good niche. There is room for a place that breaks the mold and dares to be different, authentic. I think we are lacking a lot of authenticity in corporate run businesses that teach their employees to “follow the manual” and to avoid any sort of non-prescribed behavior or words in the workplace.
Would I like to work side-by-side with my barber? Heck no! Twenty minutes once a month is enough. Do I enjoy stepping into a world of authentic conversation for a brief time when I get my hair cut? Absolutely.
grumpy barber