Nowadays, it’s getting harder to find old-school barbershops with those iconic striped barber poles fronting their storefronts.
And in its place, gentleman barbershops – which have been dubbed as very “hipster” – are on a rapid rise.
These trendy hair establishments specialise in giving men the most contemporary hairstyles like a pompadour or a side-part; and have carved a new direction in the evolution of barbershops.
Step into one and you’re most likely to find a league of dapper-looking barbers hard at work – all meticulously trimming, shaving and shaping – in a spiffy shop decked out with cool interiors and barbershop chairs.
And The Golden Rule Barber Co. is no exception.
This brand has gained a lot of recognition after it made national headlines for its “craziest VIP house call” – they had the rare opportunity to provide haircuts for Argentina’s football stars earlier this year.
“We Thought It Was A Message From A Fan Of Debala”
It all happened about three months ago.
On June 12, one of the players, Paulo Dybala, dropped the team a direct message on their Instagram page.
“One of our admin guys read it and decided to pass it off due to the sender’s broken English. We simply thought it was just a message from a kid who is a fan of Debala,” said founder Yanto Aryan Sani, 35.
But they thought wrong.
Later that evening, they received an unexpected call at the outlet – the person over the phone asked what time they were coming to give a haircut to the Argentina players.
Despite the confusion and disbelief, they somehow still managed to confirm a time and venue.
And at 10.30pm, they ended up at Fullerton Hotel giving haircuts to the team, who were in town early for their friendly match against Singapore.
They gave haircuts to Guido Rodriguez, Manuel Lanzini, Joaquin Correa and Leondro Parades, and hung out with stars such as Angel Di Maria and Dybala himself.
Absolutely starstruck, the team of barbers decided to not charge them for their services. And in exchange, they were offered six to seven Argentinian kits, in which one was signed by Di Maria.
While the management forbade the barbers from taking pictures, the team graciously offered to take pictures with them instead before leaving.
“The whole experience was definitely something unforgettable – to actually cut their hairs and “chill” in the same place with them,” gushed Yanto, recounting the incident.
“Honestly, we have no idea why they would choose us out of all people, but most of our customers are from the the sports industry, including soccer players, boxers, and MMA fighters. So it’s probably through word of mouth that they got to know about us.”
“Before this, Nick Kyrgios, ranked #13 as the world’s best tennis player, came for a haircut with us when he was in Singapore last December. Ex-Liverpool star, Jermaine Pennant, also came to our place for a haircut when he first came to Singapore for his S-league stint.”
Striking Out On Their Own
Yanto is a veteran hairstylist with over 10 years of experience under his belt.
Since 2004, he worked as a freelance hairstylist while producing music on the side.
Prior to starting up The Golden Rule Barber Co., he was a senior barber at Hounds of the Baskervilles, which is arguably the pioneer of the new wave of barbers here in Singapore.
During his three-year stint there, he befriended colleague Mohamed Jay Anudin, 28, who is now a fellow co-founder of TGR.
According to Yanto, the two have always had similar interests, and they even shared the same vision of opening up their own barbershop.
So when Yanto proposed an idea to bring the plan to life one day, Jay readily jumped on board, albeit being fairly new to the industry.
Unlike Yanto, Jay has only been in this line for about five years now. Nonetheless, his passion for barbering is clear to see.
He has a background in graphic design and media, but decided to ditch that to pursue his passion for grooming instead, which he has cultivated since he was 15.
Similarly, Yanto harboured the dream of working in the hair industry since he was a teenager and often gave free haircuts to his band mates in his younger days.
Start Small, Win Big
In May 2014, Yanto forked out $22,000 out of his personal savings and a loan from his uncle to launch his first shop at Race Course Road, affectionately called TGR SOHO.
The humble space exudes the vibes of a classic Western barbershop, with their walls plastered with posters of bands from the ’90s as well as electric guitars.
But essentially, TGR SOHO is really just a man-cave where patrons can chill out (there’s even a PlayStation 3 for customers to play while waiting) and get services such as haircutting, hot towel shaving, and beard sculpting.
According to Yanto, the response at launch was very positive.
“Our first shop only had four chairs and we didn’t expect so many customers. The shop has been kept very busy, so we are very grateful to our family, friends, and customers who have lent us their support and helped spread word about our business.”
Yanto recognised the need for a bigger space so he opened up another outlet along Race Course Road recently called TGR Studio to accommodate its VIP services, which is expected to launch this December.
He invested about $55,000 – strictly from his savings this time round – for the second studio, which is double the size of TGR Soho.
“Soho is able to accommodate four barber chairs, while Studio is able to accommodate 8 chairs with hair washing services. And in total, we have a total of 18 barbers across the two outlets.”
When asked why he chose to expand in the same area, Yanto said that they prefer somewhere that was “far from any hip area so [they] can stand out.”
For him, Race Course Road was the ideal spot away from hip enclaves such as Tiong Bahru and Haji Lane.
Despite the unlikely location, their business has grown by about 40 per cent since its opening.
On average, they receive about 40 to 50 bookings a day. In fact, business has been so brisk that they broke even within the first year for both outlets, revealed Yanto.
Barbering Is A Form Of Craft
When asked what he thought about the rapid rise of ‘hipster barbers’ in Singapore, Yanto said that he didn’t find the term offensive and simply associated the word ‘hipster’ with what’s trending now.
We’re no different from other barbershops in the United States, United Kingdom or Italy, or even those who have operated for over 10 years. Hipster or not, a good barber is a good barber.
At The Golden Rule Barber Co., they consider each haircut “a form of craft” and spend a lot of time focusing on details as it’s paramount in getting the best haircut desired by their customers.
They don’t rush their work and stay close to their motto, which is to follow the golden rule of barbering.
This ‘premium service’ is also probably the reason why their prices are so steep as compared to a regular haircut at a neighbourhood barbershop.
Their prices range from $28 for a beard trim to $38 for a haircut, but Yanto emphasises that “you get what you pay for”.
Typically, customers are willing to shell out more because they provide the best and latest type of haircut in a very relaxed atmosphere.
Also, a haircut at their salon typically takes an hour, which a growing number of men have grown to appreciate as opposed to quick-cut and mom-and-pop outlets.
“Most of the cheaper neighbourhood haircuts usually don’t turn out the way you want it to be. The new wave of barbers are more meticulous in their work and have a proper consultation with their clients. We are more focused on clipper work and shaving instead of scissor work, colour and treatment services provided at salons,” said Yanto.
In other words, with a barber, the lines are cleaner and the fade along the sides is more precise.
Not Daunted By Stiff Competition
According to Yanto, while the proliferation of gentleman barbershops has helped raise awareness about this new-age style, it has also contributed to stiffer competition for them.
Nonetheless, he is not daunted and simply sees it as a reason to put in continuous effort to provide even better service – both online and offline – in order to stay relevant in this competitive market.
Barbering is not a trend. The trend lies in the hairstyles instead. Since hairstyles and fashion evolve with time, existing barbershops need to be able to accommodate and follow through with the trends, otherwise they will end up falling out of the competition.
And while it’s true that competition has gotten stiffer over the past few years, Yanto said that it has not come to a point where they actually have to fight for survival.
Neighbourhood barbers or 10-minute quick-cut vendors target different people. And above all, there is no lack of hair to cut.
At the end of the day, every guy requires a haircut every now and then. This means that The Golden Rule Barber Co. is providing a very essential service, which makes for a very sustainable business.
Sharing their future business plans, Yanto said that they are focused on just maintaining their current two outlets now.
Nonetheless, business expansion is still on their map. They are looking at opening more outlets in other parts of Singapore in the near future, and breaking into the Southeast Asia region like in Malaysia or Indonesia in the long run.
For young barber wannabes who are obsessed with cashing in only, Yanto wants them to know that they need grit and sheer determination to make it in this industry.
“Long hours and seven-day work weeks aren’t uncommon, and only the truly passionate make it,” said Yanto.
Don’t ever feel like you’re the best because there will always be someone out there who is better than you are. And never stop striving to be a better version of yourself – always be forever hungry to learn new things and skills.
If you are interested to check out their haircutting portfolio and/or want to make an appointment with them, check out their Facebook page here.
Featured Image Credit: The Golden Rule Barber Co.