Lately, Addis Ababa has witnessed a boom in high-end men’s barbershops, which have distinct features such as neat rooms, wider spaces and attractive interior designs. With a unique marketing strategy, this new kind of barber, which usually charges between ETB70 and ETB150, is seemingly popping up in every new building. As it becomes one of the quickest-growing professions in the capital, the new trend is now starting to appeal to more and more of the city’s residents, as Ashenafi Endale reports.
Selam Abiy and her husband, Lakew Desta own A Plus Men’s Salon, which opened a year and a half ago. The salon is one of the new high-end men’s barbershops in Addis Ababa. The salon’s upscale status came with a price tag of ETB 15,000 for interior design and machinery, on top of a rent of ETB24,000, according to Lakew.
The barbershop is different than the places many men in Addis used to go to for haircuts. When a customer comes in, they are welcomed by a receptionist, who handles bookings while assistants hang customers’ coats up for them and lead them to the hair wash stations. After that the customer can treat himself to a facial scrub, haircut and shave with polite barbers well experienced in customer service.
With professional interior design, neat rooms, wider spaces between seats and a carefully curated mood, A Plus is part of a growing trend in men’s hairstyling, starkly different from the normal neighborhood one-room barbershops. Such men’s salons offer services that were once the domain of women’s hair salons and spas, such as facials, steams and massages, as well as offering a variety of products. For example, the barbers at A Plus use vitamins, cosmetics and shampoos, to care for their customers’ skin and hair.
As customers’ disposable incomes increase and urbanization spreads throughout Ethiopia, men are starting to get accustomed to the habit of being pampered at the barbershop. One such customer is Abel Birhanu. “Every time I am served at the shop, I feel comfortable and at ease. In addition to treatments like massages, the materials they use are up to date and the barbers are so talented that they leave no option to complain,” he explains. “Plus, their tools are safe and sterilized.”
Abel, a civil engineer working at a real estate company, says the ETB130 charge for a hair cutting, at A Plus, which is currently the highest price among men’s barber shops in the capital, is fair. “I do not feel very frustrated by the price, because I enjoy the place, the talk and it is also near to my work place,” he says.
In spite of the growing popularity of high-end men barber shops, the older shops are still around in Addis, keeping up with traditions of cutting hair for a lower price, as well as providing a place for discussing politics, culture, sport and personal problems with friends. Tamirat Degu, runs such a barber shop in Sidist Kilo in Arada District, around Addis Ababa University Yared School of Music, in an area where there are four similar barber shops in a row. Tamirat, who has worked as barber for over 12 years, says the prices at old shops like his have increased from three birr to ETB20 now.
But the barbershop’s features and services have mostly stayed the same throughout the years. With the two seats in the small shop, they serve up to 30 customers per day on weekends. Customers usually wait their turn sitting on a bench, reading magazines and newspapers. “People usually come to the shop even when they are not going to cut their hair, just to exchange information and to socialize,” explains Tamirat.
But retaining younger, more affluent customers is becoming difficult for these shops. One of the differentiating factors is the level of technology used in the two places: whereas newer shops use sterilizing machines, older shops use alcohol and fire to clean their tools.
Fikir Bekele, general manager of Boston Bay Spa, which runs both men’s and women’s salons, says high-end barber shops are increasing in Addis because of the number of people moving into higher income brackets. “A few years ago, there were no such shops on Bole Road, except Boston Day Spa. But the competition is getting tough now.” She says the customer flows grow by more than 15Pct each year. “We serve up to 30 people per day. We’ve expanded our services from one floor to two additional floors.”
However, Dawit Ejigu, a frequent customer feels that it is difficult to establish a continuing relationship with a barbershop. “They just increase prices so they can cover their expensive rent,” he stresses. “I see no big difference in what they do.”
The costs may be justified though, according to some experts. “The price of high end barbers in Addis is controversial but they have additional benefits, like convenience and comfort. The barbers have to spend money on things like the design, machinery and additional service costs. It is convenient for the customer to access a complete service close to work, instead of having to wash their hair at home, and then come back. You save time, fuel and money,” argues Alazar Ahmed, a marketing expert at Ranez Market, a company involved in market development and product positioning for consumer goods, and factory products and companies at entry point.
According to industry insiders, there is progress in the barber business, in terms of professionalism, way of life, doing-business mechanism, and income. In fact, what makes more barbershops in Addis similar is their agreements between the owner and the barbers. They mostly operate on a shared business model. The owner and barbers split the income. For instance, at A Plus, the barber takes a 40Pct commission from the income they generate from customers they bring. No different trend is observed in other high-end barbers across the capital.
Lakew says he brought most of his customers over with him to A Plus when he left the place he was at before. “This is the best business model,” says Alazar. “First, it is good that the barbers keep on with existing customers. The old customers bring new customers; it is referral marketing. Secondly, the barbers get commission based on their talent and skill.”
Selam, on the other hand, says the barber business will evolve into a more professional service industry, especially with more and more graduates from the beauty training centers in the capital. “I achieved my childhood dream, with new features and upgrades. That is why I called the shop A Plus,” she said.
6th Year • Aug.16 – Sep. 15 2018 • No. 65