We may be living through the austerity years, but one sector that is booming is men’s grooming. Men’s desire to splash the cash to look good has propelled the sector to be worth some £1 bn.
It’s not just about buying moisturiser and bronzers. Guys are also bypassing the cheap and cheerful barbers’ shop where you enter with a unique barnet, but exit with the uniform one-style-suits-all clipper-cut ‘short back and sides’ for more expensive trims.
At the heart of this explosion in quality men’s hairdressing are Turkish barbers. They’ve sprung up in every town across the UK. Among the best known is Ted’s Grooming Room, part of the top British fashion retail brand Ted Baker.
T-VINE went on a mission to find out how an Englishman has come to be driving the coolness and popularity surrounding Turkish barbering. We meet Mus Ismail, a Turkish Cypriot barber and co-founder of Ted’s Grooming Room. He started off in his father’s shop in Holborn. After taking control, he transformed the business, gaining a reputation as one of the most prestigious barbershops in the capital. They developed a celebrity following and then one day Ted Baker’s owner Ray Kelvin started coming in. Mus takes up the story:
“Once we became established as the best in central London, a few celebrities started coming in, and eventually they brought their friends, until you couldn’t walk into the Grooming Room without seeing a famous face being shaved. Showbiz is a small world, and once you cut one person’s hair, it isn’t long before the rest follow.”
“Naturally, a lot of these guys came from the fashion scene. We had a few well-known names but the one who loved us the most was Ray. He loved everything about the shop: the service, the fit-out and the quality of cuts and shaves. He really appreciated the quality and attention to detail of our work. The most important thing was the energy and atmosphere on the shop floor. I’ve always employed the best young barbers around and this created an unbelievable buzz in Holborn.”
“After coming in for a few years, he asked if I would like to team up with his brand, and it seemed like a perfect fit.”
“Ted Baker loved everything about the shop: the service, the fit-out and the quality of cuts and shaves.”
So an Englishman falls for the charm of Turkish barbering and invests. And with nine branches opened in the past five years, the formula is clearly working. We ask Mus what he credits this phenomenal success to.
“The most important decision I made was not to be afraid of taking a chance on young talent. We have the biggest team of top quality barbers in Britain and we insist on a consistently high standard of service in every one of our venues. We serve ten to fifteen thousand customers per month and plan to open more Grooming Rooms soon, so this is hugely important. Not only does this mean we have guys who are extremely loyal to Ted’s Grooming Room (TGR) but that we have the most energetic atmosphere of any barbershop in London.”
“The guys I employ are all highly talented, but we’ve taught them how to combine this with professionalism. And when you’ve got a whole team of young barbers who are not only well-trained, but have also been taught how to look after a Central London customer, you’ve taken the game to a whole other level.”
“When you consider the fact that our barbers work fewer hours than in other Turkish places, it means they can maintain their highest standards for every single client. And they have time to socialise with each other after work. Look after your staff and the business will look after itself; that’s why we arrange for our guys to use our cocktail bars and go on socials with each other. A happy barber makes for a happy customer.”
“We’ve shown the barbering world how to improve the overall experience of visiting a barbers’ shop. There isn’t another barbers’ shop in London – Turkish, English or otherwise – that can offer the experience we have. Several magazines have named us as one of the best barbers’ shops in the world. Our barbers are so respected, Wahl have told me personally that they won’t let our guys enter their contests because it’s unfair on the competition!”
“It’s not just the consistency and excellence of our barbers that sets us apart though…Ted’s Grooming Room is an entirely different brand to any other barbers; you simply can’t compare it to anywhere else. I’ve yet to find anywhere that has a high-quality sound system and a cocktail service in their store – three of our shops have a bar run by the Looking Glass Cocktail Club. We love to collaborate with brands like this; we’re the best in our field and we want to work with people who are the best in theirs.”
He admits success was never guaranteed, but having found the optimum mix of barbering services, Mus remains committed to bringing through the next generation of top Turkish barbers and becoming internationally renowned as the best barbering establishment in the world.
“We have plans for four more Grooming Rooms in the pipeline. And while we are constantly receiving requests from around the globe, we are one hundred per cent determined to stay in London; I’m a Londoner who built a brand in my city and I want it to stay here.”
“I wasn’t an overnight sensation; I’ve fought my way up from a very early age. People always ask why we employ so many young Turkish barbers, and it’s because I came from that community. We’re constantly on the lookout for young blood; ambitious people who can keep challenging me and moving the business forward. No matter how successful Ted’s Grooming Room may have become, I’m still a barber at heart and I can always spot the good ones.”