Ruger’s Alan Beak: Enjoy the Boom and Be Nicer to Each Other!
When I caught up with Alan Beak at Barber Connect Telford, he was just 20 minutes from his stage show and a bit rueful about it. ‘There was never a special path I wanted to follow,” he told me, “I never intended to go down a ‘celebrity following’ route. We wanted to keep it varied: the TV work, multiple shows, traveling, doing education. We are just put 100 percent in the moment. Life’s too short for bad coffee and bad haircuts.”
In case you don’t know, the ‘we’ Alan refers to is not only his brother and fellow Manchester native Reece, with whom he opened Ruger Barber just 15 months ago. He also means the rest of his team, Danielle Corbett, Ellie Rogers, Carlie Firth and Aiden Smith, who he mentions often and are a big part of the rather sudden international fame of the Ruger brand.
It’s clear to me the brothers’ killer social media posts featuring unique photography have helped propel them to the heights they enjoy today. It has been a few years since I interviewed Alan, and I wanted to know how he developed those skills.
“Social media is the key factor,” he says firmly. “It is your personal platform to get your work out there.” Social media is part of personal and professional development, something Alan adds to his education work along with theory, demonstrations and hands-on. “Putting all these things together is the recipe.”
He has done his homework in the technical aspects of his incredible camera work. “You need the right tools, the right knowledge, and the right photography,” he says.
‘Good barbers, trustworthy barbers, are really hard to find’
“A lot of people are deterred by the camera (due to cost). I get asked about this a lot, and I don’t keep it secret. My cameras are Canon 600D – that’s 400 pounds. Quite expensive, but you can get it on eBay now for 120. It’s the 50mm lens that gives us the signature look we have. It has the shallow depth of field, focuses on the head, and everything else is blurred out. It exaggerates the haircut. So the 50 mm is the one, and you can get them for about 70 pounds.”
As the Ruger brand began its meteoric rise, people often asked about opening another shop, but Alan was skeptical. “Good barbers, trustworthy barbers, are really hard to find,” he said. “So instead of finding a location, we thought we should look for the right person (to work with us). And we came across this young woman, Carlie. Her attitude was amazing, and she cut hair great. She’s fit in the mold with our team, and it just kind of fell into place.” Carlie is Carlie Firth, who I noticed right away, since she was already doing dynamic stage shows at Barber Connect. Talk about fitting fit in!
With the right crew in place, Alan was ready to expand. The new shop in Lytham started with a business partner in Preston. “He said Lytham would be agood spot for us,” Alan recalls. “We went out there one night, and all the bars were open, we got drinks and something to eat, and they all have these bi-folding doors, everyone was outside, and we were sold!”
Months later, after “getting my soft barber hands into bits lugging axes and crowbars, pretending to be a builder,” the Lytham shop opened to booming business.
“Get used to your hairdryer”
Alan is a highly attuned business operator whose philosophy every barber should study. He was typically decisive in launching his product line: “We said we wanted or own product; it is as simple as that. And we’ve done it.” Ruger Essentials is the main item, “the best product we have ever used and ever will use,” Alan calls it in his (admittedly biased) view.
He hasn’t let expansion, social media success and international attention pull Ruger away from their fundamental Italian strength. Alan says the service and atmosphere identified with Italian barbering “will always be our foundation, but we amalgamate our skills with Afro-Caribbean, fading, lady’s hairdressing with extensive styling. We are becoming a hybrid barber; using the Italian as our base.”
He had a take for today’s barbers that was a little surprising: “Get used to your hairdryer.”
“Styling is 33 percent of what you are producing,” he told me. “Everyone wants to do clipper work; everyone wants to fade well; go to America; watch the American videos; everyone wants to learn more scissors techniques. So yes, obviously, clipper and scissor work. But get used to the hairdryer. Use it in both hands, use it in different products, be able to style hair. Hair is very easily manipulated with chemicals, but also with heat.
“Get used to using your hairdryer very well.”
“Seeds are Planted all over the World Every Day”
I found Alan to be fired up when offering thoughts on the state of the industry. First, we’ll cover what he loves.
“There is so much networking going on,” he says immediately with a smile. “People on the outside don’t realize how strangely lovely and incestuous it is. Everybody knows everybody.”
It wasn’t always that way. “I remember being told never to fraternize with the enemy, and the enemy was anyone not in your shop.” Now that’s over and the international flavor of men’s grooming is exciting for everyone, he says. “I had a student who was in Malaysia and wanted to have a look at haircuts there, and when he said he had worked under us for a while, they took him right in!”
A trip to Barber Connect NYC also made an impact, he said, in particular seeing a multi-racial photo shoot called Council Estate Couture by Kevin Luchman inspired Alan to get into photography, and hanging with people like Luke Guldan and Miguel helped him realize the importance of accessibility.
“Seeds are planted all over the world every day,” he told me. “Plant a seed and year later you can elaborate on that relationship. It doesn’t come all at once…patience, is what I want to say.” But meeting people and over time, building relationships with the likes of Jamilla Paul and Chris Foster helped Alan’s personal and professional growth.
So, what does this major influencer think needs changing for the better in our industry?
The “bad attitudes,” Alan says.
“They know full well they couldn’t stand having that done to them”
“You see people criticizing work, so fast to jump in and say something negative, but then they don’t post pictures of their own work, or refuse to because they know full well they couldn’t stand having that done to them.” Alan’s teaching experience shows him kindness is best. “I can say, ‘You have done so well, but let’s pick on something so you can continue to progress.’
“We are in an industry that is booming and we should be a family. We should work together,” he adds. “If you are going to say something it should be positive, not putting someone down and making feel bad about their work.,
Alan is also on about criticism of people who post edited work, which he calls unfair. “I know people edit pictures, and I don’t give a shit because it looks good. I know they edited something out, but (so what?)”
“Look, we are all human,” he said. “Not everything has to be 100 percent perfect. I have seen people’s work online and then seen them work in front of me, and I can tell there is a difference, but I like to see that because that person is only human.”
“Always go with your gut instinct.”
His advice to all: post your work and don’t wait for perfection. “We are all human, we all make mistakes. Whether it’s a small flaw, post your work! Get your work out there. Don’t pick out the flaw; pick out the good bits in it.”
What final thoughts does this incredibly focused and busy traveler (he lists off where barbering has taken him and his crew – “Shanghai, Australia, Brazil, Argentina, and soon to Barcelona and Moscow”) want to share with my audience?
“Always go with our gut instinct,” he said. “Don’t copy other people. I mean, you are never the first person to do something, but take one thing from this person and one thing from another, and just by taking as much as you can from everyone else, you can decide what is going to suit you and make you original.”
“Again, planting seeds. Plant a seed, build a relationship,” he urges. “Instagram is there for that. Instagram is not about how many followers you have. It is about the relationships you build. So speak to someone, leave a nice comment, send a message.”
He condemns how cliquey barbers can be, and sometimes difficult to get to know, so he recommends confidence. “Even if you are not confident, tell people that. You can say, “I’m not very confident, but I’d like to meet you.” You may shit yourself at first, but then you will be all right!”
With those words I had to let Alan go, off to another rousingly successful stage show. My thanks to him, and be sure to catch the entire interview on my YouTube at LarryTheBarberMan. Follow me Instagram @larrythebarberman and I look forward to being friends on Facebook.
I know I will be working harder to follow Alan’s example! Let’s agree to plant seeds, build relationships and be good to one another. Til next time, happy barbering!