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Booksy and @barbersince98: Two Industry Dynamos Team Up to Aid Barbers Everywhere

You know @barbersince98 – also known as Oscar Torres – as the barber running one of the premier showcase sites in the business with more than a quarter million Instagram followers.  An American based in Rhode Island,  Oscar recently retired from cutting hair to blend his enormous online presence with Booksy, the powerful mobile appointment app and industry game-changer.

When I had a chance to interview him in Ireland this spring, I wanted to know the story behind Oscar’s incredible successes and his decision to go all in with Booksy.

Haircuts in the bathtub

Oscar told me he’s loved barbering since his mom plunked the kids into an empty tub for their homemade cuts. “When she said, ‘Strip down to your underwear and get in the tub,’ we knew it was haircut time!” he recalls.  “To be honest, though, I wasn’t the biggest fan of my mom’s skills.”

“When I was thirteen I found inspiration in my sister’s boyfriend, who would give me and my brothers haircuts,” he added. “I used to watch and think ‘This seems doable. I think I could try this.’”

Oscar soon talked his grandmother into spending most of his back-to-school money on his first set of clippers and trimmers, and Mom was not too happy.  “She said, ‘We’re taking this back to the store.’  But I was like, ‘Mom, I can make the money back!’  A couple of days later I had people knocking on my door for haircuts and that weekend I made all the money back.”

After being offered an apprenticeship by a classmate’s father, Oscar went to work in a barber shop. “That was 1998,” he said, “I took it seriously and it has been a blessing ever since.” It also explains where @barbersince98 comes from!

As his barbering and video/journalism skills grew, Oscar became a fast-growing fixture on Instagram. When Booksy began to take off, the two began to see a potential partnership, one based on mutual respect for innovation and skill.

“I saw the uniqueness of what Booksy is doing,” Oscar said. “There are a lot of tools in our industry, and most of them are just ordinary, but Booksy is helping people make more money, obtain more clients, represent themselves in the most professional manner.”

In my travels, I’ve found many barbers struggle with staying organized, even though doing so increases consistency, reliability and ultimately makes for a more successful career.  Oscar agrees;  one reason he loves Booksy.  “Booksy is helping barbers stay organized and helping clients communicate with their barbers,” he said.  Booksy takes the pressure off barbers to handle phone calls and walk-ins while trying to concentrate on the person in the chair, a fundamental and serious organizational problem for many.

With Booksy, customers see their barber’s schedule on their mobile device and book their appointments themselves 24/7, or even cancel or reschedule. All a barber needs to do is give great haircuts and check the calendar to see who’s next!

Meeting Obama’s barber

Oscar’s a big believer in consistency and reliability, and Booksy’s organizational tools help barbers develop both.  Oscar recently got big support for that point of view from Barack Obama’s personal barber, the legendary Zariff at Chicago’s Hyde Park Hair Salon.  After landing an Instagram interview with Zariff, Oscar told me “Zariff focuses on being consistent and reliable.  He feels skills are vital, but the first two are the most important. A skilled barber that is not consistent and not reliable, how effective can that barber be?”

Probably not effective enough to land Barack Obama as a client!

Oscar knows marketing and PR inside out, so he immediately grasped how important it is that Booksy goes above and beyond their already-innovative appointment management tool to help barbers market and grow.  Booksy can integrate a barber’s web site into the Booksy domain to boost Google rankings, and geolocate Booksy barbershops, attracting clients with practically no involvement from the barber at all.  “With Booksy a regular person like me or you can go to a different city,” he enthuses, “and if you don’t know any barbers there, you open up the Booksy app and it gives you the closest barbers. That’s bringing new clients to you.”

Oscar is so enthusiastic that he happily retired from barbering to focus on helping barbers get Booksy into their working lives.  Booksy’s power, combined with Oscar’s industry presence and marketing expertise, are a huge benefit to barbers everywhere.  “My job is to introduce Booksy to people who haven’t used it before or who are using it and need some help on how to make their page more presentable,” he sums up.  “By me dealing with so many businesses on this platform, that allows me to give people advice on what to do and what not to do.”

“I offer brand exposure,” he added. “I like helping brands who have a meaningful purpose in our industry.  My Instagram is a showcase platform.  If you have a brand that stands out and you need some help, I can help you out with that.”

“You can’t reinvent the wheel, but you can change the ride”

I always ask my interviewees for advice to young barbers and Oscar is straight up with his.

“One thing I learned is that you are never going to reinvent the wheel, but you can change the ride,” he told me.

“Social media is a big platform. You can be appreciated by people who will probably never sit in your chair because they are in another country, but I can’t stress enough, don’t lose the importance of your community.

“It is cool to get likes and follows by people you will never meet, but you need to focus on your community and the people who go into your business on a weekly and a monthly basis.”

And while Oscar agrees there is no substitute for persistence and hard work, he comes back to how important it is for barbers to be organized.

“If you think you are grinding now, tighten up your belt because it’s a long ride!” he laughs. “There are things you are going to go through, a lot of clients you will lose and gain, and at the end of the day, you need to stay organized!”

“That’s another reason I am with Booksy.  It helps barbers who are young stay organized and keep your clients,” he adds. “Focus on your clients, stay organized and good things can happen.”

My thanks to Oscar for a fascinating conversation.  You can contact him and inquire how he can help your business by emailing Oscar.torres@booksy.net

It’s amazing to me how Booksy is gaining traction all over the industry, and it is inspiring that so many barbers recognize its value and are not being left behind!

Be sure to watch the full interview on my YouTube @larrythebarberman, and ’til next time, happy barbering!

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Just a couple of months ago, in April 2017, I was interviewing the team at Ego Barbers when the tables were turned. Stell, former Head of Education at the London School of Barbering and now the head of education for Ego Barbers’ academy Kings of Tomorrow, interrupted me mid interview to find out why I call myself Larry the Barberman despite the fact that I don’t cut hair… and why I’ve never learned those skills.
As I explained, I see the title of Barberman as being about helping barbers with their needs, not being a barber myself. Stell was not convinced – and as many people are now aware, he took control of the live interview to give me a challenge: Allow him to personally train me for two hours a day over 14 days, and get to a standard where I could perform a cut on the shop floor.

Challenge Accepted!
How could I find the time to learn barbering while also running an online store, interviewing barbers, creating how-to videos and writing for BarberEvo magazine? It was a big ask – but I didn’t think twice before accepting! This felt like the logical next step in the Larry the Barberman journey, and where else would I get the opportunity to be personally taught by an educator of Stell’s calibre?
So, what was the experience like? Well, a couple of months on I have called Stell back for a second interview to find out his thoughts, and to learn a lot more about his educational philosophy.
From my point of view, though, it was impeccable. When I started, Stell had a two week training plan ready. What followed was exemplary; we covered the theory of hair, square layering, round layering with scissors, blending, texturizing… and then onto the clippers for clipper theory, graduation, fading, outlining and much more.
All of the above resulted in me performing a walk-in hair cut on the shop floor at Ego barbers in just 9 days. In fact, I performed 3 cuts on live models within 12 days, so it’s fair to say we achieved our goal 5 days ahead of schedule.
I credit this success to Stell’s methods – and he certainly had his work cut out for him considering my lack of prior knowledge. I asked him what he thought of my skills at first:
“Well, you had none. You knew about all the clippers and how to fix them, but when it comes to cutting hair you were a complete novice – no experience. So, taking on a complete novice is a little bit different to working with people who have had some experience. In your case, it was really about starting from the beginning, understanding how to work with the hair.”
I was also curious to hear what my biggest weaknesses were (and relieved to find out that my struggles were common for early stage barbers!):
“Dealing with the long lengths of hair. A lot of time people come in from working rom very short lengths and they don’t know what it’s like to work with longer lengths. Once you conquered that we started going at a much faster pace. I find that all the time though, that is always the biggest challenge.”

Cutting beyond clippers
It’s clear that as the barbering industry grows, there are certain trends that we see more and more of – and one thing it’s impossible to ignore is the explosion of incredible clipper work. In my experience, though, a lot of barbers who have mastered the clippers want to learn to utilise other tools. I ask Stell what challenges these barbers might need to overcome:
“The haircut becomes dictated by what the clippers do, because that’s their strongest point. And that means the shape is always an afterthought. A lot of the time, the clippers will work away s lot of the layers without them even realising it. So, the shape that they’re trying to build isn’t really consistent with what the head shape demands. That’s the biggest challenge: the clippers overtake what’s going on on top.
“By coming to Kings of Tomorrow, they’ll learn the way to construct a haircut. So, yes, their clipper work might be their strong point, but ultimately it doesn’t define a haircut. If you only think that a haircut is made up of one portion – say, the clipper work – then you haven’t got a completed article at the end of it. What you’ve got is one fantastic piece, which is your bottom half, maybe with a quite standard connection, but then a very flat and uninspiring top half.
“What we can guarantee is that the construction of the haircut will be a tailored finish for every single client. Because each client’s hair type and head shape is different.”
Luckily, the fact that most of the barbers at the Kings of Tomorrow academy will have a solid base of knowledge to work off means that they’ll be able to put what they learn into practice very quickly, identifying problems to work on after just one or two days. Then, as time goes on, they can enhance and refine.

A full philosophy
One of the things that I’ve really grown to respect about Stell is the deep level of thought that he puts into his educational process:
“It’s all about understanding the philosophy of the possibilities that you have with hair. Just because you’ve cut a great haircut doesn’t mean you’re great at cutting hair. Understanding the possibilities that you can get from doing certain techniques or building certain shapes will give you the ability to do more styles and not just copy certain trends and master one haircut.
“You don’t want to be a one hit wonder – or you want to be a trendsetter yourself. You need to know why you’re doing stuff – what is the reason, what is the knock-on effect? Then that confidence grows”.
He adds that when barbers get the approach wrong or don’t focus on building their skills, they end up doing the same thing every day and the same haircut for every client. That’s not good for the clients, and it’s not good barbers either as it stops their progression. And, as Stell says, you might think your clients are happy, but most of the time they won’t tell you if they’re unhappy – they’ll just end up going elsewhere, making education all the more important.

A bright future for barbers
With people like Stell on the scene helping our barbers to really hone their skills, it’s hard not to think that things can only get better for this industry which is already growing and beginning to thrive. Stell seems similarly optimistic, adding some words of advice:
“A lot of people are doing fantastic things with education at the moment, and it can only do us good as barbers because why shouldn’t we be charging more money? But with that comes the responsibility of delivering what your charging, and if you can’t deliver for whatever reason then you need to look and think how can I grow, how can I get better results.
“Whether it’s education or YouTube videos, wherever you need to be to grow that’s where you need to put yourself.”
Whilst training with Stell I was blown away by his passion and dedication to barbering education, as well as his vision for all barbers to be able to learn every aspect of barbering and charge what they’re worth. If you want to be part of that vision then keep an eye out on the @EgoBarbers Instagram page, or head to egobarbers.com. To find me on Instagram and see me put more top talent like Stell under the spotlight, search for @LarrytheBarberMan.

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Connecticut Barber Expo Founder: Jay Major Shares His Success Story!!

Today’s barbering interview is with the talented Jay Majors, a man who has used the barbering craft to completely transform his life. As he describes it, he had a somewhat “troubled past”, and he was generous enough to talk to me not only about his current career as a barber, but also about life before finding this new passion. We also talk about one of Jay’s most exciting projects to date: the CT Barber Expo.

 

“A Troubled Past”

“The gangs were really prevalent in [my] area growing up, and to be honest I got involved just to be cool. I wanted to do what others were doing. I come from a family where my parents did their best to make ends meet, but I wanted the designer things. So, I did the wrong things in order to acquire them.

“I would get incarcerated, and my family weren’t the type of family to send me money so I would have to find ways to make ends meet. Because even though you’re incarcerated you still need to buy cosmetics, food, snacks. I started drawing, doing things like handkerchiefs and I really wasn’t that good at it. So, I got the bright idea, because I really looked up to a barber in my neighbourhood, to start cutting hair”.

Jay already had some styling practice from shaping up his own hair, so he found that he was able to make money from providing haircuts whilst incarcerated. For Jay, then, barbering started as a real necessity: a way that he could survive within a difficult environment. But it certainly didn’t end there:

“While incarcerated, I didn’t have hope. So, I would get out, and get these dead-end jobs – and I wasn’t making good enough money when I was used to making fast money from my other life. Then whilst incarcerated I had this epiphany one day. I was sitting in my cell, and they have these lockers where you put your food and cosmetics – and I had all this food that I was hoarding, hundreds of dollars-worth of food, and all these quote-unquote ‘drug lords’ were having to borrow things from me.

“And a lightbulb went off like why the hell do you try breaking the law, why are you involved with all this knucklehead mentality when you could be making all this money cutting hair? So I went down to the education department and I spoke to this lady, and she said when you get out, call this phone number and due to you being a felon, and because of the programmes you have done, you can get a grant to go to cosmetology school.”

Despite almost giving up several times, Jay stuck to it – and now his life has changed significantly from what it once was.

 

Living for Success

Jay has gone on to make a name for himself in barbering, cementing his new career by opening up the Major League Barbershop around a decade ago. He describes the shop as a family friendly environment, priding himself on the high levels of sanitation as well as the talent of the barbers he hires.

The story behind the barbershop is fascinating in and of itself, taking both good luck and hard work to ensure success:

“When I graduated cosmetology school I was renting chairs in barbershops and I managed to acquire this high-class clientele despite being in a bad neighbourhood. I ended up getting this client in my chair who people might look at as like a mobster, old-school Italian guy who owned a lot of property and he said ‘listen, we’ve got to take you out of this neighbourhood’.

This man was able to help Jay by offering him an empty shop in a new mini mall that was still being built, telling Jay to mark out the space he wanted on the dirt where the mall was about to be built. This transformed into 1200 square foot barbershop that Jay had to grow into.

“I hired some barbers; 4 chairs went to 8 chairs, 8 chairs went to 12. A lot of people just slap a barbershop together but I bought all these beautiful plasma televisions, had the waiting area as a baseball dugout. I wanted it to be a family friendly barbershop, somewhere clean, somewhere women could go and not get gawked out.

“I’m always remodelling, buying new chairs, upgrading my facilities. I think the difference between my shop and others is also the people I hire – I want people with an entrepreneurial spirit. The majority of my barbers that leave go on to open their own shop.”

Although nurturing upcoming talent might mean creating more competition for his own shop, Jay cares more about giving something back and helping people who might be disadvantaged. This includes working with people who were incarcerated in a community outreach programme, helping those with no jobs and few prospects train as barbers and fulfil a need for licensed professionals.

 

Making it Big

Arguably, though, what really helped Jay to make it big was the creation of the CT Expo, an event which may have started small but has gone on to attract an impressively wide audience.

“I’ve participated in barber battles in cosmetology and barber schools, and barbers really come out for it.

“The difference between cosmetologists and barbers to me, where I’m from, is that cosmetologists will get their license and then do continued education. Barbers get a license, get a tattoo of a pair of clippers and think they know everything.

“In order to spread awareness that we weren’t charging enough for our haircuts, we weren’t acting like professionals, we weren’t treating our clients with proper customer care… I had to come up with an excuse. And that was the battles. Barbers are really competitive people.

“So, I did a barber battle at a nightclub, letting everyone compete for free. I didn’t think as many people would turn up as did, and I didn’t think it would become what it has. I reached out to all these people to market it, only Ivan Zoot was interested. He got me clippers for the prize bags, which was astonishing. We had around 30-40 competitors – it was a great turnout”.

From there, the show just grew and grew, although not without some teething issues. Growing so rapidly meant that he had more people attending his shows than the venue he used could cope with, leading to complaints and even visits from the fire marshals!

None of this put Jay off though, and he talks about the type of touching moment that made him realise how much he wanted to keep giving back “This kid won second place in the speed fade battle, and he came with his Grandfather and his Mother and his Aunt – his Grandfather flew all the from Puerto Rico to see him compete – and the kid cried like thank you, I’ve never won anything before in my life. From that point on I said I have to give back to the industry that’s been giving to me.”

From 1100 people at that show, 2017’s CT Expo hit around 8000 attendees including vendors. I was there myself, and the event was off the scale; aside from two barber battle stages, there were also a huge range of vendor.

As Jay says, many of the most popular hair shows cater more towards female hairdressing, with barbers taking up a small area. The event that he runs is all about barbers, with a particular focus on how barbers can grow and become more professional while also charging better rates for their haircuts.

 

A Bright Future

When Jay says that “barbering has truly saved my life” it certainly rings true, so it’s exciting to know that somebody with that much passion is putting so much back into the industry. One big focus at 2017’s expo was education – he sees the battle and the vendors as an excuse for the education which give the show its real focus, working as a draw to make sure that barbers show up and get interested.

Jay is also running Major League Barber Academy, a way of ensuring a bright future for those people who are only just beginning their barbering career. So, what can you expect if you visit the academy?

“I opened my school in the beginning because it was hard for me to find licensed barbers. Or I was finding licensed barbers but they’ve come from a shop that was taught poor practices from an owner who was taught poor practices, from another owner who was taught poor practices… they don’t know how to sanitise properly, they just want clients in and out of the chairs.

“I said you know what, I’m going to start training. And right now, I’m actually in the process of getting financial aid funding, I have a great graduation rate and a great passing rate, now we’re going to be offering a class in Spanish too.

“It’s been a dream come true for me. If you would have told me where I’m at in my career today, even doing this interview, years ago I wouldn’t have believed you. Because I’m from the streets, and nothing is handed to you and you don’t believe anything you hear or see. But one thing I can say is that I work a lot.”

 

I saw that tenacity and hard-working attitude for myself when I visited the CT Expo; Jay’s whole focus was on making the show a success. His advice to young people on the wrong tracks, then, is definitely worth listening to:

“At the end of the day, you have to learn that there are two paths. There’s no in between. If you’re on the right path and you’re working hard, then hard work rewards hard work. With that, you can make it in any career. So, my advice to you is to start treating the barbering career as a career and a profession, not as a hustle or a way to make cash.”

Remember, these are words of advice from someone who has been there and knows what he’s talking about. You can find out more about Jay’s work at his website mlbcuts.com and, of course, you can get to know more barbers like Jay by visiting my Instagram page – @larrythebarberman – or my YouTube channel, barbers.tv

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Female Barber: Lena Piccininni, Speaks Of Her Rise To Barbering Stardom

Lena Piccininni’s work is the epitome of modern barbering, with her versatile skills representing perfectly the way in which barbering and hairdressing are becoming more and more interconnected every day. She is also a talented makeup artist, and the versatility of these three skills mean that she is able to educate both male and female stylists in a way that they can engage with.

Aside from all that, name is an educator and ambassador for Pacino’s – an achievement that any barber would be delighted to have to their name. She’s also one of the most professional and driven people I’ve met, with a work ethic that should make her an inspiration to barbers and hairdressing alike… so let’s hear what she had to say!

 

A journey to the top

“Well, I started doing hair and makeup, and then I went through some life experiences and basically need a job – so I ended up in barbering. I realised that it’s extremely difficult for a woman to make it in a male dominated industry and I needed to make sure my skills were 100%. Sometimes I thought, I need to be better than the men in the barbershop.”

This spurted Lena on to look at educational classes, and it was here that she first met Pacino – a hugely admired celebrity barber, educator and platform artist who was impressed by Lena and able to propel her career forwards.

But while she found she was learning a lot from educators, and from watching classes, she also felt like there was an important piece missing. In particular, she felt like her fades just weren’t living up to the high standard she’d set herself:

“Because I do makeup and makeup is all about blending, I stayed saying if you have issues take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Pretend the hair is an eyelid and you’re blending the eyeshadow, it’s the same thing. You can see the same dark lines and what needs to be darker or lighter.”

As I mentioned above, Lena’s diversity is one of the things that elevates her. This has been the case since the very start of her career, when she tells me that she saw every single client as worthwhile, since she was focused on widening her client base. This is an important point for early career barbers; you can’t just chase the fades and pompadours of you want to get your name out!

It’s the same with Lena’s educational classes, where she describes her clientele as “everybody” – meaning, barbers, hairdressers and cosmetologists alike. Specifically, she tries to draw on details from each element and puts it all into her education. And, as Lena notes, as we are seeing more and more crossover between barbering and hairdressing, her style of education is exactly what a lot of people within the hair industry are looking for.

 

Humble barbering roots

I was also curious to hear more about how Lena first got into barbering – a story which is inspiring in and of itself, even if her career hadn’t reached the heights that she now enjoys:

“I was in a hair salon and they changed owners and they basically wanted to cut my pay to around half. They were paying around $5 an hour to assist on reception, clean and shampoo. At 17 I was very stubborn, so I said no way, I’m quitting. Unfortunately, then my father passed away and I had to get a job – I had to take over a mortgage, with my brother, at 17 years old. I was fresh out of high school, no money, no nothing. No clients, not really any education in hair. I couldn’t get a clientele.

Then a friend of my fathers – I feel bad now but I say thank god, he broke his shoulder – because he had a full book of clients and couldn’t cut for them. I said look, I can do this.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly given her determination, this worked out well for Lena, and from their she was able to start working in an actual barbershop, fading and learning classic barbering skills for the first time.

From this combination of luck and good judgement, it was hard work that drove Lena forwards. This is particularly evident when looking at how she came to work with Pacino, a man who has had a big influence on her career: “without him, I wouldn’t be where I am. His initial class that I attended has opened up so many doors over the past few years. From where I started, I never dreamt that I’d end up educating in so many different countries and places”.

 

Always staying classy

One of the things that impressed Pacino initially was Lena’s sense of professionalism, and desire to be considered great because of her skills and not for any other reason:

“First of all, when I was starting as a barber I wanted to make sure that anybody sitting in my chair was there because of my skills and not what I looked like.  I try to teach this to a lot of girls; sometimes I see them wearing more revealing clothing to get clientele, but that is the wrong clientele.

My clientele is very respectful to me and that’s how I like it. You want to make sure you’re barbering for the right reasons – not to meet to guys.

Thankfully, right now I don’t have any [challenges as a female barber], because I’ve worked so hard to put myself out there. When I first started, the biggest challenge was just being taken seriously. I’ve had people get out of my chair. I’ve had guys be like ‘you know what, never mind. Maybe you should just be sitting at the front desk, maybe you should be sweeping the floor. I’ve had all those comments. It just pushed me further.

So the challenge really is just getting guys to take a woman seriously in a barber shop.”

It’s a challenge that Lena has clearly overcome, as her personal brand has grown huge, with 120,000 followers on Instagram and a star status in the USA and Latin America.  Again, a lot of this is down to the professionalism with which she conducts herself and her business, ensuring that her Instagram is purely focussed on her work without personal distractions: “Honestly, that’s what Pacino noticed – he said I’ve seen your page and you’re just working and working and working. You really want to keep unrelated things private with separate pages for work and personal life so that your brand stays completely professional.”

 

Just put yourself out there

No surprises that her advice for other barbers focusses on the strong traits that Lena has demonstrated throughout her own career, and she talks about versatility as being one of the key skills to master:

“One of the questions that barbers always ask me is how do you build a clientele and being a woman, building a clientele is particularly hard. But it’s because I was versatile. I see a lot of guys who worked at the barbershop that I worked at and they didn’t build a big clientele because they only wanted to cut certain people.

I was never scared to cut a kid, long hair, short hair. I would take anyone and make sure I was versatile, and that helped me stay busy and make money.”

This is great advice for every barber, so I hope that you’re able to use it in your own career – but I also wanted to know whether Lena had any particular advice for female barbers who want to become an ambassador, an educator or an influencer as she has:

“You’ve got to just put yourself out there. Again, my number one thing is always be classy, always be professional. Really, you’ve got to practice and you’ve got to show your work; you have to promote yourself, promote your brand, get yourself out to these shows.

I drove four hours just to come walk around and see everyone, and I’ve been to these shows so many times but I still keep putting myself out there. If you have to take a day off, take a day off and come to these shows, meet people, use Instagram.

So, I say if I can do it anyone can do it, I started from nothing. I started from being poor, from never cutting men’s hair to travelling the globe and educating. If I can do it you can do it, but you have to work hard and practice, you have to have patience because it takes time.”

 

I’m sure that Lena’s words will have inspired you to take that time and work your way up; her eclectic skills, confidence and sheer determination are certainly inspiring to me! To see more interviews with top professional barbers like Lena, please visit larrythebarberman.com, or come and find me on YouTube at barbers.tv or on Instagram as @larrythebarberman, where I am constantly putting out new videos and posts so that you can learn from some of the best in the business.

 

 

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