Welcome to this Larry the Barber Man interview with Nick Arrojo! For those of you who aren’t familiar with my work, my name is Larry Campbell and I tour the globe speaking to the best hair stylists from across the industry and from all walks of life, asking them to share their knowledge so that other hair professionals can benefit from the knowledge of more experienced hairdressers and barbers.
While a lot of the work I’ve done has surrounded barbering, I’m really interested in helping people from across the industry better themselves and learn new skills, so I’ll never miss the opportunity to pick the brain of an incredible hairdresser like Nick.
I’m sure the majority of you will already be familiar with Nick’s work, but to fill you in on the key facts this man owns the Arrojo Studio, with several separate salons, and educational school and a product range; he’s also cut hair for A-List celebrity clients including Bryan Adams, Minnie Driver and Victoria Wood and appeared as the resident stylist on What Not to Wear for seven years. Suffice to say, there’s a lot to learn from such a well-accomplished and multi-faceted man.
The Path to Success
Every interview I run has one thing in common, and that’s the origin story: I’m personally fascinated by how hairdressers and barbers get into the industry, and I think that looking at the beginning of a journey can help us learn from it. From starting at the age of 16, Nick’s career quickly took off:
“I started working when I was 16 in Manchester, I worked with Vidal Sassoon. I had a very successful tenure with them and then I moved to London, I worked for Wella and that was where I got to start experiencing a lot of international events and international hairdressers. Then my dream was always to move to New York City, and my dream came true in 1994 when I came to work for Bumble & Bumble, and they sponsored me and brought me to America”.
Not everything has come easy for Nick though, and at one point in his career he found himself homeless. This came in the aftermath of the terrible 9/11 attacks in America: “I lived a block away from the twin towers in 2001 when 9/11 happened. I was renting a couple of chairs inside a school in Soho, I was working for one week and then downtown became a no-go area and I was homeless. I was sleeping on couches at friend’s houses.”
What really struck me, though, is how he managed to turn this around, growing the business he has today:
“I started my salon in 2001 and had a staff of four – two assistants, a receptionist and me. I slowly built it, step by step I was building my brand. Today I have three salons, one in Soho, one in Tribeca and one in Brooklyn. And they’re big salons, so I have a staff of 150 people. I also developed a cosmetology school because I really think that education is the key to success.
In America, you have to get licensed – so you don’t do an apprenticeship, you have to go and get your license before you can even work in a salon. I really wanted to get into that business and affect hairdressing at a grassroots level. And then the final pillar was for me to do products, I’ve helped companies develop products and at a certain point it was time for me to develop my own.”
The Philosophy Behind Big Hairdressing Business
One of the things that made me so keen to bring you an interview with Nick is the fact that he has a lot of great insight into the business behind being a successful salon owner and hairdresser. In my experience, many hairdressers, stylists and barbers that are great at what they do want to open up salons, but many don’t have the business knowledge to take it further. With that in mind, here are Nick’s thoughts on the importance of specialisation:
“When I talk about specialisation I really mean what is your USP – your Unique Selling Point, or your Unique Styling Perspective, and that’s what it should be. Your USP has to change, it shouldn’t stay the same because you’re always in a state of reinvention. I started hairdressing as a specialist in hair cutting when I worked with Vidal Sassoon, the art and craft of cutting hair with a scissor. When I left Vidal Sassoon I decided to change my technique, I evolved and started to cut hair with a razor, so I cut hair with a switchblade and that gives me a different texture and a different feel. Now we have American Wave; we’ve reinvented the perm.
I’m also really focusing on business education – because a lot of salon owners don’t necessarily understand how to make their business a success. Usually the path of a hairdresser is to become busy: one you become a success behind the chair it’s time for you to move onto the next step of the journey. I share my unique perspective, because I started my business in New York from very little, and I’ve grown it into a multimillion dollar business with a lot of employees. I share my trials and tribulations – what I’ve learned.
I’m a firm believer that there’s enough room for everybody to be successful in our industry, but in order to be successful you have to learn from people who have been on the path before you. I’m just trying to accelerate that to everybody so they can learn from it.”
Education is clearly not only a huge part of Nick’s work, but also of his belief system. When I briefly heard him speaking at IBS 2017, the information I heard was important enough to completely transform a hairdresser’s business, and I asked for a little more insight into the philosophy behind it:
“I think that what we’re doing is trying to systemise everything. Once you systemise something you have a path, you have a game plan – and if people follow the game plan they will succeed. The key to being successful is through education, so you have to have education at the front of your mind.
I built my company because I never had any money, and I built my brand on a key catchphrase, which was ‘give unconditionally’. If you can try to help somebody by doing something to help them without getting anything back in return, you actually get a lot back in return. But all my business philosophy is really based on practical knowledge. I always say the best hairdresser starts off as being the best sweeper, the best mirror cleaner, the best shampooer, the best comber – and these basic fundamentals have helped me on my path”.
The Shape of the Industry
Before our brief time was up, I wanted to get some opinions on the key trends of 2017 from somebody at the pinnacle of hairdressing, as well as some ideas about the challenges that hairdressers face right now:
“Texture’s coming back – at the show a few years ago, everyone had feathers in their hair. A few years before that, everyone was buying hair extensions. A few years before that, everyone was making their hair smooth. What’s coming back now is permanent wave, we’re putting curl back into hair and I’m pioneering that. I know it’s working because last year my American Wave service grew by 100%, and this year it has already grown by 50% on last year. And at this show we have had countless hairdressers sign up to get certified in it. We skipped a generation with the perm, and now it’s time not to bring back the perm but to bring back waving, and we call it American Wave.”
“The biggest challenge that all hairdressing salons have is that there used to be a thing called professional product. Professional product doesn’t exist anymore because of the internet and because of the retailer stores that carry supposedly professional lines. I think salon owners have to rethink where the money comes from. The profit in a salon does not come from service, it really comes from retail. And until we start to focus on that properly, we will still have a low profit business.
When you think about a restaurant, the money is not in the food, it’s in the bar. That’s where restaurants make their living. We need to think of the retail area as the bar, and get hairdressers to understand that if they recommend professional products and engage with their customers then they can raise their revenue and profitability.
The truth of the matter is nobody gets into hairdressing to sell shampoo but if you’re not selling shampoo you’re not gonna have a successful salon.” Nick has even introduced a retail course at his academy so that hairdressers can learn how to sell well.
There’s a lot of food for thought in Nick’s words, so I’ll leave you to chew them over and think about how you can apply them in your own work. If you’ve found this insightful then it would be great to see you over on YouTube at my Barber.TV channel, or on my Instagram and Facebook pages where you’ll find me as LarrytheBarberMan. I regularly put up new interviews with leading industry professionals like Nick Arrojo, so there are lots of other stories to help you build your own career.