With multiple barbershops and a position as an NVQ assessor, Jon Bourne from Barbertown in Worcester certainly has a lot on his plate. But he still found the time to catch up with me, and share some of his industry knowledge. Starting his career in a family barbershop, he managed to climb his way through the ranks before eventually setting up his own brand of vintage-inspired barbershops. I asked him about how they’re bringing back some of the best traditions of barbering for a modern gent.
“We tend to buy old barber chairs – I have some great clients that can service an reupholster them. In general, the shops are just organic, they keep growing. Over time trends change and we adjust the shops accordingly. A lot of the stuff is memorabilia that I myself have collected.”
This means vintage scooters, old arcade machines and everything in between – and it helps to create what feels like a home from home for Jon no matter which of the three shops he’s working at. But there’s more to Barbertown than good aesthetics – it’s also built on a strong work ethos.
“We are community barbershops, in locations with local schools and colleges, car dealerships, solicitors, local rugby clubs. Rather than being the standard high street spot, we work within Worcester as part of the community.”
This community spirit has also meant supporting apprenticeships for young, up and coming barbers. “The apprenticeship model is really important. When I started, you started at the bottom and worked your way up. Ash trays needed emptying, foot rests needed cleaning – it was all about attention to detail. That’s how we start our apprentices off now. It gives them a real grounding, and they become much better barbers.”
Of course, that isn’t the extent of Jon’s work in education: he’s also an end point assessor for students completing their NVQ Level 2. “You spend a couple of hours, watch them do a couple of haircuts. It’s about how they interact with the clients, the consultation, the cleanliness, how they use their tools. And if I think they can do all those things competently then I sign them off.”
Jon also thinks that there should be more regulation within barbering, with to ensure that barbers who work hard to do things properly aren’t undermined by people with low standards who just want to make a quick buck: “I think every barber should go through some sort of registration process, so the standard is the same.
“It’s frustrating for the barbers that do everything properly to see others who are unscrupulous, almost doing slave labour, paying cash in hand. It needs to be stamped out and everybody needs to be regulated. We have very sharp instruments, there are infections and if you’re doing everything properly then you don’t have anything to worry about. If you’re serious about your business, why wouldn’t you do it?”
Aside from formal qualifications, Jon brings his exacting standards to the modern hub for barbering education… YouTube. “I just thought we’d post a few videos showing how we cut hair. The feedback has been really positive, I’ve been overwhelmed. People are really interested in traditional styles of barbering.”
This will naturally lead to people wanting more in-depth training on the Barbertown methods of cutting hair, and the good news is that Jon has plans to start his own academy in the not too distant future: watch this space!
Another interesting aspect of Barbertown Worcester is their ‘Stay Sharp’ logo, which apparently came about as something of a catchphrase that the barbers would say when working with younger clients. “If I had a pound for every time it was used, I wouldn’t be sat here, I’d be in the Bahamas. It’s just become a bit of a mantra. Now we do T-shirts, various products available from our web shop at barbertown.co.uk. Keep visiting, there’s always going to be more content.” Aside from the shirts, there are all kinds of grooming products available from Jon’s shop; I’d definitely recommend taking a look at barbertown.co.uk.
So, what does a barber like Jon, with now over 30 years of experience under his belt, rate as his best moment in the industry? “When I had the vision of barber town. All of a sudden, I had a new love for barbering. Nobody had things like pinball machines, laptops for people to take orders, Sky Sports back then. We were giving beers away, having that extra service.
“I took on pretty much the biggest shop on the street. It was a real gamble, I had two very small children. But my wife backed me, and hard work has got us where we are today. I’ve got a great team, too.”
It’s fair to say the industry has changed a great deal within the 30 years that Jon has been cutting, and one of the newer developments is the introduction of social media. While it’s a new addition to the barber’s toolkit, it’s not to be ignored: Jon and his team have embraced the new technology, and Instagram in particular:
“On the back of that I’ve met some great people and been offered some great opportunities. It’s a great tool if you use it correctly. We have around 60,000 Instagram followers – I think people just buy into the brand and like what we do. We please ourselves before everyone else as well, which helps.”
It has been great to talk to a barber who represents real professionalism and standards. His closing advice to young barbers reading this now? “Just put the effort and the work in. Go to your local barbershop and get an apprenticeship. Even do it for free for a couple of months if you can afford it. Just get it under your belt.”
Don’t forget to follow Barbertown on Instagram – and check out the Larry the Barber Man channel too once you’re there! You’ll also find me on YouTube and Facebook; follow for more interviews with top barbers.
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