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Scottish Barber Colin Petrie of Hard Grind: Creative, Energetic, Expanding…

Did he Mention his 4-day Dundee-to-London Barbers’ Motorcycle Charity Run coming up July 22?

When I caught up with Colin Petrie at Barber Connect Telford we briefly reminisced about the last time we’d met two years ago, before diving into his crazy busy, creative barbering life at Hard Grind.

“We had two barbers,” says the Scottish entrepreneur, whose Hard Grind shops in Aberdeen and Dundee are home to custom design apparel, good coffee, and first class men’s styling. “Since then, we’ve snowballed. We have upwards of 14 or 15 barbers now. We have warehouses and stock people. Massive!”

Colin says this with an appealing blend of pride, wonder and weariness. “It’s hard, it’s tough,” he says, but you sense he isn’t complaining, just being real. ”Work life balance is something we preach massively but I’m one of the worst at it,” he says with a laugh.

But the barber from Dundee with the business that’s attracting customers and barbers from everywhere with a mix of great service, unique combination of products and savvy marketing has something else on his mind right now: motorcycles.  He launches the ‘Harley and Haircuts’ Barbers Ride July 22, a four-day excursion from Dundee to London that benefits London’s Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital.

“It started about a year a year ago with  Luka from Luka’s Barbers and Ryan from SD Barbers – bike enthusiasts and barbers talking about doing a charity run,” he told me. “It has grown into this monster I can barely comprehend!  Then Xavier from Reuzel in the UK and Richie from Captain Fawcett (got involved).”

Enthusiasts of any motorcycle make are welcome, Colin emphasizes, not just Harley riders. The launch event is July 22 at Hard Grind in Dundee. Following a (no doubt extensive) after party and an overnight, wheels hit pavement July 23.

“We will be stopping to do barber seminars, and we will keep it intimate, focused on education,” he told me.  No big stage shows. He wants to attract eager-to-learn barbers who can get value from the events.  “But we’ll obviously be drinking a bunch of beers and high tailing it to London, so our bums will be sore.” The event will assist not only the Children’s Hospital; Colin adds the Lions Barber Collective for the prevention of suicide is also involved.

Tickets for the seminars are £25, “and you will get a £25 baggie of goodies from our sponsors,” he said.

The ticket for the full four-day ride is £250. “You also get a £250 goodie bag from our sponsors and entry to parties and events.”

“There are ‘giving pages’ for those who don’t ride,” he added. “Go to barbersride.com to find out all about it.”

So, besides running two shops that feature a line of your own apparel and organizing an island-spanning motorcycle ride for charity, are you keeping busy?

Colin’s answer shows the business savvy so many barbers can learn from. “We took our foot off of the gas (after the Aberdeen shop opened) to make sure we were running as we should,” he tells me.  “You can push too hard and too quickly and oversaturate something, and we made sure that didn’t happen.  We needed to hold on to the crux of what we want to do.”

And now?  “Things are running smoothly again to the point we can open up another few shops by the end of this year.”

Another clue to success is Colin’s appreciation for his staff, his willingness to share the human and business side with everyone at Hard Grind.  “Just incredible,” he says of Hard Grind employees. “We got guys on the stage today (at Barber Connect), guys getting in publications, which is fantastic. They all moved here from Wales, from Ireland – we have a girl from Melbourne in Australia, Larissa. It baffles my mind people want to move away to work under the Hard Grind brand. It has been incredible and crazy, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

I was curious about Colin’s approach to social media, since his brand is so talked about (his Instagram has shot up from 8,500 two years ago to 43,000+ today).

How has he done it?

“We are not afraid to show our personality, which is what people like,” he said.  “It’s not just haircut, haircut, haircut. There are stupid videos of us, just shop life.  We hang out outside of work, a lot of us are dads, we take our kids, we all get together as a family.”

“If you build something honest people will relate to that. Sometimes it is personal things. Sometimes it is inspirational.  It’s whatever it is, and it seems to resonate.”

“We also show the stresses, the dark side of the business.  Not just, ‘everything looks great on Instagram.’  There are hard times, so we portray all of it and that is why people respond.” But as far as strategy, “there is no rhyme or reason.”

The emphasis on reality is built into the Hard Grind name.  “We were the first to make coffee in a shop and you grind coffee beans, so it was a play on words, but it’s really about the actual grind.”

“Anyone who cuts hair knows it is not as glamorous as Instagram makes it look,” Colin said. “You’re on your feet, you are cutting back to back, and you rarely take a break. It is a grind every day. So the name is a nod to people who go out there every day, not just barbers. If want to get somewhere you have to grind really hard, so it seemed like a great play on words for us.”

I came away convinced that barbers everywhere can take a tip from Colin’s energy and willingness to try products, ideas and sponsorships in creative combinations.  Hard Grind has an experimental, even a “crazy” vibe (as Colin says) that people find irresistible.

Right now, he’s working with Brew Dog brewery and pub.  How many barbers are doing that?

“We’ve got beer taps going in all the shops, like a full-on bar with kegs,” he says.  At last! Beer and haircuts!  “We are working on our own ale as well. I love the idea of telling people ‘beers are in the fridge, help yourself,’ and pulling pints of our own special brew.”

I am seeing now how Colin very intelligently sets himself apart from the competition.  But there is even more: a reciprocal commitment to his partners. Smart business!

“It’s not, ‘Give us free beer so we can give it to our customers.’ That is not what I am about,” he says emphatically. ”I don’t sit here and ask for handouts and do nothing for you. With Brew Dog we are at their AGM every year with free haircuts and talking up the company.  I want to do things for them. We go to the Rock Star factory and do a big popup and free haircuts for the staff.”

“Almost of the brands have more followers than the shops, anyway. So it’s, ‘What can I do for you?’  That’s how it works,” he smiles.  This attitude has paid off in partnerships with the likes of The Bluebeard’s Revenge, Sailor Jerry, SB, Dickies, Luc Belaire, the aforementioned Brew Dog and Rock Star, Reuzel, Captain Fawcett, the list goes on.

The man never stops running. He’s branched out to custom products (“We’ve got our own beard oils, salt sprays, all made with custom scents”) and he is growing his apparel line (“We take a lot of time on design and the quality. I don’t put out something out I wouldn’t wear myself”) and now – why not? – he is launching a blog, the Daily Grind.  I’ve read it and I have three words for striving barbers everywhere: check it out.

Colin is keen on using the blog to talk about business. “In this age of people wanting to do their own business, it is important to show the true madness that comes with it, the sleepless nights. It’s something I love to do, but I want to paint both sides of it.”

So while on the subject, what is his nutshell advice to struggling barbers trying to build success? Colin’s observations are so extensive and worthwhile, it’s best I list them for easy reference.

  • “The best thing to have is a business partner,” not just to share the financial load but someone as emotionally invested as you are.
  • “I like people second guessing me. If I can persuade them that I am working on the right thing, (that improves my judgment). Trying to do it on your own, you spend a lot of time second-guessing yourself.”
  • Don’t mimic others. Think about how you can put your face on something unique to you.
  • Soak up all of it! Come to the shows. “Education is massive thing.”
  • Have patience. “People don’t want to do two years of training or to build things steadily. It’s a long game, not a short game. Don’t expect overnight success and don’t expect there will be no hurdles. “
  • Understand business basics. “Some think having a barber shop is, ‘I’ll put a man in a chair and that’s it.’ But you don’t know about taxes and VATs and all the stresses, all the struggles, like losing accounts because you are cutting all day. Who is going to answer your emails when you are busy?  Who is going to take care of your paper work?  It is a minefield.”
  • You don’t have to take classes, “but look at Google, look on websites. There is plenty of information out there that can help you. Download stuff not just about barbering but about business.”

As we bid farewell, Colin had a few parting words I want to share with you, since they sum up Hard Grind and Colin so well:  “I feel lucky because I’m not trying to be anything. I’m just being me, one big dysfunctional Hard Grind family, it just kind of works.  There is no trick.”

Thanks, Colin!  A lot of food for thought there.  Hope you look forward to my next interview as much as I do!  Stay tuned and til next time, happy barbering!

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