It’s always exciting to get a top barber in the interview chair, but never more so than with somebody who has reached the heights of Arod, Elite Studio’s million-dollar barber. From reaching a million followers on Instagram – that’s a record among the barbering community – to charging $100-$300 for a cut, this is a barber who’s made some serious waves. Don’t forget to follow him yourself, and then sit back to read his incredible story.
Barbering with military precision
The scene is set 14 years ago in Puerto Rico, where Arod found himself fascinated by the rhythm and style of the barbershops that he visited.
“There’s something about it that just grabs my attention for a very long period of time. If you don’t grab my attention in the first three seconds, you’re going to lose it. This was one thing where always my attention was fully into it.”
It also played into the desire to look good and feel fresh, a big part of Puerto Rican culture. But although Arod had already started to show an interest in barbering, he didn’t immediately turn to it as a career. Instead, he began feeling the pull of the military: “My friend said it’s an option, a steady paycheque, a stable career. So, I said you know what I’ll go with you, and I took the test with him. He didn’t pass and I did – I felt bad!”
As money became tight, the idea of a military career began to look more and more appealing…
“Then in 2010 I joined. That first day you just walk in to a completely different environment. Whoever you are right now is going to be torn to pieces and rebuilt from scratch, the way they want you to be moulded. You enter a different life: it marks you forever.
“But in life you’ve just got to learn from the things that you go through. Your life depends on it, and the whole nation’s too. So it’s very important. When it comes down to that one moment, you can’t make a mistake.”
This background means that Arod is now able to operate with military precision and discipline. I ask him to share a little about how the army set him up for his barbering career.
“Well, discipline is one of the main things that they focus on as soon as you get there. They teach you how to walk; they teach you how to look; they teach you how to communicate. The job is just non-stop, you know?
“Normally right now I go to work, I come home, I sleep for four hours. I don’t wake up the next day fully charged, but I know that I’ve got to get stuff done. And my body knows, it wakes up and I can’t get back to sleep.”
Getting back to basics
After leaving the military, Arod had to start building a new life for himself – and that meant a return to barbering.
“I already had clients from the military, so I had a steady beginning. I took everything slowly – you’ve got to pace yourself. I’ve learned that it’s something you get addicted to, you can’t stop.
“I was in Texas at this point. I went to this barber contest, everybody’s hyped up, I’d never done anything like it. Everybody was waiting on this person that was competing: the battle didn’t start if he wasn’t there. His name is Marcus, my partner. Everything started there. We hooked up and started going to events together”
Arod and Marcus began travelling to hair shows across America, and met up with another champion barber: Jay. It was a fortuitous meeting, as Jay already had the Elegance brand up and running and he was keen to get Arod and Marcus involved. Originally, this meant a sponsorship deal – but as it was clear the men’s dreams aligned, they decided to come together to create the Elegance Studio:
“When you start it, it’s just an idea. It comes from sharing those thoughts that one night. And our visions linked together, our souls became one, and we saw that we were going after something bigger than us. Three months later we’re in LA. Elegant Studio opens its doors, and the rest is history.”
Style, decorum and class: The Elegance Studio
In a word, Elegance studio is stunning. With gorgeous interiors and a VIP space dedicated to luxury experience, it’s the barbershop that every other barber dreams of running. So how did it come to be this way?
“It evolved. It was all part of the process, you know? I’m a firm believer in the journey and the process. You just have to keep things moving: We started in a downtown loft and built from there.
“We started trying to get clients from different states. It was hard, I’m not going to lie to you. You had to go out there, you had to go get clients, you had to prove that your service was worth the amount of money you’re asking for it. Then one day I was locking up the shop and going home and saw this space that I fell in love with.”
After managing to secure the space that they wanted, Elegance Studio went from strength to strength. There are stunning mirrors and chairs, as well as a wall decorated with a full street art mural – enough to satisfy customers who are paying $80 minimum for a haircut, often $100. For all the barbers out there wondering how these rates could be possible, I had to try and get Arod to spill his secrets.
“I started at $3. As you get experience and get better at what you do, you charger higher amounts. You get to know your value. You want to get paid and work normal hours. Us barbers, we don’t have someone who can give us a raise. We are our own bosses: you have to increase the price. You can also add things that increase your value as a whole. Services, learning, education, product lines… You’ve got to pay attention to those things. Because if you want to charge 100 dollars, that client is going to come and check you out and if he doesn’t like you or feel your work is worth the value then he might want his money back. Or he might just never come back.”
Of course, there’s also the Elegance Studio VIP experience. At a cost of $300, this is easily one of the most luxurious cuts I’ve ever heard of. So how can an ordinary barber who’s watching this today raise his standards to that sort of level?
“Make a note of this! When you open the door, the first thing you need is communication with your clients. ‘Welcome to Elegance Studio’ should be the first thing the client hears when they come in the door, so they can get comfortable with their environment. You tell them: ‘we offer drinks here. We offer water, tea, coffee, lemonade, all kinds of drink – it’s included in the service’. As soon as they walk in, I make sure they feel comfortable.
“We also have a long line of products that make my job easier and upscale my service. I put the cape on, start talking to the client trying to find a conversation… ‘where are you from, what do you do?’ Find a way to relate to them. Then I start with the services: I try to be smooth with the clippers, be smooth with my hands. Give the client that smoothness. We have gels, pomades, hair serums, razor blades, aftershave lotions. We have a lot of things that can upscale your service – and they do.
“After the haircut is complete, we have a steamer, a facial scrub and a shampoo that we can use as part of the service. We style. We make sure you can leave the chair and you are ready to meet the love of your life, to walk onto a TV set, to land a job. They’re the things that you came here to get service for. So I charge $300 but it includes drinks, a shampoo, a haircut, facial hair, it includes a steam, a black mask, facial scrub, deep cleansing, hair styling with whatever product you like… gel, pomade, wax, serum. We do treatments that can justify the price of the service.”
An Insta-star is born
Another side to Arod’s success has been reaching 1 million followers on Instagram: I don’t believe that this has been matched by other barbers. From everything Arod has told me so far, though, it doesn’t seem surprising that he would reach this goal.
The big key to Arod’s success has been appealing to people outside of the barbering industry, as well as barbers themselves. He has also chosen to work with influencers, people who share his energy and can help to spread his name.
Arod has achieved all this by making videos that combine barbering and comedy. These videos are appealing to everyone from kids to older people. By studying the analytics of his videos, he can also work to replicate that success, and review what could be improved upon. As he tells me, “The world is changing. We have to adapt to it.”
Since hitting the million mark, he’s had plenty of people in touch to try and do business with him, seeing him as an influencer in his own right. Now people want to come to his barbershop just to associate with him: “I have a lot of celebrities that have found me on Instagram. It’s something that other people use it and they don’t understand what they are doing. They are not assimilating. It’s not there for people to talk negatively about others, it’s there for you to promote your own work.”
Of course, as with any success, people have inevitably been accusing him of not getting there legitimately. But Arod has little time for the doubters who claim he bought his followers: “They’ve always been saying it since the beginning, it’s nothing new. If you see something that is not normal then you are going to think that it’s not real.”
Upscale your service with the elegance range
One of the big things that I’ve hinted at throughout this post is the great Elegance product range, so now it’s time to find out more about these products. I wanted to know which products Arod finds particularly exciting…
“The hair gel. I’ve seen the extra strong and the triple action gel actually change someone’s life. That product right there is exciting. We have the pomade, that’s exciting. We have the gel with colour, that’s exciting. Someone with greys can use that and immediately get rid of the greys. That’s called Elegance Hair Gel with Colour.”
And what about the game changing products? “The shaving gel. This is a product that landed in the market, I’ve never seen it before. Ad the facility that it gives is just a game changer. It’s better than anything. There’s videos where you see them just slice a grown man’s beard and he feels like he’s 9 years old.”
One of my favourite products is the Elegance black mask, a face mask that could be a real game changer for a lot of barbers. Arod suggests a couple of reasons to have one in your barbershop: “One reason is that it’s something else that you can offer, and you can profit out of it. So there’s no reason that you should be sitting between a haircut doing nothing when you can apply the black mask and charge $30 more.
“Second of all, it just gives you a whole new glow. It just cleans all your pores and takes all the impurities out. It makes you feel fresh: after a haircut you already feel fresh, but when you take that mask off it’s different. It’s like the cherry on top.”
These products can also give a barber a huge return on investment. Taking the black mask as an example, one big bottle can do around 50 applications. But if you buy a bottle for $20 and charge $30 per treatment, you’ve made your money back after the first application. The rest is pure profit!
Paying it forward
We’ve talked a lot about Arod’s personal success, but I also love his commitment to helping others and supporting his own team:
“Well, they play a big part in my success. I couldn’t be here doing this interview if I didn’t look right, with someone from the shop to give me the freshest beard that is out there right now – that’s Taylor Cutz, make sure you follow him!”
Not just anyone can join Arod’s barbering team – it’s something that has to be earned. However, anybody is welcome to reach out to him: he tries to read all of his emails personally and is always happy to meet people in the shop. He’s also got upcoming shows all over the world: If you want to keep up to date with these then Instagram is the place to be. Head there right now using this link, to make sure you’re the first to know what he’s got planned. You can also follow him on YouTube here.
Arod is going to be hitting YouTube hard this year in an effort to bring in his next million 1 million YouTube subscribes. Make sure you’re there to enjoy the content he’s putting out and help him reach another milestone!
While you’re at it, take a moment to follow @LarrytheBarberMan on Instagram, YouTube and Facebook – you’ll be the first to see interviews with huge barbering stars like Arod! Now let’s hear some closing words of wisdom from the man himself:
“My advice to all the young people out there is to believe in yourself, believe in your service, and make sure you evolve as the whole industry evolves. Because we’re moving as a group. Just because I’ve got a million followers and I’m a little bit ahead because of the way I work – that doesn’t man that there’s no room for anybody else.
“No, I’m just paving a way for other people. Because there are thousands of lanes in the barbering industry. So upscale your services, educate yourself, share with the barbers around you, don’t let nobody put you down – and the only person who can actually stop you is yourself.”