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Barber: Alan Beak Of Ruger’s Talks About His Meteoric Rise

 

Ruger’s Alan Beak: Enjoy the Boom and Be Nicer to Each Other!

When I caught up with Alan Beak at Barber Connect Telford, he was just 20 minutes from his stage show and a bit rueful about it. ‘There was never a special path I wanted to follow,” he told me, “I never intended to go down a ‘celebrity following’ route. We wanted to keep it varied: the TV work, multiple shows, traveling, doing education. We are just put 100 percent in the moment. Life’s too short for bad coffee and bad haircuts.”

In case you don’t know, the ‘we’ Alan refers to is not only his brother and fellow Manchester native Reece, with whom he opened Ruger Barber just 15 months ago. He also means the rest of his team, Danielle Corbett, Ellie Rogers, Carlie Firth and Aiden Smith, who he mentions often and are a big part of the rather sudden international fame of the Ruger brand.

It’s clear to me the brothers’ killer social media posts featuring unique photography have helped propel them to the heights they enjoy today. It has been a few years since I interviewed Alan, and I wanted to know how he developed those skills.

“Social media is the key factor,” he says firmly. “It is your personal platform to get your work out there.” Social media is part of personal and professional development, something Alan adds to his education work along with theory, demonstrations and hands-on. “Putting all these things together is the recipe.”

He has done his homework in the technical aspects of his incredible camera work. “You need the right tools, the right knowledge, and the right photography,” he says.

 

 ‘Good barbers, trustworthy barbers, are really hard to find’

“A lot of people are deterred by the camera (due to cost).  I get asked about this a lot, and I don’t keep it secret. My cameras are Canon 600D – that’s 400 pounds.  Quite expensive, but you can get it on eBay now for 120. It’s the 50mm lens that gives us the signature look we have. It has the shallow depth of field, focuses on the head, and everything else is blurred out. It exaggerates the haircut. So the 50 mm is the one, and you can get them for about 70 pounds.”

As the Ruger brand began its meteoric rise, people often asked about opening another shop, but Alan was skeptical. “Good barbers, trustworthy barbers, are really hard to find,” he said. “So instead of finding a location, we thought we should look for the right person (to work with us).  And we came across this young woman, Carlie. Her attitude was amazing, and she cut hair great.   She’s fit in the mold with our team, and it just kind of fell into place.” Carlie is Carlie Firth, who I noticed right away, since she was already doing dynamic stage shows at Barber Connect. Talk about fitting fit in!

With the right crew in place, Alan was ready to expand. The new shop in Lytham started with a business partner in Preston. “He said Lytham would be agood spot for us,” Alan recalls. “We went out there one night, and all the bars were open, we got drinks and something to eat, and they all have these bi-folding doors, everyone was outside, and we were sold!”

 

Months later, after “getting my soft barber hands into bits lugging axes and crowbars, pretending to be a builder,” the Lytham shop opened to booming business.

 

 “Get used to your hairdryer”

Alan is a highly attuned business operator whose philosophy every barber should study. He was typically decisive in launching his product line: “We said we wanted or own product; it is as simple as that. And we’ve done it.”  Ruger Essentials is the main item, “the best product we have ever used and ever will use,” Alan calls it in his (admittedly biased) view.

He hasn’t let expansion, social media success and international attention pull Ruger away from their fundamental Italian strength. Alan says the service and atmosphere identified with Italian barbering “will always be our foundation, but we amalgamate our skills with Afro-Caribbean, fading, lady’s hairdressing with extensive styling. We are becoming a hybrid barber; using the Italian as our base.”

He had a take for today’s barbers that was a little surprising: “Get used to your hairdryer.”

“Styling is 33 percent of what you are producing,” he told me. “Everyone wants to do clipper work; everyone wants to fade well; go to America; watch the American videos; everyone wants to learn more scissors techniques. So yes, obviously, clipper and scissor work. But get used to the hairdryer. Use it in both hands, use it in different products, be able to style hair. Hair is very easily manipulated with chemicals, but also with heat.

“Get used to using your hairdryer very well.”

 

“Seeds are Planted all over the World Every Day”

I found Alan to be fired up when offering thoughts on the state of the industry. First, we’ll cover what he loves.

“There is so much networking going on,” he says immediately with a smile. “People on the outside don’t realize how strangely lovely and incestuous it is. Everybody knows everybody.”

It wasn’t always that way. “I remember being told never to fraternize with the enemy, and the enemy was anyone not in your shop.” Now that’s over and the international flavor of men’s grooming is exciting for everyone, he says. “I had a student who was in Malaysia and wanted to have a look at haircuts there,  and when he said he had worked under us for a while, they took him right in!”

A trip to Barber Connect NYC also made an impact, he said, in particular seeing a multi-racial photo shoot called Council Estate Couture by  Kevin Luchman inspired Alan to get into photography, and hanging with people like Luke Guldan and Miguel helped him realize the importance of accessibility.

“Seeds are planted all over the world every day,” he told me. “Plant a seed and year later you can elaborate on that relationship. It doesn’t come all at once…patience, is what I want to say.”  But meeting people and over time, building relationships with the likes of Jamilla Paul and Chris Foster helped Alan’s personal and professional growth.

So, what does this major influencer think needs changing for the better in our industry?

The “bad attitudes,” Alan says.

 

“They know full well they couldn’t stand having that done to them”

“You see people criticizing work, so fast to jump in and say something negative, but then they don’t post pictures of their own work, or refuse to because they know full well they couldn’t stand having that done to them.” Alan’s teaching experience shows him kindness is best. “I can say, ‘You have done so well, but let’s pick on something so you can continue to progress.’

“We are in an industry that is booming and we should be a family. We should work together,” he adds. “If you are going to say something it should be positive, not putting someone down and making feel bad about their work.,

Alan is also on about criticism of people who post edited work, which he calls unfair. “I know people edit pictures, and I don’t give a shit because it looks good. I know they edited something out, but (so what?)”

“Look, we are all human,” he said. “Not everything has to be 100 percent perfect. I have seen people’s work online and then seen them work in front of me, and I can tell there is a difference, but I like to see that because that person is only human.”

 

“Always go with your gut instinct.”

His advice to all: post your work and don’t wait for perfection. “We are all human, we all make mistakes. Whether it’s a small flaw, post your work!  Get your work out there. Don’t pick out the flaw; pick out the good bits in it.”

What final thoughts does this incredibly focused and busy traveler (he lists off where barbering has taken him and his crew – “Shanghai, Australia, Brazil, Argentina, and soon to Barcelona and Moscow”) want to share with my audience?

 

“Always go with our gut instinct,” he said. “Don’t copy other people. I mean, you are never the first person to do something, but take one thing from this person and one thing from another, and just by taking as much as you can from everyone else, you can decide what is going to suit you and make you original.”

“Again, planting seeds. Plant a seed, build a relationship,” he urges. “Instagram is there for that. Instagram is not about how many followers you have. It is about the relationships you build. So speak to someone, leave a nice comment, send a message.”

He condemns how cliquey barbers can be, and sometimes difficult to get to know, so he recommends confidence.  “Even if you are not confident, tell people that. You can say, “I’m not very confident, but I’d like to meet you.” You may shit yourself at first, but then you will be all right!”

With those words I had to let Alan go, off to another rousingly successful stage show.  My thanks to him, and be sure to catch the entire interview on my YouTube at LarryTheBarberMan.  Follow me Instagram @larrythebarberman and I look forward to being friends on Facebook.

I know I will be working harder to follow Alan’s example! Let’s agree to plant seeds, build relationships and be good to one another. Til next time, happy barbering!

 

 

 

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Braid Barbers: Rob & David Talk Barbering Success & Photography

Brothers Rob and David Braid are co-owners of the wonderful, award winning Braid Barbers – with three barbershops now open in Milton Keynes, Banbury and Leamington Spa. As well as being excellent barbers, the brothers clearly both have very creative minds, with Rob also producing some exceptional photographs that are making waves within both fashion and barbering, and David turning his hand to the interior of the shops and conjuring up an incredible atmosphere. David is also responsible for the business development and accounts, while Rob is in charge of their social media, marketing and advertising. I was very excited to chat to them about their work, find out more about their plans for the future, and pick their brains on how to find inspiration.

David kicks things off by telling me how they got into the industry: “Dad started with hairdressing 40 years ago, with 5 shops at its peak, including one on Bond Street, a couple in Birmingham, Northampton and Milton Keynes.” They both started working within the shops, and although at the time Rob found hairdressing a lot more exciting than barbering, David took to cutting men’s hair. Although he confesses that it was originally down to his nervousness about cutting women’s hair, he adds “I started to love it. Customers start asking for you, and then before you know it you’re just buzzing every day.”

The transition to owning their own barbershop came a few years later, after Rob had been away travelling, leaving his brother in charge of the shop. When he returned, it was to a very different barbering world – one with interesting styles and patterns, and clients starting to take a lot more risks, inspired by figures like David Beckham. With a fresh burst of energy, the brothers opened their first shop: Braid Barbers in Banbury, expanding as they found more great locations to set up in.

Interior Inspiration

Now, if you watch the video interview then you’ll be able to see that one of the things that sets Braid Barbers apart is the design of the shop, something which seems to be David’s domain. I’m curious to know how he decides on the look for each shop and what the process is like:

“First we find the shop and then you start from there. It takes me around 12-18 months to put together the furniture, scouting antiques fair, and travelling all around the country. I try to work it around a few key pieces. The thing I like at the moment is how textured everything is, how aged – you can’t buy the life of a good piece of furniture. Sometimes I buy things not knowing if they’re going to work but I love them, so I take them home and live with them for a bit then try to work them in”.

While not every barber puts this amount of energy into making sure their shop looks right, I agree with David that it’s an important part of the overall experience, and it certainly seems to be working for them since they have now won the accolade of Best Barbershop from the Hair and Beauty Awards. For the full story behind the win I recommend watching the clip – suffice to say that the brothers well deserved the title.

So with that in mind, what separates their shop from the rest? Both brothers are incredibly humble and modest, so it’s no surprise that they try not to compare themselves to others, focusing on being their best rather than outdoing others. Rob does add, though, that “the one thing that sets our shop apart is the way it’s designed really, comfortable and relaxing. Use of social media helps, that has put us on the map so that people will come to us for the next new style or the latest style”. From my perspective, it seems like one thing that sets Rob and David apart is how much they love their customers, as David says: “we’re so fortunate that we get such a broad scope of customers – young and old”.

An Eye for Photographs

Even the models that they use for their impressive photo shoots start out as regular customers, as David tells me that Rob has a knack for spotting people who will look great captured on film. These photos are the work of Rob, and as somebody with a keen interest in cameras and photography myself, it was great to find out more about this side of their business. Rob was kind enough to share the story of how he got into taking such incredible pictures:

“When I went travelling there was no social media, it was all film. I wanted to document my experience, and I found that I wanted to take pictures of people rather than landscapes, people being natural. The second you put a camera in front of some of them they just freeze. In Mongolia, some of the people had never seen a camera before, so I had to try and catch them unawares. So I got a lot of practice there and when I came back I started taking pictures of my kids, chasing them around a bit. I try and capture people naturally, I don’t want them to look like they’re posing. When you get that shot it’s magical”.

He adds that it was this love for photography – and in particular the desire to create great shots that could be used on magazines – that actually encouraged and helped him to improve his hair styling skills. After all, getting the perfect photograph is difficult if the barber work that’s gone into creating their style isn’t just right.

Now these skills are being used to share the wonderful styles of the men who come through the door and get their hair cut at Braid Barbers, and Rob’s work has shown up on magazine covers as well as social media, and decorating the barbershop walls. Yet again, this is a great nod to the clients, and it also shows that the Braid brothers are well aware of the importance of a good publicity shot. My opinion is that, as barbering becomes more and more well regarded as a profession and an art, barbers across the world are going to need to start creating images of this quality.

Right now, a lot of barbers are taking pictures on their mobiles and creating shots that just don’t do justice to the barbering work – so I’d love to see Rob and David start offering a photography course tailored to barbers. This is something that they’ve been discussing, although for now it sounds like it’s left on the backburner. Rob tells me that they’re very busy, with a few things in the pipeline, but this is definitely something they’re considering: a course that covers their way of cutting, as well as how to take a great picture while you’re doing. I certainly hope to see this become a reality, it seems like something that a lot of barbers could benefit from!

Reflections on the Industry

I couldn’t let two talented barbers like the Braids get away without getting their perspective on the industry, so for my final question I ask them what they’re loving about the industry and what they’re not liking so much. David starts: “The thing I don’t like is the sort of ego, it’s almost become like an episode of X Factor sometimes – people who don’t go into it because they love it but because they want to be famous. Don’t do something unless you love it and you’re passionate about it.”

They also think that the industry might be a bit more professional if there were licenses: “People do these quick fix courses and then just go and open a shop. In our experience, once people are qualified, it still takes 12-months to be a good barber, at least. 22 Years down the line, I’m still learning. Some people just get a qualification and open a shop, and I hate to think what goes on with the cut-throats and that sort of thing!”

Those things aside though, it’s clear that Rob and David love the industry as much as I do. Rob tells me that “it’s vibrant, I love the way its exploded and people are getting a chance to express themselves and show their pride for what they do. I’ve made so many friends in the industry, all over the world. It brings out the creativity in people, especially being able to share it.” While David adds that “we’re all bringing each other on, looking at each other’s work and bringing each other forward.”

I think that this message of cooperation and shared creative spirit is a great one to end on, and definitely in keeping with everything that I’ve learned about Rob and David Braid. I hope you agree with me that this was a very inspiring interview: if so, like and subscribe on my YouTube, Instagram and Facebook pages to make sure you don’t miss any great content!

 

 

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