Posh shops emerge as stylish industry trend
One of many upscale studios includes a minibar and Xboxes at each station.
COLUMBUS (AP) -- Chuck Crawford gave up the storefront barber pole two years ago, but instead of hanging up his scissors like so many barbers before him, he moved into a new shop more aptly described as a private studio.
The private room where the owner of Crawford Hair Designers trims beards, shaves necklines and offers hair replacement has a babbling rock fountain and a view of a lush courtyard. Clients in the waiting room relax in overstuffed chairs listening to piped-in Kenny G.
Upscale barbering is beginning to spread outside of trendsetting areas like New York and Los Angeles as more barbers try to win back customers lost over the last decade to the more stylish, male-friendly salons.
Barbers are replacing checkerboard tiles with polished parquet and emphasizing privacy rather than the boisterous camaraderie of older shops. They are hiring stylists, nail technicians and massage therapists.
The Men's Room in Rochester, N.Y., stocks a minibar and wireless Xboxes at every chair.
"It's got your corner barbershop feel with spa amenities," said co-owner Sherry Eiler.
Some barbers, like Crawford, focus on the shaving and unique clippered cutting that have distinguished the trade from cosmetology. But increasingly, barbers are teaming up with cosmetologists, who are licensed to offer services barbers cannot -- including coloring and perming hair and giving facials and nail treatments, although the restrictions vary by state.
Barbers used to scoff at the thought of hiring cosmetologists, but they made up a quarter of barbershop employees in 2001, and that number is rising, said Gordon Miller, executive director of the National Cosmetology Association.
"Barbershops, which over the last 30 years have been very much on the decline, in order to survive have had to rethink their service menus," he said.
Between 1960 and 2001, the number of licensed barbers fell by 48 percent, while the number of cosmetologists rose by 213 percent, according to U.S. Census figures.
The trimming of the barber supply also has helped spur on industry changes, Miller said. Some barbers hire cosmetologists because there simply aren't enough barbers in the field.
Rodayo's Barber Spa in Raleigh, N.C., will have barbers and cosmetologists on staff when it opens in November.
Owner Valerie Willis said she wanted to preserve the art of the straight-razor shave while giving men a place they can ask for a pedicure without whispering.
For the most part, haircuts from a high-end barber still come cheaper than those from salons.
A cut at the Men's Room costs $24. That's roughly twice the price a traditional barber would charge but half the cost of many salon stylings.
Eiler, who opened the Rochester shop last year, hopes to open a second location in Columbus next year, where she'll have a bit more competition.
Downtown 1400 in Columbus typifies the salon that has forced changes in the barbering industry. The salon serves some women but was designed with guys in mind, said owner Tim Armstrong.
Customers shoot pool or flip channels on the 42-inch plasma TV. Exposed brick walls give the place a rough, construction-site feel. Although the salon features big barber chairs, none of Armstrong's employees is a barber.
Since 2001, barbers have been making a slow resurgence, and the U.S. Department of Labor expects the number of barbers to grow 6 percent by 2012. That's lower than the average 28 percent expected for all personal care services, but it represents a turnaround in a trade that had been on a decades-long decline.
Crawford, who also serves as president of the Ohio Barber Association, hopes modernization will at least keep the storied trade alive.
"We as barbers need to remember our past and be proud of our past," Crawford said. "I feel very confident we will survive, but it's up to the individual owners."