What is common between Charles Dickens, King George, Alfred Hitchcock and Cary Grant? Could it be a barber?
There was a time when the rebels among men got facial treatments, pedicures, and exfoliations. Times have changed and today's rebels are the ones not 'taking care' of themselves. At least that is what the trends show in India's urban centres. When Shak Rukh Khan starts endorsing a men's fairness cream, it's a sure sign that change isn't just coming, it's already happened. How did India's urban men change so much so fast? One factor is the globalised flow of what is fashionable; kids in Nagpur and Nashik aren't completely unaware of Brad Pitt's Fight Club look. Eventually, when Bollywood picks up a trend, its already past its expiry date in the most affluent circles, but takes its time filtering down.
A few years ago, we saw a new phenomenon in India's urban centres, new salons and spas were opening all around, with intense branding and franchises. This was the time when barbers turned into 'stylists'. They were then followed by cheaper knock-offs and so on. Most of their customers were college kids and youngsters in their twenties, but these same people have now grown up and that seems to have opened up a new market. This brings us to the latest entrant in the men's grooming services bazaar. The world's oldest barbershop (called a 'tonsorial parlour' in Hanoverian times) just opened its first outlet in India. It is one of those places with a pair of proper nouns in its name. Truefitt and Hill, a 209-year old brand, comes with its own crest (not a mere logo) and royal decree.
This new entrant is re-defining its service category in quite a few ways. High-end salons for men demanded their prices based on either superstar barbers, stylists if you prefer, or by the fact that these places used the latest in technology and products to set their men apart. T & H changes this in two ways. Their brand proposition is not about standing out. It seems to hint at the man carrying the weight of his personality without the crutch of a loud plume up top. Secondly, men's grooming comes as a perfected process with T & H. Over years of experience, the shaves and haircuts have become a process which by itself becomes a value proposition. T& H has invested in a service experience, from the chairs to the training of their barbers. The decor might lull you into forgetting that when you're done, you will step onto Linking Road and not St. James Street. Krishna Gupta, the Managing Director of Lloyd's Luxuries Ltd who has brought the brand to India, said that “We are looking to target young high-fliers around 30-35 years of age. Soon we will expand to three more barbershops within Mumbai, and follow with an expansion to 7 major cities in India.”
These are interesting times for luxury retail in India and that is what Krishna says motivated his foray into men's personal care for this very first venture of his. He is 21 years of age. Many service based retail outlets have already warmed up to the concept of merging their core strength with merchandising. Starbucks sells coffee at its shops, and it also sells the beans, the mugs etc. In a similar vein T & H also hawks high-end products it services its customers with.
Can T & H spawn a new business category? One that may even act as a germ for a larger sprouting of such 'barbershops', salons, spas etc for men.The men's vanity market as it is called, stands at around Rs3,800 crore. Gillette recently spent huge money trying to convince men that they would be a lot more attractive with a nice clean shave. T & H echoes that sentiment with a 'Royal Shave' for Rs1700. “The shave is our signature service” says Krishna Gupta. The competition may soon hot up in this segment where being abreast of the latest trends is all that matters, but if you have been around for over two centuries, a timeless style perfected over decades stands with an advantage.