Once every month, typically on a Sunday morning, I set off on a cherished ritual, to my beloved barber shop.

“Manohar Hair Cutting Saloon”, a small shop located in the lanes of Lal Baug in Mumbai, provides me a crisp haircut. All three Marathi-speaking barbers there know that I prefer a clean-cut corporate look and, often, a vigorous head massage as well. The deed is done quickly with nostalgic Hindi film songs playing in the background. When I walk out, there is a spring in my step because, in my mind, I am now a clean, new man.

Male ritual

This is a monthly ritual that millions of Indian men undertake. “Manohar Hair cutting saloon” charges me ₹80 for a haircut, and does a superb, customised job, making this unmatched value for money. But over the past two decades, many Indian men have begun migrating upwards to middle-tier beauty salons such as Naturals, Enrich, BBlunt, Looks and Jawed Habib. These unisex salons offer better ambience and well groomed staff, at a higher price of around ₹500. In addition, they offer a far wider range of services such as pedicures, manicures, waxes and facials — not generally associated with men in the past, but widely sought after today.

If you thought that affluent Indian men have found their new-age barber shops in these elegant unisex salons, think again. In Mumbai and other metros, we now have Truefitt & Hill, a venerable barber shop that brings to Indian men the grooming secrets of the monarchs of Great Britain. It claims to be the world’s best grooming salon for men. A royal haircut at Truefitt & Hill begins with a private consultation and, eventually, the hair is “sculpted” to create a distinct and definitive style. The price: ₹2,500. There are plenty of takers for such luxury too.

When markets segment in this fashion, it is clear that the product or service is attempting to meet various needs for diverse consumer groups. So, what are the multiple needs that barber shops cater to? Here is a brief exploration.

Simple haircut and shave

The basic, functional need that all barber shops cater to is taming the overgrown hair on a man’s head, snipping it back into shape, and also giving him a clean shave. Interestingly, many centuries ago, barbers also performed small surgeries, enemas and extraction of teeth – these functional needs have now been eliminated from the barber shop, because of the development of the medical profession.

Male beauty

Male beauty is often associated with a glorious mane of hair. Men consider hair a priority when defining their looks, unlike women who consider beauty more holistically covering face, skin, hair, etc. Even the total lack of hair ie. a bald look, is today a male beauty statement in itself. The barber shop caters to this “beauty” need by providing men a choice from a range of hairstyles, any of which can be effortlessly achieved. Beauty of hair is considered important to achieve a competitive edge, and also appeal to the opposite sex.

Self-Confidence and personality

At an emotive level, a great haircut and distinctive style adds to a man’s self-confidence and also helps him define his personality. For instance, a well-groomed beard may help you feel a new internal confidence as a cool, modern man whereas, a ponytail may add to your self-image as a creative personality who does not like to conform. Good barber shops develop expertise at understanding each man’s specific personality need and catering to it with great care.

A man’s retreat

From time immemorial, barber shops have been considered men’s retreats, thus meeting a social need. These are easily accessible havens to which men can escape, from the rather complex world of women and everyday family life. When you are in a barber shop, tucked into your apron, and in the safe hands of your favourite snipper, you forget all the worries of the world. Good barbers enhance this feeling by engaging in harmless gossip, some of which also feeds the male ego. This is the reason that some barber shops also evolve into informal social hubs for men.

Luxury and status

For those who can afford it, a haircut is also about a luxurious, spa-like experience and a mark of status. There are men who will only get their haircuts at exclusive salons in five-starred hotels and some of them also love talking about the experience. As this trend expands, we could soon have haircuts followed by a glass of champagne. And then there are people who like engaging in reverse snobbery, which is a mark of status too, and therefore they keep patronising the small barber shop down the lane.

Male grooming is one of the fastest growing industries in India. So, watch this space for lots of action over the next few years. And don’t take barber shops for granted.

Harish Bhat is Brand Custodian, Tata Sons. He acknowledges inputs from Vartika Chaudhary and Sreelakshmi Hariharan in the writing of this article. bhatharish@hotmail.com

social-fb COMMENT NOW