Five Lessons from the Cutting Room

Flashback a few weeks to a conversation I dismissed at the time, largely because it was about haircuts. And haircuts have nothing to teach us about business. Sit down, wait your turn, pick up FHM and realise you’re getting old…

Anyway, one of my friends was talking and I’m ashamed to say I was only half listening…

So I’ve been going to Lauren’s for nearly twenty years. Ever since I first had to take Tom. And over the years I watch her build a really good business. Effectively she’s the only barber in town. And she’s bright, she’s cheerful, everyone likes her. The business goes from strength to strength. She even opens another shop. And of course, Lauren’s the only one that I let cut my hair.

But I’m getting busier – I’ve barely time to get my hair cut. I go to one shop, Lauren’s not there. I go to the other, she’s gone home. Then I’m in London on business. Thirty minutes spare. I feel like I’m being unfaithful but I nip into some Greek place. Three times the price but you know what? A lot better than Lauren’s. Another thing, suddenly she’s not the only barber in town. There’s a trendy new one in the high street. A Turkish barbers two hundred yards from Lauren’s front door…

And then I need to take Ben, my youngest. I text Lauren – she’s at the main shop. But when we turn up she’s not there. Two rent-a-chairs with the personality of fridge magnets. One of them cuts Ben’s hair in silence. I decide I can wait – maybe until I go to London again. Or maybe I’ll try that new one…

As I say, I didn’t pay too much attention at the time. I dimly registered it was about hair and it wasn’t relevant to me because I always went to the same place. Carlo’s a friend of mine, Megan cuts my hair every time, she does Dan and Rory as well and that’s the natural order of things.

And then chaos. Moral dilemma! Megan leaves. She sets up on her own. What do I do? I really like Carlo. I’ve gone there for years. There’s loyalty. But there’s also only one person I want to cut my hair.

Now it’s my turn to feel unfaithful. After much soul searching – and looking into the mirror picturing a different haircut – I follow Megan.

It’s at this point that the previous conversation comes back to me. Because there are some really important business lessons here.

  • No matter how long you’ve been established or how long they’ve been customers you can never take them for granted. Even after 15 years you still have to give your very best. Lauren’s standards have slipped, and suddenly previously-loyal customers are voting with their feet.
  • For a business based on a personal service, goodwill – and the value of your business – is based almost solely on the owner. What do you sell when you sell a business like Lauren’s? Goodwill. Not much else. So to retain loyalty, the customers must see you.
  • If the business is based to some extent on your personality then your personality always has to be on show – and that’s tough. If you’re a barber with your own business you’re on show and performing – and on your feet – eight hours a day.
  • Just because you’re the only barber in town this week it doesn’t mean you’ll always be the only barber in town. If you’re successful – whatever business you’re in – you’ll attract competition.
  • Last lesson – look after the future customers. Is my pal’s son going back to Lauren’s when he’s not driven there by his Dad? Even at 15, he’s old enough to tell the difference between good customer service and bad. It’s the same in business – the purchasing manager won’t always be the purchasing manager. Take the time to strengthen the relationship between your business and your customers by knowing more people than the ones you need to deal with right now.

Anyway, time to pop into the butcher’s to get the meat. And to give the conversation my full attention…


  1. Gail Powell · April 11, 2014

    Hi Ed

    There are very few blogs I hang onto these days, or even read, but yours never fails to disappoint. We are a growing publishing business and we have been experiencing exactly what you are saying with a very large supplier of ours.

    We know our business is relatively small to them, but we are growing. The main point is no matter what business you are, every customer wants to feel welcome and heard; from the young assistant to the MD.

    And, as you have pointed out, if you have built up a business where ‘you’ are the business then you can NEVER outsource your personality! A line we often use with our authors who want someone else to do their social media; to promote their book!

    Looking forward to the next blog. Our blog site is – if you want to take a look. We are about to post a blog about the difficulties in ‘outsourcing your personality’ especially when it comes to social media, I hope you find it interesting.

    Kind regards


    • edreidyork · April 11, 2014

      Hi Gail – thanks ever so much for your comments; I look forward to your next blog post about “outsourcing your personality”! Hope things are going well for you and Diane – exciting new venture!

  2. simonjhudson · April 11, 2014

    A number of thoughts come to mind reading this week’s interesting blog.

    Stickiness – this is something most businesses seek, the ability to retain clients. The reasons for stickiness can be many and varied however: excellence of service, personalisation, personal relationships, walled gardens, effort to change, lack of awareness of alternatives and more. It’s really important to understand what makes you and your business sticky and to protect that. Easier said than done when both the market and your offerings may themselves be changing.

    Personality – this has been talked about in previous blogs and can rarely be overestimated; people buy from people! People are loyal to people, people don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings when there is a relationship (as Ed eloquently describes), people engage with things with personality in a positive or negative way.

    Activation energy – this is one of my favourite thought models; imagine striking a match, you put a little bit of energy in and you get a lot of energy out, the striking action overcomes the activation energy of the phosphors in the match head allowing it to burst into flames. I normally think about this in terms of how to deliver successful projects and changes inside a company, you can strike the match gently 100 times, with all that wasted effort, is still not light anything up! In this case the activation energy is the effort required for a previously loyal customer to go somewhere else, in edge story the combination of Laura’s changed habits and the emergence of alternatives substantially lowered the activation energy and customers who are even a little bit doubtful were easily able to transfer their loyalties elsewhere.

    The risks of growth – something which is often on my mind is how to maintain our company principals, our personality and our culture as we grow. It is all too easy to lose sight of what you’re in business for in the search for increased success if your measure success is revenue or profit.

    • edreidyork · April 11, 2014

      Hi Simon; 3 great observations. Stickiness is indeed critical, though difficult to achieve on a consistent basis, particularly as a business’s client base grows. A useful reminder.

      I like the activation energy model too; thanks for sharing it more widely.

      Have a terrific weekend!

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