Monday, July 27, 2009

Barbershop Economics

I usually hate shopping. It's a hassle, I'm constantly worried that I'm being taken (if its a high enough price to worry about that), I don't want to spend the time to do real comparison shipping to get enough market knowledge to know better. I would just rather do without.

When I do jump in to buy something, its usually only after enough other people have made the same purchase to establish a well known price. I bought the iPod this way.

But for services, its tricky. What electrician should I use? What plumber? What handyman? What mechanic? What doctor? Or what barber?

When I find someone I love, I stick with them grateful that I have one less thing to worry about. And you know what, I love my barber. I know, I know how hard can it be to get a hair cut. And for someone who cares as little as I do about it, going to the local supercuts worked just fine for me for so long. But then again, I wonder if that affected my dating life back in the day, hmmm....

Well, there's this cozy little nook in downtown Tempe Mill Avenue district. Its just north of 5th street on the west side of Mill Avenue. We used to live within walking distance of downtown Mill, by the way, and it was so nice to step outside our apartment and literally walk 5 minutes to the movie theater (which sadly is closed) or to a restaraunt or to Tempe Town Lake. And there was this cool little park and rec center right across the street from that complex, maybe we should sell our house and move back there. It was such a small apartment, though...

At any rate, this little nook of a shopping center has this one chair barbershop in a room just big enough to accommodate that one chair. So, I had to get my haircut there, simply because the atmosphere was so darn pleasant. . And surprise, the barber is actually really good at cutting hair.

The place is called Carlyn's Barbership and the barber is also the owner. I've been getting my hair cut their basically since I've been married, eight years now, and she knows exactly what I want. I literally sit on the chair and she begins to cut. No need to ask me the length of the clippers, she uses scissors on my hair. And we've become friends. When I didn't show up a couple of weeks ago (I was camping) she was wondering why (and I needed to be in there, badly). Over the years, we've talked politics (although I've tread lightly on this subject with her), vacations, weather, how her business is doing.

I got the inside scoop on why businesses left Mill Avenue. Border's left because mid-way through their lease on Mill, some upper level manager was wonder why it did so poorly compared to other locations. The manager took a tour of the area and said whoever decided to put it there should be fired. As soon as the lease ran out, Border's yanked it. Which is sad really, it was the only bookstore in the downtown, and if you want Mill Avenue to be a place for pedestrians, you've gotta have a bookstore and a coffee shop (by the way Coffee Plantation left too - I've got to talk to Carlyn during my next visit why it happened).

Those Were the Days, you know that cute used book store, left because the owner was old and decided it was just time, and they couldn't get any of their kids to take over. That was the only reason. Again, sad because that was such a cool store, although I never shopped there... I guess I really need to start buying stuff at stores I want to stick around...

Also, she's really interesting, because she has this barberhop lineage. Her dad is a barber. I think she has at least one if not two brothers that cut hair for a living. Its her business and she's been doing it for years. She has accumulated loyal customers too, loyal enough for folks to drive from across town to use her.

And the location is just so perfect for me. In that same little courtyard there's this really great deli, In Season's Deli, and when I took my son with me for our hair cuts, we stopped in for lunch afterward. Really makes for just a really pleasant day.

And did I say she can cut hair. We've had our son's hair cut twice fairly recently by those chain barbershops, both times because he really needed a haircut and it was just a bit more convenient to just get it done by a chain (they are open later and for more days in the week, Carlyn has the old-school barbershop hours, Tuesdays through Saturdays).

But they totally hacked up his hair twice. You might say no big deal, he's only four, what does he care. But I care. He's literally only going to be 4 once. We're going to have pictures of him with hacked up hair for eternity. And we literally only saved a few bucks for hacked that hacked-up hair cut. The first time, we had to take him immediately into Carlyn to get it fixed because it was so bad.

The second time we did it (Sara was off to Utah for two weeks with him before we had a chance to cut it. I was hoping she would find a high quality replacement in Utah, but she got sucked into the convenience of the chain), it was more tolerable, but still..

The difference is the chains employ folks who can't cut hair, and I'm sure they pay them very little as the cost of the haircut gets consumed by the management chain all the way up. And for the brand and the marketing of that brand. For Carlyn, this is what she does and largely who she is.

And in the bigger picture, I just get the feeling that our economy would be better off if we cared more about quality over quantity. If we were more careful to shop locally, to choose merchants who have a passion for what they did and a true talent, instead of being ok with average, cheap and convenient for everything.

Obviously, its not practical to shop locally for everything. I don't want to buy some Tempe branded computer. Its nice to have a nice big manufacture spend lots of money to innovate Macintosh hardware and its operating system. But for local services... Let's hire folks who are skilled in their craft. We would all benefit if we did.
And I feel a lot better to know my money is going almost exclusively (minus the overhead) into the pocket of the one doing the service I'm purchasing. Do I really care about some anonymous high level manager in some far away city trying to figure out how to maximize profits for all of their Supercuts stores. No way. That kind of expertise does very little to ensure I have a nice haircut. Why would I want to fund that.

So, if you're looking for a good barber, and you live in Tempe, I strongly recommend Carlyn, but if you don't go to her shop, at least find someone who actually knows how to cut hair.


H said...

Oh Scott, you just crack me up with some of your wisdom here. I love the line about the fact that you should really start shopping at the stores that you want to stay around! That's great, and I've thought that many times as I've seen stores leave that I really wanted to go into. You'll have to remind me to send you a mourning card when/if your barber ever retires. That will be a sad day for you, I'm sure.

Bill said...

I am one of those who used to frequent a chain. They are convienent, reasonable in their pricing, and lets face it, if you saw my hair, there is not much you can mess up! Here are my instructions: #1 on the sides,#2 on the top, and make sure you trim the hair on my neck. With the prive being so low, I am sure the cutters live on tips. By barber now is closer to home. She is pretty good, but I have trouble getting in when I need to. Maybe Carlyn is just the ticket. I felt like you a while back. For a couple of times, when I was changing my own oil on our cars, I tried to buy the products at a local parts store close to our house. I worked at an Ace Hardware store for years and understood that although you pay a bit more, the service was better. I was wanting to support a local auto parts shop, instead of the Autozone down the road. Anyway, on the couple of occasions I tried to shop at the local shop, they were always closed. Thet had really bazaar hours. In the middle of the week, in the daytime, they would be closed. I never was able to find then open. It was frustrating, and I eventually gave up and went to the Autozone. Si I get where you are coming from, and I agree. We all should take the time and effort to support our local businesses. Now, with that Walmart coming in...

H said...

MY husband did not just go there, did he? Scott, I purposefully left the Walmart issue off the table. But have you heard their new radio commercials touting the fact that 96% of their employees, including part-time workers, have some sort of health insurance? They will support legislation that will ensure that all Americans have health insurance available to them. Yeah, RIGHT! They will support anything that gets them out of forking out the dough to pay for their employees insurance and gives them more availablity to offer their workers state insurance. AAAHHH! This just cooks my grits and I'm sure Bill just pawned this discussion off on you. Sorry.

I also notice that Bill didn't mention that he doesn't tip his current barber anything. Maybe if he did he wouldn't have the scheduling issues...

(Oh, haha, how did Scott get in the middle of this?!)

Bill said...

Scott, forgive my wife, she not knows what she says. Walmart will ge a big community boost and she knows it. She just doesnt want people to know that we (and by we, I mean me) will shop there. While ther are things I do not like about Walmart, I welcome them. As far as the tipping issue goes, Not all gains have to be monetary. Food for thought....this comes from my father, a very, very wise man: The difference between a good hair cut and a bad one? About a week!

Anonymous said...

What??!!!? Coffee Plantation left?? WHY? Where do the kids go now? I'm shocked!


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