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Welcome back, men! Today, we take a break from grooming go-to's and embark on a behind-the-scenes look at BarberShopCo – focusing on the man at the top. We'll talk trials and tribulations, clippers and cutters, all in the search of attaining grooming excellence. So, stop what you're doing and say hello to Adam Johanson - the CEO of the barbering company that's shaking up the New Zealand male grooming industry like a well-made martini.

In a world where the pursuit of the perfect fade can be as daunting as deciphering your girlfriend's text messages, we all need a little respite. Imagine a place where the smell of fresh leather chairs mingles with the sound of clippers. Where every visit promises not just a great haircut but a great experience. Now, picture a CEO as sharp as the scissors he sells. So, let's jump right in and see what we can learn from those who have gone before us.

Growing up Kiwi

BarberShopCo CEO Adam Johanson grew up on Auckland’s North Shore. A Murrays Bay Intermediate and Rangitoto College Old-Boy, Adam spent his days surfing and skiing before moving to Dunedin for University. “I studied marketing and HR at Otago University before moving to Australia for five years,” says Adam, “and I sort of built my career there – moving from a junior salesperson to a senior salesperson before moving back to New Zealand and working for my family’s sporting business. After moving on to a more senior role with a Fortune 500 company in Auckland and spending a few years learning the ropes, I set out to build BarberShopCo.”

Having always wanted to go into business for himself, Adam took the plunge and began importing men’s haircare products from Australia - selling to barber shops around New Zealand. “BarberShopCo started in my living room,” says Adam, “I began importing products from Australia, and I went around different barbershops and said, “Look, if anyone is going to advise men on how they can look better, it’s you. So, why don’t you give them advice, and here’s the product to sell alongside your services.””

Going for Broke.

But Adam soon realised that selling product was not enough to make a significant difference in the male grooming industry. “All of the details in-store,” says Adam, “the way the store presented, the products they stocked, the sales process, the way they paid staff. . . it all made a difference to the end result. And it was too difficult to overcome when you were just selling product. As luck would have it, Adam ran into his now business partner, John Erkkila. “John had set up a successful franchise company that he’d recently sold,” says Adam, “and he took a look at what I was doing and said, “Why don’t we organise the industry and create a better model?” So that’s what we set out to do.”

Adam Johanson and business partner John Erkkila

When asked about his decision to go into the male grooming industry., Adam is quick to answer. “It’s a growing industry,” says Adam, “Men are becoming more aware that how they present themselves can have a real impact on what happens in their lives. We really felt that grooming was part of this growing men’s health movement. It’s not just about exercising and eating well – it’s also about how you present yourself.” Looking at barber shops in New Zealand, Adam felt there was room for a game-changer. “There was this real gap in the marketplace,” says Adam, “you had women’s hairdressing salons that offered appointments, Vogue magazine, and a cup of tea, and then you had cheap and cheerful barber shops on the corner that were sort of set up as an afterthought. My view was that there was room for professional barbershops, with professional products, well trained staff, and better processes. That’s something the industry just didn’t have and that’s what we are trying to deliver.”

Making it Happen.

And deliver they did with BarberShopCo proving to be a hit from the start. “It went gangbusters to be honest,” says Adam, reflecting on earlier store openings, “the Browns Bay store had queues around the corner every Saturday, and we had lines outside the doors before we opened. From around year five, we were the leader in men’s grooming in New Zealand. That’s a big deal.” And it was a big deal for barbers, too. “Barbers had been in an industry that wasn’t quite cutting it for a long time,” says Adam, “so, we professionalised the industry. We offered training, career pathways, stability, and security for our barbers. We pay wages and bonuses and provide career opportunities all the way to store ownership. In fact, several of our barbers own their own stores now.”

The secret to BarberShopCo’s success, according to Adam, is making men’s grooming accessible to men by building a solution that fits with men. “It’s about creating something that men actually want,” says Adam, “It’s about saying, “You don’t have to book two months in advance or spend two hours getting your hair done. We can see you on the day, offer an efficient service, and provide you with a better outcome.” We want to take care of men, to have them trust us to make them look and feel good. We want men to come into our stores, see their barber is a trained professional, feel good about the atmosphere, and leave having had a world-class experience.”

A Bump in the Road.

As with most businesses, BarberShopCo has had its ups and downs. The biggest of which was the Covid pandemic. “We had a pretty rough run with Covid,” says Adam, “it put a big spanner in the works and derailed us for a bit there. But we are making up for lost time. We are still super popular with men, and our business is building. We did over 20,000 services last month, and our Net Promoter Score is consistently between 86 and 88. There’s still opportunity to improve, don’t get me wrong, but we are heading in the right direction.”

Ironically, one of the biggest challenges Adam has faced since starting BarberShopCo is driven by his passion for the industry. “We are trying to innovate the men’s grooming industry,” says Adam, “and it’s tough. We are trying to set standards our customers and barbers haven’t necessarily been exposed to. We are trying to raise the bar in this industry and educate our Team and customers on our vision. It’s been the biggest challenge of my life so far, but I love it. We are back in growth mode now, so we’re working on how we grow as a business and Team. Covid was a shock, but we’ve survived, so now it’s about finding great leaders to come and join us so we can create better outcomes for everyone involved.”

Technical Difficulties.

As well as focussing on growth, 2023 has seen BarberShopCo launch their free customer app – BarberShopCo Q. BarberShopCo Q allows customers to save their place in a ‘virtual queue’ at any BarberShopCo store – delivering updated ETA notifications to customers on when they are likely to reach the front of the queue to minimise wait times. Best of all, BarberShopCo Q was driven by client demand. “The main feedback we used to get before launching BarberShopCo Q,” says Adam, “is that the in-store wait times were too long. On a Saturday, it wasn’t uncommon for customers to wait over two hours for a haircut, and that was causing problems. Customers were saying, “I love your store, and I love what you’re doing, but I can’t wait that long.””

Adam was adamant that BarberShopCo could devise a solution that didn’t involve appointments or bookings. “Going to an appointment-based system is a whole different price model,” says Adam, “and we really wanted to keep our services accessible so that everyone could have access to a great cut and a great in-store experience. We knew we didn’t want to go to an appointment-based system, but we didn’t want our customers waiting for two hours either. So, we developed our queueing app. Built it from the ground up so customers could queue virtually, go about their day, and not have to physically wait in a queue in-store.”

The response to the app has been mostly positive. “The main difficulty,” says Adam, “is communicating how the app works. We’ve tried social media, having our barbers educate people in-store, and sending out emails to our customer base, but there is still this idea among some people that we are operating an appointment system. So, it’s trying to work out how to communicate what the app is about – and how a queueing system works – in a way that everyone can appreciate.”

There’s no I in Team.

While Adam has worked hard to build a business he can be proud of, he is quick to acknowledge that he is nothing without his team. “We have an incredible company made up of super talented Board Members, Store Owners, Home Office Team members, and barbers, says Adam, “one of the things I love about BarberShopCo is the amazing people who are drawn to this business. Our barbers are incredibly creative people who genuinely love helping others and putting a smile on the faces of their customers. I find that incredibly inspiring. The men’s grooming industry is really driven by art, passion, and creativity, and I feel privileged to be a part of it.”