I ran a barbershop business and failed (sort of)

There is nothing prestigious or celebratory about my post title-cum-revelation: a story about failure, how can that be glorifying?

Flashback: In 2007, I enrolled in a haircutting class of a prominent Filipino hairstylist as preparation for starting a barbershop business in our hometown in Bulacan, a first-class province from north of Manila. I had a good concept for the barbershop, that is, to cater to Korean hairstyle. Cool! I would have been the first female barber in town (if not in the entire country), and the pioneer in KPop haircutting business. I also made sure I did not accommodate toddlers because I was not confident about getting those sharp objects anywhere near kids. In class, we were taught how to handle electric razors and blades but oooh, I just could not temper my “phobia” with sharp objects.

My confidence in the business reached its peak. There was nothing that I could handle, I thought. In fact, I even taught myself how to use the straight razor (yes, Virginia, it’s legal for haircutters here in the Philippines to use straight razors). Of course, I had to practice it on my own hair by shaving my side wisps, hehe. Nonetheless, overconfidence got the better of me. Mistakes came one after the other :

Mistake #1
exterior of barbershopI chose a shop space along the main road and close to the church and school to ensure foot traffic. I also got a bargain with the low monthly rental of Php3,000. At the time, it was about slightly lower than standard rentals of Php4,000 up. With a Php100,000 (est US$2,000) capital, I refurbished the space with fresh paint, tiled bathroom, new faucets, wall mirrors, glass shelvings, wall fan, aircon, sliding glass door, and backlit signage. I also bought three barbershop chairs, two comfy couches, and a small locker.

All set, I opened the shop on a weekday. The first day, no customer. It’s okay, as they say, its a teething process. The second day, still no customers. The third day, no customers but neighbours were taking notice and would be furtively goading through the glass door. Now, where was the foot traffic from the church, the school and from passersby? Nada.

Being close to establishments like the Church or School or even roads do not guarantee foot traffic. First of all, scope the prospective area day and evening, weekday and weekend, summer and rainy season. See the traffic flow. See also the quality of foot traffic. Observe the culture of the place and the consumption behavior of your potential clients. Do they match your business goals? Are they capable of meeting your business targets? Does foot traffic exist during your intended shop hours? Can vehicles easily pull over your shop? Choose shop space well, and take the time to observe. Do not rush.

Mistake #2:
My service rate, because I marketed my business as a barbershop, was Php30 (less US$1)/haircut. No shampoo or blowdry, just a cut. It took a while before I got my first client, then another, and another. But in a day, I was only averaging about six to eight clients or grossing about Php200 (US$4)/day or barely getting Php5.000 (about US$100) a month. For six months, I worked all by myself six days a week just to pay the space rent and utilities. Every single day, I’d incur out of pocket expenses. They said to not give up! So I tried to stick it out with yet bad strategies after another.

Do not underestimate and low ball your services or products. If you so believe in what you offer to your clients, offer them at a fair yet justifiable price. I should have also set a target income per month and worked out marketing strategies from that target.

Mistake #3
interior of barbershopMeanwhile, I thought of leveraging by hiring a barber staff, while I continued doing my better-paying side hustles. I also decided to maximise space (and attract another segment of clients) by setting up an internet business with three units of desktop computer stations. No gamers, I said.

Look before you leap! Or rather, do not leap if you’re on a cliff. Like, hello?! Looking back, It makes me wonder now why I expanded my business when my cashflow was still unstable? And why I entered into a business (internet service) without a feasibility study?

Mistake #4
Because I was naturally empathetic ( which I admit is kind of my downfall at times), I just could not say no to people coming to me for small loans, small assistance, alms, and whatnots. When my barber asked for an advance, I yielded, not realising that it was going to be the last time I’d see him in my shop. He never came back to work.

Charity and business do not mix! I could help more when I become more successful and have more money!

Mistake #5
barbershop frontWhen my expenses piled up against my income, I decided to fold up my business. Frantic to get my capital back, I sold my equipment cheap. It was the last nail in the coffin, so to speak. Needless to say, my business failed.

Should you “give up”, do it smartly. Cutting losses is fair game in business, however, again, I should have considered the money I put out to buy my equipment and built my shop. I suppose, my real failure began when I let my emotion (I was heartbroken) cloud my rationale and judgment. Nevertheless, lessons learned the hard way are still lessons, the priceless return of investment.

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