London / Edinburgh
Then something changed. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what happened and when but it took the vision, courage and acumen of a new generation of barbering entrepreneurs to transform the image, perception and status of barbering. In what seemed like a very sudden and dramatic about turn, barbering gained kudos, grandeur and gravitas and, as a career option, it elevated levels of skill and professionalism to offer something new and exciting both for professionals and their male clients. Ruffians were at the forefront of this new vision and a leading pioneer of this transformation.
As an instantly recognisable name and brand identity in the world of professional barbering, Ruffians has come to define everything that barbering has become. And this was no accident or stroke of luck.
As a marketeer and businessman, owner Andrew Cannon took stock of barbering and decided it was time for change: 'I looked at barbering from a personal perspective and I didn't like what I saw, or what I experienced,' says Andrew. 'When I visited the barbers it felt like a chore, unlike hairdressing which was centred on the customer experience. I did my research and found that there was nothing comparable on offer for men and yet the male consumer was changing. More men were investing in grooming products, their image, personal style and fashion, and yet this grooming revolution was taking place in the supermarkets, not at the barbers. I wanted to change that.'
Looking to the likes of Trevor Sorbie and Charles Worthington for inspiration, Andrew set on a course to transform the barbering experience. 'In reality there were few, if any, barbering brands at that time that offered a blueprint for what I felt the men's grooming experience could or should be. In high-end hair salons I saw an uncompromising focus on the customer experience. I saw how the service quality and expertise were valued both in the salon and by customers. I saw the rapport clients had with their stylist and how important every detail was to make customers look and feel sensational. This is where I anchored the Ruffians vision.'
The die was cast and, in another naval reference, inspiration for the name came from an unlikely source. After tabling many different names, Ruffians emerged from Horatio Nelson's HMS Bellerophon, which was nicknamed the 'Billy Ruffian'. In search of a one word name that was memorable, a little mischievous and fun yet serious, an arduous process to name his vision was complete. 'Unlike the famous name hairdressers I didn't want it to be led by my name. I wanted a brand name that was unique and strong, and to create something that would create a lasting legacy.'
Not being a barber himself, Andrew knew that the key to realising his vision was getting the right location and team. 'At the time this was hugely challenging because the quality of training in barbering just wasn't there. But eventually we got a highly-trained team that were not only great barbers, they also shared our passion and vision to transform the barbering experience. This was vitally important as we needed a radical change in customer care that would attract men in search of a new and different grooming experience. We knew the demand was there.'
Opening the first Ruffians in Edinburgh in 2012, Ruffians has grown to five outlets adding Covent Garden, Shoreditch, Marylebone and the prestigious Liberty department store in Soho, London. Always destined for London, Edinburgh gave the brand time to perfect its offering and customer values at a lower risk, as Andrew explains: 'As the nucleus of global hair, fashion and culture that attracts the best international talent we had London in our sights but the costs and risks were high. I'm passionate about Edinburgh, as I grew up here and know the area, so this was the perfect place to get it right and refine everything before moving to the capital.'
With pop up stores in New York and plans to expand into global markets, as well as nationally, Ruffians has an outward looking, bright future ahead. Now firmly established with a first-class reputation in the barbering industry, and among its peers and customers, Ruffians and Andrew Cannon are regarded as brand and business benchmarks to which aspiring barbers look for inspiration and guidance. So what does Andrew put Ruffians success and position down to?
'It was and will always be about taking a customer-first approach. This means not compromising in any way. It's also about working with the right brands and partners, getting the right team and making sure you don't cut corners.
As part of their distinct brand design, interior style and corporate identity, Andrew cites Takara Belmont as a key to the Ruffians offering. 'Takara Belmont have been instrumental on our journey, as furniture is at the heart of every customer service. When we started out, and not being a barber myself, I didn't personally know the brand and spent many hours and months researching and meeting brands to consider our furniture options. When I went to Salon International in 2011 and saw Takara Belmont and the Apollo 2 chair I walked away knowing that's what we had to have. The people were great and their product was far superior to anything else I'd seen, so it didn't matter about the price. The Apollo 2's were an investment in our brand, our customers and our reputation.'
'Also,' continues Andrew, 'the company bent over backwards to customise the upholstery in our signature Ruffians Blue. The chairs don't break or degrade, I love the look, the stitching and every detail and, outside of minor upholstery repairs and servicing which is to be expected in a high traffic barbershop, they have never let us down or broken down. For that reason we also use Takara Belmont basins. Now, when we open a new store I don't even look around. It has to be Takara Belmont.' In keeping with quality, performance and style, this philosophy extends to a customised product range. After doing much R&D, the Ruffians line is highly popular and meets their exacting standards, as any customer would expect.
So what's next for Ruffians, and what advice would Andrew give to aspiring barbers, barbershop owners and would-be salon owners?
'The NYC pop up helped us to explore the potential for international expansion, so we'll keep evolving and developing our brand and service expertise both here and abroad. It's been a challenging time for barbering but what's important is we've ticked the survival box and now we go again. All I would say to barbers, barbershop owners and those who want to open their own shop is you've first got to love it. Don't see barbering as a job - see it as a vocation that you feel passionate about. Barbering is not like it used to be - it's a fantastic career; creative, exciting and rewarding. Make sure you always respect your customers, be patient, learn every day and the sky's the limit.
'There are not many careers where you can see 10-15 people every day and leave them feeling happy and amazing, so embrace that. And last of all, don't compromise... always choose quality over price and it will pay you back in customer loyalty and the money you save over time on repairs and breakages. Little else is more important than your chairs, scissors and clippers so why compromise?'
Discover Ruffians at https://ruffians.co.uk