- September 21, 2021
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There are many barbershops in Red Bank, New Jersey, but only one where you can get the experience of a classic shaving parlor. Entering the Old World Shaving Parlor in downtown Red Bank is like stepping into a time machine, only to arrive in a barbershop of old. The hum of electric buzzers is accompanied by the musical stylings of the Rat Pack while expert barbers clad in formal wear offer exceptional service with personal attention. Even the decor is a nod to the history of the craft, immersing customers in tradition and elegance.
If you are interested in starting a business based around a particular theme or creating an atmosphere that will give your customers a memorable experience, Old World Shaving Parlor is a case study in just that.
Established in 2008 and purchased by current owner and former employee David Fantigrossi in 2018, Old World Shaving Parlor is decked out in the trappings of the past. The entryway greets customers with a vintage barber's chair and classic cafe racer scooter. Metal steam trunks serve as the barbers' stations, and the sounds of big band and classic jazz fill the intimate parlor.
"It's hard nowadays to find places that play old-school music," Fantigrossi said. "It really sets the theme for the place."
What brings the theme to life is a focus on complimentary extras that make the customer's stay more enjoyable. As customers wait for their appointments, they can avail themselves to espresso or, for those that want something with a little kick, the parlor's fully stocked liquor cabinet.
It's not just the atmosphere that keeps customers coming back to Old World Shaving Parlor. The vintage aesthetic is accompanied by a list of services that harken back to barbershops of old: hot towel and lather straight-razor shaves, ear candling wax removal, and facial waxing. Of course, modern haircuts are also part of Old World Shaving Parlor's repertoire, which is underscored by Fantigrossi's philosophy that above all else, a good barber listens to the customer and remembers their preferences. It is this ethos that has led to a steady business, which serves up to 100 customers per day.
"We're barbers, we're not hair stylists. The difference is barbers are a little more detail-oriented," Fantigrossi said. "Barbers have to listen more to specific directions … and the barber should know for the next time the customer comes back what they like to make them happy."
When the appointment begins, the customer kicks back in a vintage barber chair as a friendly employee applies their skills with deft hands to achieve whatever style is requested. A customer that orders the "Sweeney Todd" service will start with a haircut, followed by a traditional shave that consists of a Proraso pre-shave, hot lather shaving cream and eucalyptus-infused hot towels. Don't let the name scare you; the straight-razor shaves here are conducted with a gentle precision that leaves the skin smooth and soft, finished off with a protective moisturizer.
"We're versatile. All our barbers here have worked in Manhattan, and we just know how to do every type of hair. That's where I think we're different. A good barber is a versatile barber," Fantigrossi said. "You've got to have options for people."
Launching a business focused on providing a unique customer experience can be daunting, but breaking it down into multiple steps makes the process more manageable. Here are four things to consider to create a special atmosphere like Old World Shaving Parlor's.
The first thing customers will notice when they step into your establishment is the decor and furnishings, and this is the best place to start.
For Fantigrossi, styling Old World Shaving Parlor in the theme of a traditional barbershop came naturally. The location was previously an interior design business and had a lot of odds and ends that could cultivate the atmosphere Old World Shaving Parlor was going for. When Fantigrossi purchased the business, he enhanced this style by adding his own touches, like the espresso machine and liquor cabinet.
"We decorated it for this old-world theme," Fantigrossi said. "We have a lot of antique pictures of old-school barbers back in the day, we've got the cafe racer out front, we always play Frank Sinatra, we've got the hot-towel shave."
For a new business that has already secured a location, acquiring decor and furnishings that fit the aesthetics of your theme is likely the first step. This can be done in a cost-effective manner by frequenting thrift shops and estate sales, where a wide variety of quality items can be found at prices significantly lower than retail price. Depending on your chosen theme, you might be able to find everything you need at these places.
One thing that is key to Old World Shaving Parlor's vintage vibe is the music, Fantigrossi said. Where most modern barbershops play hip hop or radio hits, Old World Shaving Parlor considers the big band music of yesteryear central to its theme. And after an hour in the chair, you could be forgiven for feeling that age-old swing, even after you head back home.
"When you get the haircut and the hot-towel shave together, when you leave you're on cloud nine," Fantigrossi said. "It's a good feeling."
Whatever your theme, consider how you bring your decorated and furnished space to life. Music is certainly an important element to include, but consider things like employee uniforms. Many of the employees at Old World Shaving Parlor dress the part, with button-up shirts and formal vests. And though today they all wear protective masks, a common hallmark of life during the COVID-19 pandemic, the style still contributes to the overall atmosphere of the business.
While a theme is great for drawing in customers that resonate with it, quality service remains paramount. Not only do the barbers at the Old World Shaving Parlor live up to exacting standards, but customers are greeted with care and treated with respect.
"Not too many people [offer these services] or especially do it the right way, and I think we make a lot of people happy with the way we do things here," Fantigrossi said.
The personal touches, like complimentary beverages and remembering each customer's preferences, help Old World keep customers satisfied and eager to return for their next appointment.
"I like to treat anybody who comes into this place as family," Fantigrossi said. "I want to give them what they want, not what I want; if they want a mohawk, they're going to get a mohawk."
It takes effort to adhere to a theme and keep the atmosphere going, but don't let that come at the sacrifice of good service. Theme and atmosphere can set you apart when consumers are choosing a business, but customer service will retain business for the long haul.
After so much effort goes into building your business, creating a theme and running the day-to-day operations, it can be tempting to rest on your laurels, but constant innovation is key to continued success. Fantigrossi is considering several options for Old World Shaving Parlor.
"We're looking into offering hair restoration soon," he said, which involves the use of platelet-rich plasma to regenerate hair growth by revitalizing skin cells and leveraging the customer's natural hair chemistry. "We're also thinking about … having a doctor here."
While these are conceptual ideas that Fantigrossi is mulling over at the moment, he said adding to the parlor's long list of services is important to him.
Similarly, Old World Shaving Parlor is willing to extend services upon request, such as razor sharpening, which it typically doesn't list as part of its services. When a customer recently asked where Fantigrossi gets his razors sharpened, he immediately thought to take the task on himself.
"[Our employee] Enzo sharpens them, so I said, 'Leave it with me, we'll get it done for you,'" said Fantigrossi. "Whatever it takes to make our clients happy."
For any business, building on existing success is critical to sustained growth. Core products and services might always drive the most revenue, but additional services or related products can keep customers engaged and excited, and may even attract new clientele. Whether that means going above and beyond to offer atypical services or innovating to add new products to your existing mix, complement your theme by meeting your customers' needs in every way possible.