Most people might think twice before working with their family but for barbers and brothers Max, Oliver and Josh it’s been a success story, that after ten years continues to go from strength to strength. The brothers at MaxOliver have been shaping their own style at their barbershops in Crowborough, Tunbridge Wells and Lewes where quality over quantity is their overriding ethos. Oldest brother Max says that despite their Mum being a hairdresser he didn’t immediately know that a talent for cutting hair ran in the family, “One day she asked me “Have you ever thought about hairdressing?” and I hadn’t. I finally got into it when I was 13. I was round a mate’s house one day and they asked me to have a go at cutting their hair because my Mum’s a hairdresser and that was it.”
After joining a hairdressing course, Max discovered his passion for barbering and at the age of 16 he took up his first job in a local salon, eventually opening his first MaxOliver salon in Crowborough where he grew up. It was a few years before Oliver would join his brother, who taught him to cut hair when he was in his second year of high school. “I was on the same extended work experience scheme at school that Max had been a part of and one of those was a day at Toni&Guy, so I initially got into ladies’ hair, and I was working on Oxford Street right up until Max asked me to join him,” says Oliver, adding that his one request was that MaxOliver wasn’t a one-stop barbershop, as it was important to continue to use and develop the skills he had acquired throughout his career so far.
Youngest brother, Josh, was the last to come on board and quickly made a name for himself amongst their clientele. “I’d had about five jobs in a year and a half, one of them the worst thing I’ve ever done in my life. Finally, Max turned round one day and asked me if there was a reason why I didn’t want to give barbering a go and I told him I didn’t want to feel like I was doing it because my Mum’s a hairdresser or because my brothers are barbers. I just needed to figure it out on my own,” Josh tells us.
When he joined the fold, the shop had up to three-hour cues on Saturdays as clients were waiting to have their hair cut by Max or Oliver, “We started telling people that they could get their hair cut there and then from our little brother Josh, and we’ll watch over it and check at the end,” says Oliver. Little did the brothers realise that this was the perfect training ground for Josh who was being taught how to cut long hair from Oliver and short hair from Max. “Josh picked it up so quickly, he’s been surrounded by a short head specialist and a long head specialist, both focused in men’s hair so it was the perfect training ground for him,” explains Max adding that Josh became a model for the kind of multi-skilled cutters MaxOliver is now known for producing.
Oliver tells us that they take pride in delivering to the highest standards, “We take 45 minutes here and we have had customers who come in wanting a quick five-minute cut so I find myself explaining that we can’t comprise on that. It’s all about educating potential clientele and letting them know your skill and what it’s worth.” For MaxOliver taking barbering to the next level has been a challenge, “People have a concept of how a barbershop should run, how long a cut should take and how much it’s going to cost but there is a market for it and there is room for everyone,” explains Oliver, adding that MaxOliver is also focused on the environment inside their barbershops. “There aren’t cross conversations, and we’re not swearing, or playing loud music. It’s about being mindful of everyone around us.”
This approach to customer service is instilled in the staff at MaxOliver, Oliver tells us that whilst it is important to be yourself there is a professional working self. “When people walk through the door, what do you want them to feel? We don’t want anyone to feel out of place, so parents can bring their kids in as well.” The brothers tell us that it’s closer to a salon environment, one which they were familiar with having watched their mother working in salons from a young age. “A lot of our customers were going to hairdressers because they wanted a certain level of customer service, or they were going to a barbershop but they weren’t one hundred percent happy,” says Max, explaining that their shops have created a welcoming space for those who were looking for something outside of the traditional barbershop.
Now that the three brothers have spent the last ten years refining their individual skills and building a reputation across all three barbershops, they are now ready to turn their attention to education. “Over the past ten years we’ve concentrated on our team and our clients but now we’re ready to put ourselves out there,” says Max. The internal education programme has been built to thoroughly educate stylists in both barbering and modern-day hairdressing, bringing together the best parts of their individual skills and experience focused across all hair types and textures as well as customer service too. “We’ve devised a collection of six technical MaxOliver cuts that everyone in the team has to master to become fully qualified,” Oliver explains.
As the three barbers-and-brothers embark on the next stage of their business it’s clear that their dynamic works. It’s one that is based on mutual respect, support and trust from Max training his younger brothers in their craft to Oliver and Josh putting their faith in Max’s business. “The benefit of being related is that your minds work alike, and you understand each other. You can speak your mind without offending each other,” says Oliver.
Reflecting how far they have come, older brother Max tells us, “We’ve always had this vision in our head to make an impact on our industry and when you finally find something you’re good at, you really want to excel at that.”