Clients travel for miles around to get a cut from the guys at Rum Razor Barbershop in Durham. Owner Paul Cowen invites men to come into the shop not just for a sharper look, but a chance to step away from the stresses of their day and step into his own community of “laid back lads.”
How did you become a barber? I was a manager of a high street restaurant and loved the customer service side of it but not so much the bureaucracy. I decided to retrain and took a gamble on barbering. I had a few opportunities to open my own shop and I finally got to the point where I thought that whatever walks through that door I would be able to handle.
What was it like opening your own shop? We opened in August 2015. I left my old employment and wanted to be open for my birthday on 1st August, so I gave myself a very tight deadline of 10 days. Looking back, the shop probably looked like a building site in the first couple of weeks. Our first chairs were horrendous, like those 4D cinema chairs that throw you around. They might as well have been garden chairs. But now we have three nice Belmonts and are fully booked.
Tell us about your team. Tom, Morris and me, we’re all laid back lads. I lean towards personality when hiring staff because you can teach people the skills but it’s harder to change personality. We have a laugh and it makes me proud that we can cheers someone’s day up. Clients have told me that I “made” the experience at some previous shops I worked at, which is very flattering. But if I was that shop’s owner I wouldn’t be happy. Whoever you come to in my shop, I want you get the same experience. It’s a fine line between that and losing your individuality of course.
Tell us about the shop. The shop is in a loft space and we have no shopfront so lots of people don’t know we’re here. I can see from a business perspective that might bother some people, but it actually works. We have two low windows from which you can only see people’s back gardens. There is nothing to distract the client and they are absolutely ‘in the moment’, which I like. We’re cut off from the outside world but we’re incredibly easy to drive to, situated in Carrville where the A1 runs vertically and the A690 connects Durham to Sunderland. I have one bloke who drives three hours from Scotland and another lad who comes from Leeds.
How do you stand out from other barbers? Lots of barbershops try to recreate other people’s haircuts. We don’t do this at all. I’ve been doing this for nine years and I know it’s about the guy in front of you and that he wants a bespoke haircut. He might show you a picture of what he wants but you have to look at the hair and be honest about whether he can achieve that. We offer bespoke 30 minute appointments; no one is in and out unless they are having the whole lot off.
What does the future hold for Rum Razor? Were hunting for a bigger shop now. We love the space we’re in but we always have three in the chair and three waiting, so if someone brings in a kid or their wife, it’s a bit cramped. We’ll probably go for somewhere with a shopfront but it has to feel right and still offer some seclusion. We’ll be building the brand, keep making the t-shirts and merchandise, building a bigger community and getting the beers and coffees going in a seating area.
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