Sunday, July 30, 2023

Michelin for Barbers

Haircuts could be more science than art.

Every few weeks I get to reincarnate myself. I sit in a swivel chair, they pull up my ‘profile’, read out some numbers, and get to work sculpting my hair. After a while, I don my glasses and look in the mirror for damage control measures against the perceptions with which I’ll leave those I meet over the next few weeks.

I wish that besides reading out trimmer guard sizes they would also have a silhouette of my head. I even tried showing screen shots of a TV interview where I felt the cameras had captured two angles of my best haircut, yet no barber was able to replicate that.

We live in a world that transacts on a foundation of perceptions. You can choose the clothes you wear. You can choose the kind of smile you want to wear and where you can (and cannot) smile. You can practice your speaking style. You may even have the foresight to choose the right kind of vehicle to drive in because you are often judged by what you drive. However, the way you wear your hair is rarely in your control.

First impressions tend to last, and leaving a critical component of first impressions to chance seems shortsighted in an age where a realtor can virtually stage a home to help us visualize an empty room, a meteorologist can predict the weather for us, but hair stylists can’t predict or help us visualize the hair style they will deliver for us.

Haircuts are considered more art than science. Social media foments the image of a barber as an artist, and every head of hair as their canvas.

My grandfather had the same barber for years. The backyard barber, Gangaram got to decide how Grandpa must present himself to the world. His haircut used to be consistent month after month. Not everyone has the luxury of providing patronage to the same barber or hair stylist for a lifetime. Time available to spend on a barber’s chair is another constraint.

Just as the Michelin tire company created the Michelin ratings for restaurants, there may be an opportunity for, say, Monster ratings or LinkedIn ratings to create a rating system for barbers, rating them similar to Michelin – on quality, mastery of style and hair-styling techniques, personality of the barber, a balanced haircut, and consistency between visits.

When I observe how I can take a key and replicate it in a kiosk on a blank at the touch of a button, it makes me wonder if the haircut industry will embrace technology beyond having a scheduling app or an app to log the tools used by a stylist. Once a digital map of one’s head pre- and post-haircut is ready, it is probably a matter of time before we see a helmet-like device or kiosk pre-configured to give us that consistently perfect haircut. Meanwhile, that Monster-star or LinkedIn-star barber would work.