Ask any UK business owner what their plans are on 4th July, and they probably won’t tell you they’re launching a new flagship in London. However, this is exactly how Chris Hugo of Hugo Barbers is planning to mark lockdown lifting.
Hugo Barbers opened its doors five years ago in Winchester and quickly amassed a loyal following. It was thanks to the support of these locals that it survived lockdown, and now Chris has decided to take the plunge. Using temporary space as a low-risk way to test out his brand in a new area, Hugo Barbers will be launching in Shoreditch in a few days time. We caught up with Chris to find out more about his journey and why he wants to launch now.
Were you working as a barber when you decided to found Hugo Barbers?
The whole journey is quite a strange one. I left uni and went straight into recruitment, but it felt like something was missing. One morning, I was contemplating what I was going to do with my life after a heavy night out, and I decided then and there to open a barbershop. I’d never trained as a barber before, getting my hair cut was something I’d just always loved. The next day I handed in my notice and went to London to get myself qualified.
What was it about barbershops that interested you?
I always had long hair as a kid, so I would actually usually go to a hair salon, as opposed to a barber’s. I experienced how nice and high-quality salons could be, but also noticed that guys always felt uncomfortable being there. Salons were – and still are – deemed as very ‘female’ places, but they shouldn’t be. It got me thinking: why don’t barbers seem to have that same level of care and experience? At Hugo Barbers, we hope to combine the barbershop and the salon. We don’t over-engineer it, we just focus on giving quality haircuts.
Let’s talk about your upcoming London launch. Why now?
I’ve been trying to get into a London space since October, but all of the conversations I was having stopped during COVID. From my side, there was also the emotional rollercoaster of wondering whether our Winchester shop would survive lockdown. As the country’s reopened, the bookings have been crazy, so we thought it would be a great opportunity to go to London with this excess of trade to support us. This is a chance to get established there a lot quicker.
Why do you think there’s suddenly this surge of demand?
Getting your hair cut is just such a nice experience. As a barbershop, you build that relationship with your customer – some even use you as their counsellor! But that personal experience is something people have definitely missed under lockdown.
Why did you opt for a temporary retail space for London?
Simply because we wanted to move quickly. We only made the decision to launch in London two or three weeks ago. That’s the amazing thing about pop up spaces: without all the lengthy legal and contract work, you can react quickly to how the market is moving.
I fell in love with East London the day I walked into it – it’s actually where I went to get qualified. There are some of the biggest names in men’s hair in that area as well, it’s something I aspire to compete with. I also like how close Shoreditch is to the City, but also how creative it is.
How will you bring Hugo Barbers interior to life in East London?
In Winchester, our look is quite traditional with a gentlemen's club aesthetic, but we want to give a bit of a different feel in the pop up space. Our new site is a magnificent old building on Shoreditch High Street, but inside we want a minimalist, slightly industrial vibe to reflect the area. You get to play around with different ideas when your lease is more flexible.
What do you anticipate will be your biggest challenge?
Getting our name out there! Like I say, some of the biggest names in men’s hair are in the area – getting people to visit us instead of them won’t be easy. We’ve always tried to build a brand that customers will visit every month. This isn’t an industry where you’re instantly inundated, you have to build up people’s confidence in your brand.
Building consumer confidence is definitely a pressing issue for salons right now. What safety measures will you be implementing to make customers feel safe to visit?
We’ve actually got a massive space, it’s across three floors and will be perfect for social distancing – it might even be too big! We won’t have a waiting room, and will instead ask customers to queue outside where we’ll invite them inside. We’ll be wearing visors and cleaning all the tools between each appointment. We’ve just got a new sterilising machine to help us with this. COVID has totally changed our industry.
Finally, what advice would you give to someone who’s planning on opening a store post-lockdown?
Just go for it, really! Temporary space is flexible, so if you have an idea and you believe in it, you should just give it a go. It’s really easy to get put off by long-term leases, but with flexible leasing, it’s amazing how quickly you can have that space. You get to try out your idea, and that’s amazing.