Q&A: Grooming a barbershop experience with a difference

This week we chat to Colm Flanagan, founder of Adilla Barbers in Sydney’s Double Bay. Colm had been intent on growing the business as quickly as possible, but the pandemic forced him to take a step back and review the business in detail – he reviewed, restructured and refocused on the client experience.

ISB: What was the inspiration behind you setting up Adilla Barbers?

CF: The inspiration came as I found myself jumping from barber to barber looking for something beyond a great haircut. The opportunities for self-care for men were scarce and a luxury barbershop seemed like a good place to start. Salons were an option but I didn’t feel as comfortable in them. As my career progressed my workload increased and so I found myself looking for something indulgent outside of gyms and pubs.

An idea was born. What if we could combine the look, feel, and quality of a classic barbershop with the beauty services and experience of a salon to ultimately create a space where men can feel confident enough to truly relax?

ISB: What was the biggest challenge the COVID pandemic posed to the business, and how did you overcome it?

CF: The risk factor was two-pronged. Consumer confidence was an issue – you could literally track sales on a graph in-line with COVID updates by Scott Morrison and the state premier. This challenge was tough, not knowing if we would be open, and even if we were, would anyone come.

Secondly, the number of clients allowed in the shop, and whether or not that would be viable to keep the doors open. So, we set out to cecome a destination. When we were shut down we re-evaluated our services, books and marketing. We skilled up on professional facials and incorporated them into our services, in the hope they would be attractive to those men feeling locked down and give us higher revenue per client.

ISB: How do you make Adilla Barbers stand out in what is a very competitive industry?

CF: We have always combined both hair and beauty services for men to offer something different. When we first started we offered Deluxe packages which took some time for the market to adopt. However, in time clients began to love these services and validation came when many other barbershops began to “mimic” our menu. Understanding that home-schooling, working from home and being unable to travel pushed people into feeling trapped, we ramped up our knowledge on skincare and invested in the equipment and products needed to create the Adilla Escape – a combined hair and skin service giving our clients an “escape”, if even for just an hour.

ISB: I understand your partner Frankie runs a woman’s salon nearby – please tell us about that business and to what extent the management of them both is linked.

CF: The brands are intertwined. We used the Adilla name in the salon because it was established in the market and we wanted to leverage that. Operationally, the barbershop has been building an individual brand where a salon is built on individual stylists that work within a brand – hence its name, Adilla colab.

In terms of choosing products, teams, branding, and PR events they are essentially similar, so we can learn from each business and understand what has worked and what hasn’t.

ISB: What is your vision for the development of the business in the next couple of years?

CF: The vision is to create a destination for men’s wellbeing. We want to continue to grow our services, our product range, and overall, our experiences for men. In addition, we will continue to work with bodies like mightandmane.org to ensure we are giving back where applicable.

ISB: And, finally, what is the number one lesson you’ve learnt on your business journey you’d share with others looking to start their own enterprise?

CF: Know your books, have a clear business vision and accept what you can’t control.