Sunday October 14, 2018

Success Story: The Good Guys Barbershop

Friendliness, attention to quality place business a cut above the rest
By Lou Sorendo

    Keith Raymond, left, and Harrison Noel

    An experience that brings back the feel of yesteryear.

    Nestled within Canal Commons, 193 W. First St., the shop features nine barbers that can handle everything from men’s and boys’ haircuts to hot-towel straight razor shaves.

    Along with complimentary beverages that include coffee, water and beer, it’s a place where gentlemen can share thoughts on the critical issues of the day — like sports and local politics.

    The shop’s predecessor, Downtown Barber & Shave, owned by Keith Hawkins, was launched in 2011.

    When the former owner opted out of the location in 2014, Raymond and his team took over as The Good Guys Barbershop and did not look back.

    “We were already in this location at that time. We had a solid business as is but we thought it could be refined and done better,” said Raymond, noting the shop is a final copy of what the crew initially wanted to accomplish.

    “We kept the space and customers, and just had to rebrand as The Good Guys Barbershop,” he said. “Over time, we made it nice and the longer we go, we get more of an idea of what we want to do.”

    The shop has always had a throwback or traditional feel.

    “When we first opened, so many guys said, ‘Wow, this is just like the barbershop I used to go to when I was a kid,’ and they would start rattling off barbershops that used to be in Oswego. It’s fun to hear,” Raymond said.

    “Over time, that has caused them to bring their own children in. It has just grown by word of mouth,” he noted.

    Raymond said he admires the traditional, throwback style.

    “This is something that men can embrace. It just feels and looks good. We want to be part of that, and go down in Oswego’s history books as this really classy, upscale place for guys to come and get groomed,” he said.

    Raymond said back in the 1960s, there were about 30 union-affiliated barbers all running individual shops in Oswego.

    Head-over-heels success: Harrison Noel, the shop’s manager, said the greatest challenge at the shop is adapting to continued growth.

    “Over the past four years, we have grown at such a rate that we have doubled our staff and still find ourselves struggling to keep up,” he said.

    Noel and Raymond have dedicated themselves to training staff while still working.

    “Like any other trade, these are learned skills that take time to develop,” Noel said.

    Noel and Raymond have trained the entire staff — from apprentices to master barbers — and have discovered they are able to maintain a higher standard of service by training staff themselves.

    “Other than that, we have a great group of guys that are dedicated to the business and craft and make my job as a manager pretty easy,” Noel said.

    Raymond and Noel shared several reasons why the shop has a competitive edge over others.

    “First and foremost, our haircuts are obviously better,” said Raymond, noting his staff only cuts men’s hair. “It’s the only thing we’ve ever done and only thing we know how to do.

    “Outside of that, it’s the setting. It’s almost like a spa trip for men.”

    Noel said the shop is no different than many other local, small establishments in successfully providing customers with an excellent product.

    “We do great haircuts and keep the standard very high,” he said.

    While he did not share bottom-line numbers, Raymond did say when the business first started out with four barbers, it was handling about 7,000 to 8,000 haircuts a year.

    Today, that number is more like 25,000, impressive considering the size of the male population in Oswego.

    “I would say we nailed it,” he said.

    Raymond said there are females who do come in, but it basically boils down to whether or not they are looking for a clipper cut and if they feel comfortable “hanging out with us in our environment.”

    “It’s not the he-man’s women’s hater club,” he joked.

    Raymond said thriving businesses in Canal Commons have become destination points for people who come into town as well as residents.

    “They want their coffee, chocolate, baked goods and haircut. It’s an all-in-one spot here,” he said.

    Maintaining high standards: Noel said the business spends a significant amount of time training its barbers.

    “That allows us to maintain a level of service necessary for our continued success,” said Noel, noting excellent customer service also contributes to its longevity.

    He noted the crew takes this aspect of its business seriously and has developed “many real relationships with many of customers.

    “Our aim is always to make lifelong customers with great haircuts and great customer service.”

    “The first thing we look for is a great personality and somebody who interacts with people well,” said Raymond, noting top barber candidates are generally “happy, social people who can chat with anybody.”

    Long-time customer Tom Stults says it all comes down to the quality of the cut.

    “I appreciate their consistent attention to detail, and I leave the shop feeling properly groomed each visit,” he said.

    “What I enjoy most about the experience is the overall feeling of camaraderie, between both the barbers and clients,” Stults said.

    Raymond said a haircut really changes a person’s day.

    “Someone sits in that chair and perhaps is not feeling well, and they get that haircut and suddenly their confidence is a little higher,” he said. “Perhaps they have a job interview or are going to a wedding, and they feel better about the way they look.”

    A cut above: When the business first started, haircuts were much simpler and more generic.

    “Everybody got this number two on the sides, finger length on top, flip up the front or a buzz cut,” he said.

    Today, however, Raymond said a renaissance is continuing where men are taking better care of themselves and want to look good.

    “Haircuts have become far more complex. When we first opened, customers would just ask for a ‘regular’ haircut,” Raymond said.

    Today, customers demand exactness.

    “Guys can tell you what size clippers to run on the side of their heads, where to run them, how long they want the top and how they want it to fall,” he said. “Everybody wants to express themselves as individuals.”

    “It takes longer, but it’s more gratifying from our end as well. It’s not so assembly-line anymore,” he said.

    “The trend right now is clean as possible, really short on the sides and clean edges. That is perfect because that is what we are good at,” he said.

    Driving men’s hair fashions are professional athletes and Hollywood, as well as men’s fashion magazines.

    Staying on top of the latest trends is not a huge task at The Good Guys.

    “Living in a college town, it comes right to our doorstep every fall,” Raymond said.

    He said haircut styles will trend with college students and then trickle down to high school ages and younger.

    SUNY Oswego is a significant demographic for the business.

    “Our business probably goes up 25 to 30 percent when the college returns,” Raymond said.

    He said word of mouth is paramount when it comes to drawing college students.

    Raymond said many students are from metro areas and they are accustomed to going to a barbershop.

    “When they come into town, the first things they look for are a good slice of pizza and a quality barbershop,” he said. “As soon as they find those spots, it spreads like wildfire in the fall. We take it as a compliment for sure.”

    Another trend is the rise in beards.

    “It seems like everybody has a beard. Sometimes that is the most important part of the whole service is that beard trim,” Raymond said.

    “I would say anybody who can grow a beard or can start a beard has some sort of facial hair now,” he said. “Shaves have gone down a lot but beard trims are way up.”

    Next year marks the business’ five-year anniversary. “We are going to do some renovations and just try to make it as nice as possible,” Raymond said.

    Some of those renovations may include a new marble tile floor and perhaps some traditional barber chairs from the 1960s, which are difficult to obtain and pricey.

    “They would really dress up the place nicely,” he said.

    “It’s always been a day at a time,” said Raymond in regards to his success. “It went from wanting to be a barber, to wanting to become the best barber, to having a vision for my own shop, and now owning my own shop,” he said.

    “We thought five barbers was the most Oswego can ever sustain. Now, where does it end? We don’t know. Now, we’re starting to see the bigger picture,” he added.