Gents is a cut above

3 minutes read
Posted 23 April, 2024
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Henry Brain is at the helm of Shotover Street’s Gents Barbershop. The traditional and stylish barber also offers a whisky bar and lounge in addition to the array of services you’d expect. Brain’s been on this business journey for three years and has grown the shop to where it is now – over 350 clients a week walk through the doors – and he has desires to open more stores in the region in the next few years.

Brain has been in the industry for about 14 years now and has been working outside of the UK, where he’s originally from, for 10 of those. He came to Queenstown about six-and-a-half years ago and as he arrived, Gents was just opening up as an e-commerce business. He started as one of the first barbers in the shop and stepped into a management role.

“It was only one staff member at the time, just the director,” Brain says. “As the years have gone by the company has sort of grown and grown. About three years into operating the barber shop I was in a position where I could buy it from the owner as he was looking to venture out and do other things. I had the right skillset to acquire the business and I bought it two-and-a-half or three years ago now.”

The shop has continued to grow; it now boasts a team of seven, and while their clientele is predominately locals, they do have many people passing through stopping by for a service as well. The dynamic of a barbershop is an important one, and something that differs from a hairdresser.

“We’re trying to create an experience rather than a haircut. For the male grooming industry, what we try and do is actually make it more of a pleasure rather than a chore, and to try and culturally change that – in Europe and the UK it’s seen as rostered treat. It may be every second Thursday and they come in and they have a beer, they chat with their barber and they create long-standing relationships with their barber, and enjoy coming to the shop. Here in New Zealand, especially down in the South Island, it’s a bit of a chore.”

Brain and the team are working to change that mentality. They want the experience to be a treat for their customers, giving them the ability to come and sit at the bar, relax, and most importantly, leave with a premium haircut or shave. He wants to be a venue where they can host all of men’s grooming needs without them feeling uncomfortable or that they have to walk into a female-dominated business such as a salon. They try and carry on traditional barbering with a contemporary spin.

Brain has hopes of opening more shops within the region and scale up the business. He speaks of his journey to this point and that there was a lot of learning along the way. He says, in short, “it really is just fake it until you make it.” The network of people that he’s built up has helped, too. One of the benefits of seeing hundreds of clients a week is that you get to meet people from a diverse range of backgrounds.

“I’m not scared to be inquisitive or ask people any questions. After working here for so many years, you create a great relationship with people that have a lot of trust in you with certain topics – if you ask them about their business. You learn a lot from that. The business side of things, I think a lot of that comes down to time management. It was a tough learning curve for the first six months to understand how to do the marketing side or the accounting, admin – all of that stuff as well as still working five days a week. After a year, I’ve got on top of that, delegated and learnt where I’m best positioned and where’s best my role,” Brain says.

The most important thing in Brain’s business has always stayed the same – trying to change the way that men look at grooming and to provide the best possible service with a unique experience. You can read more about Gents and book in for a service at gents.co.nz

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