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When cousins Danny Roblejo and Eddie Aja first decided to go into business together, a barbershop wasn’t even part of the discussion.
For one thing, both men happen to be bald.
“We had always wanted to build something together,” Roblejo said. “We always knew the name would be Primos [Spanish for cousins]. We just didn’t know what kind of business it would be.”
The cousins’ decision to get into the upscale men’s grooming business — hot towel shaves, beard trims, facials, hair coloring, shoeshines — was graced by perfect timing. Primos Barber Shop, which opened in Pinecrest in 2010, caught the cusp of a barbershop surge that has swelled into a boom and is bringing unexpected benefits to the retail and real estate industries.
The struggling brick-and-mortar retail industry, which is racing to reinvent itself in the era of e-commerce and dwindling patronage, is increasingly relying on service-oriented businesses — restaurants, gyms, barbershops — to keep customers coming to strip malls and shopping centers.
Real estate developers who use ground-floor retail to anchor apartment and condo towers are also wooing snazzy barbershops, which add value and convenience to their projects and require only modest space.
Primos is a textbook example of the barbershop effect. The cousins’ decision to go into the industry was mostly pragmatic. Roblejo, whose work history was in customer service, and Aja, who is an accountant, figured their combined skills would make a good fit with a service-oriented business.
“We didn’t know anything about barbering,” Roblejo said. “But we knew business in general is about providing good service and a good product. Once we learned a little bit about the industry, we felt like we could give it a shot.”
The Pinecrest shop has been so successful that the cousins opened a second location at 13666 SW 88th Street in West Kendall earlier this summer. Both of the Primos barbershops are tucked inside neighborhood strip malls anchored by national chains such as Walgreens, Panera Bread, For Eyes and Starbucks.
A growing industry
According to a statistical study by Statista, revenue of barbershops in the United States has grown from $510 million in 2011 to a projected $837 million in 2017. By 2020, Statista projects barbershops will rake in $910 million.
The barbershop boom follows a global explosion of male grooming products: One study estimates that men will spend nearly $61 billion on toiletries, deodorant and skin and hair care products in the year 2020. Adding fuel is the general population increase: The U.S. Census Bureau projects that the national population will balloon from its current 326 million to 400 million by 2039. That means a lot more guys will be in search of a good beard trim and haircut — especially in Miami, which was deemed the most facial hair-friendly city in the U.S. in 2016 by the clipper manufacturer Wahl, an authority on such things.
The U.S. barbershop industry is expected to generate $837 million in 2017.
In Miami-Dade, nearly every other neighborhood strip mall or shopping center seems to sport a red, white and blue barber pole. The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which licenses and regulates more than one million businesses around the state, currently shows 775 active licensed barbershops in Miami-Dade County, with 93 licenses pending. That works out to one barbershop every two square miles. (The numbers don’t include national chains such as Hair Cuttery, which use a cosmetology license.)
“We’re seeing this huge drive toward the old-school, quintessential barbershop,” said Robert Granda, director of South Florida retail investment sales for the real estate firm Franklin Street. “They’re popping up everywhere.”
Granda said that a big-box retailer such as Best Buy or Target will pay less per square foot than a smaller business because their space needs are larger. Those stores also help anchor a mall and generate foot traffic, so landlords offer them better deals.
“Barbershops are smaller spaces, so they are able to pay premium rents,” said Ana Barcelo, vice president of advisory and transaction services at the real estate investment firm CBRE. “They are usually open seven days a week, and they are great drivers throughout the entire day, because men don’t necessarily want to get a haircut over the weekend. They may want to do it on their lunch hour. When I’m putting a shopping center together for a client, [a barbershop] is one of the things I point out that they’re missing.”
Another facet of barbershops’ appeal to real estate owners is their speedy turnover rate. Even the new breed of upscale barbershop that offers services beyond a haircut — such as manicures and full body waxing — will see more customers during a regular business day than a beauty salon, where treatments can eat up a big chunk of an afternoon.
“Beauty salons are more destination-oriented,” said Katy Welsh, senior vice president of retail leasing services for Colliers International. “Women spend much more time there than men, because they don’t go there every couple of weeks. A barbershop can turn its chair over more often because the haircuts are quick, as opposed to a women’s salon where they’re sitting there for two hours and having small talk.”
More than a haircut
Some barbershops are going far beyond nose-hair trimming specials to build a client base. The Miami-based RazzleDazzle barbershop chain, which has four locations, was launched by a Dominican businesswoman with a love for theatricality. Her shops use movies, theater, booze and female barbers in corsets to provide clients with an experience closer to the psychedelic musical “Moulin Rouge!” than a Supercuts.
Small business owners aren’t the only ones taking advantage of the barbershop boom. 18/8, the fine men’s salon that opened its first location in Irvine, California, in 2002, began franchising its brand of upscale man-sanctuaries in 2012 with a location in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Today, the company has 90 locations around the U.S., including one on Miracle Mile in Coral Gables, and another 400 shops currently under contract or in process.
“We’ve got a broad national footprint,” said Paul Mitchell, the owner of the 18/8 Coral Gables location, which opened in May. “We’re not just in big cities like Boston and Chicago, but also in places like Omaha and Indiana.”
Mitchell says he has exclusive rights to open three more 18/8 locations in Miami and is looking for spots in Brickell, midtown and South Beach.
775 Number of barbershops with active licenses in Miami-Dade
J.C. Perdomo, the COO and founder of the Miami-based The Spot Barbershop, said his company is growing too. Founded in 2001, The Spot currently has six locations around the city, including South Miami, Doral and Little Havana, with three more due to open in spring 2018, including Merrick Park and Brickell City Centre.
“The baby boomers are passing away and Generation X always understood the appeal of men’s grooming,” Perdomo said. “Chains like Hair Cuttery or Supercuts never really opened up the industry, because they don’t have the right people cutting hair.”
Perdomo said that all the barbers at his shops have at least five years of experience, because one of the key drivers of the new barbershop boom is that you can get a better haircut there.
Real estate developers are even starting to think about barbershops as potential tenants before their projects have been built. Henry Torres, president of Astor Companies, said he is looking for the right mix of businesses to fill the 19,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor of the 10-story luxury residential project Merrick Manor, which is expected to be completed in 2019.
“This new kind of barbershop appeals to people who are looking for a different experience, but they also help the other businesses around them,” Torres said. “You come in, you get a drink, you talk to other people — it’s very old-fashioned. They’re not inventing anything new; they’re just bringing back traditions people like. I’m an older guy so I’m not into the crazy styles of hair. That’s what the kids do today. But I am seeing a lot of guys going into these places and spending $50 on a haircut and treating themselves. Men like to get pampered too. I guess we live in a different era now.”
Although the services may be old-school, these new barbershops are also employing modern technology. Primos has developed an app that allows customers to make a reservation on their phones. The company also uses social media such as Facebook and Instagram to spread awareness of its services.
Though some of these upscale barbershops can be expensive, Primos has kept its prices competitive ($25 for a haircut and shampoo), hoping to appeal to a wide demographic.
The strategy seems to be working: A third Primos location is already in the planning stages.
“We’re looking down the road,” Roblejo said. “Our intention is to continue to grow. We’re an affordable luxury because we’re affordable, but we’re a step up from a mom-and-pop $10 haircut. The focus of our experience here is a great haircut, but it was very important for the shops to have a classic feel. When you walk in, you transport yourself into another era. This is something my grandfather would feel good about.”