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“I grew up working in salons, answering phones, getting customers their glass of wine and a robe, and I thought, ‘Why doesn’t this exist for me?’” says Blind Barber Co-Founder and Executive Creative Director Jeff Laub.
What Laub created with three other co-founders (Matt Breen, Josh Boyd, and Adam Kirschenbaum) is pretty darn close—but targeting male clientele. Customers can not only get a haircut and shave, but they can also hang out at the full bar (dubbed Backroom) come evening, with music spun by DJs. Each service comes with a complimentary cocktail.
Among the signature drinks are Hot Heather (gin, tequila, Pamplemousse, pineapple, ginger and lime) and Batman (gin, Italicus Rosolio, Peychaud bitters, mint and lemon).
A speakeasy vibe is built into the branding to differentiate itself from other cocktail bars and also turn Blind Barber into more of a destination. “It’s a sea of sameness out there these days,” says Laub. “I would argue that branding is the most important part of the business.”
“Once you stroll into our modern-esque barber shops—stark white and black with pops of color—you kind of disappear. That’s a key word for us,” says Laub. “You disappear into this dimly lit ‘70s-inspired rec room with delicious cocktails and the coolest, friendliest bartenders you’ll ever meet.”
A customer’s entry point can be through three means: the grooming line, barbershop, or bar. What often happens is that they fall in love with one aspect and then experience the rest.
“At the core of it, we’re a bar in a barber shop. Every corner in the world needs one of those,” says Laub.
Now in five cities (Nashville, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and New York City), with seven locations total, one of the secrets to the business’ success is seeking out partners and employees who have good synergy.
For example, Boyd handles build-outs and expansions for future locations while Kirschenbaum serves as chief of operations. How they met is an interesting story: Boyd was about to sell a bar he owned in New York City’s East Village, but after reading Laub’s business plan, he converted that into the first Blind Barber location, which opened in 2010.
Then Breen came along, says Laub, because “we needed additional business acumen.”
Former customer Rob Wilce was so taken by the Blind Barber concept he traveled from North Carolina to the New York City location for haircuts. He and Laub quickly became friends and now he’s a partner, running the Chicago location—the best performing location to date as well as jumping into product development and partnerships, says Laub.
Another partner is Major League Baseball All-Star Bryce Harper, who plays for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Each location has its own twist, in addition to serving up signature cocktails. At the Highland Park location in Los Angeles, one can order from seven grilled-cheese sandwiches, including one with pastrami, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing.
Blind Barber won’t open in just any city or any neighborhood.
“We pride ourselves on our ability to integrate into the communities and bring a little bit of what we offer while also soaking up everything already present in these dynamic and eclectic neighborhoods all over the country,” says Laub. For example, Blind Barber doesn’t even post exterior signage.
“Our buildings simply say ‘barber shop.’ The reasoning behind it is we want to be the barber shop of that neighborhood and not be a TGI Friday’s or Supercuts that have multiple locations,” says Laub.
The newest location, in Nashville, opened on November 3, straddling The Gulch and Pie Town. “We saw what was happening in Nashville with the explosive growth. Last but not least, it’s built on music. It was kind of a no-brainer. There was no way we couldn’t be there,” says Laub.
Blind Barber has also brought in new partners and employees that fold seamlessly into Nashville’s live-music mecca, including singer-songwriter Ernest, who is now involved with the business.
Another expansion came with the launch of a grooming line in 2012. It began with just four products and now there are 28, including a Blind Barber x Bryce Harper collection.
Whether it’s sipping a Peroni, getting a clean shave or beard trim, or investing in a skin-care routine, Laub’s mantra rings true. “My approach has always been to create something that makes me feel good. We operate under that assumption that as long as we’re doing good things with good intentions, the money will show up,” says Laub.
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