I Cut My Hair In Jagna Barber Shop

[Emma, LI Dongyi]

It is said that entrepreneurs can have thriving businesses in a bad economy and the trick is to choose the right business. I’m glad that our business-owner Ruben chose a business that can basically weather any bad economies or recessions — barbering, as apparently no matter if you are poor or rich, you grow hair.


Now, before I start to describe what I observed in Jagna Barber Shop, I’d like to spend a whole paragraph to blame Anchit, my dear work partner, who was stupid enough to drop his phone in water during a “cave-exploring adventure”. If you find this passage very boring to read, that’s because he lost all the good pictures we took, especially the ones of me having a haircut in the shop on the first day we came there.

But yea, I feel both honored and satisfied after becoming the first female customer ever in Jagna Barber Shop’s 20 years history. I chose Toto as my barber for he has the best record on Ruben’s little board hanging in the shop showing the number of haircuts each barber have given during the day. And also because Ruben kept telling me Toto is good at trimming girls’ hair, which I later found a lie as Toto has probably never cut any girl’s hair before (one point for you, Ruben).


The experience of getting my hair cut by Toto was no worse than those I had in Hong Kong. Actually I would recommend any girl in Jagna to get a haircut there but I know they would still prefer the “all-female salons” in the market (probably because of their conservative culture). But that is totally fine as simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. It is never a bad choice for a barber shop to focus on its core: men’s haircuts and haircuts for men. As unconventional as the business structure of barber shops is, focusing on doing one thing well and not confusing the market with a lot of services can give the owner more time to focus on the operations and finances — and even better, on the basketball games and Indian lotteries.

“If you fulfill the wishes of your employees, the employees will fulfill your visions.”  Amit Kalantri.

Instead of attempting to drum up customers by some fancy marketing or shop refurbishing (though the shabby corner shop can really use some refurbishment to live up to such a nice location), Ruben really impressed me with two things: he knows how to recruit and keep good barbers, and he knows how to set a perfectly relaxing but still manly ambiance for his customers.

Just like most barber shops in the rest of the world, the majority of people coming to Jagna Barber Shop are “SUKIs”, as in English, “regular/frequent customers”. With good communication and relationship building skills, barbers can be your friends, confidantes and trusted service providers. That’s why good barbers are real treasure to barber shops: they bring their SUKIs with them when they join, and they offer customers the just-right services that would make them feel comfortable of going back and bring some more friends along with them. During our conversation I can tell that Ruben was so proud that he managed to dig his all-star barber Toto from the big rival Bonnie’s, which came up in the conversation later when Toto joked that “people in Philippines are very friendly and hospitable, except those in the Bonnie’s”. A TV is also present in Jagna Barber Shop (we were told that the cable almost takes half of the monthly expense) for the guys to watch NBA on ESPN, and some insider betting are going on among the barbers and some SUKIs when there’s a big game. And I noticed that another good barber Mars knows what he’s doing as well, for after a haircut he always offers his best customers a little extra, like a quick trim around ears (a little bit regret that I didn’t choose Mars as my barber since I do have one chin hair that kind of needs to be taken care of. Just one, I swear…).

So back to the first thing I said, I’m glad that Ruben made a smart decision to enter into barbering business and that he is actually doing quite well right now. Though I don’t think he actually “chose” to become a barber as I may have overheard something when I was binge-viewing the beautiful scene of a busy morning in Jagna market that Ruben’s father was a barber himself when he was around. But hey, who am I to judge, countless lawyers became lawyers just because some family members are lawyers; I chose accounting major just because my parents asked me to. Maybe it’s true that most of the poor run their own businesses because they have no other options. But how many of us are really wise enough to take time to sit down and think what we want to be or what we could be before we make our life decisions?


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