PAR Blog Of The Week: Where Have All The Barbers Gone?

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With the introduction of Apple's iScissors and the subsequent release of Microsoft's PC-Barber the great American tradition of the small, independent barbershop (or salon) has been severely wounded and faces potential extinction. A profession that once required training, instinct, people-skills and expertise has largely been replaced by the aforementioned software and GPS-guided, WiFi scissors/clippers that aid, simplify and automate the difficult process of hair styling for the novice.

The success of such software, and its subsequent adoption by mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, has launched a whole new cottage industry of technologically savvy, trend-setting “digi-stylists” who may be short on fundamental know-how or the finer points of customer satisfaction, but are tall on innovation, genre-bending and pragmatism. These PC-guerilla stylists are cutting hair in often inadequate environments, with now widely available “lower cost/quality” tools, but they're pulling off some news-worthy, trend setting cuts. Establishment barbers and stylists have likewise adopted the use of such hardware and software, but it many cases it’s “too little, too late” -- as young customers gravitate to the modern, edgy, often home-based PC salons with their promises of ultra-fast service, a look “every bit as good as a real stylist” and (of course) low, low, really low prices.

Since price competition is a venue that traditional barbershops and salons dare not enter into with the low-overhead, digi-vanguard, established cutters and stylists are turning to a more complicated argument: that traditional haircuts are really and truly better: 

“Look more closely, deep into the cut and find depth, more skillful layering, a grasp of subtlety and nuance that no computer can automate or execute.” This is what the pros are saying. The thing is, they may be right. Or are they crying over spilt milk?

So, does someone pay the traditional pro to do it “right” and with all “the right tools,” training and proper environment … or does today's style-conscious load their laptop with PC-Barber and risk truly creative self-expression? Celebrity self-stylists aren't helping the traditional argument, as some are fabulously showing deep hidden talents with creative styles, innovative rule breaking and are capturing the public's imagination with their anti-establishment flair. 

Then again, some famously self-styled celebrity stumbles have reminded consumers of the very real risks of PC-assisted styling. “I don't want to be remembered as 'the-cute-and-talented-but-where-has-she-disappeared-to’ actress who ended her career with a fit of completely unchecked self-expression,” quipped one reticent risk-taker who asked to not be named.

Fact or fiction? Or some parallel universe that is not unlike pro audio production?

The real question -- are any trades truly safe in our “new economy?”

Rob Tavaglione has owned and operated Catalyst Recording in Charlotte NC since 1995. Contact him by clicking here