This is not just another story on how to keep male clients. You’ll take the hilarious advice of Pete Huels, barber and owner of Pete’s Barber Shop, to heart.
By Erin Gignac
Johnny Cash warmly greets you on a poster reading “CASH ONLY” as you walk into Pete’s Barber Shop in Chicago. Call it funny, but don’t call it cute or kitschy, OK? It’s just an extension of the fearless barber and owner’s personality, whose name is Pete Huels.
“I go to work in jorts. I’m not trying to be something I’m not,” he said.
He’s a barber first and an owner second, he said. Most recently, he’s been added to the Premier Beauty team, teaching classes and training stylists in Chicago on how to be a barber.
Toys, comic book stuff, horror paraphernalia line the walls of his small shanty at 2873 N. Elston Ave.
Sure, it’s a barber shop, but it’s also a tomb, a crypt, a creepy museum of whatever Pete’s into at the time—and that’s how most old-timey barber shops are.
“I finally found a place to put the stuff.”
You know what? It works. His personality, honesty and decency sells product. Whether it’s advice on lady friends, hot rods or hairstyles, he’ll tell you straight up what he’s thinking. This type of foolhardy banter keeps men waiting in line, sometimes for five hours, to get a haircut by either the Evil Barber Pete or his trusty sidekick, Evil Barber Mike. Quite the accomplishment for a shop that only opened four years ago with 40 meager patrons. Walk-ins only. First come, first serve. No appointments and no phone calls—especially during business hours. Any questions?
About Pete's Barber Shop
Once you meet Pete, you’ll never forget him. He’s one of those characters from a movie—a swashbuckling, dirty-mouthed barber/pirate of sorts. Don’t let his modesty fool you, though, because he was recently placed as No. 3 of Chicago’s 9 Most Skilled Barbers
list and he has quite the online following with his Facebook
. He knows his stuff. (Also, if you haven’t seen their videos, you haven’t lived.)
Once you inhale the initial sights and smells (we’re talking about hoards of men waiting for hours in line, here) of his shop, leave your name on the board and wait….and wait…and wait. You might be there for two to five hours but hey, at least there’s free beer
. The wait is the main problem, Pete said. However, he knows that people aren’t coming to his shop for the haircut anyway.
“I think they want to hang out and get the vibe.”
Advice on How to Keep Male Clients
Ask Pete for a straightforward answer on how to get customers and you won’t get it, but the advice is somehow given in an unspoken message. You need to read between the lines to get what he’s putting out there. Sometimes the answer in how to retain a male clientele is just to relax, which basically means poke fun of whoever and whomever you please. People love genuine people.
When he does offer a golden nugget of wisdom, his tips are not delivered in a neat, orderly fashion but in a batch of stories and scenarios where the receiver must decode the message. These tips will give you a feel for how he treats his customers and why they keep coming back. A reciting of these tips can only be presented as they were originally told to get the full Evil Barber Pete experience.
The Line that Wins Them Over
When a client tells him to work his magic, Pete says, “Don’t worry, it’s not gonna work out.”
Pete says, “That motto came up as a joke, like ‘It’s only a haircut dude. I can’t do anything for your face.’ I don’t claim to be the best barber. Nobody wants you to come in and hear you say that because when they don’t get the best haircut, they flip out.”
For more insults, watch their bizarre, creepy commercial:
The Consultation That Never Was
This is what should happen. A basic consultation goes like this. The client sits in the chair. You ask them how they want their sides: no skin, little skin or lots of skin. Then you ask them how they like to wear their hair: side, forward, back, long or shaggy. Now, cut their hair.
How to Handle the “I Don’t Know” Client
This is what usually happens. The client sits down in your chair. You ask, “What do you want today?” They say they don’t know. You press on further, “How old are you.” They answer with their age. You heckle them, “You’ve been getting your hair cut for 34 years and you still don’t know what you want?” That’s a tip he learned from his mentor, Joe Caccavella Sr. or “Papa Joe”, at Joe’s Barbershop in Logan Square.
Ask crucial questions. How long has it been since your last haircut? How was it? What didn’t you like? What did you tell the last person about what you wanted? If they answer “I don’t know” to all of these questions, throw you hands up in the air and kick them out…but not really.
Embarrassing Your Clients 101: Call and Response Answer
If a client asks how often they should shampoo, this question is met with a loud holler from Pete. “Hey Mike! How often do you shampoo your hair?” Mike replies, “Once a week!” Mike echoes, “Hey Joe! How often do you shampoo your hair?” Joe answers, “Once a week!” Who knows how long this conga line of call and response continues, but you can bet that the client will never forget the answer.
“I tell people to stop shampooing their hair every day. You work in an office—you don’t need to. Condition every day and shampoo once a week. Teach your customers how to take care of their hair and they’ll never leave.”
When Your Client Uses Drugstore Shampoo and Conditioner…
When a client sits in your chair, ask them what kind of shampoo and conditioner they use. They reply with an answer like “Suave” or “Head and Shoulders.” You ask them this question: “I have some bacon, eggs, watermelon and paper towels in the back. You want to buy them from me?” The client is confused and says no. You say, “Then why do you buy your hair care products from a grocery store?” Proceed to explain that the drugstore shampoo and conditioner might be the reason why their hairstyle is falling flat.
Work With Me Here: Haircuts are 50% Barber, 50% Customer
Tell the client that the haircut is 50% stylist, 50% client. They have to do their part with styling and using the correct product for the haircut to work.
Convincing a Client that Hair Product Works
When you hand a client a product, explain the steps and be confident. “Take this conditioner home, use it for two weeks. If it doesn’t make your hair look better, come back and I’ll refund you $12. I’m not telling you this because I have nothing better to do. I’m telling you this for a reason! Do this and your hair will work. I guarantee it.”
"Make Me Look Like Brad Pitt"
If a client shows you a picture of Brad Pitt and their hair looks nothing like Brad Pitt’s, you need to tell them that. “I had a client that showed me a picture of Brad Pitt. I said, ‘You know you’re Chinese, right?’ Their hair was nothing like the picture.”
Explain to the client that you can get their hair to look similar to Brad Pitt’s, but they’ll need a lot of hair product and styling to achieve the look. The customer has to understand the steps they’ll have to take.
“I told him that he’d have to flat iron his hair every morning and use loads of product.” If they don’t want to spend that much time on their hair, their hair won’t look like the picture. Hopefully you can direct them towards a cut that better suits their lifestyle.
Sure you can get a haircut or product like his anywhere, but you can’t get the camaraderie, the chatter or the scoop that his barber shop offers, Pete said. Isn’t that what really matters, after all? He’s selling a story. An experience. A feeling. Is it the right way? He doesn’t know. Is it his way? Totally.
As we wrap up our conversation, he finally talks about the product he offers: 40 different pomades, waxes, and petroleum-based products, all independently owned, all awesome and all for sale in his pomade store located at Pete’s Barber Shop. He does manage to slip in a joke though…
It’s about a client that recently sat in his chair. The man said he wanted hair like Gary Oldman.
Pete thought he said Gary Coleman. Hilarity ensued, fits of laughter followed.
“There’s no barber shop like mine.”
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Erin Gignac covers stories for Premier Beauty. Follow her on Twitter or view more of her work here.