How Jawed Habib made hair cutting trendy and being a barber an acceptable profession
He is a graduate in French literature, but now he hardly finds any time for prose or poetry – because he is busy travelling across different cities in India training people on how to cut hair, telling them about hair styling, looking good and feeling good. Jawed Habib is today a well-known figure in the beauty business, but when he started out in the industry, hair cutting or being a barber was anything but glamorous. While a large part of this perception is now over, Jawed has in his own unique way made a difference in changing the way people look at this profession. Being a hair stylist is today more acceptable than 40 years back and given the time people spend in looking good, Jawed should take a bow for playing an important role in this change.
A large part of the grooming and wellness frenzy that we witness today was absent when Jawed decided he wants to change the way Indians look. “When I started doing my workshops in 1986, people would come and ask me to teach them a Sadhana cut or a Dimple cut, educating them about things beyond this was very exciting,” says Jawed. After his graduation from Jawarharlal Nehru University in French literature, Jawed went to London's Morris School of Hair Design to specialize in hair coloring, setting and dressing out. The outlook in the West was very different from how Indians perceived the space and that is an opportunity Jawed spotted.
Building a brand
Call it beginners luck or an astute business sense, Jawed very early on realized that people would need haircuts forever and went about it in an organized manner. He setup 50 salons across many cities in the country in the first five years. Most places he would train the staff himself and open stores with the help of franchisees. He was extremely hands on in his approach and would conduct workshops and seminars to pull in the crowd to the salons he had started.His earlier clientele were mostly housewives and families who came for a differentiated experience to Jawed Habib salons compared to their neighbourhood parlours. But even the housewives back then would ask for minimal work, because of the fetish we Indians have for long hair. Today Jawed has 400 salons across 92 cities in India and he has set himself and ambitious goal of opening 2,500 more salons in another five years.
Jawed comes from a family of barbers and his father Jahir Habib used to be the personal barber for the Nehru family. However Jawed decided to venture out on his own because of his inherent streak of entrepreneurship. “I learned a lot from my stint at McDonald’s in London. It gave me the vision to build a business, because if McDonald’s could sell burgers across the world, getting a haircut is a more important need,” says Jawed.
In the early days he worked with many local agents in each city to help organize wokshops and spread the word about his skills. Most participants in his workshop have been students keen to learn the art of cutting. However his association with celebrities and the high profile people, helped give the Jawed Habib brand more visibility. Jawed says he has been able to make an impact because he talks of hair and beauty as a science and not as much a skill. “There are various nuances of haircare that I share during these workshops and seminars which is so much more to learn than just cutting,” says Jawed. It is perhaps this demystification that has made Jawed Habib a favourite among the masses today. Today there are three different entities that operate under the Jawed Habib brand name -- Habibs Hair & Beauty Studio Private Limited, Jawed Habib’s HairXpreso Private Limited and Jawed Habib Hair & Beauty Studio Private Limited.
Sometime back Jawed was planning an IPO to raise money for expansion and if reports from that time is to be believed his brand is worth Rs 300 crore. The plans to go the IPO route were subsequently delayed because of a slow market and now Jawed has trained his eyes on the luxury segment of the grooming business. He recently launched his first store of JH Bevels – which is looking to tap into the high profile crowd, by providing a differentiated experience and being an aspirational player.
The journey of entrepreneurship
We asked Jawed all the usual questions one asks about challenges, struggles and problems that he faced in his entrepreneurial journey. And Jawed says he’s had none. “I live one day at a time. I solve any problem at hand and don’t think too much,” says Jawed about his mantra for success. Jawed is extremely confident about his own skills and that he thinks has helped him overcome all problems. “If a franchise is worried about rentals, I will go to his salon and cut hair for a day and help him cover the costs,” says Jawed.
Despite the meteoric growth, Jawed says he still loves cutting hair and talking to his clients, because that is the time he gets to understand their real needs and demands. “Insights gained from these conversations has helped me innovate on my offerings and stay relevant.” Jawed today has a core staff of 100 people whom he relies on for carrying out the various operational responsibilities attached to his company.
Jawed’s never the die philosophy and a positive attitude has helped him stay relevant amidst growing competition. He does make entrepreneurship sound like a very easy thing and maybe for all the method there is in the space today, an important ingredient that Jawed says is important for success is “madness and passion. If you don’t have these two things, all the number crunching will not serve you much,” offers Jawed.