Traditionally, barbershops were for male clients, and salons were for female clients; today, this is no longer the case. Many beauty and style establishments are opening their doors to clients of both sexes, and new business models — like the men’s salon — are cropping up. Today, it’s not uncommon to find a unisex barber.
When you are weighing barbershop opportunities as an entrepreneur, consider the potential benefits and drawbacks of opening a unisex barbershop.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
The strengths and weaknesses of unisex barbershops are largely intertwined with one another. For example, one strength is that by serving both sexes, a barbershop can increase its client base and its earnings. However, by serving this larger client base, the barbershop also runs the risk of potentially alienating traditional clients who seek a single-sex environment.
Strength: Larger Client Base
Perhaps the most significant benefit of bringing a unisex barbershop to the market is providing an all-genders option for haircuts, shaves and other cosmetic services. This is a great option for families who bring multiple, different-sex children for haircuts, gender-nonconforming individuals, and heterosexual couples who want to have cosmetic services done together. Beyond individuals in these categories, a unisex barbershop offers services to every member of a community.
An extensive client base also means providing more services. As an entrepreneur weighing barbershop opportunities, study your market to determine whether providing additional salon services such as nail service, waxing, professional makeup and spa services would generate enough revenue to justify the equipment and skilled employees needed to provide them. If not, simply offering haircuts may be the savvy business choice.
Weakness: Specialized Equipment Required
In general, women and men expect different services from the salons and barbershops they visit. If your barbershop provides services for women, you likely need to invest in specialized hair-coloring equipment, hooded hair dryers, and a wide variety of products for shampooing, conditioning and styling different types of hair.
For a barbershop that provides services for men, you need to invest in shaving equipment. While this equipment does not cost a barbershop as much as the kind of equipment necessary to provide most women’s salon services, offering both means having to invest in a substantial amount of specialized equipment.
Strength: Fewer Chances of Facing Discrimination Claims
Single-sex barbershops have faced gender discrimination claims because of their customer gender policies. With a unisex barbershop, you eliminate the chance of facing this type of claim.
If your single-gender barbershop faces a discrimination lawsuit, it doesn’t matter if you win the case or not. Facing this type of legal action draws attention — positive and negative — to your business and can potentially drive away customers. Operating a unisex barbershop means never having to face the potential backlash of facing a discrimination claim and avoids the need to pay for your legal defense in that type of situation.
Weakness: Potential Drawback for Clients
While many clients appreciate a unisex barbershop, some potential clients might be turned off by the idea of having members of the opposite sex present while they receive cosmetic services. Many men view the barbershop as a male sanctuary, a place to speak freely without fear of judgment from women, and many women view salons in a similar manner.
When weighing barbershop opportunities within your community against one another, research how community members feel about unisex barbershops. Do this through social media posts and surveys and by studying the other salons and barbershops in town to determine what kinds of services and atmospheres resonate with the community.
Lindsay Kramer has been a full-time writer since 2014. In that time, she's experienced the ups, downs and crazy twists life tends to take when you're launching, building and leading a small business. As a small business owner, her favorite aspect about writing in this field is helping other small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs become more fluent in the terminology and concepts they face in this role. Previously, she's written on entrepreneurship for 99designs and covered business law topics for law firms.