While it’s a place that most of us visit only once every six weeks – to have our quiffs coiffed into something that no longer resembles Tom Hanks in Castaway – barbers and hairdressers play a significant role in the male social experience, and the bee in most lad’s barnets was how the hell they were going to survive lockdown without getting their tresses trimmed.
Barbering has a vivid history. The Middle Ages saw barbers performing surgery and dentistry as standard complementary services, and more recently they have provided a thriftier alternative to the psychologist’s couch, supplying clientele with a safe space for an intensive therapy consultation, all for the price of a haircut.
Emotional support aside, a barbershop’s purpose of preening still reigns supreme. As anyone who saw Bradley Cooper’s wet-look ringlets for his role in American Hustle can vouch for, the right (or in Cooper’s case, wrong) haircut can shift the needle dramatically, and it’s an industry that has seen its fair share of questionable fashion statements in the last half-century alone.
If there’s one Island salon that’s seen it all, it’s Ron Smiths, an understated powerhouse of hairdressing creativity.
Founded in 1981 by its eponymous owner, the first Ron Smiths’ salon opened in the Villa Marina Arcade, and in the thirty years that followed, the brand (at its peak) expanded to have eight salons Island-wide.
Having retired in 2012 after 30 successful years in business, Ron Smith sold his business and trading name to Lydia Quayle, whose introduction to the Ron Smiths’ brand started at the age of 14 with a Saturday job sweeping hair. Lydia now continues to run the two salons in Douglas town centre (Castle Street and Howard Street) on the same sites they have been for the last 35 years.
The two salons share a team of eight members of staff with a whopping 150 years of collective experience in the hairdressing and barbering industries, and there’s a real wealth of knowledge and experience that allows them to remain at the forefront of change and style.
Ron Smiths’ scrapbook reads like an A to Z understanding of hirsute fashion, from the flattops of the ‘80s right through to the quiffs and comb-overs of the 2010s: it remains to be seen whether the buzzcut will continue its trajectory following its moment in the spotlight as the coronavirus’ craze du jour.
For brands established in the early eighties, it’s commercially important to evolve and grow to stay relevant in today’s digitally-conscience landscape, and Ron Smiths have taken the necessary steps to ensure the brand has longevity as they head into their next 40 years of trading.
Its Castle Street salon recently underwent a complete renovation ready to reopen following the lifting of lockdown, and Howard Street underwent a full redesign complete with modern adornments, bespoke wallpaper, and an impressive doubling in floor size with the help of some clever demolitions.
Like many small businesses worldwide, post-lockdown meant adapting to a radically different retail world, with social distancing and nervous customers afraid of catching the virus.
Now the Isle of Man is free of such restrictions, the investment Ron Smiths made to be post-lockdown compliant is actually a major bonus to its customers. UV sanitisers for mobile phones means both barnets and devices leave the salon squeaky clean and, as we no longer have to queue outside the co-op for milk and bread, for Ron Smiths’ customer gone too are the days of queueing for a haircut.
Commissioning DotPerformance to create a bespoke booking software has enabled patrons to join an online, real-time queue through the Ron Smiths’ website, with a five-minute email/text alert received once you reach the front. No need to pay for several hours parking, simply pull up when it’s time for your chop.
It’s this adaptation of the new-normal that keeps Ron Smiths at the forefront of offbeat unisex barbering. Since the early ‘80s, they’ve liked to do things their own way, kicking to the kerb all the boring bits of barbering and salvaging the little things that they love.