“5 things I learned when I opened an inclusive barber shop for all”

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Running a brick-and-mortar business can be challenging at the best of times, let alone during a global pandemic. Hairdressing trailblazer Syreeta Levy shares what she’s learned since opening Levy & Co – a London barber shop where everyone is welcome, regardless of gender or hair type…

Non-DIY haircuts have been off-limits for months at a time over the last two years. 

But Levy & Co, an inclusive barber shop in north-west London, has survived the pandemic thanks to its status as a treasured pillar of the local community – and continues to thrive.

Fascinated by the transformative power of haircuts from a young age, founder and owner Syreeta Levy would watch men walk into her local barber’s and, as she puts it, “leave looking like new people”.

She later trained in Turkish barber shops in Croydon, before going on to work in the City and the West End. 

Before Syreeta’s beloved brother died suddenly in 2019, he made her promise that she would one day open her own shop. Levy & Co threw open its doors in Kensal Rise later that year.

Here, Syreeta shares the key lessons she’s learned since launching her own business.

1. You can make a tangible difference to your customers’ lives


“Inclusivity is what drives me. Barber shops are often thought of as traditionally male spaces, but we have a lot of female customers who come into the shop. 

“We don’t shy away from females coming in or giving them a haircut – we embrace them. Lots of LGBTQ+ people come into the shop because they know that I’m a lesbian, and it makes them feel so much better that they can speak to me about whatever they want without having to pretend they’re something they’re not.

“In my barber shop, the customer also has a voice for the next half an hour. It’s not just about getting a haircut, it’s a place of peace and comfort. 

“Barbering is like a form of counselling, and it was my goal to create a space that’s open for all. 

“The power of being able to talk about things that affect everybody changes the whole dynamic of being in a barber shop.”

2. Never stop talking to your clients


“Communication is key for me, because my customers are literally 100% of my business. 

“I recently changed Levy & Co’s hours so that we stay open late two days a week. 

“I’d been talking to customers about their work schedules – because at this stage in the pandemic, people are going back to the office, maybe two days a week, maybe three. 

“I was conscious that people might start going back to their old habits and getting their hair cut in the city after work.

“So I started asking my clients questions to identify what hours they’re doing now, when they finish work and whether they’d like us to stay open later. 

“It’s all research: ‘How would you feel about having an eight o’clock appointment on a Tuesday?’ ‘Oh, I’d love that!’ The decision to stay open later has definitely paid off. Everyone thinks it’s great.

“We also get plenty of feedback through the reviews people leave on our Google Business Profile. It’s one of the first things you see if you search online to find barbers in the local area. 

“During the pandemic, we had a 70% increase in bookings, which all came in via the website. When we could open up again, I had to do a lot of fixing. I fixed a lot of home haircuts – and even helped fix a few relationships.”

3. Leadership requires you to change your state of mind


“Running Levy & Co is my first time being a boss, so I’ve had to manage my own journey from employee to employer.

“You can really get on with your colleagues, but you always need to have that boss mentality in your mind and remember that it’s your name and your business on the line.

“Particularly as a female running a barber shop, if you have men working alongside you, they might want to take over.

“But it’s your premises, so you have to be strong and firm.

“I’m learning how to maintain that boundary – I’m in charge – while still making sure that Levy & Co is a nice environment to work in.”

4. Be visible in your community


“The best way to build a community of clients is to be part of a community. 

“I’m a regular at the local coffee shops in Kensal Rise; I’ve always got people coming up and asking if they can book an appointment. 

“We strive to make sure that the shop door is always open, so people can just come in and have a chat. We want to give everyone a great experience, so they know that everyone’s welcome.

“Google really helped introduce me into the neighbourhood of Kensal Rise in the beginning. Without the online presence I built through my Google Business Profile, it might be difficult for anyone to identify what my barber shop is all about. 

“But by using that tool, people can see photos and videos of the space, and get a feel for what we represent. I’ve also added ‘LGBTQ+ friendly’ and ‘Women-owned’ tags to the business in Maps to reinforce that messaging.

“On top of that, our business profile makes it easier for people to book direct appointments with us, which we’ve been seeing more and more, especially post-pandemic. ”

5. Accept that you’ll need to delegate


“When I first opened Levy & Co, it was literally just me in the shop. 

“I was flying solo for a long time, working 12 hour days, seven days per week. I definitely didn’t have time to do everything.

“But at the same time, I know I can be a bit of a control freak. It’s my business, so I know how things work and how I like things to be done. Delegating is hard.

“Now, though, I’ve got another part-time member of staff, and when they’re in the shop, I try to take advantage of that. I cancel my diary for a few hours, or even half the day, and focus on other areas of the business – from updating Levy & Co’s online presence to catching up with my admin and accounts. 

“You’ve got to be on top of everything as a boss; at the same time, you also have to know when to chill out and take a breather. It’s definitely a learning curve. But I’m getting there!”

People all over the UK are learning new skills with Google to move their career or business forward, helping their communities, and the British economy, grow. Find out more about the tools and training available to you at Google.

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