Jacks of London: A cut above in franchising

Jacks of London has given the traditional barbershop a facelift. Rachel Spaul explores Western Europe's first male grooming franchise

With the male grooming industry set for continued extensive growth over the next few years, Jacks of London is an appealing business opportunity for ambitious men and women with proven management experience and £40,000 liquid capital to invest. No hairdressing experience is required.

This revolutionary new barber shop is the brainchild of experienced salon manager and businesswoman Sue Whitehead. 'Our concept is aimed at the increasing amount of looks-conscious men out there who want more than just a short back and sides,' she says. 'At Jacks our customers don't just get a haircut, they get a lifestyle experience.'

Men visiting the first Jacks of London franchise in Kingston-upon-Thames can experience the success of this unique male-only environment, where in addition to your haircut or traditional cut-throat shave you'll find complimentary beers, plasma TVs showing sports, and personal MP3 players.

This concept is the result of comprehensive research into the male grooming market and what men look for from a barbers. Sue has found that men don't feel comfortable having their hair cut and styled in a unisex salon and prefer a male orientated environment with experienced barbers. She points out: 'The male grooming market has changed dramatically over recent years. Statistics show that the industry has grown by 560 per cent since 1998 and will continue to increase - and it's all because men are now taking far more interest in themselves and their appearance than ever before.'

Open seven days a week, with a team of 14 accomplished barbers and reported turnover of £750,000, the business system has proved to be a great success in the company-owned Jacks of London in Wimbledon. Sue is now aiming to establish around 20 salons in the UK through franchising and already has two pending for 2006. Julie Cherrington, who owns the first franchise in Kingston-upon-Thames, says she will definitely be opening a second shop in the future.

'I'm really excited about this business,' she reports. 'The Wimbledon branch attracts thousands of regular customers, including TV celebrities and premiership football stars. With our initial launch success I see no reason why we won't be doing the same thing here in Kingston-upon-Thames.

'Being positioned within close proximity of a Toni & Guy salon doesn't cause concern for us. They're a unisex hairdressing organisation and Jacks of London is totally male orientated. We offer a unique experience for men. We have the best barbers, middle of the road prices and the coolest environment any guy in need of a trim could wish for.'

Coming from a background in the armed forces and later BMW, Julie has no previous experience of the hairdressing industry. 'I joined the armed forces when I was just 17 and have lived all over the world. I have a lot of experience working in a male-orientated workplace so the men-only barber shop idea really appealed.'

With a strong brand in place, the Jacks of London marketing strategy includes utilising the internet to help drive customers into its stores. In addition to the innovative queue watch webcam system, men can now shop online for grooming products as well as browse the Jacks 'Style Guide' or 'Knowledge Centre' for interactive ideas and advice. Marketing Director Emma Whitehead elaborates: 'We employed top London-based design agency Pomegranate to create a really funky, but user-friendly look to our website and we're now spearheading an exciting new launch into online product sales. By using the latest animation techniques we can really get our customers involved.'

A Jacks of London franchise requires an investment of between £80,000 and £100,000 depending on the size of the store and its location. Sue predicts that each outlet will realise in the region of £100,000 of operating profit per year after three years. Although hairdressing experience is not a pre-requisite, franchisees do need a good business brain and experience of managing a team. 'We provide a complete support package that includes comprehensive barber training programmes for staff,' adds Sue. 'Marketing and promotional support, initial one-on-one training at our Wimbledon salon, plus further onsite training at the franchisee's own salon is also provided.'