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Dial-a-barber proof that COVID business strategies can work long-term too

A Kenyan entrepreneur whose desperate measures to keep going during COVID-19 lockdowns included a mobile, high-end barber service, is now the proud owner of a thriving business venture.

By Nasibo Kabale, bird story agency

On a Monday afternoon, a shiny black van branded pulls up at one of the busiest coffee houses in the upmarket suburb of Kilimani, Nairobi.

The driver stops briefly to consult his mobile phone before driving slowly to the basement where an associate in the passenger seat jumps out and slides open the side door to reveal a well-lit, wooden-floored interior with a barber’s chair in the middle, a big TV screen on a wall, and a sink at the back. A mirror runs the length of the inside roof.

Just to ensure there is no mistaking this for anything else, a large white sign displays a straight razor and the words "Barber Mobile" are writ big on the side of the van.

The van comes with free Wi-fi and a CCTV camera for security. It even has seats for queuing clients.

“Welcome, my name is Nicholas Katiza, your barber,” the man says to his client, who thanks Nicholas as he gets comfortable in the exquisitely-crafted, luxury salon chair, ready for his 3,000 Kenya shillings (US$25) haircut - and/ or shave.

Katiza, aka the Kenyan Barber, drapes a barber's cape over his client and gets down to work. An hour later, the client, Ahmed Abdikadir, is back in the coffee house chatting away with friends and the van is driving off to the next appointment.

One can easily get a haircut in Nairobi for just Sh200 (US$ 1.6) at a walk-in salon.

But for Addikadir the 3,000 shillings was well worth it.

“I love it because I can enjoy my coffee here with a friend and then take a few minutes to have a haircut as they wait for me in the coffee house,” he said.

The idea behind Barber Mobile belongs to Kenyan entrepreneur Abdi Ali.

Dial-a-barber proof that COVID business strategies can work long-term too

When the COVID-19 pandemic protocols and then, lockdown were imposed, Ali's world of quick deals as a local entrepreneur came to a near standstill.

Always one to come up with an idea, he took the biggest gamble of his career and entered the personal care and beauty market just as, according to strategic market research, Euromonitor International, the global market declined 3.3 percent.

Lacking experience as a barber, he teamed up with a friend and came up with the Barber Mobile business, which travels as far as Thika - about 40 kilometres from Nairobi's Central Business District.

“It was a fun project. As the van came empty as it was initially a cargo van, all I needed was to team up with the right carpenter, electrician and plumber and the end result is what you see today,” he said.

While the right partner was easy to find, the rest did not just fall into place and a few blunders cost him much more than he had budgeted for.

“Since it was my first time doing such a project there was a lot of trial and error and a couple of times I partnered with the wrong parties so I did go slightly above my budget which was 1.6 million shillings (US$13,000). But if I am to make another one it will cost me less,” he explained.

The end product is a spectacular piece of work. The van is divided into three parts, with the front being the driver section, the middle which is the mobile barber shop and then a storage section at the back houses the water tank and inverter batteries that supply power. There are solar panels on the roof of the van.

While 3,000 (US$25) for a haircut may seem steep for some, there are plenty who are willing to pay and for whom a call-out service is a huge convenience. It is not unusual for the van to have several customers from one call-out. For example, the client in Thika who paid for a haircut for himself and two of his sons. With extra personal care services the bill was 15,000 shillings (US$ 123).

The Barber Mobile has an average of three clients a day, with most being from middle and high-income brackets. Their willingness to spend on self-care is something that corroborates what the Euromonitor report indicates - that young adults - both men and women - in the millennial demographic are major purchasers of beauty and cosmetic products. With COVID very much in the rear mirror, Ali is now looking to set up his second van.

bird story agency


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