A tall grey building in Karachi’s Bukhari Commercial has just opened its doors with ‘Factory Barbers’ emblazoned on the front. The interior is utilitarian, all silver metal and glass, the barbers' chairs lined up with precision in front of mirrors, quite like an assembly line at a factory, as the name implies. But what is a ‘factory of barbers’?
According to stylist Nabila, this latest addition under her brand’s umbrella is a fuss-free, efficient solution to men’s grooming, achieved with factory-like precision.
But Nabila already has a salon dedicated to men’s grooming needs, the plush, high-end N-Gents with its leather-lined armchairs, cigar lounge and Turkish baths. What then was the need for a 'factory'?
“N-Gents is my son Zair Maqsood’s brainchild and he observed that the salon had a specific, regular clientele that enjoyed getting groomed at leisure,” said Nabila. “But then, there is a different market as well, who want quick, efficient grooming on a budget. The team at Factory Barbers is trained by me but the services are at affordable price points.”
The prices at Factory Barbers are all below Rs 2,000 (excluding tax) and the salon has just started operating. With haircuts for Rs999 and shaves for Rs499, the prices fall well below the regular N-Gents' rates.
“Factory was supposed to be operational last year,” said Maqsood. "I started setting up the building in January 2020 but then the coronavirus hit the business very badly. For a while, all expansion problems were put to a halt and my sole aim was to be able to pay our staff. Now though, business is getting better although it’s still not the same as it used to be. There are still some very slow days although the weekends are great.”
With the world still writhing with the economic crunch induced by the coronavirus, Maqsood decided that it was time to open up Factory. “There’s a lot of space in the building which allows social distancing requirements to be fulfilled easily. We’re also not compromising on hygiene. There are so many men who find getting a haircut very mundane. Some of them can’t spend too much on grooming while others just don’t want to," he explained.
"I am thinking of young college students, men with busy work schedules, aspiring models, artists and actors."
He has also noticed that some clients come to N-Gents just once or twice a year. "Perhaps as a special treat that they save up for on Eid or at a close wedding. They fill up the rest of the year with trips to roadside barbering shops. With Factory, we want to fill up this gap, offering them an affordable easy solution. I can see more Factory outlets opening up across the city while N-Gents is more niche and can only perhaps expand to two or three more branches.”
Won’t the more affordable Factory eat up some of the profits of N Gents? “I don’t think so,” said Maqsood. “Factory offers more basic services while N-Gents is more specialised, with groom packages, hand and foot repair, grooming options in a private space and imported products. The products we’ll be using at Factory will be of good quality but more cost effective and possibly locally manufactured.”
In the near future, Maqsood also wants the space at Factory to be available to artists who want to work on a project or collaborate together. “I wouldn’t want to charge struggling artists money to use our space and would like for them to feel comfortable utilising the building, maybe even display their work if they want to.”
In fact, they would be helping the brand. “The entire vibe that we want to create at Factory is edgy and young so they will be adding to it. It’s a win-win.”