The Sleeping Barber Story


Once upon a time a young man working under the tutelage of other barbers decided it was time to take a chance on himself.  His family had long history in the craft dating back to the Barber Surgeons of England.  The barber wanted to carry on the family tradition in his own way.  He’d been saving up his entire life for this moment.  Finally, the value of his savings matched the opportunity for a lease in a good area.


The Barber had concerns about signing the lease because there had been a high turnover rate of past tenants.  The attractive lease rate was  the result of one minor abnormality in the layout.  The small space had two rooms.  In one room, the barber would have to cut hair.  In the other, clients would wait.  The barber wouldn’t be able to see directly into his waiting room.  He wouldn’t be able to see clients walk into his shop and feared that without peering around the corner he might not know if clients were waiting.


“I got a heck of a deal on the lease” said the Barber


After much thought, the young man mustered the courage to invest his life savings in the shop.  The layout wasn’t ideal, but the barber though he could make the best of it.   From that moment, he became his own boss, joined the fellowship of entrepreneurs, picked up his marketer badge and began to learn about customer service.


The barber spent a lot of time chatting with other barbers and entrepreneurs.  He excitedly told them about his new business venture.  He told them of his limited resources.  He shared concerns about his layout issue.  He asked for advice.  During one of these chats, one of the barber’s more senior confidants gave some advice that stuck.


“Layout problem? That’s the least of your worries.  You cut hair when you’ve got a client.  You sleep when you don’t.  The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing.  Make sure that every customer you cut or shave walks away feeling better about themselves than when they sat down in your chair.  Promise them a great experience. Then make sure they get one.”



The barber lived by this advice. The layout wasn’t perfect but business was good.  He wasn’t sure how to manage his cash flow.  He was worried about growth.  But he kept his word – he promised a great experience and made sure his clients got one.  His customers came back.  They brought friends.  The barber cut hair when he had clients and slept when he didn’t. The barber was happy.


The Barber – “Hard At Work”


Over years, the barber’s business grew.  He bought an adjoining space to make room for more barber chairs on one side of the wall.  A few years later he bought more space on the other side of the wall to make the waiting room bigger.  The barber hired more staff.  As he grew, his revenue did as well. Life for the barber was good.


But as is the way with business, nothing lasts forever.


While the barber was growing, several new barbershops opened in the area.  There were more competitors than ever before and a few of them offered haircuts and shaves for a fraction of the barber’s price. Feeling the heat from competition, the barber began advertising his business.  He needed seats filled.  He needed to pay rent.  He needed to pay staff.  He needed results now.  At first, advertising was easy.  The barber put out an ad, and people came in. The barber had only a handful of advertising choices and picking a big audience was easy.


In time, the barber sensed things were changing.  The barber made ads with claims to compete on price.  Then his competitors did.  The barber offered discounts on his services.  Then his competitors did.  The barber made claims to compete on customer service.  Then his competitors did.  The barber tried to say his message louder.  Then his competitors did.  It seemed that the more he tried to separate himself from others, the more like them the barber became.


The more he spent, the less he seemed to get back.  Business was ok, but it seemed harder to get people through the doors.  The barber found it hard to count any effect to his advertising.   The barber thought something must have changed but he couldn’t put his finger on it.


Back in the shop, the barber still cut hair when he had customers. But he was too wound up to enjoy his clients. As was his custom, the barber tried to sleep when he didn’t have customers.  But he was too agitated to rest.  The barber spent so much time thinking about his next ad and the next bad review that he no longer slept in his chair.  At the end of the day, neither the customers nor the barber walked away happy.  It was not business as usual.



One day, while chatting with a new employee about the next ad, an epiphany hit the barber like a set of clippers to the head.  In that moment, the barber realized he’d forgotten the main thing. While he was busy making ad after ad, promise after promise, the barber had forgotten what kind of experience he was supposed to deliver.  He lost track of the main thing and wanted to get back to it.

In search of answers, the barber decided to attend a conference for entrepreneurs.  The barber heard this message.


As soon as the speaker finished, the barber called upon his old confidants and asked for the name of a guide.  He wanted help from someone who understands the rules business success in times of turbulence.  The barber hired a guide and with his help, the barber and his staff had decided to make some changes.


The barber’s team chose to be bold about why they were in business.   The team realized that to be successful, they would have to be more like Starbucks.  Their future of the business wasn’t about cutting hair, it was about delivering an experience.  The team realized that it was them, and not their ads, that made their business unique and special.  The team, who worked on both sides of the dividing wall, rallied around putting the customer experience first.  They believed their existing customers could be the best advertising the barber ever had. The barber and his team chose to take a stand and design an experience so consistently delightful that customers would want to talk about it.


The barber and his staff chose to focus their resources on two priorities.  First, they decided to concentrate on listening to customers so that they could better understand them.  They felt that by empathizing with their customers, they could learn how to make them happy.   Second, the barber’s team chose to focus on delivering a consistently delightful experience.  The barber’s team and their guide went to work designing that experience, how it would be delivered and how it was communicated.



All of the staff would be accountable to the happiness of the customer in front of them.  All staff made sure to share pertinent customer information with one another.  That meant that one staff member would always be on each side of the dividing wall and relaying information to the other about what was going on.  They took turns speaking to customers.   The took turns finding ways to add more benefit to the customer experience.  Ideas on how to improve flowed throughout the shop.  Staff morale picked up because each of them knew how important their job was in ensuring the customer walked away happy.The plan that the barber’s team implemented aligned with both their own business goals and their customer’s changing communication style.



The barber found that saying he would commit to the change was easy.  In reality, at least for the short-term, the doing part was much more work.  But because everyone had a say, the barber and his staff committed to the process.


Each month the team reviewed and adjusted their actions.  As customers came back for cut after cut, the staff noticed a change mirrored in them.  The customers seemed happier.  The customers seemed to bring in more friends.  They didn’t even complain about the price increase.  Slowly the barber’s advertising message changed too.  Ads that once exploded with fast talk about price were eventually replaced by emotional ads about the barber’s brand truth.


The barber and his staff took a keen interest listening to every review. To every one that was positive, the barber was grateful.  To every one that was negative, the barber was grateful for the opportunity to correct it.   The barber thought it true that you can destroy and enemy by making a friend.



In time, the barber’s business began to grow again. As advertising technology changed they remained true to their two core values – listen to customers and consistently delight them. His customers came back.  They brought friends.  The barber cut hair when he had clients, and slept in his chair when he didn’t.  The sleeping barber was happy.




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