Buzzed Cuts: Barbers Entice Customers by Offering Beer

History & Culture by | July 2, 2018

If you ask Louisville, Ky.’s Melissa Gray about the burgeoning relationship between haircuts and beer from craft breweries, the third-generation barber who opened her own shop in 2016 will list nearly a dozen reasons why she thinks the two were made for one another. At the top of that list is the hyper-local aspect of beer, the fact that it allows people (specifically, men) to feel more comfortable being groomed, and that it eases potential wait time. But Gray is also quick to say she never wanted Beards and Beers to become a bar with a barbershop in it.

“My clients don’t want to get their hair cut in a rough redneck bar,” she says with a laugh.

But Beards and Beers isn’t the only barbershop that has brought in the benefits of beer. From Scout’s in Tennessee with Nashville brewery Little Harpeth on draft, to Barber and Brew on Long Island with 10 taps and an even larger can selection, quite a few establishments have now embraced the idea. And in the Northwest, where craft breweries can seem ubiquitous, the trendy barbershop chain Rudy’s introduced beer (for $2–$6) at almost all of its Seattle and Portland, Ore., locations in late 2016.

“I’ve wanted to do this for the past couple of years,” says director of marketing and brand Danny Segal, noting that the company opened its first shop in Seattle in 1993 and is now in six states. “With our history of creating a really comfortable place for people to hang out, it just fits.”

Depending on the location of the shop, says Segal, it can be more difficult to sell beer outside of a bar or restaurant. In states like California, Florida, and Texas, beer can be given away for free or included in the price of the haircut. And in some locations, it’s legal to sip a beer in the chair, while others it’s not. Since he didn’t want to turn Rudy’s into a tavern, Segal had to learn the laws around setting up an underage waiting area and installing demarcations to separate areas of the shop. Gray acknowledged similar hurdles with Beards and Beers, noting that, in Louisville, if she starts selling alcohol, people under 21 cannot be on site. So she begins beer sales at noon, reserving the morning hours for children’s cuts.

Despite the regulations, both Segal and Gray say the beer is brought into their barbershops not as a big moneymaker but as a way to give unique experiences to (younger) customers and offer them something to relax with before hitting the chair.

“We work with local distributors in each of our markets to find something that meets the right price point that our customers are looking for,” Segal explains. According to him, beers in the barbershop just made sense. The company even went a step further recently when it collaborated with Seattle brewery Reuben’s Brews to create a sessionable Pale Ale to commemorate the barbershop’s 25th anniversary and Pride Month. Brewed with Pilsner malt and Amarillo hops, Good Hair Day was distributed across Washington and Oregon in kegs and cans with a portion of the proceeds benefitting Equal Rights Washington.

“There’s a history of the barbershop being the community gathering spot. Back in the day, at the back of the bar, people could often get shots of whiskey or a cocktail. That’s something we’ve looked at for inspiration,” adds Segal.

Gray, who works with her 27-year-old daughter Catherine developing the Beards and Beers brand, says she learned to cut hair living in a dry county. But her sister’s job at a barbershop directly next to a liquor store—the two shared a common area—sparked the business idea for Gray. “Craft beer has its own following these days,” she insists. “And, of course, lots of people have beards now. I think the two go hand-in-hand. It’s a whole movement!”

In Gray’s opinion, the opportunity arose from changing times. “I think 30 years ago, bars and places where people drank were a little rougher. But craft beer drinkers are different than domestic beer drinkers—they’re connoisseurs. They want to try something new. Even the ones that have a couple beers, for them it’s about the experience of the beer, not about getting drunk. That’s why it works.”

Not every barbershop has found success with the combination, however. Seattle’s Josh Rawlings, a Grammy-nominated professional musician who co-owns The Scotch Pine with his wife, Emily, says they used to carry beer for their customers, but it got to be too much of a headache. “We served canned beer from local town breweries for a bit,” Rawlings says. “When we moved to our current location, though, it just didn’t seem like it was worth the hassle to do that again. It was a big expense that we didn’t make the other barbers buy in for. It also creates a lot of extra waste to deal with and, of course, the lovely red tape of the liquor board. Now, we just point our customers to a bike shop [Good Weather] that serves beer right across the courtyard from us.”

For Gray and Segal though, whose businesses, like many others across the country, have embraced the relationship between Pilsner and pompadours, fruited sour and fades, or Brown Ale and buzz cuts, the bond has proven to be a boon to their growing customer base. “It’s been awesome,” Gray says, simply. “People love it.”