Every now and then on Behind the Business we get to share a really cool story that embodies one of the defining characteristics of the Canadian experience.
Ours is a nation made stronger and more diverse by the bravery of those who come here to start a new life with very little, and Farzad Salehi’s adventure can serve as inspiration to anyone.
Now living in Vancouver, late of Iran, Farzad is the owner and head barber at Farzad’s Barber Shop, a traditional barber in the fashionable Yaletown neighbourhood.
We interviewed Farzad and spoke of his journey to Canada, getting started in the trade, starting his own business and what life is like now that his dream has come true. Read on to be inspired.
So tell us about yourself. What is it that you do and who are your customers?
Farzad’s Barber Shop is a traditional, two-chair barber shop in Yaletown, Vancouver, providing men’s haircuts and straight razor shaves. I’ve been a barber for almost 29 years and I own and operate the shop with my wife, Shelley, who manages all aspects of the business. We have one other barber, Noriko, who has been working with us for close to 8 years now.
The majority of our clients work and/or live in and around Yaletown and Vancouver’s downtown core but we also have many clients who come from all parts of the city and the lower mainland, and some who come to see us from different parts of the world when they make a trip to Vancouver!
When we opened in 2006 (and for several years after that) we were the only barber shop in Yaletown and we really take pride in being the “neighbourhood barber shop.”
How do you make your barber shop unique? Why do customers come back?
I think one of the things that our clients like about our shop is that we keep things simple and efficient while still taking care of every detail. We do men’s haircuts and straight razor shaves, and our clients are in and out of the chair within half and hour (for a haircut or shave – one hour for both). The majority of clients are coming from work to get a haircut and return to their job. Their time is important and they know that when they show up for their appointment they will be seen on time and get a great cut and wash/style with all the little details (neck shaved, eyebrows, ear/nose hair trimmed), and not be late for their next meeting or appointment.
I have been a barber for almost 29 years. I started apprenticing at the age of 20 in my home country of Iran in a city called Isfahan, but was already cutting my friends’ hair at home a couple of years before that. When I started in a shop I first had to work as a shampoo boy for a couple of years and sweep the floor. Back in Iran, the barber doesn’t shampoo the hair; there is the shampoo boy and the barber cuts the hair and the tip goes to the shampoo boy, not the barber. After that you get to bring your friends in and cut their hair, then gradually start cutting kids’ hair and you make your way up to become a barber.
Does it ever get boring? What do you love most about cutting hair?
I am excited every day I go to work. The official shop hours show that we open at 9am but I usually take my first client at 7:30 every day which means I leave home about 6:45 for my half-hour walk, getting to the shop by 7:15 so I’m ready to go for my first client. Then I’m typically booked solid all day until 6:30pm except for half an hour for lunch. By the time we clean and cashout it is usually about 7:00 by the time we leave the shop and home by 7:30 after another half-hour walk.
I feel so lucky to be able to do this; to come to a place every day that I love, giving haircuts and shaves and seeing people happy and relaxed when they sit in my chair, having different conversations every half hour and also building a unique and personal relationship with every client. I also feel extremely lucky to be able to work every day beside Shelley, my wife and business partner, and beside Noriko, one of the best barbers I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. We all put our hearts into this little barber shop to make it what it is!
Sounds amazing! Has it always been that way, or have you overcome adversity to get where you are?
I arrived in Vancouver as a refugee on October 26, 1994, and I couldn’t speak English and had only $100 US in my pocket. The first Canadian person I met after the immigration officer, on the first night I arrived in Canada, was Shelley. I stayed with the only family I knew in Vancouver when I first arrived, that was my cousin, and Shelley was his roommate! I wanted to find work as soon as possible so the first job I took was as a dishwasher for four hours a day in a food court restaurant in Vancouver’s downtown business core. My cousin worked at a hair salon/barbershop in the same retail mall where I washed dishes and told his boss that I was a barber looking for work. He gave me an opportunity, so I started working there only on Saturdays for a few months. I proved myself and one day the boss asked me if I could start working there full-time. I told him I could, but that I would have to give notice at my other job first.
From that point on, in 1995, I have been working as a barber in Canada ever since. Ten and a half years later in October of 2005, I set out to find a location to open up my own barber shop and found the empty space that would become Farzad’s Barber Shop. After a lot a hard work we finally opened for business on February 6, 2006!
Vancouver is the place where I really started my life as an adult and the place Shelley and I met and started building our life together. I was 28 when I arrived here and I had to start from scratch to build this life.
I’ve always loved to work and I have been fortunate enough to have many great opportunities here. I always tell people how much I love this city, and this country!
We all know that crazy happens. What’s the wildest thing that’s happened on the job?
I’m not sure about the wildest or craziest thing that has ever happened on the job, but every moment with every client is unique and special which is what is so great about being a barber! You build personal relationships with the people who become your long-time clients and some of them share personal stories with you about their lives, families, relationships, travels, break-ups, new jobs, lost jobs, births, and deaths…
Every half hour is a different conversation and interaction with each person, it’s really incredible. There was one very powerful and emotional experience that I recall, about 2 years ago… A young man came in to have his hair cut and shave off his long beard which had never been cut his whole life until that point. He didn’t know what he would even look like without all the hair. It was such a huge transformation for him, even more emotionally than physically, because it was also something that he had given a great deal of thought to before deciding to do it. I felt very emotional participating in his transformation and seeing his reaction to it.
Sounds pretty special. Are you involved in the community in other ways?
We have been participating in MOVEMBER every year since 2008 when we first learned what it was all about, raising money and awareness for prostate cancer and other men’s health issues. I always try to grow some kind of unique moustache for the month of November and either we have our own team to raise money or we donate money to our clients who are trying to raise money for the cause.
Do you have any advice for aspiring business owners just starting out?
If I were to give any advice to young barbers I would say try to learn and gain as much experience as you can working for and with other people before going out on your own. It seems these days that many new barbers or stylists are too impatient to open up their own shops before gaining experience working somewhere and improving not only their barbering skills, but learning how to run a business. There is so much to be learned from working beside other barbers and in seeing how someone else runs their shop and I think it’s important to take that time to build your skills and knowledge before opening your own place where your own name and reputation are on the line.
It took me 12 years after moving to Canada and working for different people before I finally decided to find and open my own shop. I’m not saying that you have to wait for a certain number of years before going out on your own and obviously everyone’s experience and circumstances are different, but I would tell young barbers not to be in such a rush to go out on their own. Be willing to work hard and take pride in all the other details and duties beyond just cutting hair or shaving, treat your employer(s), your co-workers, and all your clients with respect every day, and be patient and try to appreciate and enjoy the learning/building process.
Farzad’s Barber Shop is located in Yaletown at 126-1208 Homer Street. Phone (604) 408-0060 to make an appointment. Closed Sundays and Holidays.