Starks Barber Company Expanding with ‘Modern’ Take on Traditional Business [Interview]

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Starks Barber Company has established itself as one of Ontario’s premier men’s grooming destinations with nine locations now open since the concept launched its first store in early 2013. 

The company is pioneering a new era in the industry by modernizing the barber shop experience for customers.

Steve Tallis, co-founded the venture with Ryan McLachlan, opening their first location in their hometown of Unionville, Ontario. Its most recent location opened in Vaughan.

“We thought it could use a modern take on the traditional barber and a cooler haircut option for men,” said Tallis. “My business partner and I were sales guys. I was working for Bell and he was working for American Express. We felt like we were two small fish in a large pond and we weren’t making very many creative decisions in our corporate jobs. We just felt spent and ready for a change.

“So we decided we were going to partner together and start a business. The genesis of Starks was we didn’t like where we were getting our hair cut. It wasn’t so much the cut as it was the experience. We felt like barber shops were dated and they weren’t up to trend and salons were totally geared towards women. While there were a ton of budget brands out there, they just weren’t focused on quality. So we thought where’s the option for a guy to pay a little bit extra than the neighbourhood budget brand, get a little bit more attention to detail, feel like they’re being pampered, but still keeping in line what a barber shop is and what it should be. It was a good fit for us right from day one.  I think men are just under-served in this industry.

“The first thing you notice when you walk into a Starks it’s a very modern and upscale setting for a barber shop. That’s kind of the whole point of Starks in general. I would argue it even starts probably prior to you walking in when you book online or through our mobile app. Everything that we offer is a more modern take.

“We do the traditional barbering services. So we have in addition to haircuts the old school hot lather shave. But again our twist on everything is a modern approach. For example, our Starks treatment (which includes a wash, cut and style) is finished with the relaxing steam towel on the face and a neck, scalp and shoulder massage with our moisturizers.”

The clientele is predominantly men but Tallis said the company tells anybody that comes in the door that if it’s a barbering haircut then staff will do it. 

Image: Starks Barber Company

Tallis said as the company continues to expand the business it starts to get better all aspects of it. 

“Whether it’s scouting locations to marketing to helping our franchisees and supporting them from an operations standpoint, from a marketing standpoint, etc., so for us rapid expansion is definitely hopefully in the cards,” he said. “In the last couple of years probably the worst economic environment that you could experience in a business like ours, being subject to the lockdowns and all the restrictions.

“While every other barber focused concept in Ontario either shrunk or stayed stagnant we doubled in size. And I think that’s a testament to what we’re doing and who we award franchises to. We’re very selective in terms of who we want operating these businesses. There’s a special criteria, namely buying into the brand and what we’re doing, and really being passionate about the business side of things. We don’t sell a franchise to anybody with a heartbeat and a paycheque. We’re really selective in who we partner with and that I think has been the key to our success in the last couple of years especially.”

Starks has also launched an innovative App where appointments can be booked within 30 seconds (in addition to online and over the phone).

Image: starksbarbercompany.com
Image: Starks Barber Company

Beyond its rapid store growth, Starks also just launched a new e-commerce platform (ShopStarks.com) where customers can shop Starks’ in-house line of personalized men’s hair and grooming products, all of which are crafted locally and using natural ingredients.

Starks also offers membership packages that reward customer loyalty. 

“It’s a really cool program that’s been in place since day one at Starks. Every franchisee that’s launched a business in any market has had success with their membership program. The customers like it. To me it’s a no-brainer. But we are definitely an outlier in our industry having this program,” said Tallis.

Locations are typically 1,200 to 1,500 square feet. A lounge area has comfortable seating, couches and club chairs, a coffee bar, TV, WiFi. Each location has between six and eight chairs.

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Mario was named as a RETHINK Retail Top Retail Expert in 2024.

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