Interview with a Barber
By George Bruno
You’ve heard of Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire?
Well, this is my “Interview with a Barber”
I trust my barber, Nic Prosseda. He keeps me looking good, and when you are in sales, in the public eye, or in a position where being well-groomed is crucial, it may actually help improve your bottom line, especially in this economy.
Who is Nic Prosseda?
Nic opened up his Modern Male Barbershop a few months ago. It was the site of John’s traditional barbershop in Sellersville. Nic says it’s an honor to be working at the site that had been a barbershop for over a hundred years. Generation after generation of men has gone in and out of that door. Nic carries on the tradition of classic barbering with his modern twist. I am happy to take my ten year old son there for the best haircut he has ever gotten.
Nic is from South Philly, a father of two and communicated a passion for our nations youth. He is involved in a prison ministry that helps incarcerated young men find their way to a more goal-directed life and be productive members of society.
Professionally, Nic is classically trained in traditional scissor and clipper techniques. He takes pride in not being a “national chain assembly line haircut factory”.
He has had a pair of scissors in his hand since he was thirteen years old. He did a five year apprenticeship under the skillful tutelage of two Pennsylvania licensed hair stylists. Just that alone is pretty rare. He had over 2,200 hours of training, is a published barber, and is known internationally for innovative and classic styles and techniques. When I asked why in the world it would take that long, he shared with me what he had learned. Things like concepts of style, facial shapes and bone structure, skin and hair types, complexions, sanitary and sterilization techniques, and of course, customer service.
I interviewed Nic about what he does.
Geo: Why are you different than the average barber or as you say, “haircut factory”?
Nic: I am bringing back the classic scissoring technique that all old school barbers did. It was the way your father and grandfather got their hair cut. I slow things down a little. I talk to everyone before the scissors even touch them. It’s a personal one-on-one relationship. I get to know them a little and help them express themselves through their hair style. I use a sterile straight razor to do all the clean lines and make my guys look great. The effective use of a straight razor is a lost art and nothing cleans up the edges of the hair like a razor. It cuts below the skin when used properly with a warm lather. No electric clippers can do what I do with the razor.
Geo: I didn’t know you can still use straight razors.
Nic: I use disposable razors that I also sterilize in that classic blue liquid called Barbicide that you see in all the old time barbershops. They are always sharp and safe. They are actually good for the skin because they exfoliate and remove dead skin cells with every stroke and that stimulates healthy new skin growth. I also use a badger brush to apply a warm lather to the back of the neck and ear area. The badger bristles actually lift the hair and makes it stand up making it easier to trim.
Geo: When you say that every visit starts with a consult, what do you mean?
Nic: I always ask when was the last time they got their haircut, so I can determine how fast their hair grows. That tells me what I need to do. I also ask them what they do for a living.
Geo: Why is that important?
Nic: If the guy is a lawyer and presenting cases in court all day he needs to look a certain way. If he is a bridge inspector and wearing a hardhat all day, then I take a different approach. The scalp acts differently when it is covered all day and exposed to hair-damaging environmental factors such as exhaust, dirt, sweat, etc.
Geo: What other things do you ask?
Nic: I ask how often they go out, do they use product such as gels, pomades, conditioners, sprays, etc.
Geo: I like products. What can a product do?
Nic: Some products are for hair health, some change a look from a work look to a night life look. For instance, I had one guy who washed his hair with soap.
Geo: You mean a bar of soap? Like Dial or Irish Spring?
Nic: Yes, exactly. He washed his hair with a bar of soap for years and it dried out his hair and scalp and then he would use a dandruff shampoo to treat the dryness. The he would go back to the soap. I showed him how to choose a shampoo for his particular scalp and hair and to use a conditioner.
Geo: Did he take your advice?
Nic: Yes. But at first he thought that was too much fussing. It was something that only women did. It wasn’t long after he saw the results that he became a true believer in using a quality shampoo and a conditioner made for his hair and scalp type.
Geo: Was this an older guy?
Nic: No. It was a guy about 35 who had dry hair for most of his adult life and only used a drying gel to control his hair. He looks like a completely different person now and his hair is one of his most attractive qualities. It’s never too late to learn some new tricks.
Geo: You sound like a believer in product.
Nic: Absolutely. A good product can show off your haircut, change the look, tweak the style, simplify the morning routine, and make hair shinier, healthier, and improve scalp health. Remember, hair grows from the scalp. Healthy hair can only come from a healthy scalp.
Geo: What about spouses, girlfriends, and family?
Nic: It’s funny that you mention that. I made the observation that if a guy doesn’t come back, one of the reasons is that his wife or girlfriend didn’t like the haircut.
Geo: Wow, I can’t believe that.
Nic: It’s true. When a guy gets a haircut, the first person to see the finished product is the significant other or family member. They either give it the thumbs up or thumbs down. They will say things like “I like it…that barber did a good job” or things like “I don’t like it… don’t go back there”. I know it sounds funny, but that leaves a lasting impression on a guy and he’ll consider what they say. There’s a greater probability of him coming back if everyone else likes his hair. It kind of reinforces and rewards his choice of barber.
Geo: OK. Now that I think about it, I like it when the people closest to me like how I look. I can see how that would be a big factor for repeat business.
Nic: Repeat business is the heart and soul of my work. It’s kind of like an insurance policy for future income. When I look at the lifetime value of a customer, each and every man is important to me. So it is important to give 100% to every man or boy that walks through my door. I make men feel good about who they are.
Geo: I love bringing my boys to the barbershop. They just don’t get the same experience in a women’s salon.
Nic: Yeah, the father and son barbering experience is very unique. There’s nothing like a Dad who gets his haircut while his son watches and then 20 minutes later, the boy is in the same chair. The boy sees the same sights as the big guys do, listens to the same conversations, and even participates in some of the conversations. There are always all ages in the shop. There could be a 75 year old grandfather in the chair one minute and a 10 year old the next minute. I really enjoy when Dads and their boys come in. It truly is a bonding experience. Most people think father-son bonding is limited to hobbies, sports, fishing, etc, but getting their haircut together is something that is memorable. The boy always seems to walk taller and act more mature after he gets his haircut by a barber.
Geo: Even though my Dad is a barber, I would love for my Dad, my son, and me to come in and get our haircuts and a shave some Saturday morning. I think it would be cool to have three generations of men in a row. What about Moms? I have a female friend who is hair stylist herself, but takes her son to a barber so he can be exposed to the barber experience and culture.
Nic: I would encourage Moms to bring their boys in and expose them to the same experience. I think it helps to round out his boyhood with a distinctively male experience.
Geo: That is true. With gender lines blurred in so many areas and the multitude of unisex stylists and shops, it’s nice to see a culture that is distinctively male.
Geo: What are the biggest complaints that men have about barbers?
Nic: Probably that they don’t get the haircut that they ask for. That’s why I talk to everyone before I start cutting.
Geo: I know one of the biggest complaints I have had is that I am itching for the rest of the day from the hair pieces down my neck and back. I can’t wait to take a shower and throw my clothes in the laundry. Do you do anything different than other barbers or haircut factories?
Nic: Yes. I’m glad you mentioned that. I wrap the neck with a barber’s tissue and then put a towel around the neck and then the cape. When I am done, I use a barbers vacuum around the neck and all through the hair. That means a guy can get his haircut first thing in the morning and not be tortured by itching the rest of his day. I believe I am the only one in the area that does that.
Geo: I have gone into a salon and they ask me what number clipper comb I want. You have never asked me that.
Nic: I have guys that come in and say they want a #2 on the sides and a #5 on the top. I know what they mean but I don’t talk that language. A skilled and caring haircutter doesn’t ask that. I use a combination of scissors and clippers which customizes the cut to the man. I really am an artist. As a sculptor, I am putting a shape on a shape. No two skulls are the same. No two hair types are the same. You cannot do the same haircut on every man. That is what a custom haircut is. You have to take into consideration, skull shape, size, hair color, hair lines, textures, cowlicks, and how the hair has been trained to lay on that mans head.
Geo: I get my haircut differently now than I did when I was 25. I have a theory that men need different cuts for the different stages in their lives. Would you agree?
Nic: Yes. For instance, the 16 year old guy wants a haircut that doesn’t look like he just got his hair cut. The 26 year old guy is a young professional, new in his career. I try to give him a haircut that has two looks. One look for the 9-5 look and one look for evenings and weekends, such as a more tousled look that is in fashion right now. The 46 year old guy generally likes a conservative cut that reflects his age and life experience. But then again it all depends what he does for a living. That is why I do the consult first. An architect is going to have a different look than a music producer or tattoo artist. The 56+ year old guy generally wants his hair off his ears and tapered in the back. His cut is characterized by “no fuss, no muss”. He gets out of the showers, combs his hair and doesn’t want to mess with it or think about it for the rest of the day.
Geo: I thought I died and went to heaven when you put the hot steamed towel on me at the end of the haircut. Other than just feeling good, is it actually good for you and do you do that to everyone?
Nic: Yes, everyone gets the hot steamed towel. It is different than the dry hot towel. It relaxes you; it opens pores, helps the skin breathe a little, and helps get all loose hair off the neck and side of the head. Everybody loves the hot steamed towel.
Geo: I know I like it when you trim all the hair from the neck up without me asking.
Nic: Yes. As a man gets older, he has more hair in his ears. That gets trimmed. Most men’s eyebrows can get pretty out of control too. I take care of that. I even occasionally trim a nose hair or two. It’s all part of having a well-groomed look.
Geo: Thanks for sharing with me today. You certainly opened my eyes to the advantages of coming to your shop and being a member of the Stay Sharp Club.
One more question: Is there anyone who you’d love to be their barber?
Nic: That’s a good question. Yes. I would love to be Donald Trump’s barber.
Geo: Wow. I never thought you’d say “The Donald”. Why him? What would you do with his hair?
Nic: I like Donald Trump. He’s a good businessman and an inspiration to all business people like me. First of all, I would color his hair properly, get rid of the confusing hair, and make it look so good that he’d never go back to the comb-over.
Geo: That’s quite a challenge.
Nic: He has an open invitation. I’d welcome him here any day.