Upscale S.F. barber shop offers drinks, cigars 

Though you might think wealthy people have now paid to make their lifestyles de luxe in every possible way, two new entrepreneurs have found a niche making a very quotidian business, the men’s barbershop, upscale.

In fact, MR. — The Barbershop at 560 Sacramento St. in San Francisco, looks on first glance, like a bar and lounge that combines sleek, dark downtown style with large flat-screen TVs for viewing sports. That’s not some sort of interior-design error: the place serves light fare, coffee, beer, wine and martinis, sells impulse items like cigar tools and cashmere socks and has a two-man shoeshine station, all in addition to its eight barber chairs in the rear and on the mezzanine. Those chairs also face televisions, and each other, rather than a mirror. The three shampoo stations all face their own TVs too, so customers don’t have to miss a play.

"We’re trying to create a home away from home for the gentlemen," General Manager Robin Hug said.

The business model is different, too. Barbers are employees, not renters, of chairs, and don’t get tips. Customers buy monthly memberships, much like gym memberships, with prices that reflect the level of bend-over-backward customer service. The $250 "Mogul" package, among other things, guarantees that its owner is guaranteed to see the barber at the busiest hours, obtain 24/7 access to the space and receive a straight-razor shave.

MR. opens today officially after a soft opening last month. It is the brainchild of Kumi Walker and Sean Heywood, two former New York City investment bankers who met as undergrads at Brown University. Both studied in London, at different times, and both received their MBAs from Stanford University in 2006. "We made all of our decisions independent of each other but literally our paths continued to cross. We had a tremendous amount of respect for one another and considered ourselves thought partners," Walker said.

The two were at an entrepreneurship seminar in Boston in the spring of 2004 when they began brainstorming the idea for MR., Heywood said. One of the speakers talked about businesses that touch people’s lives and change the world. Often dissatisfied with their own barbershop experiences, they began thinking about how haircutting is a universal need for men of all races, but one that rarely excites them.

"They were already trading up in nearly every other aspect of their lives," Walker said. "Men had a lower bar of what this experience should be like."

They consider their business hospitality, with haircuts and drinks as touchstones rather than the core product, Heywood said. For example, with the "Hitter" package, they are willing to send messages to customers’ friends when the customer books an appointment, so they can all meet for haircuts and drinks. The front area serves both men and women, though the shop only has barbers for men. The soft opening has shown that men are receptive to the new concept, according to Heywood.

"We’ve had men sign up for the mogul package. We’ve had young men sign up for the hitter package," Heywood said.

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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