Cutbox: the future of barbering
Cutbox combines the most cutting-edge technology with quality barbering and an affordable price point. We chat with co-founder Louis Angel Scott to catch up in the final days of their crowdfunding efforts and get the inside scoop on where Cutbox is heading.
Neverbland: So, what inspired you to start Cutbox?
Louis Angel Scott: We started out selling software to barbershops. We created a digital queuing system that just kind of came out as our experiences as barbershop customers. Your average barbershop experience is a little tedious. First off, it’s really hard to find a good barbershop, and even harder to find a good barber that you like. Then it’s a two-hour wait for the guy, with a pit stop to an ATM to get cash out to pay at the end. We saw this as pretty archaic and thought we should be the ones to change it.
NB: Was the software a success?
LAS: It worked pretty well, and had a few thousand viewers on the app. But the best bit about it was that the experience put us near hundreds of stores and barbers across the UK. We learnt from the software that there was a big gap on the customer demand side. We then explored similar international businesses to see if there were similar successful ventures, and then it all clicked. We saw the big opportunity to consolidate a very fragmented market, whilst layering on our tech expertise to deliver an elevated customer experience.
NB: So there’s no one in the country doing what you do?
LAS: 90% of UK barber shops are single stores with fewer than four employees. There are a few chains in the UK with 10 to 30 stores, but they’ve been running for ten to hundred years in some cases. If you’re looking at the speed of growth, there’s no one doing what we’re doing in the UK.
NB: What else sets you apart from the traditional barbershop?
LAS: From a customer standpoint, we focus on delivering the three main things that consumers care about; convenience, affordability and quality. Sounds simple enough, but it’s very difficult to execute in barbering. Just look at the market: you’ve got some very affordable but lower quality service shops and then the super expensive but higher quality salons at the other end. The bulk of the market sits in the middle, and that’s where Cutbox comes in.
NB: How do you ensure you hit those three main things?
LAS: In terms of convenience, we have our own booking software that makes life 100% easier than your average barber shop queue. We’ve also got great, central locations in London and Bristol which are super easy for people to get to.
Affordability-wise, our technology makes us so efficient that we can afford to cut more people’s hair in a day, which means that we can afford to lower our prices for our customers.
Quality side of things- we offer our barbers stable, full-time employment with opportunities for career progression. This means we’ve been able to hire the best barbers, ensuring quality haircuts.
On top of that, because we use our tech systems we collect our own data from Cutbox’s users. We know what the return rate is on any given barber and even what products they’re selling, which means that we can maintain high levels of quality across our stores. From a customer standpoint, it’s really all about nailing the basics to ensure the best experience.
NB: From a business perspective, what makes Cutbox so different?
LAS: 90% of our customers register for a Cutbox account online. This means that with every haircut, we collect this trove of data on who our customer is, the performance of the barbers they book with, and the performance of the stores. That means we can scale with far fewer management layers than your average retailer.
NB: How does tech integration mean fewer management layers?
LAS: We don’t need a manager overseeing the store every day, making it easier for us to optimise our marketing in a way that traditional retailers just can’t do. Importantly, this lays the foundations for franchising and online product sales. It's our tech side that is our competitive advantage over anything else in the UK market. We’re the only vertically integrated barber chain in the UK. We’re the only barbering chain that has its own platform and stores, making us way more agile than our competitors.
NB: And it’s that agility that allows you to do innovative things like your new subscription service?
LAS: Exactly. One of the things we launched recently is our haircut subscription. Customers get to choose what services they want and how regularly they want them. Subscriptions aren’t new, but they are new to barbering. We launched a couple of months ago and hit 90k in ARR and it’s doubled our customer frequency. We couldn’t do that without our vertical integration. We are growing at a pace like no other industry competitor.
The subscription model works because, stereotypically speaking, blokes are lazy when it comes to getting their haircuts. If you ask a guy how often they get their haircut, they’ll probably say every four weeks. Four weeks is more like six weeks by the time they end up getting around to it. Those last two weeks are spent procrastinating because it’s normally a long, inconvenient process that eats away at your day. Cutbox changes all of that.
NB: Convenience really is key for your consumer then?
LAS: If you look at the purchase triggers for guys getting haircuts, it’s normally: ‘I’ve got a wedding/date/night out’. It’s normally last minute. We changed our cut times from 30 minutes to 20 minutes, calling them ‘express cuts’, and we immediately noticed that people loved it. You might expect that people want haircuts to be longer because more time taken infers a higher quality, but people were so keen for the express cut because it’s so efficient.
NB: How would you describe the company culture at Cutbox?
LAS: The biggest thing I’d say is that we consistently prioritise speed of execution. Broadly speaking: done is better than perfect. We like to get things out and see how the customer reacts to it. We’ve always kept that idea central to our business, and anytime we’ve drifted from that ethos we’ve not done our best. The beauty of Cutbox is that we can get customer feedback so easily, so we’re able to ensure that we’re building crap that nobody needs or wants.
NB: But no business is without its obstacles. What is Cutbox’s approach to problem-solving?
LAS: We’re very data-driven. There’s always a temptation to become reactive to consumer feedback, but we use our data to analyse everything. We take a step back, examine the problem, explore its impact on the business, and then layer on the subjective customer feedback from focus groups or surveys. We start with the data, so we can’t go wrong.
NB: How is the crowdfunding on Crowdcube going?
LAS: One thing we’ve always wanted is to allow our customers to buy a stake in Cutbox. We launched our crowdfunding campaign a couple of weeks ago and it's been very successful so far. We hit our overfunding on the first day, which was a surprise but fantastic. We had Jim Mellon invest, a British billionaire who’s invested, and our previous investors SFC Capital have all followed on as well which has been great.
There are four days left and we still have some limited equity remaining for people, and we’d love to have everyone involved in our growing business.
NB: How do you see Cutbox evolving in the next five years?
LAS: First off, Cutbox will be the UK’s lead barbering chain in the next year or two. Then, we’ll conquer the European Market. Loads of stores, loads of franchises, and a huge product arm. Finally, Cutbox deserves real brand recognition. In the way that people think of coffee and think of Starbucks, or fast food and think of McDonald's. People will think of men's haircuts and think of Cutbox in a couple of years.
Right now we’re focused on proving that our model works. From here, we’re expanding. We think there’s a great opportunity to become not just a barber chain but to become a massive men’s grooming brand.
Down the line, we’re excited to further integrate tech with our physical stores. Like we’ll be letting customers pick what haircut they want and trying it on in an AR mirror in a few years. It's a very new experience for customers, but it will help us further refine our efficient and quality customer experience.