Ever since I began making sense of the world, I remember going to a hair cutting salon and paying ₹50 for a haircut. As I and my hair grew, this amount became ₹100, and on some rare occasions, it became ₹200 but not more than that.
All the salons I have visited seem to follow a familiar setup. A small room, 2-3 chairs, a small tv in the upper corner, newspapers & magazines on the table and the experience of waiting for your turn. It is here I learnt the concept of First in, First out. You did not get preferential treatment irrespective of who you were. Maybe that's why rich folks never visited these places?
I built rapport with the people that cut my hair. They included an old limping fellow who switched between languages effortlessly, the Emraan Hashmi lookalike who seemed to be in a hurry to get to a better life; the reluctant son who didn't know anything else to do.
The setup of these salons didn't change much across cities, and the spoken language differed, but the salon experience remained more or less the same.
The staff at these small salons would try and build a rapport on their own, but they wouldn't engage with you. Almost all of them knew their regular customers by name, and sometimes they would ask about their customers' lives with genuine curiosity. It never felt coerced or looked like an attempt to get more money out of their pockets.
This past year I tried the fancy high-end salons like Toni & Guy & Javed Habib. These places charge as high as ₹500 and, in most cases, more. I would justify the high prices saying I am paying for the experience and not just the haircut. However, the experience in most of these salons is sub-par.
They do have better-looking sofas, functional air conditioners, more magazines, lights and people. They are supposed to provide a better customer experience, but more often than not, they fail to deliver. I wonder how much investment these brands make in training their staff on managing customer experience. In most of these places, you need to wait for your turn, but you don't know how long the wait will be. Will it be 10-15 minutes, or are we talking in hours? They do give different styling options but fail to educate the customers on choosing the one that works for them. They take your phone number to feed in their loyalty programs but fail to give an experience that will make the customer return.
The nameless chain of familiar-looking salons tend to give a better experience than the modern world's branded 'customer centric' stylists.
It doesn't hurt that they are far more economical as well.