Michael Kontos and Justis McEvilly setup the London School of Barbering back in 2011 in a bid to reshape the barbering industry.
The business was initially the brainchild of Michael, a stylist and teacher who had worked in the industry for 12 years at some of the capital’s leading salons.
Holding a strong passion for the industry, he was genuinely unhappy with the quality of training available and knew there was scope to deliver a better service.
Most trainees he saw walk into salons were fresh out of college having achieved their GNVQ but had little experience of the industry and required a lot of re-training to get them ready for work.
Taking this into account he decided to launch his own barbering school and pitched his idea to Justis, a friend who was a man of the City and had helped grow numerous small businesses.
Justis told BQ: “Michael and I launched the business back in 2012. He is the technical brain and I’m the business brain, I have no idea how to cut hair.
“I moved to the UK eight years ago from the US, walked into a hair salon for a haircut and I met Michael.
“I really liked the way he interacted with me, he made the experience a very good one and me and him just became mates.
“I came to the UK from Washington DC with a business background having previously worked for Credit Suisse and a number of private equity and venture capital firms.
“My background has always been understanding a business, dissecting it and making sure that the actual internal investments made pay off.
“Mike came to me with this idea to open a training academy and I had always wanted to go from analysing businesses to running my own.
“He had identified a gap in the market to plug the skills gap in men’s grooming and we had a few conversations about it, from here we took the plunge.
“We opened up in Covent Garden with a leap of faith and we had a target of training 30-40 students per year.”
The leap of faith proved a shrewd one and the business quickly became one of London’s top barbering academies.
Within two and a half years, the Covent Garden academy had reached capacity and the duo were far exceeding their initial targets.
This led to them opening up a second outlet near St Pauls Cathedral, two tube stops away in Farringdon.
“We launched the Covent Garden academy in October 2012 and two and a half years later we opened our second near St Paul’s Cathedral in Farringdon in April 2015,” added Justis.
“Our wait list was spiralling out of control and we had to expand to cater for the demand. We had people queuing to train with us and we’re starting to reach that point again.
“We now teach around 400-500 students per year. We have absolutely blown our target out of the water!”
The business offers barbering training courses to both budding barbers wanting to get on the career ladder and those existing professionals wanting to improve their skills.
Pupils study in small classes and receive one-to-one support throughout their course where they deliver around 150 haircuts to passers-by, completely free of charge.
“We train anyone who wants to learn the trade of barbering by giving them hands on training. We believe we’re the best in the world, hands down.
“The biggest gap in most training schools is that when people graduate they have a piece of paper that says they have graduated but they don’t actually have the practical skills.
“As a result, employers then think ‘ah s**t I have to train this person up myself, they don’t know how to cut hair’ and the student is then learning twice over.
“We get our students to the stage where they are work ready. They’re at a standard where they’re being hired having cut the hair of the public whilst studying here.
“The hair and beauty industry in the UK is completely unregulated. If you wanted to open up a store cutting hair or painting nails, you could just do it and pretend you know how to do it. It’s not right.”
This ability to get their students work-ready is what the duo believe firmly separates them from traditional institutes and is pivotal to the company’s success.
“It’s all the difference,” said Justis, “the majority of people that ring us up thinking of learning always want to know how much classroom and theory there is. They love the fact that our approach is 99% practical and 1% classroom theory.
“We don’t believe that in order to learn a trade you’re going to learn it from reading a book. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of theory that we deliver but we deliver it on the job.
“We believe 100% in on the job training and our results speak for themselves. We have a 100% success rate.
“Well, we’ve had two people who haven’t made it since 2011, but that was because they just didn’t turn up. Everybody else has succeeded. They’re a rare exception, most people who shell out £4,000 for a course tend to show up and tend to be focused!
“The reason why it is 100% is because other institutions where people can ‘learn the trade’ may do five haircuts, maybe 20, our guys do 150 haircuts. Imagine learning to ride a bike by getting on it 150 times, you’ll be a lot better than someone jumping on a bike five times.”
And this form of teaching hasn’t just made an impact on barbers across the capital, but also from across the globe.
The school now takes on almost 500 students each year at a cost of up to £4,000 per course and welcomes students from across the world.
“The feedback we get not only from beginners but also from people upskilling themselves is amazing, we get students from all over the world, the US, South America, Asia, Europe, they all come to us and say ‘wow we don’t have anything like this back home.’
“We also have some of the industry’s major names come to us to upskill their staff and also to help them find new staff.
“Day in day out we get so many calls from businesses wanting to employ our graduates that we added a function on our website to help employers communicate directly with our graduates, there’s over 500 jobs on there at the moment. That is employers wanting our trainees.
“That’s why when people spend £4,000 on a course with us – they know there are jobs there. They can choose their pick – we have a queue of good barbers fighting over our pupils. That’s why people come from across the globe to learn with us.”
With their second academy now reaching full capacity, Justis and Michael have ambitious plans for the future and are set to continue growing the business in the coming years with more staff and new outlets both in the pipeline.
“We are now looking to open more academies. The stage we’re at now, Mike and I are running the day-to-day business and we’re overworked, we can only manage one academy each.
“We’re hoping to bring in fulltime managers to play these roles so the two of us can focus more on expanding the business.
“At the same time, as our reputation grows, we have lots of people asking for our time and resource outside of our day-to-day training, whether it be interviews with BQ or Mike attending trade shows.
“In three years hopefully we will have four or five academies. We want to hit other metropolitan areas outside of London, whether it’s in the UK or abroad.”