There are few names in British barbering that are as illustrious or require no introductions quite like Alan Beak, and we’re honoured to have his work grace our cover mount once again. We caught up with Alan and spoke about the RUGER brand, his meteoric rise in the industry and what lies in store for us in 2019. Alan doesn’t strike as a man gagged by the weight of holding such industry prestige, however, allowing his work to speak where words do no justice.
Alan is a man of depth, his passion for barbering running deep, as will many reading his words. His status within the industry offers a lot in terms of education. Not only where his successes come from, but how success is actually achieved, and how even in the face of near-celebrity status, locally or otherwise, you can and should remain humble. Never losing track of where you want to be, or who you want to be.
At the point of publication of this issue of BarberNV, Alan will have completed the final date on his RUGER. Spotlight tour. The Spotlight tour was designed to allow young barbers and hairdressers to show the dexterity of their technical skill, and collaborate with state of the art photography, allowing younger hair professionals to be pushed towards their full potential. RUGER.’s Spotlight tour has already been to Glasgow, Birmingham, London, Newcastle and Manchester, before one final date in Cardiff at the end of July.
And of course, you’ll get a chance to see Alan in action at Festival Barber in Italy on September 9.
NV: How has 2018 been and what are your plans for the rest of the year?
AB: As always this year has been a busy one, bigger than last year but not as big as we predict for 2019! On a personal level, my family is growing, at the rate, I’m going I’ll be opening a new barber shop just for the kids. And on a professional level we take each working day and educational event as they come, we love what we do and people see this and like to book us which is great. We have taken bookings for education and show work right up to the end of next year so right now we will be organising those trips, LA, Canada, Brazil, New York just to name a few.
NV: How was the RUGER. spotlight tour received?
AB: The tour was incredible, making money was never the key element with the tour, the goal was simply to help other barbers pursue a career that was more professional and fulfilling. In all honesty, it was conducting a photo shoot that really propelled my career, so we wanted to provide the opportunity for others and hoped it would do the same for them.
NV: How difficult was it to set everything up?
AB: You’d be very surprised actually, the team, to make sure each day runs smoothly consists of around eight people, educators, photographers, videographers, van drivers, admin and editing. Then once they have been managed there are the participants to deal with, not just before the event but then ongoing afterwards to make sure everybody is happy with their final images, and to make sure they use them to make certain our main goal is achieved. It’s pretty much a full-time job of its own.
NV: How was the spotlight tour stop in Glasgow?
AB: Glasgow was one of our favourite dates in the tour, everybody there came with the same mindset, to learn and get the most out of the day, and the images that came from Glasgow showed how diverse the industry is and how broad the range of talent there is. The venues were all photography studios, which was really important for us to throw participants into a new environment and put them out of their comfort zone.
NV: What are your favourite styles right now?
AB: At the moment I’m all about low maintenance, soft and distressed, like a messy crop, longer or shorter, combined with shorter sides. Whether we like it or not the skin fade is going nowhere! It’s clean, short and sharp, people love it for a reason, and it’s been more than a fad this time around. It’s never been as technical and smooth, and it’s here for an indefinite amount of time. For the first few years of me cutting hair I didn’t use clippers, it was all scissors and comb and it’s so refreshing to go back to those styles, our foundation is very traditional and classical, so I love to combine a simple classical layer with a soft and subtle taper, combining all elements of hairdressing.
NV: What are the styles you think will take off in autumn, winter 2018/19?
AB: We use our Instagram as a modern-day look-book, which in turn means people tend to ask for what they see on your page, and mostly I post the work I think is most ‘in’ – well in my eyes anyway. Looks are still complicated to create but more simplistic to look at. As we get toward colder weather I do enjoy it because clients tend to grow out their hair which is nice to put the clippers down and give the scissors so real use.
NV: Where did you get your passion for the industry?
AB: Ok, so when I was young I loved having my hair cut, everything about the experience was amazing! I was in awe of the guys cutting my hair, the smell of the barber shop and mostly the way it made me feel. I still remember those feelings now, and this made me think, I want to be the person responsible for making other people feel that way. The fact that I’m a perfectionist, and ambitious just made everything else fall into place. I cut hair because I love to, my mind is constantly going crazy and cutting hair is cathartic for me, it’s the only thing that controls the voices.
NV: The RUGER brand has seen an incredible rise in becoming a stand-out in the industry. If you were to give yourself advice when you were first starting out, what would you say?
AB: Don’t do it, haha no I’m only joking! I’d just warn myself of the hard work that was to come; I think if I would have expected the hardships I would have dealt with them better. There are many wolves and snakes in our industry, and it’s easy to be used and manipulated by them for their own personal gain. I have fallen victim to a few of them, being naive and having nothing but love for barbering, people couldn’t wait to take advantage of this, and unfortunately, I found out the hard way after I got shafted, and not in a good way! So, I’ve learned to take care of myself. It’s like on a plane, when the safety instructions read ‘in case of loss in cabin pressure, put on your own oxygen mask before anybody else’, I’ve found this is important in life, if you spend time helping others and bending over backwards for them you can suffocate, and I’m not about dying on the job… not yet anyway.
NV: A lot of barber shops are making and branding their own products, just as RUGER have. How important was this in developing the brand?
AB: It’s all about building the brand and its another avenue to go down, merchandise in the form of products is a great way to increase revenue and adds a more professional touch. We’ve been trying all sorts of different merchandise, we have things made like candles, organic soaps, key-rings, clothing, but we never sell anything, we always just give them away, and being totally honest I’m a shit businessman. I’m terrible, we would have our clients comment on a candle and I just threw them their way, I’m never fuelled by money, I just like to spread the brand even if it does cost us a fortune.
NV: What do you think of your almost celebrity status?
AB: I think it’s insane, I can’t go anywhere without being spotted or recognised, my wife finds it strange still, but she won’t moan, she gets free food all the time from it. I enjoy it and welcome it, its the kind of status that we as barbers should receive, were awesome, we work our bollocks off, we spend fortunes on education, our job constant evolves, and we have to be the same. We’re always changing tools and investing in them, we might as well be in the medical industry. Bonez the Goat gave a speech once on how we’re like doctors and I stand by him on that. Now we just need paying the same.
NV: Because a lot can be lost now. With social media being as integral to self-branding as your books, do you feel it’s easy to get lost in that?
AB: Oh 100% it’s scary how much time you can spend on social media, although it is crazy important for your brand, and yourself. I used to be on it constantly, always looking at what other people were doing, where in the world they were going and what styles they were smashing out. But, again I learned to focus on us and us only! There’s a reason why racehorses wear blinkers when racing if they don’t they get startled and affected by the horses running next to them and fall to the ground. But, with the blinkers on they focus on what’s in front of them and don’t give a toss what’s happening around them, always focusing on the finish line and not what others are doing.
NV: Are there any downsides to how much of a household name you have become in the industry?
AB: Absolutely! I’m not an ignorant person at all, it personally affects me if I don’t get back to everybody, including messages on all social media outlets and there are lots of them (Reece has just introduced me to a new one called Grindr that’s doing pretty well at the moment). But messages and phone calls add up, I get lost in returning phone calls, I lose track of time because of the volume of people I’m talking to. And it’s not a bad thing to be in this position, but being in high demand there’s always somebody who wants something from you, needs something else, and you’re given a deadline. Having all this to tend to, four businesses, each totally different, 12 staff members, one being a needy little brother, and a growing family at home can all get a bit much. There have been times I was about to say I’m done, that’s it, enough is enough, I had a good run, I didn’t do bad, I’ve had one today actually. But, then I calm down, breathe, recalibrate and deliver, a SAS motto. I’m lucky to have an amazing wife, she keeps me in check, she’s my biggest fan, and the best looking one too.
NV: What advice do you have for people who want to follow you in that respect?
AB: In this respect, I’m not practising what I preach, although all the books I’m reading at the moment tend to tell me the same advice, and I’m trying to follow their directions on dealing with the stress of it all. Breathe, number one, take time out, prioritise what’s important to you, I’m a list maker me, I have three or four notepads, different sizes. I brainstorm, I make lists, I actually make lists of the lists I need to do! Once I have a job list or a goal list, I try to work on one of them at a time until it’s done. And, as soon as it’s completed I make a new one. I always find this gets things done.
It’s important to follow your own path. It’s good to take bits from other people, collectively my work comes from about 10 different origins, and I’m proud to say that, you can’t see somebody do an incredible style and not try to recreate it if you like it and want to challenge yourself. That’s how we learn. But, emulating everything that another person or shop does just doesn’t show any individuality, so my advice here is just yourself, do what you like, be driven by the need to progress and be successful in ways other than being rich or having loads of followers. Find success in the form of happiness with your work. I’m yet to feel successful because I feel I’ll always need to work on my skill-set, I’ll always consider myself as a student.
NV: What bands/artists are currently on your playlists?
AB: I really love music, it enhances my mood no matter what, and I think it plays a massive role in keeping morale high in the shop, it’s a whole new atmosphere with music, let’s say the ambience. The first thing I do when I get in the shop is put the music on! It depends on my mood what goes on, but I do love a good sing-along so at the moment we’re on an 80s and 90s playlists, well until that little emo Reece comes in and bangs on Panic at the Disco! or something. Nah, we all love Kaytranada, who’s a Canadian DJ, Kings of Leon, Mo-town and Mariah Carey makes an appearance once a week.
NV: What films have you seen this year and what can you recommend?
AB: You can’t beat a good comedy, anything with Jim Carey or Will Ferrel and I’m sold, I watched Step Brothers in a hotel room in Russia recently next to a snoring Jewish midget (Liam Twist), and that kills me every time. I also recently watched the Defiant Ones, a four-part series about Dr Dre, not because I’m a lover of gangster rap, but because I like him and his whole lease on life. He didn’t give a shit about what anyone else was doing, he had a goal, and a lot like the horses he had something in mind and followed his dream and let’s just say now he’s flossing. Will Smith is another one, I love his positivity and charisma in everything he does! I’ll finish on Will Smith’s favourite quote…
“Set your life on fire, seek those who fan your flames.”
Do it, and for the love of God, have fun whilst at work, every day is better with a few laughs. Thanks for taking the time to read, if you’ve enjoyed it my name’s Alan Beak, if not then I’m the other smaller, but the better-looking brother.
Peace, and to the RUGER. family, I love you all!