The cooling interest in old-fashioned hair salons
Thanks to the current heat wave in the city, business at Nanjing Hair Salon has been very brisk as many people seek out breezier haircuts.
However, despite the volume of customers, business hasn’t exactly been profitable.
“Summer is particularly tough. With less hair-dying and curling, we have been profitless even though all the hairdressers have been very busy,” said Chen Mingxing, the manager of Nanjing Hair Salon.
Founded in 1933 by a Chinese-born American who was very upset with the poor haircut he got in Shanghai, Nanjing Hair Salon was once the largest of its kind in China with 27 seats and 70 staff. It was also a very coveted establishment — during its peak, celebrities and wealthy people often had to wait for hours for a haircut.
“We were more like celebrities back then,” recalled Chen of the salon’s golden days before privaterun salons became more popular after the turn of the millennium with their offerings of trendier Japanese and Korean hairstyles.
Today, the two-floor space which spans about 500 square meters in the city’s most bustling shopping street has become the go-to place for senior citizens instead.
“The most important thing in this business that has disappeared over the years is the bonding between customers and barbers. It’s something nurtured by time and familiarity. It’s a luxury,” said Chen, who added that the high staff turnover rate at private-owned business nowadays make it difficult to establish such a bond.
Chen said that many barbers at Nanjing Hair Salon had cut the hair of people from different generations of a family. Another element of luxury offered at Nanjing Hair Salon is the warm towels provided to every customer who steps into the shop.
“But young people these days care little about the bonding or white towels. All they are looking for is a trendy hairstyle or color that lasts no more than one month,” said Chen.
According to Chen, the hairdressing market is “extremely unregulated” in China. He estimates that about 90 percent of the shops in China are privately owned.
Dai Xiangjie, a hairstylist at Nanjing Hair Salon, believes that the lack of foreign competition in this market is due to the fact that “only Chinese barbers know how to cut Chinese hair”, which is described as being thicker and harder than that of foreigners.
Last summer, the famous Xinghuo Hairshop closed down due to poor management, leaving Nanjing Hair Salon as one of the few remaining old-school salons in the city.
The Nanjing Hair Salon in Shanghai is among the oldest of its kind in the country and it used to attract celebrities and wealthy people.