by Trung Hieu-Chau Anh
Whether they set up shop on the roadside or sit back in luxury air conditioned sal- ons, barbers can make a lucrative living. The trade doesn't require much capital to set up, but it can pull in millions of dong each day.
This sort of money is a distant dream for some people, especially at a time when the majority are feeling the pinch.
Having graduated from the University of Transport, Nguyen Van Phuc, from Khuong Thuong Street in Ha Noi turned his back on his studies and became a barber.
"After my graduation, I found it difficult to find a job close to home. If I was going to use my training for the railways, I would have had to move far from Ha Noi. My parents did not want their only son to leave the city, but even after a year I still hadn't found a suitable job.
"While I was waiting for the right opportunity, I decided to study hairdressing for men and women. After a few months, I opened my own shop. At first, I only had a few clients, and earned from VND500,000-1 million each day, but now my shop is crowded, so I often earn several million dong," Phuc says. He added that hairdressing was not a difficult job.
"It doesn't require higher education, just skillful hands combined with hard work and dedication. More importantly, a barber must understand and follow his customers' preferences."
In addition to vocational-training centres, many hair salons in Ha Noi organise regular training courses.
Typically, each course lasts from two months to a year, depending on the trainee's ability.
In vocational centres, students are taught a combination of theory and practice.
In private salons, apprentices are hired as auxilliary workers to help with pretty much everything, from washing hair and cleaning the shop, to buying materials and equipment for the salons.
It does not take long to learn how to cut men's hair because the styles are usually quite simple. It's sometimes only a couple of months before a novice can start to make money.
Tuition fees in vocational training centres are often between VND700,000 and VND3 million per month, depending on the course.
At the International Fashion Vocational Training School in Tu Liem District, Ha Noi, during an international hair-styling course, students attend three classes: sub-workers, basic skills and advanced skills. Each class lasts from two to six months at a cost of VND700,000 a month. The tuition is considered "reasonable" compared to many other sectors.
In Ha Noi, in addition to hair salons for women and men, many pavements have become "barber streets" such as Thai Thinh, Thanh Nhan and Ngo Quyen.
"Cutting men's hair on the street means you don't need much capital and the work is relatively easy, but the money is very good," says Nguyen Sinh who works on Ton Duc Thang Street.
An old barber on Van Mieu Street says men's haircuts are fairly simple. "You just need a chair, a mirror, a pair of sharp scissors and some razors, then you can start work. The location itself couldn't be simpler. It is best to set up on the roadside so you don't have to rent a shop, and working outside is both spacious and cool."
The cost of a roadside haircut ranges from VND30,000-50,000. It usually takes five minutes to complete, but a bit longer for a wet shave with soap and water.
"On crowded weekends, dozens of people queue up for a trim and shave. We never earn less than VND1 million a day," says Minh Huy, a barber on Quoc Tu Giam Street.
"Although we work out on the street, many barbers earn tens of millions of dong a month," he says.
Perhaps because the job has proven to be such a cash-cow, one particular 100m stretch of pavement along Thai Thinh Street has dozens of barbers lined up beside each other.
Quang Hoa, a student who often has his hair cut on Thai Thinh, says the street probably has the highest number of skilled barbers in the city.
"Prices are now VND50,000 for an adult and VND30,000 for a child, and a special cut with styling using gel is about VND100,000. Customers are mostly regulars from the working class and students," he says.
Men's hair salons are also popping up in premises along the streets in central Ha Noi, but patrons have to pay a premium for the additional overheads owners incur such as rent, materials and equipment costs.
Some clients enjoy basking in the additional ‘luxury' this premium pays for, but many others prefer the simple aesthetic of sitting on the street and watching the world go by, mentally counting the money it saves them.
A skilled barber with just VND5-10 million can open his own small shop, according to Thai Phong, the owner of a salon on Quang Trung Street. The cost of a haircut in these places typically ranges from VND100,000 to VND300,000.
Services such as hair dyeing and styling are also becoming more popular among men. The cost of these services is high. For example, to have your hair dyed would cost at least VND500,000.
"Many of these salons are small, but with just a dozen clients a day, their owners can earn several million dong a day. Owners of larger salons can make up to a hundred million dong a month.
"Clients of these salons are mostly young men from wealthy families. I'm not surprised when I see them change their hair style and colour several times a month," Phong says.
As long as people have hair they will need barbers, but few realise that this straightforward job can provide as much income as that earned by top-level Government workers, journalists and business people. — VNS