Though he’s still a relatively young man, Chim Poly already holds a Bachelor’s degree in Banking, Finance and English from a Cambodian university, a Master’s degree in Business Administration from an Australian university and has worked as a manager at several large companies.
Poly, 33, is the former managing director of TADA and a former division manager at Wing, Uber, Cellcard and Ezecom. Incredibly enough, all of those titles are former because Poly gave up thousands of dollars per month in salary to run a barber shop – a line of business in which he has no expertise at all.
“My motivation for starting this barbershop business was due to the lack of standards in the industry here and the growth opportunity for expansion compared to other developing countries, and I wanted to help with training Cambodians in these skills to create jobs for Cambodian youths,” Poly told The Post.
Counter to the notion that being a barber isn’t a real profession or that it’s a job for people with nothing else to do, Poly counters that in developed countries it’s considered a skilled profession that is difficult to do well and requires a lot of talent and top barbers earn good money.
For example, in the US the average cost of a haircut for men is currently $53 nationwide, and in some wealthier states the average is much higher – in New York the average cost is $140 and in California it’s $84, according to an industry website.
“So, we see it as an opportunity to develop the haircutting and styling industry here,” said Poly, who now owns nine barbershops across three franchises – Kambuja, Simple and 5 Barber.
When Poly started his first barbershop in mid-2019, he had no skills as a barber himself at all but he knew how to run a business and he had confidence in his ability to identify good employees with talent in the field.
Poly said that if he opened the shop just to earn short-term income he wouldn’t have bothered taking the risk, but he has a long term view and expects the industry and his business to grow.
“If we can make this a growing field, it’s not only the owners that get a good income, but we’re also creating jobs for people and our customers will get a higher standard of service,” he said.
Poly said he realises that there are many barbershops in Cambodia that can’t charge the high prices found in developed countries.
“First of all, we do not have clear standards, and secondly, most people won’t be able to pay those prices,” he said.
However, Poly believes that the situation will change as Cambodia’s economy is constantly developing and many people are looking to establish higher standards and improve the job training in established industries such as haircutting and styling.
“Our shops all have different names but each of them has high standards. The shop decor, hygiene and barbering skills are all carefully attended to in order to ensure that from one shop to another we maintain the same standards. Customers do not have to come to the same shop, they can go to any of them to get the same good experience,” he said.
Poly partnered with a local barber, Eng Pao, who first began learning the trade in 2009. Pao has a decidedly modern style with earrings in both ears and tattoos on his hands. Poly said he chose him to work with because Pao is a good and honest person who has the same vision for developing the industry as he does.
Pao, 30, whose shop is decorated with photos of temples and replicas of art from the Angkor Empire, partnered with Poly to develop the barber profession and industry in Cambodia and bring it up to international standards, thereby increasing barbers’ incomes and modernising the field here.
“I saw his ability and experience with leading businesses and decided Poly was the best option for a partner. He has a lot of experience and we both have different skills that complement each other,” said Pao, who previously completed two years of an economics degree from Chamroeun Polytechnic University.
Their three barber shop franchises are Kambuja, a higher-end salon that costs $15 per haircut; Simple, a medium-cost salon which has six branches and charges $7; and 5 Barber – a low-cost shop with two branches that charges $2.5 per haircut.
Pao, who has trained locally and internationally, said that he is currently the manager of all branches and that he still takes some appointments with customers at the Kambuja Barber Shop in the Toul Tompong area where he charges $32.
Their barber shops charge a wide range in prices from $2.5 up to $15 because they want all types of customers to be able to afford to get a good haircut according to the customer’s budget and needs and they want to provide opportunities for their employees in developing their own abilities to work their way up the pay-scale.
They said the difference between the $2.5 and the $15 haircut was mostly based on the employees’ skills and experience along with extra perks such as coffee and more upscale decor, but both said that from one shop to another all of their branches focus on common standards that meet the customers’ expectations based on the amount being paid.
With ambitions to expand to 100 branches, the business management expert and hairdresser are expecting to be very busy over the next few years, but they have come to realise that the most important thing is grow in a way that allows them to sustainably maintain their service standards.
“On the other hand, we won’t necessarily own all of the shops in the future. We may just set up branches and set up a franchising business so that people can buy into the franchise and customers across the country can get their hair cut to a high standard,” Poly said.
Pao said that their staff are trained for an additional three months to a year beyond what most places would do depending on their experience and ingenuity and that he’s ready to do whatever it takes to achieve his dream of reaching the goal of 100 shops.
“This isn’t a new field, but the opportunities in it are still huge in Cambodia,” Poly said. “Therefore, I think that investors, barbers and businesspeople across the country should get on board and help develop this industry,” Poly said.