The tale of an entrepreneurial second generation barber in Phnom Penh reveals how a traditional family business model can thrive in the 21st century.
With his father’s business surviving the country’s toughest times, Chan Sarim has taken the not so glitzy model to another dimension in the capital, where he continues to serve customers with the traditional barber’s touch.
The “Mr Ngol Barber Shop”, located on Street 456, in the capital’s Russian Market area, symbolises how a father-to-son craft is transforming the Cambodian business landscape – with the blossoming of cottage industries contributing to the nation’s growth story.
Ambitious young entrepreneurs are now adding further steel to the financial sector in Cambodia, which has endured testing times to emerge as a leading economy in the Asean region.
Sarim, a 38-year-old Kampot native who owns the stylish tonsorium – which provides everything from traditional cuts to trendy coiffures – is a case in point.
Like many young Cambodians, Sarim dreamed of striking out on his own as an independent businessman – a goal he achieved six years ago after having worked at a friend’s barbershop in Phnom Penh since 2009.
Armed with experience, confidence and sufficient savings, he set up the Mr Ngol Barber Shop – ngol means “bald” in Khmer.
“I have been inspired by my father since I was young to become a barber.
“I always wanted to manage my own business, so I decided to open this shop,” Sarim said, adding that he plans to open a high-end hair salon next year.
The Mr Ngol Barber Shop has a team of six – four male hairstylists do the trimming, while their two female colleagues are on hand to wash hair, provide face massages and cut nails.
Coiffeuring aside, washing hair, colouring in a wide range of tones, treating damaged hair, manicures and pedicures, ear cleaning and face massages add to the long list of services available.
The range of services and the care with which they are carried out means the Mr Ngol Barber Shop is a firm fixture on the capital’s grooming scene.
Like many other businesses, the Covid-19 outbreak impacted Sarim’s popular barbershop. From a peak of around 80 customers a day, numbers fell to as low as 30.
However, there have been signs of recovery since late June as more and customers return to his shop – the majority Cambodian, with around 20 per cent foreigners.
Precautionary measures to contain Covid-19 are strictly followed in the shop.
“When a customer arrives, we spray sanitiser on their hands and provide them with a face mask.
“All our barbers wear gloves and masks, and we clean after each haircut to maintain proper hygiene,” said Sarim.
Despite inflation increasing prices in the capital over the years, Sarim managed to keep the price of a haircut to a reasonable $2-$2.50. And even with rising overheads, he has still kept it down to just $3.
hair washing with a face massage and blackhead and pimple removal costs $10.
And the pricing applies equally to all customers.
“Whether Cambodians or foreigners, I charge the same price because I want to treat all my customers equally. I care for and value all my customers the same, and I want them all to be happy,” Sarim said.