EB: You founded Cutters in 2015. Today, you are running 53 salons. How hard was it to find a skilled barber in Norway before your company came along?
Kristian Solheim: You could find a skilled barber alright, but the hairdressing market in Norway had several problems we thought our idea could fix. Our company’s story began with a friend of mine telling me about the time he had spent in Japan, where he was intrigued by a chain of hair salons whose shops were mostly located in malls, catered to businessmen short on time and offered quick, but proper and professional haircuts.
With this idea in mind, we analyzed the Norwegian hairdressing market, and found that it was very fragmented, with small independent salons on every corner, but without any major chains. Besides that, prices were pretty high, and getting your hair cut usually took a long time, which meant that most people had to get their haircuts either at the end of a busy workday or on the weekends. Hence, a lot of salons were servicing much fewer customers during normal working hours than seemed economically reasonable. All this pointed towards considerable opportunities for optimization in the market, and we were sure that we had a solution: We believed that our business idea – hassle-free haircuts at a cheap price, done in a timely fashion, but without compromising quality – had huge potential.
We believed that our business idea – hassle-free haircuts at a cheap price, done in a timely fashion, but without compromising quality – had huge potential. Kristian Solheim
EB: As you just explained, your business model works like clockwork: For NOK 299 (approx. 30 EUR), your barbers cut your customers’ hair in 15 minutes. But what happens at minute 16, if the job isn’t done yet?
Kristian Solheim: Your hairdresser will carry on cutting your hair until the job is finished, of course. But the price you pay will stay the same: NOK 299 in all our salons in Norway, and not an øre more. It doesn’t matter if it takes us 14 minutes or 16 minutes to cut your hair, if it is long or short, curly or straight, if you’re a man or a woman or a child. The most important thing is to give our customers a good experience. They must know what to expect – and at Cutters, they can expect that their hair will be cut professionally for NOK 299, no matter what.
EB: You have acknowledged that there are hair salons offering cheaper prices than Cutters’. So why do customers flock to your venue to get a quick haircut and pay a bit more than elsewhere?
Kristian Solheim: Compared to most proper salons, Cutters is extremely cheap. Of course, there are a few shady independent salons, most of them only accepting cash, which might come a little cheaper still. But besides our competitive prices, our venues look nice, so people are more comfortable coming to us instead of going to some dilapidated shop located on a second or third street, where they might save a negligible amount of money, while Cutters’ stores are exclusively located in more prime-streets or in the middle of huge shopping centers. Most importantly, though, our customers really appreciate our simple concept: There is only one price and our barbers will give you a professional haircut – no washing or dyeing involved – in a speedy fashion, so you can get on with your day.
EB: As you’ve already explained, Cutters’ original business idea was to offer hassle-free haircuts for busy people, especially businessmen. Is that indeed the primary clientele you service these days, or were you surprised to find people coming to your salons you hadn’t thought would be open to your business?
Kristian Solheim: Before we started, we had thought that our concept would almost exclusively cater to men. But while we were travelling around university campuses and Christmas markets with our proof of concept, conducting our pilot tests to see if our business model could actually be a success in the real world, we realized straight away that our customers weren’t the ones we’d thought they would be. We were surprised to see that a lot of women appreciated the concept, and today, women account for 50% of our customers.
As long as you keep your customers and your employees happy, you can basically open as many salons as you want. Kristian Solheim
EB: Within three years, you have expanded to 53 salons. So far, however, Cutters has only been active in Norway. Do you have any plans to expand your business elsewhere, and if so, which markets would you find most interesting?
Kristian Solheim: Expanding abroad has always been our plan. When we started out, we wanted to build something for Norway first, then for the other Nordic countries, before expanding still further. We still have a lot of room to grow in our home market and in the rest of Scandinavia, but it probably won’t be long until we’ll be entering other markets in Europe. We found that as long as you keep your customers and your employees happy, you can basically open as many salons as you want.
EB: Aren’t you concerned that some other company with more capital could essentially copy Cutters’ business idea and enter one of the larger European markets, before you expand there, and thus reap greater profits than you ever could in the Nordic countries?
Kristian Solheim: Yes, that could happen, but we aren’t really concerned about it. Before we opened our first salon in Norway, we believed that the competition would start straight away and give us a run for our money, but we haven’t seen anything yet. Someone will probably try to copy us sooner or later, but that’s just the way it is. I believe that we would be able to handle competition quite well, though. We are using very good IT systems, which makes it easier to scale and allows us to keep our costs extremely low. Even a larger competitor couldn’t build that in a day.
Don’t sit in your room and create a perfect thing before you launch it, because when you’re launching it, you may find out too late that people don’t want it. Kristian Solheim
EB: What lessons could aspiring entrepreneurs draw from Cutters’ founding history?
Kristian Solheim: If you have a market with a problem and you have a solution that could solve it, that is a good start – and if people are already spending money in this market, that’s even better. I think it is extremely important to get out into the market quickly once you have your idea – that’s exactly what we did, when we came up with Cutters. We went out and about with makeshift boxes, testing our concept, and even though we were extremely embarrassed by what we presented at first, we were able to learn so much about what our customers wanted and what they didn’t need. So don’t sit in your room and create a perfect thing before you launch it, because when you’re launching it, you may find out too late that people don’t want it.