Mystery Shopper: Champ’s Barbers

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Now followers of this column will know I’ve been to a good few barber shops in my travels, but Champs was a new experience. It’s the first barbershop that I’ve been to that has a really distinctive ‘urban’ vibe, very difficult to describe, but almost like walking into a very cool night-club. It’s not huge, but big enough to fit 6 chairs. The walls are covered in boxing memorabilia (reflecting Ian’s interest in boxing and his past successes), and in the background there was a soundtrack which ranged from hip-hop, to soul to dance. It is probably the coolest barbers I’ve ever been to.
Of the six chairs, Ian works one of them (high in the back), with four guys and a lady working the others. An apprentice is kept busy by this crew, preparing hot and cold towels and keeping the place looking good. It’s hectic, and while I was there (on a mid November Friday lunchtime), there was never an empty seat.

Ian (who at this point didn’t know me) gave me a welcome hello and directed me to a seat by the window. Here I could watch his team do their work. What immediately struck me was the range of cuts they were doing. A couple of clients had their (short) beards trimmed, finely shaped using a wet shave, then their hair cut and styled. One man came in solely to get his Gandalf like beard brought under control. Another young man had his hair split into sections and braided (by a young lady called Angel), a process that took about an hour and was quite mesmerizing to watch.
After a short wait Ian called me over to his chair and we started to chat. We had a fun five minutes while he tried to work out who I was, while I dropped him increasingly less subtle hints. In the end he realised that while he was talking to Davey Walker on the Lions Alliance stand at British Master Barber Live, I was in the chair in front of him getting my hair cut.

Ian shared some of his history with me, a personal story but one that has a strong family focus and encourages the dedication and support of his team. Again, this is something you can feel when you are there, a very strong feeling that you are part of an extended family.

Ian spent a good amount of time cutting my hair, probably longer than I’ve ever spent in the chair before. I commented on this to him ‘I can give you a 10 minute cut if you are in a rush, but I prefer to take my time and do a quality job’. Perfect reply. After the cut, Ian passed me to the apprentice who gave my hair a gentle wash, then it was back to Ian for a final styling (I should point out that this wasn’t special treatment for me, everyone had it).
Before leaving we chatted about his family connections to Colombia, and how on a previous visit there he had spent time cutting hair for some of the street kids who live rough in the Barrios. Ian shared his idea of teaching some of them barbering skills to help them get on the ladder, and perhaps pulling together some starter kits to give away. This sounded like a fantastic idea, and I’m sure that the British Master Barbers would love to help out when Ian makes another trip.

I paid for my cut, which for its quality and the fact I was less than a 3 iron from Oxford Circus, was incredibly good value. I shook hands with Ian, then he gave me my first ever ‘Fist Bump’….I was now a friend of ‘The Champ’!

Champs barbers
31 Riding Street