My husband George recently rediscovered the art of shaving with a safety razor, and hence the desire for a cut throat shave. Since he always talked about a place called Manhor on Chapel St., I felt his 50th birthday was the best opportunity to grant him his wish. My first contact with Rob Gauci, owner and founder of Manhor, was the booking of George’s very special grooming experience. From the moment I made the call to the moment George walked out of that salon, the experience was friendly, seamless, and unforgettable. I wanted to know more, so I chatted with Rob Gauci. Here’s what he had to say.
1. Rob, tell us a little about your background before opening Manhor.
I graduated in marketing and psychology back in Perth. My background is in marketing and account management with a direct sales role in a larger fitness chain. I quickly became their number one salesperson, and that’s when I started appreciating the value of relationships and building trust.
I then moved into account management in radio. I was given an opportunity to have lots of key accounts working with some niche businesses, and that gave me the experience and the impression that one day I wanted to make a difference in my own brand. I started looking for a business where I could make a difference. I wanted an iconic brand that I could develop from infancy to becoming number one in the marketplace.
2. What made you go into the Men’s Grooming Industry and open Manhor?
To be honest I didn’t know if it was a great idea. People tried to shoot me down a few times. They couldn’t understand my investment in resources, time, and effort. They thought I was crazy because I would be sacrificing a stable income source that I had been enjoying in radio. Nine years later things hadn’t changed for me—my goals and aspirations of being a manager back in Perth changed and I decided to do something for me.
After having a long-term break, I went into a salon. But 5-10 minutes after sitting in the reception area waiting for a list of waxing treatments, I felt intimidated. I’m a pretty confident guy, but I walked out because that environment wasn’t conducive to men. The salon was like a Marie Claire magazine—sterile white—and you didn’t know what they did in the back. This was my first experience, and everything was foreign. So I walked out and thought, Where do I go as a guy? I knew there needed to be something for a guy where he could go get treatments and feel comfortable. That’s when I had a light bulb moment.
I packed my bags and hopped on a plane to New York and LA. I took ideas from the mature men’s concepts in particular spas, and hair with a bit of grooming. I put it together in a package that I thought would be conducive to Australian men. I knew there was something missing that would bring men in, and that’s when I came up with the idea of a bar. It needed to be more “blokey,” and that’s how it started.
3. Rob, I notice you don’t have a background in grooming, though you had the management and sales background. Is that correct?
I had a background in sales predominantly. I really didn’t have a management operation background, which was hard work. I fell to my knees a few times, and that’s because I didn’t really appreciate numbers, which is really important to understand. If you don’t know where your bottom-line is, then it’s very hard to improve or make some profit. I employed a beauty consultant, and I thought my business was going to be 90% spa and 10% hair, and shave was a consideration at the start that evolved. That’s all changed. We’ll change again, and it’s changing now with the introduction of the second store. It will just keep changing.
That beauty consultant helped me appreciate what’s involved in setting up the operation, and then I worked hands-on by being involved in the front of the house and running all aspects of the business.
The skill is promoting the two-in-one business model of hair and beauty. With the opening of our city location, we wanted to promote the beauty aspect. We created transparency by having semi-transparent design fixtures with the laser cut-outs, so customers ask, “What’s down there?” Whilst the men are having their haircuts or sting at the bar, they can see people go into the rooms. In the Chapel St. Manhor studio, we have the separation of upstairs and downstairs. There are many hair clients over the years who don’t realize we do men’s treatments as well.
4. You have won the WOMO 2013 Service Award. What is your philosophy around customer service?
Every time someone walks into that door, it gives me a sense of appreciation. This person is investing money on himself and is spending it in my business—that’s the ultimate compliment of all. If you understand that in everything you do with every single client, then there’s no way the customer will leave feeling like he hasn’t been serviced with a bit of WOW.
That’s something I try to remember: they’re willing to pay for something that I created. I had no idea about the nature of how to start a business. I learned lots along the way. Customers are willing to come in and take that plunge and give me money for that. If you can remember that, then you’re so much better for it because you still have to deliver the whole journey.
It’s about having the operations running smoothly. The haircut takes 30 to 45 minutes as promised, and it is better than or as good as anywhere else. It’s about the whole experience—creating the WOW factor and then being recommended to others. Personality is a big thing. The staff understands that even men can get intimidated, so it’s creating a space that gives them a sense of belonging. Many of our clients are just average guys.
When we first did the business plan, I was asked, “Who you are looking to attract?” It was built around metro sexual guys, 20 -29, who want to look good. I thought they would buy, but that was rubbish. They don’t spend money; they’re fickle and they change their environment. They want the latest fad, they are trendsetters, and I keep moving. Just like their restaurants and clothing, it’s the same with the nature of their grooming. If they try it, that might be the fad for the next month, or they may take up bike riding or whatever else may be the latest fad. So the reality is that it was not my market. Our market is the guy who is established in his career, has disposable income, and is looking to create a bit of a sanctuary for that half hour, that hour, or two hours. In our city salon it’s less time; in Chapel St., it’s longer.
The dynamic and difficulty of people and managing them, and the ever-evolving gen X, Y, & Z. It’s about personalities within business, and trying to find a happy medium for the staff to be continually inspired. One by the business, two by the industry, they all believe they are underpaid and overworked, and that’s never changed. It’s trying to find and develop a workspace within the industry that’s the happiest place to work.
It’s trying to find out how companies like Red Balloon have done it without spending too much money. They have one of the happiest workplaces in Australia. That’s what we want to create. So my biggest lesson was how to appreciate and understand people—how to inspire and motivate people without spending more money, which a business can’t afford. Consistency is important in all aspects. It starts with the message to clients, customer experience, and the core staff.
The other lesson is the sacrifices you need to make when setting up a business. Don’t underestimate ever what it’s going to cost you. A very good accountant asked me, “Would you put this money aside for a home? Are you prepared to lose that whole amount for the exercise of this venture? Rob, this is a great idea. There are lots of flaws and a lot of what ifs, and I’m here to tell you from the numbers perspective, there are no guarantees. That’s why you got me here today. Are you prepared for the purpose of your exercise to explore your dream, to lose a home? If you say yes it means that you have dedicated enough sacrifice and you will make it work.” That’s what I had in the back of my mind.
In the first year we rode the wave of the GFC, and we didn’t have hair up and running yet; that came later. Anyone who wants to go into business and thinks it’s easy, I would ask, “How much are you willing to sacrifice?” When looking at a new venture, whatever you’re prepared to put in, add another 25%, and that’s how much you’ve got to be prepared to lose.
For more information go to www.manhor.com.au locations Chapel St and City.
Written and photographed by Penny Votzourakis