The4thKen, a North Philadelphia resident known for his haircut lessons and videos, has become a social media sensation. On TikTok, the 20-year-old barber has accumulated more than 1.8 million likes, and his most popular video has had over 2 million views. But not always are people drawn to his sharp edges and precise fading.
In one video, Carruth showed off a mid-fade and noted, “My client paid me $80 for this haircut.” Other videos list prices well above $100. Other videos have asking expenses that exceed $100. While some viewers supported the cost, others referred to the haircut as a “scam” and noted that their barber could complete the same for $15.
Carruth also charged $15 per head before the COVID-19 pandemic. But he had to increase his prices due to increased demand and rising operating expenses. Carruth said:
“I feel like pre-pandemic, barbers were undervalued. “Now, barbers are starting to realize their worth and see that it’s not just about the cut. You’re providing an experience.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the price of a haircut increased 6.8% in November 2022 compared to the same month the previous year, marking the highest yearly increase since the organization began tracking the category. Men, who are accustomed to paying for their haircuts with a single bill, are taking notice.
Local barbers used to compete on pricing with their competitors to attract customers. One store might sell cuts for $20, while another might sell them for $15. However, according to Damon Dorsey, 61, president of the American Barber Association, the pandemic rendered small-business owners helpless. The severely hit groups included barbers and other service professionals.
40-year-old barber Nicky Prosseda of Southwest Philadelphia claims that the pandemic’s seismic impact also motivated barbers to improve their operational procedures. According to Prosseda, barbers benefited from cash-in-hand transactions and tax-free loopholes from the mid-20th century until now.
However, as the sector developed, the gradual increase in haircut costs did not keep pace with the price of beauty products, booth leases, or Venmo and CashApp fees. And it rendered barbering as a principal source of income unlivable for many.
Prosseda, who charges $75 a cut, is the director of Philly’s Modern Male Barber Academy. He said:
“I truly believe that there’s this kind of pain for the sins of our forefather barbers and the past owners. “They didn’t teach us the best things in the industry, so you pass it down.”
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The Bureau of Labor Statistics calculated that most barber incomes fall between $22,430 and $53,260 using data gathered in May 2021. That income may be what barbers claim to make, but many have been making $50,000 to $100,000 for years, according to Prosseda. And with even more resources at their disposal, he predicts they will start to rack in upward of $150,000 annually.
According to Dorsey, barbers can use their social media presence to attract more high-end clients and improve business methods. Barbers may arrange appointments and manage customer information using apps like Booksy and StyleSeat. Barbers like Carruth have used them to build their brands outside their local area.
Carruth launched his barbershop in Kensington by developing his social media following. After converting his social media fans into devoted customers, he saved enough money to obtain a company license and lease the tiny commercial premises in August 2021. Carruth said:
“I know a lot of barbers that are great at cutting hair, but they suck at running a business,. And with that, you can’t charge what you want because you’re just going purely off skill.”
Jalen Thompson, a 23-year-old barber in West Philadelphia, said some of his customers had left in search of lower costs even though most of them appreciate his increased charges. Thompson is willing to take that chance because she charges $45 to $75 for haircuts and more than $120 for house calls. He said:
“We stopped being hustlers and turned into CEOs. I became a barber because I love cutting hair, but I also knew how much money there was to be made in this industry. … There’s an opportunity to retire early and really enjoy life and take on other business ventures.” Prosseda agrees that it’s allowed him and others to live a better, more balanced life.
“A barber’s career is not one of mental easiness or physical, so you have to raise the prices for the barber to have a work-life balance where you can put your kid on the bus, and go be the coach to your son’s football team, or whatever it is. You have to raise the prices in order for that to happen.”
Carruth claimed that barbers who learn to adapt reap the benefits of the industry. Along with cutting hair textures and adopting upgrades such as man weaves, semi-permanent color, and other treatments, it’s crucial to offer additional services like hair washes, food, TV, and WiFi. He said:
“There’s a lot of older barbers that are stuck in their ways that refuse to change, and unfortunately, they’re more than likely gonna get left behind,”
Ian Watson, an Overbrook resident and a client of Carruth’s for almost a year, claims that clients are prepared to spend more for superior service. Watson said:
“Depending on the quality of the cuts and the level of professionalism, people will pay to avoid the stereotypical barber. “I say it’s worth it.”