Singapore

Will their succession plans be clipped?

It is not a lack of business that could kill off neighbourhood barbers.

Barbers who spoke to The New Paper (TNP) have weathered the threat of the 10-minute quick-cut vendors. The rise of the hipster barbers does not worry them, either. And there is no lack of hair to cut.

The true test will be when it is time to hand the clippers over to a successor - simply because in many cases, there are no successors to be found.

Mr Ali Yusuf, co-owner of Red Panther Barber Stylist at Upper Serangoon Shopping Centre, said he cannot see anyone taking over from him.

He owns the shop with his brother, Mr Ahmad Yusuf, 64.

The children of both Mr Ali and Mr Ahmad have not picked up the family trade. Mr Ali has one son and Mr Ahmad has one daughter.

"Young people don't want to pick up this skill," said the 61-year-old.

Red Panther began in the shopping centre in 1982.

UNIQUE

The eclectically-decorated shop is a hangout of sorts for the regulars and the decorations are testament to the bond some customers have with the shop.

A row of souvenir licence plates from around the world lines the top of the shop wall. Most are gifts from customers who studied overseas.

Business is brisk for the Panther men. When TNP visited the shop last Thursday, there was a queue of lunchtime customers.

Mr Ali greeted each one like an old friend, trading some light-hearted insults and banter as they settled on the park benches used in the waiting area.

He attracts young customers, but has been unable to attract an apprentice.

While he has trained a few barbers who have since set up their own shops, some simply gave up halfway.

The number of drop-outs led Mr Ali to give up on training. He trained his last apprentice more than 10 years ago. Now, he is concentrating on his clientele.

"As long as my hands are steady and my eyesight is good, I will continue to cut hair," he said.

"When I retire..."

His sentence trailed off, suggesting that he will cross that particular bridge when he gets to it.

The question mark over the continuation of neighbourhood barbers is not unique to Red Panther.

Mr A.K. Kandasamy, the 77-year-old owner of New Star Hair Dressing Saloon in Serangoon Road, faces the same issue.

He has been operating the shop at the same location for 55 years.

None of his children took up the clippers as a career and he was unable to find a new barber when one of his staff retired in the early 2000s.

So six years ago, he resorted to hiring a barber from India.

"I have advertised in the papers and even on television for new hires," said the sprightly septuagenarian.

"But no one took it up... all these young people baulked at the long working hours."

The shop is open from 9am to 9pm, except on Fridays when it is closed.

On a weekend, the shop can service more than 100 customers - a mix of professionals, foreign workers and even Caucasian travellers, thanks to backpacking hostels in the area, said Mr Kandasamy.

When a customer stepped into his shop, he excused himself and quickly busied himself with his work.

His deft hands are a sign of someone who has mastered his craft.

Though Mr Kandasamy may not look like a man nearing 80 - he credits weightlifting in his 20s for his good health - he is aware of his age.

When the inevitable passage of time eventually forces him to put down his clippers, the legacy might end with him.

"I don't know when I will stop (cutting hair), but until that day, I will continue."

I have advertised in the papers and even on television for new hires. But no one took it up, all these young people baulked at the long working hours.

- Mr A.K. Kandasamy, owner of New Star Hair Dressing Saloon, on the difficulty of hiring new barbers