I’ve known Johnny for a couple of months now, working on a few creative video pieces for him. I’ve been able to get to know him a bit from behind the lens.
You only have to scroll through his Instagram feed, or spend a few minutes in the shop to realise how much of a character Johnny is. If you walked in to the Manchester site, which will probably have 20-30 guys in there at any one time, if I said to you which one is Johnny, you would get it right every time.
For those that aren’t familiar with the series, I’ve decided to do a take on ‘Humans of New York’ but for people who call Manchester home.
People of MCR will try and tell the story of this incredible city and all the people who contribute to it being the fastest growing city in Europe.
I reached out to Johnny, owner of BarberBarber, to ask if he would we could sit down and tell his story as the second People of MCR feature.
So how does this work? I will get each person to tell me their story in their own words of how they got to where they are today. I will share that story along with some photos for context.
Each person featured will then be asked the same question – Why Manchester?
Johnny started his own barbershop back in Ireland above a chip shop in Limerick. With a population of just 80,000, Johnny grew up in barbershops. Johnny started going to the barbers with his granddad when he was in his early teens. In his own words, “I’m not looking for a Blue Peter badge here”, but he started sweeping the floors like anyone else when he was just 14.
Back in Ireland there was a real culture of having a barbershop similar to the local. People would go, just to hang out with friends, take the piss out of each other and enjoy having a beer or a coffee. That meant the place was packed all the time.
Morgan, who is Johnny’s business partner, tried to convince Johnny that he had to take this model and culture to the UK market.
At 31 and with a successful business in Ireland, Johnny had a 16-year-old daughter and a 1-year-old son at the time. Providing for his family was the most important thing and he was understandably hesitant.
But with the trust he had for Morgan’s ability in business, Johnny took the gamble and moved himself to Manchester to start the first BarberBarber in the UK, leaving his family behind in Ireland.
I’ve never met a successful entrepreneur yet that hasn’t taken a similar risk. I asked Johnny if he went back in time and had no idea whether it would work or not, would he make the same decision again? “Yeah, 100%, no regrets.”
Johnny now lives in Monton – Eccles, just 20 minutes from the city centre of Manchester, still visiting family in Ireland twice a year at Christmas and in the Summer time. He is so thankful for the opportunities that Manchester has given him.
When asked why Manchester? Johnny said, “Manchester chose me really to be honest with you,” with his business partner Morgan owning Barton Arcade on Deansgate at the time, it was a natural fit for the first UK site to be opened there.
Johnny talked about the huge support he had from the local community when he arrived, “You find with Manchester, that because of the immigration back in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s most of Manchester is Irish. Nearly every person I meet, their granny is Irish, their great granny is Irish.”
He went on to say that he feels at home here “I see it as my home for the next 20, to 40 years hopefully”.
Johnny is a man of habit on an almost military scale. He’s the type of guy that will get up at the same time of day, 7 days a week. He will always plan ahead, drive the same route to and from work no matter what the traffics like, drinks the same coffee (a coconut flat white from Pot Kettle Black across the road.)
When Johnny first moved to Manchester, he ate out at San Carlo Cicchetti every single night…He puts this way of life down to the formula for his success.
Loyalty is important to Johnny, “If I’m happy with something, I don’t look to better it, for me if I’m happy going somewhere, you’d have to f***ing drag me out of there. Loyalty in business is the bedrock. 10 barbershops could open next to me and I wouldn’t care. If my customers are happy in my shop, it doesn’t matter what opens next door to me.”
The rapid expansion of BarberBarber hasn’t come easy. Like me, Johnny gets frustrated when people usually from my generation, want the lifestyle balance and success at the same time. It doesn’t exist.
Johnny admitted that growing his business nearly broke him. The things that went wrong along the way, coupled with working countless hours 7 days a week. There are no shortcuts in life. You have to be the hardest working person in the room.
It’s not for everyone, but if you have a goal that you want to achieve, or you want to provide for your family and achieve a level of success, you have to sacrifice the balanced lifestyle. But ask Johnny if he would do it all again…
It was an absolute pleasure to interview Johnny for this series. If you’re looking or a high quality barber in Manchester with community feel, make sure you check out their website. Bookings and walk-ins welcome.
BarberBarber now has sites in Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Birmingham and Cheshire as well as an academy in Manchester to train the younger guys coming through. To book, please visit www.barberbarberuk.co.uk
You can also follow Johnny and his team on Instagram @mrjohnny_baba and @barberbarberuk