Sultans of Shave reinvented Singapore barbershops for modern men

15 min read
Sultans of Shave reinvented Singapore barbershops for modern men

This attractive room is decorated in dark blue tones, and it features wooden panels and a sleek bar that is equipped with a variety of exquisite whiskeys. A little farther in, there are private rooms for facials as well as a lounge where members can enjoy their beverage of choice and even hold a quick meeting or two.

Lewis Lim, who also helped develop the men’s grooming franchise Sultans of Shave, is responsible for the conception of The Mezz, an elite barbershop that combines elements of a members lounge.

“The Mezz is our premium brand, and with it, we wanted to modernize the traditional barbershop by adding amenities such as a bar, a lounge, and individual treatment rooms for facials. Our goal was to make getting a haircut a more enjoyable experience overall. We worked closely with our partners to select each piece, from the wine and whiskey lists to the goods used for our facials,” said Lim. “Everything from the wine and whiskey lists to the products utilized for our facials was a team effort.”

Consider this the men’s equivalent of the high-end hair and beauty clinics where ladies spend hours perfecting their appearance in the hopes of attracting admiring glances from others. Lim, who became interested in the industry about a decade ago and co-founded Sultans of Shave in 2013, is the brains behind this current barbering concept. It is his latest venture in the industry.

“Barbering is one of the oldest occupations in the world, and there was a time when a surgeon and a barber were the same person,” said Lim. “Barbering is also one of the few professions that is still practiced today.”

But he realized that people in Singapore did not hold a very positive opinion of the work. People have come to believe that getting a haircut in a barbershop is both quick and inexpensive, which has, unsurprisingly, contributed to the decline of the profession. However, this was not the case in the Western world. In that part of the world, the barbering industry was thriving and considered a respectable profession. “He made the observation that it was obligatory for males to visit the barber for a high-quality haircut and shave.”

“There wasn’t any fundamental problem with barbering in the local area; rather, it was an issue of location, and it was something that I felt should be attacked and changed,” said the barber.

As a result, Lim established Sultans of Shave in 2013, together with two other business partners, with the intention of bringing the quality of the local barbering experience up to a level comparable to that of the standard bearers in the United Kingdom. According to what he had to say, “We did not just set out to give the best haircut or shave but rather to deliver the optimal barbering experience.”

It should come as no surprise that his brand was successful given the limited number of other comparable experiential men’s grooming concepts available at the time. As it turns out, the guys do understand; so much so, in fact, that there are already five Sultans of Shave locations across the island.

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“Even though the art of barbering has developed considerably through the years, a barber has always been someone who is properly trained to groom men.” According to Lim, “a skilled barber is able to precisely analyze skin types, to select the right products, and to be able to execute a shave to suit the tastes of an individual client.”

Customers can remain on for a facial and massage to cap up their grooming experience, in addition to gaining a new look with cool undercuts, sharp edges, and contemporary comb overs. This will give them a more modern appearance.

“Removing unwanted hair from the face is not the only purpose of a shave. According to what he had to say, we want it to be an experience where you can unplug, pamper yourself, and get groomed.”

It is one of the factors that contributes to the unique architecture of each Sultans of Shave location. For instance, their original storefront, located in Raffles Place, has the atmosphere of a genteel club, whilst the storefront in Duxton pays homage to the conserved shophouse legacy of the neighborhood by including chinoiserie details and vintage furnishings.

“These design features not only give each outlet a voice and personality, but they also set the tone for the barbering experience, and for that reason, no budget is spared,” he said. “No expense is spared because of these design components.”

Lim, who is a whiskey connoisseur and enjoys kicking back over a fine drink with his buddies, started observing that customers would stop by Sultans of Shave with bottles of whiskey. Lim also enjoys spending time with his friends. Some would even drop in for a drink in between meetings or after work.

This gave him the inspiration to create The Mezz, which he did so as to bring an even higher level of sophistication to the barbering experience. The Mezz first opened its doors for business in 2021 and now has locations on both North Canal Road and Raffles Place in Singapore.

According to The Guinness Book of World Records, the firm also acquired the local franchise of Truefitt & Hill Barbershop in the same year. Truefitt & Hill is recognized as the oldest barbershop in the world. According to him, it is considered to be the most premium barbering brand in the company and delivers “classical barbering at its finest” along with a stable of carefully picked grooming items to compliment the services that it provides.

Lim actually took the helm of an expansion drive for the group while the pandemic was in full swing, resulting in the opening of a total of five new locations, at a time when many other businesses were scaling back in an effort to maintain their market share.

“The pandemic had a devastating effect on the company, but at the same time, it created new chances. We were able to digitize a large portion of our operations on the backend, and expansion plans presented themselves, both of which were opportunities that we felt were too good to pass up in spite of the current state of the economy,” he added.

In spite of the fact that profit margins shrunk to an almost insignificant level (no pun intended), he claimed that there were no pay cutbacks implemented and that nobody was let go since he did not believe it was fair to impose cuts on the workforce while the company was in the process of expanding.

Naturally, now that many constraints have been removed, the organization is in an excellent position to optimize the business, particularly as an increasing number of clients are rediscovering the pleasures of a grooming session that also includes some socializing for good measure.

Having said that, he has not deviated from his goal, which is to teach barbering as a rite of passage to the greatest number of men feasible. We Are Sultans is another brand that can be purchased from Sultans of Shave. This brand is a stripped-down version of the company’s flagship product and is aimed at those who are concerned with cost.

“This was developed to cater to a younger crowd that was searching for barbershop quality haircuts at pocket friendly pricing with outlets often placed in suburban regions,” he said. “This was established to cater to a younger crowd that was looking for barbershop quality haircuts.” Because the barber is only concerned with providing the service and not the full barbershop experience, the cost of the haircut is significantly reduced.
His long-term objective is to broaden his product offering to include additional lifestyle choices. “It is my hope that the company will be able to successfully transition into a grooming and lifestyle company in which we implement concepts not just for men to get groomed but also to socialize, rest, and entertain at,” said the CEO.

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