Every time I return to Southern California I make sure I stop by Riviera Barber Shop and get a hair cut and, if I have time, a shave from Luis or Johnny. I use to view getting a haircut as a mundane task that had to be endured like mowing the lawn or renewing my drivers’ license. That all changed after my first visit to Riviera, now I view it as a special treat. The place is not especially cheap, nor is it especially fast, and it is kind of inconvenient for me to get to since I live in Arkansas. So why do I and many others love the place?
Because they created an emotionally engaging experience that is authentic, memorable, and personal.
The guys at Riviera have created an entire servicescape that is aligned with their brand. Inside is a life-size wooden cigar Indian, old school Time and Life magazines, and an antique barber pole and red bench outside with random guy smoking a cigarette. Thirsty? There is an ice box with complimentary Cokes and Coronas, and if it’s Friday maybe a sip of Tequila. They have it nailed.
But the real stars of the show are the guys that work there. It’s like they belong there. The barbershop is their stage and they are they are the stars. They are a group of professionals who love what they do and it oozes and infects everyone who enters the Rockabilly meets Beach Bum barber shop. You can tell when people are great at what they do and love doing it. That’s Johnny, Luis, Tommy and the rest of the crew at Riviera.
What can be learned from this?
First, it is a good exemplar of how to create a powerful brand. Some companies take too narrow a view of their brand. Functional thinking predominates in the belief they are selling a car or a meal or a hotel room or a gasoline. In reality, what most companies are offering is an experience. That experience is part of every single touch point a customer has directly or indirectly with the brand. Unfortunately, many companies tend to be siloed into disparate channels such as in-store, online, and call center which makes them look at their business in that binned way.
The promise of omni-channel is breaking down those barriers which is good, but we need to do more than just coordinate our communication. We also need to be thoughtful about how the overall experience is designed and executed. Riviear Barber Shop isn’t just just about cutting hair. It’s about good music like Social Distortion and Frank Sinatra and Dodgers baseball when there’s a game. It’s about innane chatter about celebrities, sport figures, and politicians. Sparring among the barbers and playful bickering is a feature. Johnny and his crew create a total organic experience for their customers without even realizing it.
Which brings me to my second point. Brand experiences are tough to engineer without the most important raw ingredients: the right people. You can have all the standard operating procedures, training, incentives, facilities, and job aids and still not deliver a holistic brand experience. The essence is in getting the right people to make the brand come alive. Without those talented folks center stage it is at best an animatronic facsimile or at worst an empty stage. And it’s not just getting the right skills, you need to get the right cultural fit and ensure you have an engaged workforce. Employees shouldn’t live the brand, they should BE the brand.
Steve Jobs once said “the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” The guys are Riviera clearly do. They are not passive passengers working in a barbershop, they are the brand. They create an experience well beyond a simple haircut with their banter, music selection, pet squirrel, and baseball preferences. It doesn’t hurt they deliver in spades on their core service: an awesome shave and haircut. Even if a franchised store could attain the same quality, it would run the risk of losing authenticity. It can be done, but needs to be carefully nurtured to scale.
I can’t wait to go back.