A name full of meaning, chosen by Andrea Discanni and Franco Dubini, founders of the OIR barbershop in Via Volta 8, in Milan. OIR means “golden” in Irish, and gold is the favorite color of the two young managers who, in just a few years’ time, have managed to create a successful, replicable and scalable project.
We’ve met Andrea, 22 years old, a determination supported by his passion, a job that he has turned into a real business.
Andrea, where does your passion come from?
I started working as a barber at the age of 14, I was in eighth grade: over the summer, my father used to send me “to the shop” because I wasn’t exactly a model student.
I quickly realized that I liked that environment, so I went to hair school in the mornings, to improve my grasp on technique and learn how to be a true professional, and worked in the afternoons. I never gave up on my job, even though I often did not get paid.
I started working as an apprentice and, at the age of 17, I decided to leave my small town barber shop and move to Milan.
After only a year, I became the director of a well-known Milanese shop, but my passion and my dream was to have a shop of my own.
Franco was a regular client of mine. He graduated in economics and marketing, he lived in the United States for a few years, where you can find barbershops everywhere, and his dream was also to open a barber shop in Milan.
This passion united us and allowed us to start this adventure together.
Your shared passion allowed you to start your project, while your different backgrounds and professional skills allowed you to work in a complementary way.
How did you decide to divide your tasks?
Franco has long-standing experience when it comes to the construction of business models and marketing: he has been tasked with managing our communications and social media strategy.
We began to research the locations and areas of the city where we had the best chance to build a relationship with a demanding, image-conscious clientele.
Via Volta has all the features we were looking for: it’s close to Brera, next to the new Isola district, and near Porta Nuova, which is increasingly becoming one of the coolest areas of Milan.
That’s where I take care of our customers and the team of professionals who work with us.
So you’re the barber?
Yes. Perhaps not many people know the history of this profession, which is old as time. In ancient times, the barber was almost a butcher, he took care of what we could now call minor surgeries, such as bloodletting, he extracted teeth… In times of war he lived in the trenches along with the soldiers, he was the first to bring them relief and his position was signaled with the barber pole, which today has become a symbol of barbershops all over the world.
What is a barber pole?
It is a red-and-white pole, symbolizing a pole wrapped in bloody bandages, which used to signal the presence of a barber to those in need, whether in a village or on the battlefield.
Over time, the role of the barber has changed thanks to the specialization of labor.
When did barbershops become popular?
Well, the barbershop has always acted as a meeting place for men, especially in smaller towns of the south of our country. It was the place to go in order to talk politics and culture, tell stories, and contribute to the dissemination of news and information.
Then, the great phenomenon of emigration from Europe to America brought this barbershop culture to the United States; while we slowly abandoned this tradition.
“Shave an a haircut”, an ancient ritual, started to disappear, leaving room for a quicker morning shave. The changing social and aesthetic standards (for instance, one could only go to work clean-shaven, because a beard was synonymous with poor hygiene) and a lifestyle focused on “not wasting time” did the rest.
Nowadays, though, having a beard seems to be very common: is it luxury or simply a trend?
In the first decade of the 2000s our sector had a sudden awakening. The facial hair trend has contributed to the opening of many barbershops.
Since the 2010s, this widespread trend has almost become a lifestyle, and has firmly established itself in men’s fashion, transforming the beard into a kind of object, an accessory that contributes to the beauty of a man.
How old are bearded men, on average?
There is no average age. In my experience, many middle-aged men spend time working on their appearance and take time to care for themselves properly.
A beard gives personality to a face, it creates a new style.
How is your project going?
We worked hard and, after a year and a half, we introduced a new partner, Alessandro Tamborini, who allowed us to grow and expand our dream to create a chain of stores with our brand and our know-how.
This project has brought on many opportunities: after Via Volta in Milan, we have successfully opened a barber shop in Sassari and, next spring, we will open the second OIR Barber Shop in Milan, in the De Angeli area.
What contributed to your growth?
We immediately had a very loyal clientele, important customers who allowed us to expand our network of customers through word of mouth and positive reviews.
Some of our most loyal customers are football players: they have been really helpful to share not only our brand, but how we interpret it.
The use of social media then allowed us to position ourselves correctly towards our target, involving a large audience with whom we communicate clearly and directly.
It is important to be consistent and true to ourselves, and to be able to show what you really know how to do, your professionalism and, why not, even your talent.
What value do you attribute to the people that work with you?
Our strength is made of the people who work with us, all of whom have immense value.
We focus a lot on professionalism, we do not take interns because we would not have enough time to dedicate to them.
We are looking for young people who are talented and who are really passionate about this sometimes difficult job, because spending 10 hours standing up, and in constant contact with our clients, is certainly not a trivial matter!
We have a very accurate selection process: in the past a year and a half we have selected over 50 people and now we have nine professionals working in the shop.
There is a lot of room to grow in this sector, there is a future, but certain conditions must be met: you need to have experience, and most of all skills.
We take pride in our technical ability, especially when it comes to the cut, in the quality of our services, and in a thousand other tiny details that make our service truly excellent.
The style of our brand is impeccable and everyone must be able to interpret it correctly.
On your professional journey, you have surely met people who have contributed to your training and your growth. How important is it to find the right people at the right time?
It matters a lot, but you need to be ready and mature in order to seize the best opportunities and treasure the advice and teachings you come across.
I was lucky enough to meet Romano Brida and especially Francesco Cirignotta, a true mentor and role model, who instilled in me the values that I always carry close to my heart.
Francesco is an architect with a passion for hair, his father own a historical shop at the Colonne di San Lorenzo, in Milan, and he himself owns a shop in the Navigli district that bears his name: Francesco Cirignotta.
He taught me to take care of every detail, and to never leave anything to chance.
What are your goals?
Opening three stores in two years has been a challenging goal, which exceeded our expectations.
We have taken care of the décor thanks to the help of amazing Italian artisans who have built the furniture, and we have created a format display to make sure that our “style” is replicable in all our stores.
We would like to bring our skills and our experience to other European countries and introduce our brand to the world.