From wanting to be a history teacher to head barber at Murdock London, Sam Hickey does not do ordinary. This is his story.
Sam Hickey is a polite young man, a perfect representative for the Regent Street community. To be fair, the Murdock barber store he manages is located on Soho’s Brewer Street, a stone’s throw from the actual Regent Street, but such is the comradeship around here that geographical borders matter less than Murdock’s open door policy.
Sam has worked at Murdock for five years and, as the company is just over 10 years old, that makes him something of a veteran. Perhaps that’s why he’s been tasked with heading up the biggest Murdock store in the capital, boasting six barber stools behind the espresso machine at the front of house reception.
Sam could easily have taken a totally different career path: “Growing up, I actually wanted to be a history teacher – hence the get up,” he says, smiling. The mentioned “get up” is Sam’s neatly groomed hair, white shirt with a tweed tie and braces. It’s not an official Murdock look, far from it, but it epitomises the barber look as we’ve come to know it over the last 10 or 15 years. “Before that, men would go to Toni & Guy or Vidal Sassoon for a hair cut,” Sam says, explaining the Murdock’s success. And this is exacly why the barbershop’s Regent Street outpost has proven to be so popular. It’s the independent neighbourhood shop feel that draws customers to the street and the amazing experience and customer service they get from people like Sam.
“Salons are all very well, but you don’t get the barber experience. Most men would prefer to steer clear of glossy hair salons lined with women’s magazines… They want to be in a more masculine environment that caters specifically to them.
Murdock has 8 shops in London and a recently opened one in Paris; some are standalone and others inside Hackett stores, like the one in their Regent Street flagship. Founded in Shoreditch in 2006, Murdock has become synonymous with a male point of view on hairdressing. Women do visit Murdock, but they tend to be in the minority. “Women usually come in to buy products and gifts. If I had a female customer asking for a hair cut I would never say no… But I know where my real talents lie, and that is in male hairdressing.”
The word ‘barber’ originally comes from Italian, where ‘bar’ means ‘beard’, and a barber’s role was to look after customers’ beards. At a modern hair salon, they might focus on styling or colouring, but they might not do the shaves. That’s where I would step in and take care of the shaving and the beards and the facial as well.”
Sam chose cutting men’s hair as his main direction back in college: “When you first start you get choice: either or both. I focused on one – I figured I’d rather be good at one then OK at two.” A men’s haircut is invariably a shorter procedure than woman’s, but at Murdock it’ll take as long as it needs. “I’d say service time is about 45 minutes. Most people just come for a haircut, but we also offer 15 minute beard trims. And we do an hour-long full service which includes a shave and a haircut. Facials alone take 30 minutes.
Some of Sam’s clients have been with him for his entire time at Murdock, and have moved with him around London as he has worked in different Murdock shops. “I might as well start paying for their Oyster cards,” he jokes. “It's a loyalty thing, they become more like friends than clients. It's less formal that way, you can chat about different things, open up a bit more, and you get to know them as people rather than thinking simply about what you can do with their hair.”
The age-old question for barbers and customers alike is: do you keep a conversation going or get on with it in silence? “Everyone’s different and it's a bit of give and take. I’m chatty but you have to gauge the individual, and sometimes people just don’t want to talk.” Whether he’s deep in conversation or deep in thought, Sam says it’s important that he’s in a positive frame of mind when he’s cutting hair. You really have to leave any problems at the door. If I look grumpy, or my mind is elsewhere, my customer picks up on it straight away.”
Being a barber is all about building relationships. People don’t just come back because of the staff’s technical skills, they come back because they feel at home and at ease. Location is everything in this case and they keep coming back for that local barbershop feel right in the middle of London.
Once they’re in the barber’s chair, customers often open up incredibly personal subjects: Sam says, “Someone told me that there’s only three people you should really trust: your dentist, your surgeon and your barber! You’ve got to look good and you’ve got to feel good.”
So whether Sam is working in Soho or in the Regent Street shop, there’s no doubt as to why barber shops, and Murdock specifically, are so popular. “You feel a part of a group, a part of the whole experience… It's a family thing!”
It’s that familiar feeling that people seek and find by coming to Regent Street. Whether it’s an independent barbershop or a fabulous flagship store, the one thing they all have in common is the wonderful people who make it all possible.
Pay Sam a visit at Murdock’s Soho address, 83 Brewer Street. He is sure to tend to all your grooming needs.