kuwentong kalye: ang barbero kong si sam*

Barber Shop in Richardson, Texas, circa 1920. ...

Image via Wikipedia

MAKATI, Philipippines – I like talking to people. I like talking to people who many tend to pass by. This would be people that many never even see as a fly on the wall. The security guards, the janitors, the messengers, the taxi drivers, etc.

Then there is Sam – my barber. I have to admit, sometimes I’m not really into what Sam talks about. But what can I do, I’m stuck in his chair for 30 or so minutes. Anyway, one lazy afternoon I was in Sam’s chair getting a haircut. Sam goes – “Sir, baka puwede mo kaming matulungan?”

Hmmm, okay batten down the hatches, bring it on Sam.

“Bakit Sam, anong problema?”

“Kasi Sir, yung kumpanya namin medyo ginigipit kami.”



Sam works for this chain of barber shops. He’d been there before it became a chain. He’d been there when it was a one-shop operation.

“Tinanggalan ho kami ng mga benepisyo – SSS, Pag-ibig at PhilHealth at ginawa pa kaming contractual employee.”


Okay, I’m no lawyer but alarm bells started ringing. This has to have broken some labor law here and there.

I go – “Hindi ko lang alam Sam pero parang hindi yata tama ‘yun. Di ba matagal ka nang empleyado dito? Ang alam ko magagawa lang nila yung ginawa nila kung sinara nila yung kumpanya at nagbukas ng bago (sneaky way of doing it) at kayo pa rin yung empleyado o kung nag-resign ka at pumayag ka na mabalik pero as contractual.”

“‘Yun na nga Sir, pinalabas nila na nag-resign kami.”

“Nag-resign ka nga ba? May pinirmahan ka bang resignation letter?”

“Wala Sir.”

One of the manicuristas in the barber shop overhears our conversation and begins to corroborate Sam’s story.

I’m thinking – okay, which lawyer do I know can I ask to help them file their grievance? Then my mind goes – wait. Gusto kaya nila mag-demandahan?

“Ano Sam, gusto niyo bang tulungan ko kayo na maghanap ng abogado?”

“Naku. huwag ‘yon Sir. Maski manalo man ho kami sa kaso, baka pahirapan lang kami pagkatapos. Mahirap na ho. At saka wala ho kaming pera na pambayad sa abogado.”

The money issue aside (I’m sure there are some good-hearted lawyers who could take on their case), I’m thinking – he does have a point about coming back to a poisoned work environment. Regardless of my thoughts about fighting on principle, I wasn’t going to be the one coming back to work here.

“Okay, so anong gusto niyong mangyayari?”

“Baka Sir mahanapan mo kami ng puwedeng magpundar ng puwede naming malilipatan na pagtrabahohan? O baka naman Sir, ikaw na lang?”

Me? A barber shop owner?

Teka muna. Slow down and back up Sam.

“A ganun ba Sam? Sigurado ba kayo diyan?”

“Oo Sir.”

“O sige. Puwede ba pag-isipan ko muna?”

“Sige Sir! Salamat mo po Sir!”

For Sam – a light at the end of the tunnel. For me – the light at the end of the tunnel? A speeding train. Hay, me and my penchant for taking up someone else’s cause.

Needless to say, tapos na yung haircut ko. Buti naman otherwise I would have had to sit there in uncomfortable silence or attempt to make small talk to distract from the big (elephant) idea in the room.

I do like to solve problems – be they turning around a hemorrhaging company or figuring out a way to help someone in a wheelchair cross Ayala Avenue (there is a pedestrian crossing in front of the StanChart building precisely for wheelchair-bound pedestrians). So this did get my mind going into overdrive.

What do I need?

– someone to put up the capital

– a place to put up the barber shop

– barbers and other barber shop services providers

The last one I already had (or so I thought, but more on this later).

I literally do happen to have a rich uncle. Of course, he’s no ordinary rich uncle. As a successful businessman, any idea I pitch to him must be supported by numbers. Lucky for me, I love Excel. I do love crunching numbers. I did use those columnar pads (remember those?) in school but I had been using Excel before it was fashionable (at least in the finance world) to do so. I did come up with “financials” for the barber shop which I validated with a friend of mine who used to own a beauty salon (close enough, I guess). It turns out that these barber shops essentially print money when run the right way.

Going back to my rich uncle, I pull out all the stops – come up with a business plan which basically goes like this –

The barber shop will be close enough to the area where Sam was currently working. This would allow him to continue to service his mga “suki” without them having to go too far.

The employees would be given a reasonable base salary with a significant share of any business that they generate. They would be given SSS, Pag-Ibig and PhilHealth coverage.

On top of these, the employees will be given equity in the business. The barber shop will be owned by a company which will be 80%-owned by my uncle and myself and 20% by the employees. The 80% was not a “stick your finger in the air, see where the wind is blowing, pluck a number out of thin air” decision. It was carefully thought of. Remember my uncle is a successful businessman. This means I had to make the numbers work so that he would make a reasonable return on his investment.

But why even give the employees 20% at all. Well, two reasons. The practical one relates to the reality that many businesses like this face problems of let’s just say – lack of inventory control. The impolitic description would be “ang pangkukupit ng mga gamit ng negosyo” by some mischievous employees. Giving the employees ownership of the company would hopefully give them pause and think that they are only stealing from themselves. Now who would do that?

My more pressing concern in giving the employees ownership is this. Sam is in his mid-50s. Even if the new company were to provide SSS coverage, I’m not sure that any retirement benefits he would derive from that would be able to provide him with a decent life in retirement. My thought was, if the barber shop was going to be as successful as I expected it to be, the company which owned the barber shop would be able to declare and distribute dividends to the employee/owners that could supplement any other income they would have in retirement. I was thinking that our radical business model could be replicated in different places thereby allowing the employee/owners a chance to derive dividend income from a bigger revenue pot.

Of course, as I was putting all this together, I needed to find out what and how much the operating expenses for the business would be. The second biggest expense would be the money needed to pay for the lease of the space where the barber shop would be put up. I had already put a realtor (who also happens to be my tita – God, I love my family!) to work on this. She had already found a place across the mall where Sam was currently working. I had also brought an architect-friend (okay hindi siya family per0 puwede na rin) to figure out what needed to be done and how much it would cost to turn this place into a barber shop.

If anything, I work fast. All this – from talking to Sam to reserving the space within just a week (Tuesday to Saturday). Not quite zero to sixty in 5 seconds but fast enough.

So, I call Sam. Oh boy – I couldn’t wait to tell him the good news.

We meet and we hit an immediate snag.

“Pero Sir, maganda talaga sana kung sa Ayala mall.”


Okay, Sam does know I had worked for that company. Having worked for that company, I also know that you don’t get space at an Ayala mall just like that. Pero okay, let me make some calls.

True enough, we’d have to wait an eternity to get space at an Ayala mall. As per Sam’s desire, an Ayala mall within 5 kilometers from where they were now. Which basically means – asa pa tayo.

So I tell Sam that I had anticipated that we would lose some foot traffic relative to where they were right now but I do have a plan. The place we had chosen was across a huge post-graduate school. Not an undergraduate school. Not a high school. Not an elementary school. A post-graduate school whose students are either already working or are rich enough to afford a post-graduate education. My plan was to offer promotions during non-peak hours where we could get the students to come in and avail of the services for up to 50% off. Barber shops are mostly dead before lunch and after lunch. We have a potential target market which we could go after to drive traffic into the barber shop at these hours.

Now we weren’t going to put up just some “rinky-dink” barber shop. We were going to have flat screen TVs, plush facilities (kaya nga may architect) and a real customer-friendly environment. I was confident that people going to our shop would so love the experience, they would come back even during peak hours. It wouldn’t be too over the top (I do want to make money after all) but it would be so much better than anything else right now.

And I was going to drive this process. I had as much stake in this as they did. Don’t forget the rich uncle I’d have to answer to if this thing flops. All this I explain to Sam.

“Pero Sir, maganda talaga sana kung sa Ayala mall.”


Dude, you asked for my help – I’m giving it to you. Now you ask me for the moon?


Sad to say – hindi na natuloy ang barber shop ni Sam.

After some time, I though about what had happened. Maybe Sam and his guys felt that they were taking too much of a risk even if the place was just a 2-minute walk from where they still are. Maybe being in a mall and the traffic that it brings might have been too much of an obstacle that they thought could not be overcome. Maybe as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs proposes – physiological and security needs do really come before esteem and self-actualization.

I tried and I tried hard to help Sam and his cohort. I can’t blame them for choosing the certainty of the status quo. On the other hand, was it too much to ask them to believe in themselves? Was it too much to try to show them the way to improve their lot in life?


* Not his real name.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s