There was this old Turkish barber right by my hotel when I was in Istanbul. I was in desperate need of a haircut and beard trim and, knowing just how great barbers are in countries like Turkey and Macedonia, I decided to give it a go. The old Istanbul barber greeted me with a huge smile and invited me in. My first question was “How much?”, to which he replied “50”.
Upon a first look, I decided to pass on the offer. 50 Turkish liras is about 10 Euros. Which in Romania gets me two full haircuts. In Turkey, the usual price is around 15-30 liras for a regular job. This old barber looked authentic, greeted me with a smile, but didn’t seem to be worth 50 liras. His shop was in a back alley, nowhere near the city centre, so the price seemed off.
I decided to go to another place somewhere in another neighbourhood. A big place with around 30 chairs on two floors. I got premium service here, a great, clean haircut and beard trim for 25 liras. But to me, everything felt rushed, almost fake. The smile was fake, the service was fast and furious and the entire experience was nowhere near an authentic Turkish one.
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You pay for the experience
The following day, I went back into the shop of the old barber. When he saw me, he greeted me with the same smile although he noticed my new haircut right away. “You cut hair?” he asked with a smile. I nodded yes and shook his hand. He sat me down in a chair and invited me to have some tea. I politely tried to refuse but he just poured it and handed it to me. So I took it.
It was the best tea I’ve had in all of Istanbul.
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He was working on one client but kept an eye on me. He noticed me coming in and out of the hotel and my crazy hair. And it was crazy, nothing to argue there. It was a mess. The barber from the other place worked for 25 minutes on it. One lira for a minute of work is not a bad price! Yet the old barber said “I could do better!” and invited me in his chair as soon as he was ready.
An incredible life story
I started chatting with him and asked him the obvious question. Why was he charging double the money as the other, pretty good barbers in Istanbul? Why were his services twice as good as the services provided at great, clean, modern, central locations? The following was some of the most incredible marketing 101 lessons I’ve ever taken for free, in a Turkish-English of sorts.
“I’ve been doing this for 48 years. Every single day, I’m opening this shop at the same hour as the store nearby. I close two hours earlier. Some clients are with me since I’ve been open. I grew my craft with them, I learned on them and they kept coming. They know they can trust me and my service. And my service is not just haircuts and beard trims. I am also their friend.
When they come in, I invite them in for some tea. Talk about their days, how they’ve been. How was work? How are their kids and wives? Where have they been lately? I focus on them, and them alone, not just on their hair and beards. Those are my least worries. When they come in, they get an experience. They feel like they’re in the home of their very best friend.”
Marketing is 99% experience and 1% product
Look, you cannot market a bad product. You can, but you can only go so far. If your product is great, marketing does the rest. It is pretty much the same with diet and exercise. Diet happens in the kitchen for about 90% of it, while exercise is just 10% of the effort. When you market a product, you have to turn it into an experience, not just another thing people pay money for.
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Products are common. People never pay for the product anymore, or the service. They pay for the experience. Uber is like a game where you order a ride, pay a fixed fee and then can see the car coming, talk freely with the driver and then rate the ride. It’s fun, exciting, something else. Airbnb is the same but deals with house rentals for travellers from all over the world.
Even the simple haircut has to be turned into an experience when you want to attract more and more loyal customers. If you can make them feel welcome, just like they’d be at home, then you win them over. Even for 40 years. The secret is to be clever enough to find that thing that makes your service or product into a completely unique and enjoyable experience for the client.
About that hotel I was staying at…
I was about to leave after obviously paying my 50 liras to the barber. He asked me “How do you enjoy your hotel?” as I was going out. “It’s great actually! Nice room, daily change of sheets. Cool!” And then he said “Well, I bought that hotel 15 years ago with haircuts money. Now my entire family works there and they can sustain themselves.” I was struck with awe.
“Why are you still doing this? Why do you cut people’s hair when you have a nice Istanbul hotel?” To which he replied “I’m not a fan of it. I bought it as a means for my family to be wealthy enough so that they can live a good life. I’m more of a simpler guy. I know how to make money, I make money here, but doing what I do brings me joy. The money is just a result of it.”
Moral of the story? Turn your product or service into an experience.
Once you do this, you’ll be able to charge twice as much for your gig than your competitors. Just like the old Istanbul barber. And people will be happy to pay for it. So much so that you’ll be able to buy a hotel. But you have to do the thing that you love so much, you wouldn’t trade it for that hotel but keep doing it forever.
Hi! My name is Gabriel, nice to meet you.
I run Gabriel Iosa Writing Services, my online dream business that’s now 4 years in the making. I’ve also worked as a journalist for 9 years and counting. My job is to come up with the best content for you regardless if it’s for your blog, website, book, social media posts or anything else. I can also help you with organic or paid reach so that you can put your products or services right in front of your future clients.
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